Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Preaching Magerials for August 2, 2009

R U M O R S # 562
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

July 26, 2009



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

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The Story – evidence of divinity
Rumors – the bread metaphor runs deep
Soft Edges – time to grow up
Bloopers – the super bowel
We Get Letters – about that purple spine
Mirabile Dictu! – delusions of adequacy
Bottom of the Barrel – if my body were a car
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 6:1-21, 24-35
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Eva Stanley of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan sent along this giggle:
The preacher was wired for sound with a lapel mike, and as he preached, he moved briskly about the platform, jerking the mike cord as he went. Then he moved to one side, getting wound up in the cord and nearly tripping before jerking it again.
After several circles and jerks, a little girl in the third pew leaned toward her mother and whispered, "If he gets loose, will he hurt us?"

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 2nd, which is Proper 13 [18].
* 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a
* Psalm 78:23-29
* Ephesians 4:1-16
* John 6:24-35

Can you remember all the way back to last week? (Take a deep breath and hold it for 20 seconds. You will either remember or pass out.)
We decided it made more sense to put the two Hebrew scripture readings of David, Bathsheba and Nathan together and tell them as one story – which is what it is.
So this week, we combine last week’s gospel reading with this week’s, again putting together two pieces of scripture that shouldn’t have been separated in the first place. And we can have a good workout on the extended bread metaphor that is the thread through both these passages.
In the Reader’s Theatre version below, I’ve strung both passages together with a reasonably seamless transition. Even if you don’t want to use the Reader’s Theatre thing, you might want to use that bit of glue job.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary)

John 6:1-21 and John 6:24-35
Ralph says –
Daughter Kari and I were talking about the popular science-fiction of a number of years ago when we were first beginning to see how technology might change our way of living. Does the name Buck Rogers mean anything to you?
One of the predictions from that era was that food, as we know it, would be eliminated. It would be so much more efficient to pop a few pills that would give us a perfectly balanced diet.
“It didn’t happen,” said Kari, “because food means far, far more to us than simply meeting the nutritional needs of our bodies. Eating together is one of the oldest and most universal of human rituals designed to build relationships. And besides, it tastes good.”
If this story is only about multiplying bread and fish it isn’t worth telling. If it is a story of how a human community can be forged through the sharing of food, then it’s worthy of our deepest reflection.
That’s why I like John’s version of this story because he has the child with the loaves and fishes whose generosity brings out the kindness of the crowd – which is the real miracle.
Then Jesus rings some interesting changes on the bread metaphor. It would be useful to do some thinking about what a metaphor is and how we use it in our religious understanding. Metaphors taken literally can easily generate a kind of destructive fundamentalism. Jesus’ reflection on bread, when literalized, can be very destructive and divisive.
Let’s free the metaphor to do its work of wrapping all creation in the circle of God’s love through a sharing, caring community.

Jim says –
Again, I think it’s important not to truncate stories, just because we’re afraid congregations might doze off. So I would take the whole story – John 6:1-15 and 22-35 – because the two parts belong together.
Let’s see – Jesus had just fed 5,000 people with five small barley loaves and two fishes. There was so much food, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers. And the very next day, the same people demanded, “What sign will you give us...?”
“Well, doh!” Homer Simpson might say.
Their question should have been, “What sign are we willing to believe?”
We might well apply the same question to ourselves. Is feeding the hungry enough? Is working for justice enough? Or will we hold out for getting knocked off a horse like Paul, having our barbecue roasted by a thunderbolt like Elijah, hearing voices in a burning bush like Moses?
Are we, to put this bluntly, going to tell God what we’ll accept as evidence of divinity? And if we don't get the sign we expect, will we disbelieve?
That’s what the people who thronged around the lake did. And according to John’s narrative, Jesus gave them an answer they didn’t like: “Look at me to see God.” It's still the only sign we should need.

Psalm 78:23-29 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
23 When we were starving for affection, God found us friends.
24 Their cupboards fed us; we gained courage from their company.
25 We could not have asked for more, if we were little lower than angels.
26 When we were mired in our own misery, God set our feet on firm ground;
when self-defeating thoughts entangled us, God dusted the cobwebs from our minds;
when we were frozen with fears, God warmed us in loving arms.
27 Like northern marshes opening icy ponds to the summer sun, we respond to God's goodness.
God has restored us to life.
29 Once we were slaves, but God has set us free.
28 Freedom is an attitude; we can take it with us, wherever we are.
29 What more could we ask for?
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Ephesians 4:1-16 – There’s a huge difference between unity and sameness. We seem to think that if all of us in our church believe the same thing, we have unity. But all we really have is a boring sameness.
Unity with another person – with another group of people – involves a deep joy at the differences of culture, ideas, politics – differences that can enrich all of us if we take the time to deeply listen to each other.
One of the key things about listening is that you do not try to respond or correct the other person. You only listen in order to understand. You offer your opinion when it is asked for. And that will often come, if first you listen deeply and carefully and non-judgmentally.

Check out “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” for a children’s take on the bread metaphor in the Gospel of John. You will find “A Child Helps Jesus” based on John 6:1-13 on page 167, and on page 170 you will find “A Special Kind of Bread” based on John 6:24-35.
Those of you coming to Kelowna for the General Council gathering in August, check out the book display. Margaret Kyle (the illustrator of these books) and I will be there, happy to sign these and other books for you.
And there will be an open house at Wood Lake Books to officially launch the three-volume “Lectionary Story Bible.” This will be on the Wednesday afternoon.


Rumors – When you are out of peanut butter, you are out of food.
That is a proposition I have defended passionately and unsuccessfully since as far back as I can remember. When I am feeling down, when I have been sick, when I just want a snack, when I am having lunch by myself, I’ll have a peanut butter and jam sandwich on whole-wheat bread.
The peanuts and the wheat and the fruit are a complete meal,” I tell my family. But all I get are those “there-goes-dad-again” indulgent looks as they walk off to be busy with something else.
I’ve heard people use the phrase “comfort food” and I guess that’s what a peanut butter and jam sandwich is for me. If I had to survive the rest of my life on one thing, that would be it.
In English, the word “bread” is sometimes synonymous with food. In many East Asian languages the word for “rice” and the word for “food” are the same. In some Melanesian languages, the same applies to yams.
“Bread” is the bottom line. It is the basic thing we need to survive. But the word – the concept – the metaphor isn’t limited to food for our bellies. All those words, bread, rice, yams, also refer to the emotional and spiritual food we need to keep us alive. Without a faith that gets fed and watered regularly, we dry up and blow away.
But it’s not just about me and my faith. Last night, the entire hour-long newscast on TV was about the forest fires we’re experiencing here in the central Okanagan Valley. We (Miltons and Taylors) live across the lake from the fires, so we are in no danger. But a pall of smoke hangs over the valley, so dense you can taste it. John Cockburn sent a note saying smoke has a curative effect and we will be well-preserved like a smoked ham or salmon.
The smoke leaves a layer of ash on parked cars. It stings your eyes and irritates your throat. You can no longer see the hills around us. The sun is a pale, yellow disc.
Much of the newscast showed tearful refugees forced to leave their homes because of the threat of fire. One man said that all he had managed to save were two photo albums. “I’ve lost everything,” he said.
Such times force us back to fundamental questions. What is “bread” in this context? What is the fundamental thing we need to survive?
We need a community that provides “bread.” And one of the heartening things about this situation is the way in which the community, both formally through its structures and informally through individual generosity, has pulled together.
But it’s sobering to know that it’s not “nature,” but human over-indulgence that (to a large extent at least) caused the fires in the first place. We’ve done this to ourselves.
We’ve suppressed wild-fires in the forest for years – localized fires that would clear out old needles and dead underbrush. Now the buildup of dry pine needles on the forest floor, sometimes several feet deep, turns a renewing ground fire into a devastating fire-storm.
Global warming has given us a decade of warm, dry winters. That’s resulted in a plague of the pine beetle which is normally controlled by freezing winters. Now those beetles have killed the pine forests, turning them into tinder-dry fire-storms waiting to happen.
It is going to be a long, long summer.
So the metaphor of bread that runs through this week’s gospel reading is not just about individual nurture. It’s about far more than having enough food to eat.
The tears of a fire refugee here in the Okanagan – the tired face of an African refugee whose farm has been turned into a desert by global warming – the cynical face of an overpaid CEO – reminds us that it is all connected.
When Jesus talked about the bread of life he was talking about the physical and spiritual nurture of those who heard his voice. But he was also reminding us that we are part of a world-wide family and we are called to live so that bread, the basic stuff of life, will be there for all God’s creation.
We will eat that bread of life only when all creation can eat with us.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Time to Grow Up
You may have learned some of these absolutely infallible rules about English during your school years:
* Never split an infinitive
* Never end a sentence with a preposition
* Never start a sentence with “and” or “but”
* Never start a sentence with “I”
* Never use words like “ain’t”
Well, lemme tell you, it just ain’t so.
Not one of those rules is infallible. Some of them never were. Others have simply faded into irrelevance as language changes.
Yet my fellow editors constantly run across writers who insist that things must be said a certain way, because that’s what they were taught when they were children – as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, amen!
James Harbeck is both an editor and a linguist with, I believe, three degrees. He commented recently, “Siiiiiiigh! Why is it that people will cling fast to the authority of their grade-school English teacher when they would readily confess that their biology, chemistry, or physics teachers could not trump the knowledge of current physicians, pharmacists, or engineers? Oh, please, let me never drive across a bridge built by someone with the same attitude towards engineering expertise...”
I’ve found that James Harbeck is usually right. But it’s not just about language that people cling to outdated “rules.”
In religion, too, people lock onto concepts in childhood. They hold fast to the truth of what they learned in Sunday school or catechism classes, and reject any scholarly insights that might conflict with those early impressions:
* Jesus died for our sins
* The Bible is God’s holy word
* God lives in heaven
* God judges everything we do
* Bad people go to hell
As it happens, I was one of those Sunday school teachers. I taught some of those lessons – more or less. I was 18 years old at the time. I knew nothing about biblical scholarship, theology, cultural anthropology, myth and symbol...
By the time I quit teaching Sunday school, more than 20 years later, I had learned a lot. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more. And I am appalled that some of my early students might still cite my ignorance as absolute truth, valid for all time.
A while ago, a correspondent gently reprimanded me for my views. But with prayer and Bible study, she suggested, I might yet see the light.
To support her argument, she quoted one of the apostle Paul’s best known verses: “When I was a child, I thought like a child... Now we see through a glass, dimly, but then we shall see clearly...Now I know in part; then I will know fully...”
I agree totally, but perhaps not in the way she intended. Whether it’s language, religion, or any other subject, we need to set aside childhood understandings and partial comprehension; we must struggle constantly towards fuller knowledge.


Good Stuff – This from Don Sandin.
It’s a Japanese Folktale Parable titled, “The House of 1,000 Mirrors”
Long ago in a small, far away village, there was place known as the House of 1,000 Mirrors. A small, happy little dog learned of this place and decided to visit. When he arrived, he bounced happily up the stairs to the doorway of the house. He looked through the doorway with his ears lifted high and his tail wagging as fast as it could.
To his great surprise, he found himself staring at 1,000 other happy little dogs with their tails wagging just as fast as his. He smiled a great smile, and was answered with 1,000 great smiles just as warm and friendly. As he left the House, he thought to himself, "This is a wonderful place. I will come back and visit it often."
In this same village, another little dog who was not quite as happy as the first one decided to visit the house. He slowly climbed the stairs and hung his head low as he looked in the door. When he saw the 1,000 unfriendly looking dogs staring back at him, he growled at them and was horrified to see 1,000 little dogs growling back at him.
As he left, he thought to himself, "That is a horrible place, and I will never go back there again."
All the faces in the world are mirrors.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Sue Welch of Quincy, Illinois noticed a budget item under Miscellaneous. “Super Bowel Sub Fund.”
Says Sue: “Guess those sub sandwiches did more for us on that special football Sunday than satisfy our hunger!!”
Sue, many years ago I had to do some gentle explaining to a radio announcer I’d recently hired, that the game they play each year in the US was not “the Rose Bowel.”

And then there was the congregation which enjoyed “an evening of boweling at Lincoln Country Club.”

Perhaps that’s the same congregation which decided to “celebrate the awesome mess and mystery of God.”

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! – People are like tea bags – you have to put them in hot water before you know how strong they are.
source unknown, via Don Sandin

Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong?
Holly Near via Jim Taylor

One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young. Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.
source unknown via Mary of Oman

We Get Letters – Someone named D. Evans who lives in Moncton, New Brunswick sent this. I’m sure D. Evans has a first name, but that wasn’t in the e-mail. “D” was responding to my question: “If a dog chases a car and catches it, what would he do with it?”
He/She writes: “To answer your question the poor dog would probably give it a coat of wax, dress the tires. Armor-all the dash and sit it in the driveway so all the neighbourhood doggies could be envious.”

Douglas Fox of Kingston, Ontario, who sent us the alternate words for “Dare to be a Daniel,” explains. “Some child in singing the chorus is said to have substituted "spaniel" for "Daniel" and "purple spine" for "purpose firm." That is the significance of the "purple spine."
“My familiarity with the hymn no doubt dates me.”
Douglas, it dates you and me both. So what is the problem in that? Age is not a problem. It is an accomplishment!


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “delusions of adequacy!”) John Severson, I’m sure, feels one can never have too many insults. Tact involves thinking the insult without speaking it. Sanity involves the delicious delight of imagining the reaction if you had said it.
John says, “These glorious insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to four-letter words.”
I agree, John. For me, most profane insults have long lost their shock value and manage mostly to be boring.
* He had delusions of adequacy. Walter Kerr
* He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. Winston Churchill
* I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. Clarence Darrow
* I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it. Mark Twain
* He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends. Oscar Wilde
* I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here. Stephen Bishop
* He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. Paul Keating
* He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.. Forrest Tucker
* His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork. Mae West
* He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than illumination. Andrew Lang
* I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it. Groucho Marx
* There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure. Jack E. Leonard
* They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge. Thomas Brackett Reed
* He has Van Gogh’s ear for music. Billy Wilder


Bottom of the Barrel – This from John Cockburn
If My Body Were a Car
If my body were a car, this is the time I would be thinking about trading it in for a newer model. I've got bumps and dents and scratches in my finish and my paint job is getting a little dull.
But that's not the worst of it. My headlights are out of focus and it's especially hard to see things up close. My traction is not as graceful as it once was. I slip and slide and skid and bump into things even in the best of weather. My whitewalls are stained with varicose veins. It takes me hours to reach my maximum speed. My fuel rate burns inefficiently.
But here's the worst of it. Every time I sneeze, cough or sputter, either my radiator leaks or my exhaust backfires!


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 6:1-21, 24-35Reader 1: Is it my imagination, or were the people in Jesus time a little ah…challenged? You know, not playing with a full deck.
Reader 2: Why do you say that?
1: Well I was checking out this scripture reading we’re going to do here, and after Jesus feeds five thousand people on the contents of one little boys picnic basket, they’re still saying, “show us a sign that you really are God’s messenger.” I mean, what do they want? Thunder bolts out of a clear sky?
2: I see your point. Maybe Jesus should put on a cape and fly around zapping the bad guys.
1: Yeah. Superman with a beard.
Reader 3: Well, don’t jump to conclusions. Let’s read the passage to these people (INDICATING THE CONGREGATION). Let’s see what they do with it.
1: A reading from John’s Gospel.
3: Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. He went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, he spoke to Philip,
1: "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"
2: "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
3: One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up.
2: "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"
1: "Make the people sit down."
3: Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he spoke to the disciples.
1: "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."
3: So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to speak to each other.
2: "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
3: When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.
1: "It is I. Do not be afraid."
3: Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. They found him on the other side of the sea.
2: "Rabbi, when did you come here?"
1: "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
2: "What must we do to perform the works of God?"
1: "This is the work of God -- that you believe in him whom he has sent."
2: "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
1: "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
2: "Sir, give us this bread always."
1: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

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