Thursday, August 27, 2009

Preaching Materials for September 6th, 2009

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

September 6, 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 – an insult turned around
Rumors – the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman
Soft Edges – enough already
Good Stuff – two wolves
Bloopers – pizza, the bread of heaven
We Get Letters – an apology
Mirabile Dictu! – ohnosecond
Bottom of the Barrel – God’s handiwork
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 7:24-30
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – He was a retired clergy, ninety years old and in a wheelchair at a nursing home. As one of the particularly comely nurses came near, he managed a slight whistle and some approving noises.
“Reverend Abernathy,” she said in mock anger. “Aren’t you a bit too old to be making passes at me?”
“I wasn’t making a pass at you,” said the aging cleric. “I was simply enjoying a fine example of God’s handiwork.”

Note: That comment, about admiring God’s handiwork, was also attributed to the storied Bishop Pike, when asked what he thought of topless restaurants.


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, September 6th, which is Proper 18 (23)

* Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 or Isaiah 35:4-7a
* Psalm 125 or Psalm 146
* James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
* Mark 7:24-37

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) Mark 7:24-30.

Ralph says –
Note that we’ve ended the reading at verse 30. That’s because there are two stories in that reading. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman had lots of good meat in it.
The lectionary includes the second healing story, probably because those who did the choosing saw healing as the connection between the two. But for me, it’s the relationship between the woman and Jesus that is most interesting.
At least one commentary claims that in the original language, Jesus and the woman use different words which are both translated as “dogs” in the NRSV. Jesus says it’s not fair to throw children’s food to the “puppies,” but the woman says that even the “mutts” get a few crumbs from the table. She takes his insult and turns it back on Jesus.
This is, I think, the first instance in which Jesus is taught by someone else, which makes it even more interesting, because it was a woman and a foreigner.
I’ve written a story based on this reading (see below). Like everything else in Rumors, you are free to use it in your worship or Bible study.

Jim says –
I cannot resist the first half of this story in Mark. Frankly, I don’t care about the healings – there are plenty of other miracles in the gospels – but this is the only episode that shows Jesus changing his mind.
Jesus had started off with the assumption that his mission was exclusively to the Jews, the inheritors of the traditions of Moses and the prophets. But a gentile woman refused to be squelched. Jesus called her people “dogs”; she turned his insult into a rationale for assisting her.
From that point on, according to Mark, Jesus broadened his outreach to include the Gentile world.
But how to get that point across? When I can’t think of a simple object lesson or analogy, I usually turn to drama. I would stage a skit, in which Jesus and his pals rudely reject an outsider. But the outsider persists, and succeeds. Who is the outsider? Perhaps a woman approaching a group of men – or vice versa. A Hell’s Angel biker encountering a group of bankers. A Muslim with a group of fundamentalist Christians...
In case your imagination isn’t up to it, I’ve drafted a short script, which you can copy by going to Whether you choose to use it or not, the point is that this outsider helped Jesus reject the exclusivity he had previously taken for granted.
What are the exclusivities that we take for granted, and can grow beyond?

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 or Isaiah 35:4-7a – Over lunch just now, Bev and I were talking about the terrible famines sweeping through north and central Africa. Then I picked up my Bible and read this passage, and wondered how it would sound to the mother of starving children who has the dry, desert winds burning her face. And what is the best use we have of the little cash we can give.
The problem is so complex and the need is so desperate.

Psalm 125 (or Psalm 146) – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Mountains are not easily moved.
God's people have faith like that.
2 As mountains gather around a little town,
cradling it in the hollow of their valleys,
so God wraps loving arms around her children,
protecting them from abuse and exploitation.
3 Hands of hate shall not touch them;
no guns or war toys will fall into their cribs.
They will not be tempted by violence later in life;
they will have no desire to make victims of others.
4 Let it be so, Lord.
Let a good start lead to goodness as an adult.
Show us that there is an innate fairness in the universe.
5 Let those who turn away from you,
who prefer their own ways to yours,
suffer the consequences of their choices.
Those who follow your way do not expect fame or fortune;
But let there be fairness.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 – The last part of this passage takes us right back to the agony Bev and I experience over the drought in Africa. If we are people of faith but do nothing about it, does not our inaction demonstrate the shallowness of our faith?
The nature of our action then? To send as much as we can directly to drought relief work. To increase our efforts to be part of the climate change solution rather than part of the problem. To let our representatives in government know that we want them to be working on those problems – and urgently.

A children’s version of the Syro-Phoenician woman story from Mark titled “A Woman Teaches Jesus” is found in the Lectionary Story Bible, Year A, page 184. The reading from James, titled “Doing God’s Work” is on page 191, Year B, and a story based on the Isaiah reading titled, “Why Do People Fight?” is on page 189, Year B.
A note from Cheryl Perry, the minister of Christian Education in the congregation where we worship, says the title in the bulletin for the reading from “The Lectionary Story Bible” should not be Children’s Scripture. “That invites the adults not to listen.” She suggests “Scripture Story.”
If you do not already own this helpful set of bible stories for children, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – The Story of The Syro-Phoenician Woman

"You can't go in there," said Peter.
"Well, I am going in there whether you like it or not."
"I said, you can't go in there, woman."
"I am going in, mister. I have a sick daughter at home, and I am going in there and that prophet of yours is going to fix her. Now get out of my way before I give you a swift kick in the knackers."
Peter jumped aside. The fierce eyes of the woman frightened him. He followed her into the house. "I told her you didn't want to be disturbed, Jesus. But she wouldn't listen."
"Jesus? That is your name? They say you are a prophet. They say you are a very mighty prophet. Some say you are the Messiah. All right, I'm asking you. No, I'm begging you, Jesus, Lord, son of David, help my daughter. She is desperately sick with epilepsy. If she doesn't get help, she will die."
Jesus was sitting on a mat in a corner of the room away from the hot sunshine coming in through the window. He was meditating – trying to rest, trying to regain some strength after the exhausting work in Capernaum. Jesus was tense and tired and annoyed at the woman for intruding on his retreat. He kept his eyes closed, hoping she would take the hint and leave.
"Look, I'm sorry. But I need your help, Jesus. My daughter is dying and I need your help!"
"Just tell her to leave, Jesus," said Peter. "She'll listen to you."
"I can't help you. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is. I was sent to the people of Israel. To the Jews. Please leave." His voice had the edge of utter exhaustion.
"Surely, if you are a man of God, you have come to all of God's people."
"The children of Israel are God's people. Look, I'm sorry. But you don't take the bread that is meant for the children and feed it to your puppy, do you." Jesus smiled just a little during the last comment, perhaps to soften the insult. The smile gave her hope.
"Right," she said, her eyes flaming with desperation. "But even the mutts on the street get to eat some of the scraps off the family table. Surely, Jesus, your God has enough love to give a little to those of us who are not Jewish!"
Jesus recoiled a little. His hand massaged his forehead as if to ease a headache. He felt the woman's piercing eyes. Through his mind flashed the stories of his people, the wonderful humor of Jonah who was sent to bring God's message to the hated Ninevites, the moving story of Ruth, the foreigner, who became an ancestor to the great King David, and the stories his own mother had told him of his birth–of foreign Magi who came bearing gifts.
"You are right," said Jesus barely above a whisper. "Of course you are right. You are also very courageous. Go home. Your daughter will be well."
"Thank you," she said, and now her mother's tenderness went out to Jesus. "Go back to your meditation. You look as if you need the rest."
"Meditation, yes," Jesus said quietly. "You have given me much to meditate upon."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Enough Already!
I haven’t heard much about electricity brownouts in California recently. A few years ago, every newscast seemed to have some kind of report about industries having to shut down, towns suffering power shortages, homeowners ordered to turn off their air conditioners...
B.C. sold billions of kilowatts to California, for which it will probably never get repaid.
John Burton says it’s because Enron folded.
Burton teaches business ethics at the University of B.C.’s Okanagan campus. It’s now well documented, he claims, that Enron created the rolling brownouts to increase demand, raise electricity rates, and thus inflate share values.
When Enron died in disgrace, so did the energy shortages.
Burton was speaking at a presentation sponsored by the Okanagan Institute, every Thursday afternoon at the Bohemian Cafe – a kind of coffee house for sophisticated discussion that used to flourish in London and New York a century or so ago.
On this occasion, the topic was greed.
Everyone seemed to agree that greed was bad. Especially if it harmed others. Even if it didn’t harm others, the participants thought, greed might still be bad, because it became an addiction, an insatiable lust for more.
And more.
Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper’s magazine, once described a survey that asked people how much more they would need to be happy. Uniformly, the respondents indicated that an additional 20 per cent income – if I recall the figure correctly – would grant them lasting happiness.
Which sounds realistic. Until you realize that they felt they needed that much more, regardless of their current income. Both the night shift worker at Burger King and the millionaire CEO thought they could be content with another 20 per cent, or whatever the figure was.
In other words, enough is never enough.
As I sat and listened, it seemed to me that the assembled group took for granted that material things were intrinsically evil. That’s certainly a recurring thread in Puritan theology. Indeed, it goes back before Puritanism to the “desert fathers” who renounced all material possessions, to free themselves to live lives of greater spiritual purity.
So the question kept coming up: “How much is enough?” How big a house? How many clothes? How many cars? How big a bank account?
As if being satisfied with less would make us better people.
But we would rarely apply such questions to non-material things.
No one ever thinks they have enough friends already. No one wants less health. No one objects to more cooperation, more respect, more sharing, more love...
Obviously, a shortage of these intangible qualities can be just as damaging as material poverty. But is it equally obvious that an excess of these can be damaging?
I’m not suggesting that everyone should aspire to Michael Jackson’s mansion or Jay Leno’s collection of exotic cars. Nor am I arguing that the Puritans were wrong – my inbred suspicion of ill-gotten gains runs too deep to set aside easily.
But I do wonder why we don’t apply to our social assets the questions we direct at people’s physical assets. Or vice versa...
How do we know when enough is enough?


Good Stuff – This from Jim Spinks.
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. “My son, the battle is between 'two wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. “The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute, and then asked: “Which wolf wins?” Very quietly the old Cherokee simply replied: “The one you feed.”


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Carol Wagner of Berridale, Australia writes, “I blooped in Holy Communion this morning! As we Anglicans stood solemnly to hear the Gospel, I read from John 6, where Jesus was explaining that he was the bread from heaven, which some of the disciples found too hard to hear and left. I continued, ‘Jesus turned to Simon Pizza and said....’"
Carol, is it possible that pizza is the “bread from heaven?” My grandchildren would think so.

From the file:
* Helpers are needed! Please sign up on the information sheep.
* If you need to heave during the service, please do so quietly.
* We pray that our people will continue to jumble themselves before 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! – When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
Cree Prophecy via Jim Taylor

My grandmother used to tell me, "Furnish your mind well; it's where you will spend your old age." Unfortunately, someone keeps moving the furniture!
Susan Fiore, AOJN

If you think there is good in everybody, you haven't met everybody. Anonymous via Mary of Oman


We Get Letters – Only one letter about this, but it called my attention to the joke last week featuring the Lone Ranger and “his faithful Indian companion Tonto.” The joke had Tonto speaking in the kind of fake pidgin attributed to First Nations people, especially in popular entertainment of the 50’s and earlier.
I left that language in because the joke had Tonto blowing open the pompous stupidity of the L.R., and Tonto’s fake accent seemed to add to the joke. The one portrayed as stupid turns out to be the intelligent one. You wouldn’t really get that unless you had grown up on those Lone Ranger radio programs.
But humor which only some of your readers or some of your listeners will understand is dangerous at best and in this case was unnecessary.
My apologies to First Nations people who have been badly and unfairly portrayed in so many media. And to all who found that joke offensive.
Perhaps the rest of us should be ashamed if we didn’t.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Ohnosecond!”)
This invaluable vocabulary resource from Jim Spinks.
New Words Coined in 2009. Note: These will be obsolete in 2010. * Assmosis:: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard
* Prairie Dogging: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.
* Mouse Potato: The on-line generation's answer to the couch potato.
* SITCOMs: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What Yuppies get into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.
* Stress Puppy: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.
* Swipeout: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.
* Irritainment: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them.
* Percussive Maintenance: The fine art of whacking the beejabers out of an electronic device to get it to work again.
* Adminisphere: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.
* 404: Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error Message "404 Not Found," meaning that the requested site could not be located.
* Generica: Features of the North American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, and subdivisions.
* Ohnosecond: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a big mistake.
* WOOFs: Well-Off Older Folks.
* Crop Dusting: Surreptitiously passing gas while passing through a Cube Farm.


Bottom of the Barrel – An older man was quite ill, and said to his wife: “You know Sarah, you’ve always been with me, through good times and bad. Like the time I lost my job, you were right there, by my side. And when the war came and I enlisted. You became a nurse so that you could be with me.
Then I was wounded, and you were right there. And when the depression hit, and we had nothing, you were there, right by my side. Now I am old and sick and, as always, you are beside me.
“You know something Sarah? I’m beginning to think you’re bad luck!!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 7:24-30
Reader 1: You know, I feel sorry for Jesus. There’s a bunch of stories about Jesus trying to get away for a bit of rest and relaxation, but the people kept finding him.
Reader 2: He must have been close to burn-out many times. If it wasn’t the disciples, then it was the crowds who just wouldn’t give him any time off.
1: I’ve heard people say that Jesus wouldn’t really need time off. But we are told he was fully human, and if he was – you know, completely human – he would have desperately needed some R&R time.
2: It must have been pretty bad for him sometimes, because in the story we’re going to read, Jesus leaves the country. I guess he thought nobody would recognize him.
1: Well, he thought wrong. Jesus gets into a conversation with a foreign woman who could give as good as she got. He tried to kick her out of the house by insulting her and telling her to get lost. But she taught him a valuable lesson – that his gift was not just to the Jewish people. His gift was for all of us.
2: A reading from the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel.
1: Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.2: Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus wouldn’t do it.1: "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the puppies."2: "Sir, even the mutts under the table eat the children's crumbs."1: "For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter."2: So the woman went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
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