Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preaching Matrials for September 27th, 2009

R U M O R S # 568
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 20, 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 – two brave women
Rumors – another kind of courage
Soft Edges – when possibilities open up
Bloopers – labs and lavs
We Get Letters – a superb church
Mirabile Dictu! – nose hair
Bottom of the Barrel – tired of Chardonnay
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
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 Evelyn McLachlan.
Little Mary was at her first wedding and gaped at the entire ceremony.
When it was over, she asked her mother, “Why did the lady change her mind?”
“What do you mean?”
"Well, she went down the aisle with one man and came back with another one.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, September 27th, which is Proper 21 [26].

* Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 or Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
* Psalm 124 or Psalm 19:7-14
* James 5:13-20
* Mark 9:38-50

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

Ralph says –
I know. You are not surprised that I chose the Esther story.
The problem is, the reading begins right smack dab in the middle. And the Lectionary leaves out entirely the story of Vashti (1:1-22). Vashti’s story is the earliest one I know of a strong feminist who refused to be paraded in front of a gang of slobbering drunks. Vashti’s story is included in “The Lectionary Story Bible” however (p.201, Year B).
Our Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate the feast of Purim each year to honor the heroism of Esther, a woman who risked her life to save her people. “It is celebrated by feasting and merriment, almsgiving, sending food to neighbors and friends, and chanting the text of Esther. It is perhaps the most joyous day of the Jewish year, with masquerades, plays, and drinking of wine even in the synagogue.” (Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003.) Check out the Reader’s Theatre version below. It has a summary of the first part of the story, which you could use as an intro to the rest of it, even if you don’t want to do the Reader’s Theatre thing.
Esther’s story would be a good basis to reflect on the meaning of heroism, focusing particularly on those whose heroism is lived out quietly day by day by day and most often without recognition by anyone. Often not even recognized by themselves. I was about to say that these heroes are more often women, but I don’t know that.
God knows.

Jim says –
Esther has a great story – and telling it could go a long way to helping Christians understand more about their Jewish neighbours – but reading just this one passage out of the middle of the whole story is like telling the tale of One Little Pig.
Which leaves me with Mark to preach about. And this ain’t easy. Because Jesus is indulging in wild exaggeration. If we took his instructions literally, we’d all be hobbling around on one leg, squinting with one eye, and shaking hands left-handed. As well, most men would have no genitals left.
A teenaged girl once asked me: “I like boys. What part of me do I cut off?”
Despite my jaundiced views, surgery is a valid analogy for Jesus’ message. I’m better off without an inflamed appendix. Others have lost a gall bladder, kidney, uterus, breast lump, tonsils, brain tumours... Terry Fox lost a leg, in an attempt to halt the cancer in his system; he still managed to run a marathon a day, halfway across Canada, before cancer caught up with him.
But this is not really about body parts. I think it’s more about breaking bad habits. When you realize that smoking or drinking, sugar or caffeine, are not good for you, how do you quit? (How do we men stop thinking of ourselves as God’s gift to women?) What kind of self-discipline does quitting demand? Where do you get the strength to swim against the cultural stream, to be different, to resist social pressures?
As Jesus assures us, life becomes fuller when we excise anything that causes our innate goodness, our godliness, to shrivel within us.

Psalm 124 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 The odds were stacked against us from the beginning.
2 The great corporations strung us a good line
about caring for us, about bringing prosperity.
But they really meant prosperity for themselves.
When the profits looked better somewhere else,
they abandoned us. They always do.
3 The powerful nations promised us freedom;
they loaned us millions for a fresh start.
now we are enslaved by our debt.
They will not free us.
4 The arms makers sold us weapons
to protect ourselves against our neighbors.
They sold weapons to our neighbors,
to protect themselves against us.
5 Now our former friends are a threat.
We need more, and more, and more.
6 The only one not in this for private gain is God.
7 If we have retained any faith in human nature,
in justice, in our own identity,
8 it is because of God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

James 5:13-20 – This is where we get the phrase “will cover a multitude of sins.” Everyone, especially writers, has techniques and methods (often unknown to themselves) to “cover a multitude of sins.” No, I’m not going to tell you what mine are.
This is a little homily on prayer and how it may be used. It does kind of imply that, like Elijah, if we pray hard enough we can control of the weather. I hope that’s not true because who do you know who is wise enough to be given that kind of power?
Mark 9:38-50 – Every once in awhile – no, quite often actually – one verse of scripture kind of leaps out and grabs you. For me this time, it’s verse 42 about putting stumbling blocks before the little ones.
I’m quite sure I’ve done that. One on one with my own children and grand children, and to thousands through the bible story books I’ve published.
For that matter, who hasn’t? And most of the time we don’t even know it. Most of the time we do it with the best of intentions. Most of the time we have no alternative but to take that risk because “these little ones” are placed in our care even though as parents, teachers, friends, leaders – we are all rank amateurs.
Once again, all we can do is plead for grace. Once again, we know it is given.

For children see the story of Vashti and Esther in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 199.
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 – There are times when you simply have to sit back and count your blessings. For me, this is one of those times.
It’s one of those times because I need to report that the blessing of “normal” is back to the point where I don’t notice it anymore. The assorted side-effects from the epilepsy medication seem to be working themselves out. A little time and patience was all it took. So I am happy to report that for the most part, life is back to normal.
Among the blessings are many of you Rumors readers who sent gentle, kind, caring notes. Many of you who are living with chronic illnesses and the pain that goes with them. It is amazing to me, and something of a miracle, that you find the space in your heart to reach out in love to someone whose struggles are so tiny by comparison.
Every once in awhile there’s a story in the news paper or on TV about someone who has rescued another from drowning or fire. I don’t mean to discount them. Those people are heroes.
Nor do I mean to discount the bravery and heroism of the people in our armed forces who over the years and right now deserve the title of hero.
But their bravery – their heroism – pales in comparison to the bravery and heroism of people whose entire lives requires of them, every day, to lay aside the palpable fear they encounter when they wake up each morning. Somehow they summon the sheer guts to do what they do. And for the most part, there is nobody there to offer a caring hand, or a hug, or a word of appreciation. There is certainly nobody there to pin a medal on them. There will probably never be a medal.
All of this springs out of reflecting on Esther and Vashti. One mis-step. One word out of place would have meant death for Esther and her people.
But there is an even greater courage in the story of Vashti, and I find myself feeling angry because her story is almost never told. She’s not even mentioned in the lectionary. I’ve never heard her mentioned from the pulpit.
Vashti was Queen of Persia. The King was throwing the grand-daddy of all parties. He told his eunuchs to go tell Vashti to put on her crown and come and show herself to all his drunken buddies, for “she was fair to behold.”
She refused. Can we even imagine the courage it took for her to say “no.” The king was all powerful. She had absolutely no power except the power within herself.
All she had to do was to put her sense of self – her dignity – her pride – on hold for an hour or two and do a little dance in front of the king’s slobbering friends. Could that be so bad? Would it have killed her?
But Vashti saw herself as something more than a piece of meat. Something more than a “boy toy.” Vashti said, “no.” And with that single word she banished herself from the palace. She was out on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back – if that. And it seems to me that Vashti was first feminist – the foremother of all the women who dug down inside themselves and found the courage to say “no.” And face the consequences.
It’s time her story was told!


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
When Possibilities Open Up
The mountain that rises across the lake from us has no name – at least, none that I know of. It is, in truth, little more than a rocky ridge, its lower slopes densely forested, its upper reaches craggy, a great whale-backed hump that blocks our view of more distant ranges.
It looks like a single solid mass. But sometimes, a shaft of setting sun or a particular sifting of low-slung clouds reveals that it is actually two ridges – one nearer, one farther.
Often, I have wished I could fly. I have wished I could float effortlessly above those ridges, to see what’s on the other side, to see where the valleys run, whether there are streams and roads and perhaps even people of whom I know nothing...
But I can’t fly.
I could, of course, pull on my hiking boots and scramble up those rugged slopes to the top, so that I could peer over the edge and satisfy my curiosity.
But I haven’t done it. In my inertia, I am like most people, I suspect. Few of us feel driven to explore the farther reaches of our curiosity.
Perhaps we’re afraid of what we might find there.
The closing lines of a sonnet by English poet John Keats come to mind:
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific – and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise – Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Keats was wrong about one thing. It was Vasco Núñez de Balboa, not Hernan Cortes, who first struggled to the top of that peak in Panama and became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
But Keats was absolutely right about that “wild surmise,” that stunned realization that there lay before them an ocean they had never imagined, an ocean that would prove bigger than any sea they had yet experienced.
Every now and then, other explorers have similar experiences. Not necessarily geographic explorers, but explorers of the mind, of the unknown. Madame Curie discovers radioactively. Isaac Newton identifies gravity. Aristotle defines the rules of logic. Galileo sees the moons of Jupiter. Freud squints into the human subconscious. Darwin outlines evolution. Tuzo Wilson imagines continents drifting across the earth’s surface...
And previously unimagined vistas open up.
But as I said, not many people go there. And when those “explorers” do come back from their personal “peaks in Darien,” the rest of us tend to ridicule them. It’s not possible, we cry. It’s contrary to our daily experience. We can see with our own eyes that the world is flat, and fixed, that the sun goes around the earth, that human beings are not animals, that our race is superior, that same-sex anything is a filthy sin...
We don’t need to go there, we say.
And so, instead of gazing “at each other with a wild surmise,” we prefer to keep our eyes firmly blinkered; we prefer not to see the vast ocean of possibilities opening out before us.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Dick Cridlebaugh of East Peoria, USA, saw it in the local paper. It seems a local family had “adopted an 18 month old laboratory retriever named Sport.”
Well, you know how it is, Dick. Those laboratories tend to lose their way and forget what they were trying to find, and so need retrieval.
In a follow-up note, Dick wrote: “As I was out pondering life while mowing, I decided it is a good thing they did not adopt a lavatory retriever!”

The Ladies Society will be selling their new cookbook at the church supper this Wednesday night. The proceeds will help purchase a stomach pump for our community hospital.

A church maintenance worker left a note attached to a receipt in the office for the Church secretary. The note read: "Van Battery died." The Secretary dutifully typed into the bulletin: "The Church was saddened to hear of the passing of Van Battery. Our condolences go to the whole Battery family."

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! – Laughter is a smile that burst!
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity:
George Bernard Shaw via Jim Taylor

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
Thomas Jefferson via Stephani Keer


We Get Letters – Doug Mitchell of Marmora, Ontario writes: “I was at a funeral yesterday for a good friend. His son, who is a backhoe operator, said he was anxious to get back to work, because it was quiet and he felt grounded in his work. My wife added that he makes the earth move when he's working. I'm amazed at the humour that is present in times of grief.”

I wrote to Lois Siemens asking about the delightful name of her church – The Superb Mennonite Church. She wrote: “The name of the church does seem rather proud for a Mennonite congregation. The name of the town where the church began was called Superb, Saskatchewan. The town is no longer, but the church lives on.”

Steph McClellan of Gander, Newfoundland writes; “Thanks for the toast and the prayers for your chronic friends, Ralph!! Of course I mean, friends with chronic pain, but today is one of those days. ‘Chronic friends’ is what came out and it made me laugh!”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “nose hair!”)
The sermons I’ve been hearing lately are entirely too good, so I offer the following really awful analogies to clergy who may wish to use them to degrade an otherwise reasonably adequate homily.
* His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
* Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
* He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
* The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
* McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a plastic bag filled with vegetable soup.
* From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
* She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook-latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
* Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
* Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
* He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
* The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
* Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
* John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
* The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
* The red-brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.

Bottom of the Barrel – This from Robert Moore of Acton, Massachusetts.
Mother Superior called all the nuns together and said to them, "I must tell you all something. We have a case of gonorrhea in the convent."
''Thank God," said an elderly nun at the back. "I'm so tired of Chardonnay."

Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

Reader 1: This is one of those instances where we have to tell the story before we can tell the story. Because the suggested lectionary reading begins in the middle.
Reader 2: Maybe the folks who designed the lectionary did that because the whole story would be too long and wouldn’t leave enough time for a sermon.
1: Weeelllll……!
2: Don’t go there.
1: Hmmmph. Well, OK. Let’s do a summary of the story of Esther – which is the story of a very brave woman.
1: It begins with a kind of beauty contest. They gather the most beautiful women from the whole kingdom, and the king finally chooses Esther. He didn’t know that Esther was Jewish. Esther didn’t tell him.
2: Esther had an Uncle. Mordecai. Mordecai didn’t get along too well with the King’s first minister, Haman. Haman was a bit of a stuffed shirt, and wanted everyone to bow and scrape to him, but Mordecai refused.
1: “God made me. God made Haman. God made all of us. So why should I bow down to Haman or to anybody else.”
2: That made Haman furious. He vowed to get even, not just with Mordecai but with all the Jewish people. He flattered and cajoled the king.
1: There are people here in Persia who don’t obey your laws. They worship their own God and they celebrate different feasts than the people of Persia.
2: So what should we do with them?
1: We should eliminate them all. They are a danger to you and your kingdom.
2: Do whatever you think is best.
1: Now the plot thickens.
2: Mordecai heard this. Secretly he made contact with Esther.
1: You’ve got to do something. Somehow you’ve got to persuade the king not to kill all our people.
2: So Esther cooked up a really nice dinner for the king. All his favorites. All the fixin’s. The king loved it. But he ate just a bit too much and couldn’t sleep that night. He picked up a book and while flipping through it, came upon the story of how Mordecai had saved the kings life.
1: The next night, Esther had laid on another great spread for the king. His First Minister Haman was with him. In the course of the conversation, the king happened to mention the book he’d been reading and how this man Mordecai had saved his life.
2: Haman was squirming under his expensive suit, let me tell you. But he said nothing.
1: But the king was having a good time. He drank more wine and ate more food and after awhile he turned and spoke to Queen Esther.
And here we pick the story up from the book of Esther.
2: "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled."1: If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king."2: "Who is this person who is trying to kill you and your people? And where is he. Who has presumed to do this?"1: "A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!"
2: Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.1: Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, spoke up. "Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman's house, fifty cubits high."
2: "Hang him on that."1: So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.2: Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

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