Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preaching Materials for August 30th, 2009

R U M O R S # 565
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

August 23, 2009



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

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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there. And if you need back issues, that’s where to find ‘em.


The Story – narrow minded legalism
Rumors – a liberal fundamentalist
Soft Edges – heavenly downpour
Good Stuff – 23rd psalm
Bloopers – the lover level
We Get Letters – nine months of winter
Mirabile Dictu! – over the hill
Bottom of the Barrel – astronomically speaking
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Margaret Wood.
While I sat in the reception area of my doctor's office, a woman rolled an elderly man in a wheelchair into the room. As she went to the receptionist's desk, the man sat there, alone and silent. Just as I was thinking I should make small talk with him, a little boy slipped off his mother's lap and walked over to the wheelchair. Placing his hand on the man's, he said, 'I know how you feel. My mom makes me ride in the stroller too.'

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 30th, which is Proper 17 [22].
* Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
* Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 or Psalm 15
* James 1:17-27
* Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 – Like Jim, I’d like to go frolicking in the Song of Solomon (see below). The first thing I’d do is change the title back to “Song of Songs.” It’s unlikely that Solomon had anything to do with it.
And I would use a brand new resource that has just become available – “The Spirituality of Sex,” under the Northstone label. You can order it from the Wood Lake website.
I’ve not yet had an opportunity to read the text but I know and trust the authors. I was thrilled by the art work. It has a tone of gentle and holy eroticism that is genuinely beautiful. It will only be pornographic to those who do not see human sexuality as a beautiful and sacred gift of God.
But if I were to frolic with the Song of Songs, I would have a couple – not necessarily a young couple – read the dialogue from “The Lectionary Story Bible,” Year B, page 184 which I think captures the beauty and holy eroticism of the book.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Jim says –
Oh, I’d love to frolic with the passage from the Song of Solomon – whether or not Solomon actually wrote it – but I think my congregation might be, umm, disapproving. Our hymnbook, Voices United, lists over 300 subjects in its topical index; sex is not one of them.
Besides, the only real story in this basketful of readings is Jesus standing up to criticism.
Too often, I think, we focus on the specific teaching, and not enough on the setting. So I would paint a picture. These guys are out on a picnic in the country. They sit down to eat together. They’re enjoying each other’s company. And some long-nosed nitpickers gather around watching them, and start criticizing them over breaking a few of the 613 Mosaic laws about ritual purity.
Jesus listens for a while. Then he gets up on his hind legs and delivers a withering rebuttal. “Get real!” he snorts. “Try using your brains instead of your law books!”
This is not a discussion about nature or nurture. The list of sins that Jesus enumerates may or may not come from within (DNA) or from outside (social conditioning) – but they are surely more indicative of character than whether one says grace before meals or wears his hair cut short.
I know people who insist that one can only be Christian by pledging unconditional acceptance of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Nicene Creed, and/or the literal truth of every line of Scripture. I would treat Jesus’ rejection of the Pharisees’ rigid legal codes as a direct rebuttal of their modern-day legalism.
What one is and does matters more than any verbal professions of faith.

Ralph says –
Hey, Jim! Careful what you say about long noses. Those of us blessed with an ample proboscis maintain it is a sign of intelligence, virtue and warm personality.
The legalism that Jesus encounters in this passage needs to be addressed – and addressed vigorously. It is an example of the fundamentalism that is tearing our world apart. I’m talking about Christian, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists who are feeding the fires of Middle Eastern conflict that could blow up into full warfare. Which is, of course, exactly what they want.
We, who name ourselves Christian, can really only speak to one of those fundamentalisms, and we need to name it vigorously. It is, among other things, traitorous. Far-right Christians need to be told that their rhetoric, in contributing to the escalation of strife in the world, and therefore to the deaths on both sides of the conflict is as traitorous as killing with bombs or guns. Especially since they tend to wrap themselves in the flag of their country while they are spouting their heresy.
Those of us in the mainline Christian tradition have been as bit wishy-washy in naming this evil that is among us. This passage gives us a chance to stand up and point a few fingers.

Psalm 45:1-17 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
2 You are my dearest friend; you are the brother and sister I never had.
I trust you.
Your instincts are sound;
your life is above reproach.
3 So stand tall and step out confidently.
4 You know what you stand for;
you know what's right.
Have the courage to take a stand;
defend your values vigorously.
5 Your words will penetrate to the heart of the issue;
your actions will expose the false claims of your critics.
6 Then everyone will recognize your wisdom.
7 Because you refused to be swayed by opinion polls,
because you maintained your integrity,
you will find favor with both God and humans.
8 But beware.
9 The beautiful people and the media personalities
will compete to call themselves your friends.
10 Do not be seduced by their charms;
do not forget where you have come from.
11 People in high places will flatter you;
they will ask for your advice.
How can you resist?
12 The wealthy will want to shower you with gifts.
How can you refuse?
13 Luscious women will cling to you
and rub their breasts against your arm;
14 The clinging silks of their gowns
leave little to your imagination.
How can you ignore them?
15 So hold tight to your principles
when you enter the world of the rich and the famous,
the powerful and the ruthless.
16 Keep your childlike innocence,
and all you meet will become your children;
you will be a beloved grandfather to all.
17 Then you will richly deserve your reputation,
and people everywhere will recognize your wisdom.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

James 1:17-27 – There are people in our churches, if pushed to the wall, would say that our creed is, “Be Nice.”
Or maybe I’m just feeling a bit cranky today.
Bev and I led worship in our church the Sunday before last. My least favorite part of the whole process is standing by the door shaking hands as people leave. I don’t mind it if they just say “good morning,” or simply smile. But when they say, “That was lovely,” or “You have such a nice voice,” I want to start yelling and stomping and foaming at the mouth.
I don’t, of course. I have been well trained to sublimate such instincts. So I smile benignly and reach for the next hand.
The writer of James tells us to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves (v22).” When my “message” has been a “massage” I feel I have failed as a preacher.
Bev and I are leading worship for this Sunday too, so I will stand right up on top of the pulpit and yell, “Get the lead out! Move your bloomin’ backsides!”
Or maybe I won’t.

In addition to the children’s version of “The Song of Songs,” the Lectionary Story Bible has a children’s version of the gospel reading which I think (since I wrote it) gets at the core of the passage. It’s called, “Jesus Turns Things Upside Down” and it’s on page 186 of Year B.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday, usually two, and occasionally three. Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – It used to be a family tradition on our house. Now that our children are all middle-aged and I am well beyond my biblical three-score and ten, I suppose I’ve mellowed. Or maybe it’s just that my opinions have become irrelevant.
I remember, with some fondness actually, that sometimes during family gatherings father (me) would get razzed about his Neanderthal attitudes.
And the conversation was often most uncomfortable for me, because I prided myself then (I suppose I still do) in my liberality. My openness. I was willing and able to move with the times.
I squirmed the most when eldest daughter would tell how that liberal father dug in his heels and would not permit said daughter to have her ears pierced until she was well into her teens, and that father fulminated about “self-mutilation” and “pagan practices.” And when father finally gave in, daughter and mother went downtown together and both of them had their ears pierced.
Now in my dotage, I think I’ve become more accommodating. Maybe not to others, but to myself. I have a bunch of turn-of-20th-century attitudes I inherited from my parents. As I grow up, I can see my hang-ups more clearly, especially when I see my middle aged kids exhibiting them. I find it disconcerting when I discover that in many ways, they are more conservative than I am.
But still. When I read that Gospel passage, my knee-jerk sympathies are with the Scribes and Pharisees. They absolutely knew what was right – the key characteristic of fundamentalism.
Me? A liberal fundamentalist? That must be an oxymoron. But (shudder!) maybe it isn’t.
Those up-to-date leaders of the Hebrew faith knew what was right and wrong and reacted negatively when that guy from the provinces came and told them otherwise. Some people’s kids have all the nerve!
Anyone who messes with the traditions of the geriatric crowd, or worse still, the middle-aged crowd, is bound to get into trouble.
Just ask my kids!


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Heavenly Downpour
And then the rains came down.
I saw a light sprinkling on the deck the night before. But I woke to the sound of rain pelting down on the roof, splattering against the windows, gurgling through the downspouts. When I took the dog for her morning walk, runoff sluiced down the streets. Tree branches bent low, burdened by the unfamiliar weight of water that dripped incessantly from sodden leaves.
I felt like singing!
While the central and eastern parts of the continent suffered through a cold and wet summer, most of the west experienced a prolonged drought. Alberta farmers have seen their canola and sugar beet crops devastated. In B.C., the forest fire hazard went from high to extreme to ohmigod. Through the long dry summer, over 2400 fires burned in the province, with the biggest right across the lake from us.
Then the rain came, and squelched the fires.
Brown lawns turned green overnight. Wilted petunias perked up. Parched earth opened its lips, drank deeply, sighed with relief…
We who live in temperate climes sometimes need extraordinary events to understand the mentality of biblical peoples. We tend to think of rain as a problem, something that ruins our picnics. Children chant, “Rain, rain, go away; come again another day…”
But in biblical times, rain was a blessing.
The land promised to the Hebrew escapees from Egypt was not just a land of milk and honey, but “a land … that drinks rain from heaven.”
The book called 1 Kings records a three-year drought. The mindset of the times attributed the drought to God’s desire to punish King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for leading their nation into worshipping the false god Baal.
In the story, God sent the prophet Elijah and his servant up to a mountain top, to look out over the Mediterranean Sea. Six times, they saw only a burning sky. The seventh time, Elijah saw a small cloud, no bigger than the palm of his hand, forming out over the sea.
The drought had ended. The Bible says, “And the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain.”
One on-line dictionary of the Bible argues that because there’s no reference to raining until the story of Noah, “it therefore did not rain until that time.”
I don’t buy that kind of literal interpretation, but I do wonder if there might have been a prolonged drought before Noah’s flood.
Perhaps the land was so baked so dry, so hard, that when the monsoons came, the water ran off instead of soaking in. Like the typhoons that recently devastated Taiwan and China, the downpour formed torrents of mud, flooding the valleys, inundating the villages, drowning the inhabitants. Noah’s ark got swept away, like some of those houses that toppled into raging rivers, to wash up eventually on higher ground far from his former home.
For those who perished, I suspect, that particular rain was not considered a blessing.
There can be too much, even of a good thing.


Good Stuff – Dave Waters writes: We were going thru old clippings saved by my mother over the years, and came across the following. Japanese version of 23rd psalmAttributed to Ted O. Wood
God is my father, I shall have no need. He lets me rest under the blossoming cherry tree. He takes me up to the refreshing waterfall. He quiets my heart.He leads me along the path of well-doing for Christ's sake.Though I face death I will not be frightened
for I will place my hand in His
and He will lead me where I cannot see.He will give me rice and tea as I need it. My cup is filled by His love. His love and His peace will surround me
until life's sunset, then I shall dwell with Him forevermore.

Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Freda Burns saw this in a church publication.
"Handrails along both staircases assist parishioners to [enter] the lover level."

This from Eva Stanley of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.
When parking on the north side of the church, please remember to park on an angel.

Michael Stadtmueller says his church had a “Bike to Church” Sunday. “Bikers are invited to light smacks prior to the service.”

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! – Faith is believing despite the evidence – then watching the evidence change.
Jim Wallis via Jim Taylor

Cliff Boldt of Courtenay, BC, saw this in last week’s Rumors.
He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)
and Cliff sent this rejoinder.
"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway, about William Faulkner

When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.
source unknown, via Margaret Wood


We Get Letters – Dave Towers writes to say it’s his dad (Jack) who lives in Edmonton where they have 50 weeks of winter, and 2 weeks of road construction. “I take full responsibility for your confusion, as Rumors readers have been asked many times (by you) to add our residence to anything we send, and I often neglect to do that.”
Dave lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where they have “nine months of winter, and three months of poor snowmobiling.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “over the hill!”)
Aphorisms on Aging
* Eventually we will reach a point when we stop lying about our age and start bragging about it.
* The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.
* How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
* You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.
* I don’t know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.
* One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.
* One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.
* Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.
* If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble, you won’t have anything to laugh at when you are old.


Bottom of the Barrel – John Severson writes: “This is certainly an old joke – but a good one and maybe worth repeating.
I agree John. It also has a point – about not noticing the obvious.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep.
Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says, 'Kimosabe, look towards sky; what you see?'
The Lone Ranger replies, 'I see millions of stars.' 'What that tell you?' asked Tonto.
The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, the Lord is all powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Tonto?" "You dumber than buffalo poop. Someone stole tent."

I can’t help but append a delightful note about a cartoon I saw once. An aging cowboy is sitting at a bar looking utterly astounded and crushed. The caption reads: “The Lone Ranger finally finds out what Kimosabe means.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23Reader 1: This I don’t get. Somebody reminds Jesus that he and his guys should wash their hands before eating, and he yells at them. He gives them a lecture. He should thank them.
Reader 2: You’ve misunderstood something. The hand washing had nothing to do with sanitation. It was not like those signs you see in washrooms. “Wash your hands before handling food.”
1: So what was it about? I mean, I think the Scribes and Pharisees had a good point.
2: It had to do with ritual cleanliness. People in Jesus day had no idea about germs and things like that. It was a spiritual practice they were talking about.
1: I still don’t get it. How can washing your hands be a spiritual practice.
2: It’s like baptism. When we baptize a baby or an adult, we’re not saying they need a shower. The outer symbolism of water is about a spiritual cleanliness. And outer symbol of an inner reality.
1: Now I think I’ve got it. Like communion. We talk about it as if it’s a meal, but the little pieces of bread and a sip of wine represent a spiritual meal in which our spiritual hunger and thirst are satisfied.
2: You’re a quick learner.
1: Thank you.
2: So let’s read the scripture. It’s from the gospel of Mark.
1: Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles. So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?"
2: "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.
1: Then Jesus called the crowd again and spoke to them.
2: "Listen to me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

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