Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preaching Matrials for October 4th, 2009

R U M O R S # 569
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 27, 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 – take it seriously
Rumors – preaching the impossible
Soft Edges – beyond obedience
Bloopers – the cause of incontinence
We Get Letters – adequate would do
Mirabile Dictu! – hydraulic force
Bottom of the Barrel – singing lustily
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 10:2-16
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Bob Buchanan sends this chuckle.
Six-year old Angie and her four-year old brother, Joel, were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang and talked out loud.
Finally, his big sister had had enough. "You're not supposed to talk out loud in church."
"Why? Who's going to stop me?" Joel asked.
Angie pointed to the back of the church. "See those two men standing by the door? They're hushers."

These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, October 4th, which is Proper 22 [27].

* Job 1:1, 2:1-10 or Genesis 2:18-24
* Psalm 26 or Psalm 8
* Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
* Mark 10:2-16

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 – Why not save this reading, and sometime during the lectionary year, give it the attention it deserves. Maybe a couple of weeks from now when the lectionary calls for the “happy” ending. Then we could talk about the whole story and the problem of suffering. Perhaps have an actor or two from the congregation read a few choice portions of Archibald MacLeish’s, 1958 play, “JB.” And check out Rabbi Harold Kushner’s little book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
Then you’ll have the problem of cutting two hours worth of material down to sermon length.

Psalm 26: 1-12 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Nothing rankles more than an unjust accusation.
1 Do not punish me, God. I have been true to you.
I have trusted you; I have never doubted you for more than a moment.
2 If you don't believe me, test me.
Look into my heart and listen to my thoughts.
See for yourself that I have been faithful.
3 Can't you see that your love means everything to me?
Everything I do, I do for you.
4 I don't play around with pretence;
I don't flirt with false ideals.
5 I despise those who do wrong;
I avoid those who flaunt their faithlessness.
6 I wash my hands of them.
My hands are clean; I come to you with a clear conscience.
7 I constantly count my blessings;
I always speak well of you.
I bless the day you entered my life.
8 I glow when I am near you;
I bask in the sunshine of your smile.
9 Don't brush me off like dandruff;
don't dump me out with your garbage.
10 The trash can is full of people who cheat and swindle;
they deceive their friends; they play both ends against the middle.
11 But I am not like them.
12 I can hold my head high,
Because I have been faithful to you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 – This passage is oozing heavy-duty theology. The main thing that pops out for me is the way in which we humans have been given responsibility for creation. We certainly would rather not have that. But we do, and I don’t think God is going to relieve us of that responsibility, much as we’d prefer that to happen.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Mark 10:2-16
Jim says –
I love the story of Job – that is, the whole story of Job, and not just snippets of it. The whole story, unfortunately, is tediously wordy. Job’s friends use more words than a lawyer arguing a losing case. (For a very abbreviated paraphrase, write me,
So I’d rather go with Mark, a passage that can at least stand on its own.
This passage will make many hearers uncomfortable. At a guess, at least a third of any congregation will be divorced. An employment counsellor I once knew belonged to a church that expelled members whose marriages had broken, based on these verses from Mark. In the end, they had to change their theology, or have no congregation left.
So much for literalism...
And then Mark ends the passage with Jesus blessing the children. Why pair these two stories?
Perhaps there’s a practical angle – children are the primary victims of broken marriages.
Or perhaps it’s a theological connection. Divorces are most often about “Me” – my happiness, my fulfillment, my desires... In Jesus’ time, children had no “Me” to proclaim. They had no social status. Their desires didn’t rate. Perhaps Jesus is saying we need to come to him without any agenda of our own. We are simply present, to him, and to ourselves.

Ralph says –
Like Jim, I’ve always loved the Job legend. As long as we don’t read it as holy writ, but an inspired ancient tale of God and the satan (not Satan!) playing craps with Job’s life. There’s lots to be learned from it.
But, also like Jim, I would go with the gospel reading because it relates to issues and controversies we have in our lives right now.
It’s always been my contention that to read a controversial passage like this one (or the Job passage for that matter) and then not deal with it in the sermon, is downright wrong. Well, at least unwise. Those who paid attention when the passage was read will go home with a bunch of conflicting ideas in their heads.
This passage gives us a good opportunity to check out our denominational policies on marriage and divorce, and to give them a good airing. Very few pew-warmers know what they are, especially now that so many folks slide easily from one denomination to another.
As a society, Canadians take the whole matter of marriage and divorce much too lightly. I think that’s true in most urban west-European societies. It’s easily done and easily dissolved, and gradually stops having much meaning. Legally, marriage and co-habitation amount to the same thing in most of these countries. They’ve moved a long, long way from what Jesus was talking about.
I don’t know what I am advocating. There’s good argument for the churches getting out of the marriage business altogether. There’s also good argument for churches digging in and making marriage and divorce much more important and religiously significant. Perhaps churches should not do marriages for any couple who are not prepared to look deeply at the spiritual significance of what they are doing.
That would mean that most couples would opt for a civil wedding. But a few would really take it seriously.
Very few.

The whole story of Job is told for children in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 205. And it picks up the second half of the gospel reading in a story called “Jesus and the Children” on page 207.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
Or simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – Those of you who are preachers – I don’t envy you your job. There are lots of things in pastoral work that I would love to do if only I had the skills, but preaching on Mark 10:2-12 is not one of them. (13-16 is a piece of cake!)
But as a pew sitter, I really need to hear that preached on. Because I am confused and worried, I’m angry and disappointed, I’m frustrated and disillusioned. And I want you to set it all right for me in one perfectly clear 20 minute sermon.
Of course I do! As soon as I say that, I know how true it is. I want you to give me 20 minutes of – whatever – so that I can go home with all my “stuff” sorted out.
And yes, I also realize that puts a ridiculously impossible trip on you, as my pastor. But that’s what I’d like. I also know that if you have half a wit, you wouldn’t do that. You wouldn’t even try.
This is one of those times when the intimate connection between preaching and pastoring is critical. If I were to be a guest preacher somewhere next Sunday (I’m not.), I hope I’d have the sense to say, “Pick another lection. That’s not an appropriate passage for a guest preacher.”
The passage is a minefield. The only way a preacher can walk through it is as a pastor. Even then, it’s dangerous.
Maybe what I really want is a sermon about minefields and mine detectors – about values and justice – about love. I need to know that the preacher also doesn’t know where the land mines are.
I’ll only know that if the preacher and I are together in community. And that will help me to know that when I step on one of those mines (and I will) that I can count on the community to care for me in my bloody pain, and stand by me while I learn to walk on one leg or to type with one hand.
Above all, I need help to stop running away from my own fear and confusion.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Beyond Obedience
“What’s this ‘emerging church’ we keep hearing about?” two acquaintances challenged me earlier this summer.
“Emerging paradigm,” I corrected them. “It’s not a new church – it’s mostly the freedom not to believe some things that no longer make sense.”
I offered examples – that God created the universe in its present form in seven 24-hour days; that half of Jesus’ DNA came from a being who doesn’t have human DNA; that Jesus levitated into the sky...
“But that means,” one of them interrupted, “that you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God!”
“I believe the Bible contains the word of God,” I replied. “But by its own account, it also contains the words of the devil.”
The conversation quickly veered off into safer topics.
But I kept thinking about that conversation.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all quote words purportedly said by Satan, tempting Jesus. The book of Job quotes Satan, bargaining with God.
Do those words carry the same authority as the words attributed to God, simply because they are in the Bible?
I’ve read, occasionally, about satanic worship cults. Their rituals sounded like parodies of a High Mass or Eucharist.
A friend who died not long ago believed that she had been a victim of a satanic cult in her youth. I wondered what they used as their sacred text.
“The Bible, of course,” she replied.
I was surprised.
“Well,” she explained, “if you wanted to hide something, where it couldn’t be removed or changed, what could be a better place than in a book that Christians consider too holy to question?”
That actually makes sense. If I wanted to destroy a divine power, I certainly wouldn’t advertise my intentions openly. That would be as self-defeating as walking into airport security with a placard that says, “I am a terrorist suicide bomber.”
But once you acknowledge that some parts of the Bible may not be as authoritative as others, doesn’t every other part become suspect? It’s called the “domino effect” – a chain reaction where one falling domino causes all the rest to topple.
Of course. But it raises the possibility that God expects more from us than just obedience. Maybe God expects us to think, too.
I actually do believe that some writings preserved in the Bible misunderstood God’s intentions. Because they came from a ruthless culture, they assumed that God wanted them to commit genocide. They took for granted that God would seek revenge. They assumed that God belonged only to them.
But that’s not a problem, if I see the Bible as a progressive unfolding of God’s desires. So it moves from massive retaliation, to limited retaliation –an eye for an eye, but not more – to forgiving one’s enemies, to loving one’s enemies. It goes from endorsing slavery, to recognizing slaves’ rights, to rejecting distinctions between slave and free.
If I had my way, I’d want Bibles sold without back covers – to remind us that our gradually growing understanding of God’s intentions did not end 19 centuries ago.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Thom Carnahan of Canora spotted an apology from a church secretary about the newsletter. “We hope it did not cause anyone any undo incontinence.”

Nancy Best of Quyon, Quebec is a student minister working on a three-point rural charge, so she gets to type all her own bulletins. Recently she listed an old favorite. “Live Divine, All Love Excelling.”
Which, Nancy observes, is not bad advice to follow.

Barb Bruning read in a church calendar about a leader who was to be attending the “Lazy Leader Transforms Americatraining which is open to anyone who wants to learn more about creating happy volunteers and being a good leader.”

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 say to us, “Oh, I grew up with your music, and we often say, sotto voce, “So did we.”
Folksinger Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, via Wayne Holst and Jim Taylor.

Christine Wilson of Vancouver, BC says last Sunday her minister asked all parents to provide their e-mail addresses, ‘in case one of the children has a communicable disease we want to communicate it to everyone.”

Christine also says, “Beware the spell checker! In my niece’s church school calendar the day before the first day of Lent is marked as ‘Strove’ Tuesday.”

Mack speaking to God. “Why is there such an emphasis on you being a Father? It seems to be the way you most reveal yourself.”
“We knew, once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Both are needed. But an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.”
William P. Young in “The Shack” via Bev Milton

The roots of happiness grow deepest in the sod of service. Some folks give the impression they were baptized in vinegar.
source unknown, via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Dave Feick has a further note about the exchange with Lois Seimens and the Superb Mennonite Church. Says Dave, “Did you notice that Lois Siemens, in her humility, failed to mention that she is the Superb pastor? Try living with that title for a while!”
Dave, I think most of us would settle for “adequate.”

Delmer Epp of Winnipeg, Manitoba says he and his wife were married in the Superb Mennonite Church more than 40 years ago. “After getting married in Superb we did not go to Climax, Saskatchewan for our honeymoon.”
Delmer says the tiny congregation was devastated when vandals broke into the building and totally trashed the washroom. "We have nothing to go on," the pastor lamented.

Benchuck Manning in "The Woods," West Virginia says his “attention really perked up when you related the rib tickler that had the punch line ‘I'm in sales, not management.’ I used to use that line consistently during the days of my Army Chaplaincy on those occasions when commanders would ask me for off the wall prayers e.g. "Chaplain, would you pray for the rain to stop?"
Well? Did you? And did it?


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “hydraulic force!”)
Mindy Ehrke says these made her smile. Or cry a little.
* Cigarette: A bit of dried plant rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool on the other.
* Divorce: Future tense of marriage.
* Lecture: An art of transferring information from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either.
* Conference: The confusion of one person multiplied by the number present.
* Compromise: The art of dividing a cake in such a way that everybody believes he or she got the biggest piece.
* Tears: The hydraulic force by which the will-power of one is defeated by the water power of another.
* Dictionary: The only place where success comes before work.
* Conference Room: A place where everybody talks, nobody listens and everybody disagrees later on.
* Classic: A book which people praise, but do not read.
* Smile: A curve that can set a lot of things straight.
* Office: A place where you can relax after your strenuous home life.
* Yawn: The only time some married people ever get to open their mouth in the presence of their spouse.


Bottom of the Barrel – Dave Edwards of Camrose, Alberta isn’t totally sure this happened, but if it didn’t, it should have.
Dave, this is about a choir that sings “lustily.” The choir I sing in has brand new black gowns and so we don’t do “lustily.” “With spirit,” is as wild as we get.
Anyway, here’s Dave’s story.
The choir were singing lustily in procession as they marched down the aisle into church. The last of the sopranos caught her heel in the open furnace grate in the middle of the aisle. She reached down to free her shoe but it was caught too firmly, so with great presence of mind she slipped off the other shoe and kept on going.
The tenor behind her saw what had happened and reached back as he passed to rescue the shoes. Unfortunately the whole grate came up in his hand, and the first of the basses, who was concentrating on his hymn book, stepped into the hole.
Since he was a man of traditional build, he got himself firmly stuck and eventually they had to call the volunteer fire department to get him out.
And the minister, with rare good sense, said the benediction and led the way downstairs for coffee.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 10:2-16
Reader 1: There seem to be two distinct topics in today’s reading. The first one is all about divorce, and the second is all about kids. Or is there a connection I’m missing?
Reader 2: Could it be because children are the victims in so many broken marriages.
1: Well, divorces are often about selfishness. Each partner concerned primarily about themselves.
2: It seems that way. When you talk to someone who has been divorced, they often talk about the selfishness of the other person. Me, Me, Me. In reality, that selfishness sometimes goes both ways.
1. Maybe Jesus brought children into the conversation because in his time, children couldn’t say, “Me, Me.” They were at the bottom of the social ladder, and it didn’t really matter what happened to them. Maybe Jesus is saying that we need to come to him without any agenda of our own. Like the children, we simply had to be there. To be present.
2: Well, let’s read the passage. It’s from the tenth chapter of the gospel of Mark.
1: Some Pharisees came, and wanted to test Jesus.
2. "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
1: "What did Moses command you?"
2: "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."
1: "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
2: Then, when they went inside a house the disciples asked him again about this matter.
1: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
2: People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them, telling them to keep the children away. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.
1: "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
2: Then Jesus took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

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