Thursday, April 23, 2009

Preaching Materials for May 3rd, 2009

R U M O R S # 550
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

April 26th, 2009


"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

You can also find Rumors as a blog. Go to:

The Story – a problem and an opportunity
Special Note: about the Lectionary Story Bible
Rumors – on the other hand
Soft Edges – random targets
Good Stuff – the benefits of friendship
Bloopers – just like bananas
We Get Letters – the word’s shortest joke
Mirabile Dictu! – say it a lot
Bottom of the Barrel – with feet like sheep
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 19:1-18
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Peggy Neufeld sent this.
Teacher: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
Glenn: K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L
Teacher: No, that's wrong.
Glenn: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.
Peggy adds: “I love this kid.”
So do I, Peggy. He reflects my spelling philosophy exactly.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 3rd, which is the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) John 10:1-18.

Ralph says:
Yes, I know, the lectionary only calls for John 10:11-18.
In the strange logic of the Revised Common Lectionary, the first half of what is clearly a single passage, i.e. verses 1-10, appear in Easter, Year A. And we get this second half a year later. Go figure!
In verses 11-18, Jesus gives an allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Shepherd – an interpretation in which each element of the story stands for something, i.e. Jesus is the good shepherd. The believers, the people in the struggling Christian community were the sheep. And by extension, so are you and I.
The big, bad wolf was Rome.
Most of us live in an urban culture and most of the folks listening to this parable have only seen pictures of sheep – usually nice, clean, wooly sheep. Or perhaps sweet little lambs in a petting zoo.
Sheep are ugly ungulates that often look ratty and are pretty stupid. Especially if they are being herded in wild country. They were one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans because they stick together (mostly!) and follow a shepherd blindly.
It raises the question of whether the sheep/shepherd metaphor is still useful. I remember during travels through Ireland, overhearing one articulate North American teenager say to another, “It’s like – everywhere I look there are sheep. It’s like – they grow them here. Or something.”
In his psalm paraphrases, Jim Taylor has tried valiantly to find alternate metaphors. With considerable success.
The sheep/shepherd metaphor doesn’t work for us anymore, because in western European culture (which includes most of the English speaking world) people do not follow leaders blindly. The culture of individualism means that our leaders – in church, society, politics, etc. – are not followed the way sheep follow a shepherd.
And in that disquieting reality, is both a huge problem and a marvelous opportunity.

Jim says –
Okay, okay, I won’t say anything more about carts arriving before the horse has even left the stable. But obviously, I think post-Pentecost stories should come post-Pentecost.
And since Jesus’ speech in John clearly alludes to the earlier imagery of Psalm 23, I’d preach on the original.
In my book “Everyday Psalms,” I offered three different modern paraphrases of Psalm 23. One portrayed God as a mom holding her child’s hand; another visualized God as running a cafe where shoppers could rest and recover; a third took the perspective of an elderly person looking back. I’ve done at least two more – I could probably write one a week for the rest of my life and still not run out of ideas.
Psalm 23 may be the ultimate, universal, psalm. Most people my age can still recite it by heart. It’s often the last biblical reading that dying people request. In six short verses, it encapsulates the antiphonal cadence of Hebrew poetry, presents a sequence of compelling images, and offers the calm assurance of God’s covenant.
I would like to invite people to create their own personal psalms. A simple formula (a) outlines a current concern, (b) explores the potential consequences for good or ill, (c) listens for what God might have to say, and (d) expresses confidence that with God’s comforting presence, all will end well. (For more detailed suggestions on how to write your own psalms, I recommend “Writing the Sacred,” by Ray McGinnis, Northstone Publishing, 2005.)
There’s no reason that psalms have to be limited to ideas and situations from three thousand years ago.

Acts 4:5-12 – There’s a developing body of research to show that memories are malleable. It’s not dishonesty. It’s human nature.
Peter and the others have been asked many times, to tell of what happened when they were hauled up before the Sanhedrin. And in each telling, Peter became slightly more eloquent and courageous. Peter was human.
There’s a story in this passage as well. That story might bring us to reflect on how we would defend our faith if we were called on the carpet.
I know I would be courageous and eloquent in such a situation! Of course I would! I’ve been part of the Christian community for half a century!
But I’ve never been there. I’ve been in a few conversations where being a Christian was a little embarrassing, and so I didn’t mention it. So what makes me think I’d do anything except cower in a corner and tell all the necessary lies if I was ever in a real danger?

Psalm 23 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Few feelings compare with coming home after a succession of hotel rooms, rental cars, and wearying meetings.

It's so good to be home,
to lie down in my own bed, to play my favorite music, to shed the tensions of travel the way water runs off my shoulders in the shower.
Thank you, God. You got me to the right gates in the airports;
You delivered me from dangerous drivers; You kept me from getting lost in the concrete canyons of the city. You gave me courage to face my critics.
You did not desert me. When I was lonely, you found me a friend; When I was weary, you led me to a welcome. The airline didn't lose my bags.
I am at peace. I'd like to live in these familiar walls forever...Come live with me, and let me live with you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 John 3:16-24 – The passage begins with the uncomfortable statement that because Jesus laid down his life for us, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for others also.
In theory, we’re all willing to do that. In practice, we all have a hierarchy of values. Faith. Family. Job. Friends. Fun. Justice. Integrity. Etc. I remember being part of a study group one time where we were asked to list the things we held dear in our lives. Not too hard. But then we had to arrange them in order of priority.
Pretty uncomfortable.
There’s a children’s version of the 23rd Psalm in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 107 and in Year A on page 105.
There’s a story, “Susanna Has a Good Idea” based on John 10:1-10 in Year A, page 108, and “Sheep and Shepherds,” based on John 10:11-18, in Year B, page 109.
By the way, there’s an index at the back of Year C that lets you look up any passage and go directly to it’s corresponding story.


Special note – I’ve just received with trembling hands and a lump in my throat, the first sparkling new copy of “The Family Story Bible, Year C.” The words in it are mine, but the look of it is from Margaret Kyle, the illustrator of this series, and she has done a phenomenal job. It is probably the largest, and in terms of art work at least, the best collection of children’s Bible stories ever published.
The tremble and the lump came from realizing that this is probably my last book. Old age is a creepin’ up on me.
The struggles of the main-line churches in Canada resulting in the loss of almost all retail book outlets that carry this kind of publication, has resulted in Wood Lake announcing that it won’t do any more books. Sad, but necessary.
We hope to have the official launch of this three-volume series at the gathering of the United Church of Canada’s General Council which will meet right here in Kelowna, BC, this coming August. For those of you going to that meeting, I hope to see you there. Margaret and I would be delighted to autograph a set for you.
For the rest of you, please go to, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – Right at the moment, my concept of heaven is a place where there are nice, neat, tidy answers to everything. (As you may guess, my vision of heaven changes, depending on what is bugging me at the moment.)
Like old Tevya.
On the one hand, I have been immeasurably blessed by the lives that have touched mine. I've traveled broadly and lived in three different countries and met good folk from just about every religious tradition going. And I would argue strongly that the Spirit is active in their lives – that they are living an authentic spirituality, often far more authentic than my no-name Protestant Christianity.
But, like Tevya – "On the other hand."
My children have very few traditions handed down from us. Bev and I blended (and I guess watered down) our traditions when we married. And our children, like most children in the developed world, blended those traditions with all they saw and heard from the world around them. (I need to add that my daughter Kari and her husband are doing a fine job of developing and growing family traditions.)
My accommodating liberal attitude toward various faith traditions infected my children. So the underlying but unmistakable message they heard was, "It's all relative. None of it is really that important."
As Tevya says, "Because of our traditions, we know who we are, and what God expects us to do."
Our traditions are the metaphors through which we communicate our identity and our faith, especially to young children who see what we do and hardly ever hear what we say. They sense immediately when those traditions rest very lightly on our shoulders. They know whether or not we're ready to go to the wall for them.
Is it possible to be deeply, passionately committed to my own Christian faith and the traditions and actions which carry that forward, without being a bigot? My immediate reaction is to say, "Yes, of course!"
But I'm not sure anymore.
Our traditions, including the traditional way in which we read the Bible, are being challenged on all sides. I’ve been part of that challenge.
But our traditions, including the traditions of the way we read the Bible, are the language through which we express our faith. Not words – it’s how we live and what we do.
Is it possible to have a faith you cannot express except as dry abstractions?
On the one hand, I chop away at those traditions which seem to be dated and useless. On the other hand, I hang on to them for dear life, because they are the vessels through which my faith is expressed.
Without my traditions, I'm not sure who I am, or what God expects me to do.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Random Targets
Ralph Milton and I were having lunch at a table that looked across the practice putting green for a local golf course. The practice green, I should explain, had at least six possible holes for golfers to aim at.
One man placed five balls in the longer grass beyond the edge of the green. Using an iron, he methodically chipped all five onto the green.
We watched as the balls rolled past one hole, past a second hole, and finally stopped between a third and fourth hole.
“How do we know which hole he was aiming at?” I wondered.
“Whichever hole his ball drops into, of course,” replied Ralph.
We laughed.
“Which is pretty much the way we write,” Ralph added thoughtfully.
I recalled that incident the next day, when another friend asked how I come up with ideas for these columns. “Do you have a checklist of topics you plan to write about?” he asked.
Sometimes I do. Sometimes an issue demands my attention. I can’t get it out of my mind until I deal with it.
But more often, there’s a story that insists on being told. I don’t know where it’s going to take me. So I start telling it, and see where we go together.
In a sense, I see what hole the ball eventually drops into, for a reader.
Let me digress a little – like going around a water hazard instead of trying to walk across water. At one time in my freelancing days, I was editing seven different newsletters, mostly for charitable or religious organizations. That meant gathering stories from a vast variety of well-meaning contributors. Some wrote brilliantly; some wrote poorly; some obviously hated writing and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.
If those writers shared a common fault, it was this – they saw the text mainly as a means of making a point. So their last line would be, “How blessed we were to have this opportunity to serve!” Or, “We all owe a great debt of gratitude to....” Or, “Thank God who redeemed us from our sins through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
They could not, or would not, let the story convey its own message. They had to tack on a moral, to make sure we got their intended point.
Which, inevitably, reminds me of an old story about a boy who came home from Sunday school. “We had a new teacher today,” he announced happily.
“Oh?” asked his mother. “What was she like?”
“I really liked her,” said the boy. “She has no morals at all!”
It took some maternal probing to discover that the previous teacher ended every story the same way: “And the moral of this story is...”
Tacking on a moral lesson bored that Sunday school student. My experience tells me that it turns off most adults too.
It tells them that there is only one possible hole for that ball to drop into. Anything else must be wrong.


Good Stuff – I’ve long felt that the development and nurture of friendships is of central importance in our spiritual journey. In the church, we mostly bring people together to do something or learn something, and we often forget that the primary benefit of such gatherings is friendship.
The implicit message is that friendship is a pleasant by-product, but not important in and of itself. And that’s hurting us, both physically and spiritually. I remember a study published some years ago that claimed loneliness was our most prevalent and dangerous social disease.
Here’s a few paragraphs from a “New York Times” article sent to me by long-time friend Doug Hodgkinson. It’s by Tara Parker-Pope.

“In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.
“Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.
“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
“While many friendship studies focus on the intense relationships of women, some research shows that men can benefit, too. In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor as lack of social support.”


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – How are bloopers like bananas? They always come in bunches. This week no new ones from you folks, so I go back to the file.

* On our dedication Sunday, the procession in the churchyard will take place in the afternoon. If it rains in the afternoon, the procession will be held in the morning.
* More people are now attending the 11:30 service than used to attend the two services when there was only one.”
* Evensong will be said at 8:00pm, and a sermon preached from Monday till Friday inclusive.

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me.


Wish I’d Said That! – Let the beauty you love be what you do.
source unknown, via Margaret Wood

It is thy very energy of thought which keeps thee from thy God.
John Henry Newman via Stephani Keer

Money talks – but credit has an echo. Bob Thaves via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Last week, Richard Glover of Waitakere, New Zealand asked, “In the joke research did they list the shortest joke?”
I asked Richard. “Do you know? Does anyone know?”
My friend of many years, Glenn Witmer of Jerusalem, sent a note about our need to laugh at ourselves. “So,” he wisely says, “the shortest joke is: ‘ I’. ”
Janice Minardi of Madison, Wisconsin, writes: “I heard on National Public Radio about a book on how jokes work – sorry I cannot recall either name. The author mentioned that every joke needs a set up and a punch line. His example of the shortest one makes me think of the Muppets Miss Piggy.
Linda McMullan’s contribution to the short joke collection is: “What's brown and sticky? A stick.”
The shortest joke idea reminded Paul Hartman of University Place, Washington, of short poems. He writes: “I think [the shortest joke] might be the same as the shortest poem in the world, called ‘Fleas’.”
Had ‘em.
Paul, I think (I’m doing this from memory, and from way, way back!) that delightful little poem is called, “On the Antiquity of the Microbe” and it’s by Ogden Nash. But Nash’s shortest poem is called, “On the Inexplicability of Human Existence.”

Jim Taylor writes: “During the [Holy Humour] service this morning (April 19), I used some of Jesus' parabolic exaggerations to suggest that some of them might have left his audiences rolling on the floor at their ridiculousness. Example – picking a speck out of someone else's eye while having a log impeding your own vision.
Another example, making a camel pass through the eye of a needle.
"This is a very large needle," I said, holding up the biggest one Joan could find for me. "Do you think you could manage to squeeze a camel through its eye?"
"Sure," said Emily Samsom. "All I need is a very large blender."

Dave Woehrer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin writes: “The item about the preacher apparently ‘discovering’ some extra scrolls that extend John's Gospel reminded me of this old joke.
“A minister told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17." “The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. “How many of you have read Mark 17?’
“Every hand went up. The minister smiled. ‘Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying’."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “say it a lot!”)
This from Margaret Wood of Sarnia, Ontario. It’s been around before, but it is full of child-like wisdom that doesn’t hurt to absorb once in awhile.

What Love means to 4 to 8-year-old children.
* When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore.
So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.'
Rebecca- age 8

* When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.
Margie - age 4

* Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.'
Karl - age 5

* Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.'
Terri - age 4

* Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.
Bobby - age 7

* If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.
Nikka - age 6

* Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt. Then he wears it everyday.'
Noelle - age 7

*Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.'
Tommy - age 6

* During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my grandma waving and smiling..
She was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore.
Cindy - age 8

* My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.
Clare - age 6

* You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.
Jessica - age 8


Bottom of the Barrel – In the program for a performance of “The Messiah,” one of the pieces was listed as, “He Shall Putrefy.”
On the way home, a small boy said the song he liked best was, “With Feet Like Sheep.”
His sister liked, “Come for tea, my people.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 10:1-18
Reader I: I’m feeling a little sheepish.
Reader II: What are you talking about?
I: Don’t you get it? There’s sheep all over the scripture readings today. The Lord is my shepherd – the story of the good shepherd – do I have to draw you a picture?
II: I get it. It’s pretty lame, but I get it.
I: Come to think of it, why does the Bible talk about sheep all the time? Why not elephants or horses or llamas?
II: Because the Bible arose out of the culture of the Middle East – mostly in Israel. And sheep were a major, huge, part of the culture and the economy. When they ate meat, it was mutton. When they made clothes, it was wool.
I: I hardly ever eat mutton. I like it with mint jelly. And most of my clothes are made of cotton and polyester.
II: Exactly. And there’s another problem. Sheep followed shepherds. No questions asked. We don’t follow anyone blindly like that.
I: Not even Jesus?
II: (SADLY) Not even Jesus.
I: So why don’t we ditch the shepherd stuff and tell stories about – well, cars for instance, and the head honchos of car companies. God is like the President of General Motors.
II: That would generate some discussion, all right. But we don’t need to throw out the Bible stories just because they are full of shepherds. If you listen carefully, you’ll find that these passages still speak to some of our deepest needs.
I: OK. So we’re reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 10.
II: In this whole passage, it is Jesus speaking to his friends.
I: Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
II: The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.
I: Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.
II: I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
I: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
II: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
I: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
II: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

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