Friday, October 9, 2009

Preaching Materials for October 18, 2009

R U M O R S #571
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

October 11, 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 – the agony of indecision
Rumors – children of the same womb
Soft Edges – intimate acts
Good Stuff – you thought I wasn’t looking
Bloopers – sphere heading
We Get Letters – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
Mirabile Dictu! – probably not kosher
Bottom of the Barrel – tracing your ancestry
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 10:35-45
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Unfortunately, this story is probably apocryphal.
One day, as the church parking lot filled up, people were surprised to find the doors to the church tightly locked. And there was a sign on the door.
It read: “I’ve been preaching here for three years about how we should live out the gospel in our daily lives. You must have heard the message. No go out and do something about it!”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, October 18th, which Proper 24 [29].
* Job 38:1-7, (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12
* Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c or Psalm 91:9-16
* Hebrews 5:1-10
* Mark 10:35-45

Job 38:1-7, (34-41) – Poor Job. The poor man has my sympathies all through the story. God and the satan (not the guy in red tights) put bets on his faithfulness, he survives his three “comforters” and their long winded irrelevancies, and how God throws the whole universe at him because the poor guy wants to know why all this is happening. But hang on. Next week we’ll do the Job story including the “they-lived-happily-ever-after” ending.

Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 35c – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 The light draws me up towards itself.
It is bright, but not blinding;
warm, but it does not burn.
2 The light is friendly.
It reaches out its rays like a funnel
focused towards itself.
3 In its shining are all the colors of the earth,
all hues, all shades, all tints:
from yellow primula to scarlet tanager,
from anthracite to panther's eye.
4 It is all one.
No species can claim a special place;
no race has a corner on a personal color.
5 For you created them all, Lord.
6 The sea, the hills, the sky
7 rise up and fall down at your call.
8,9 All this is beyond my comprehension;
I can only affirm it, in awe and admiration.
1 Lord, you are light.
You are the light of my life.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Mark 10:35-45
In the continuing discussion about how much of the Christian Scriptures are historical and how much are mythology, this passage has the taste of reality about it. The brothers James and John start jockeying for a preferred position in Jesus “realm of glory” once he has defeated all the enemies and is in charge of the world.
“There’s going to be a lot of pain and struggle before we get there,” says Jesus. “Are you up for it?”
James and John, having no idea at all what Jesus is talking about, reply with great confidence. “We are!”
The other disciples hear about this and of course they are miffed. They don’t understand any more than James and John what is ahead for Jesus. And we, knowing the rest of the story, know that when Jesus is arrested and condemned to die, the disciples turn tail and run for their lives. To a man.
It’s only a few of the women, Mary Magdalene being the most prominent among his female disciples, who see it through to the bitter and painful end.
I cringe. At various points in my journey of faith I have made promises in front of the assembled community – promises I mostly forgot about before I returned to my seat. I identify with James and John. I fanaticize great acts of faithfulness and commitment while I am making those promises. Unlike James and John, I have never really been put to the test.
Hebrews 5:1-10 – I recall a Roman Catholic ordination service many years ago where this passage figured prominently. I’ve been to many protestant ordinations, and I don’t recall it ever being used. With more and more lay people moving into professional leadership and ministry positions in the church, the priestly role of clergy moves further and further into the background. Is that good or no? I really don’t know.

For children “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” offers a story based on the “Servant Leader” readings in Isaiah chapters 40 -53. These are on page 214. The lectionary offers an alternate reading from Isaiah 53 for this Sunday. There’s also a story called “Everyone is a Helper,” based on the Mark 10 passage, which is on page 217.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. If you don’t yet have a copy of this useful resource, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – If you scratch the veneer of my persona you will find a ham actor. Actually, you don’t even have to scratch. Quite often, it oozes out like sap in new wood through a cheap paint job.
The theatre and the church are children of the same womb. They spring from a deep human need to act out the mystery, to recount the story, to relive the drama. Perhaps that’s because so much of our faith can never be adequately expressed in mere words.
In my days of travelling all over doing workshops, giving talks, etc., I encountered many clergy and other church leaders who had the skills and inclination that could have led them into theatre work.
Theatre is not a vocation for folk who wait around to be asked. Theatre involves going after the parts you want to play – going to auditions and trying to convince directors that you are just the right person for that particular role and that you are immensely talented.
Mardi Tindal is a friend and colleague of many, many years. Last summer she was elected as Moderator of the United Church of Canada. Like every moderatorial candidate, she had to work hard to be seen as not campaigning in any way. Any semblance of hats and bands and buttons, the way it happens at political conventions, would have ensured her defeat.
We have this “thing” in the church about not putting ourselves forward. We wait to be asked, never telling anyone what it is we would like to do, and then we feel hurt when nobody asks. But nowhere in the Bible are we told to cower in a corner waiting for our gifts to be discovered. We are explicitly told not to hide our light under a bushel, but to “let your light so shine” that people may see what you can do and they will let you do it and in the process declare the greatness of God.
In the gospel reading for next week, James and John are the heavies. They came from an entrepreneurial family. They owned a fishing business. They must have done quite well because Salome, their mother, was one of the women that supported Jesus in his ministry.
To do that, they had to go out and find the fish. Fish don’t usually come and jump into the boat. In Matthew’s version of this story (20:20-28) it is Salome who asks Jesus on behalf of her boys.
Salome, it seems to me, taught her children that if you want something to happen, you take some initiative. If you think you can do a job, you volunteer. If you think you can play the role, you try out. I wonder how influential Salome was for Jesus as he developed his concept of his role and ministry.
“All the world’s a stage,” said Will Shakespeare. And in every congregation there are disgruntled folk saying to themselves, “I could have done that better.” But it’s the audacious ones who try out for the parts and who get to play a role in the drama of salvation.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Intimate Acts
With Canadian Thanksgiving happening over this coming weekend, I began wondering what I might be grateful for.
And a surprising thing surfaced – this column.
The column is, in many ways, a mixed blessing. Each week, another deadline looms. Each week, I have to find another subject to write about; I have to marshal my thoughts, gather my research, organize my presentation...
Friend Doug Hodgkinson once asked, “How many times do you rewrite your columns?”
I don’t actually keep records of such matters, but I guess about three times, on average. I write the first draft just to get some ideas out of my head and onto paper (or screen, nowadays). I rewrite a second or sometimes a third time, to sharpen those ideas, to arrange them in a sequence most likely to move a reader, to refine the crude ore into something resembling precious metal. I rewrite a final time to polish the prose, to make it shine.
That’s a lot of work. And sometimes, to fit the column to its mandated 500-word limit, I have to perform emergency surgery on my favourite lines.
But writing the column is also a joy.
For about two years, while I was still an employee, I edited other people’s words but I wrote next to nothing myself. My mind stagnated. Unless my reading and my experiences connected with someone else’s words, I had little reason to pay attention.
Then the local weekly newspaper invited me to start writing a column. Suddenly I had a reason to pay attention. Everything that crossed my life became potential grist for the mill.
My mother once told me, “You need an audience.”
It’s a remarkably intimate relationship that we enter into, you and I, as reader and writer, and as audience and performer.
Paula Simons expressed it well, in the Edmonton Journal. “Whether you love my column or hate it,” she wrote, “you allow me to enter your mind.”
“I have to trust that you will make an effort to understand my words and engage with my ideas,” Simons continued. “And you have to trust that I will not waste your time or lead you astray. Our communion is utterly asexual, yet profoundly intimate.”
Our social culture tends to treat intimacy as exclusively sexual. Intimacy means that all the clothes are off, the barriers are down, there’s nothing between us, we merge as one...
But sex can also be a restrictive metaphor. There are other kinds of intimacy. The most intimate moment I have ever experienced happened at our son’s death, when a small group of us stood with our arms around each other, sobbing. There were no barriers. Emotionally, we became one body, united in grief.
When a column clicks, something similar happens. To quote Paula Simons again, “I enter, not your body, but your thoughts. And on a good day, perhaps your soul.”
That’s a rare privilege, and one for which I am indeed profoundly grateful.


Good Stuff – This from Jim Spinks.
When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking
When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I immediately wanted to paint another one. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you feed a stray cat,
and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you make my favorite cake for me,
and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life. When you thought I wasn't looking
I heard you say a prayer,
and I knew that there is a God I could always talk to,
and I learned to trust in God. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick,
and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it,
and I learned we have to take care of what we are given. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw how you handled your responsibilities,
even when you didn't feel good,
and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it's all right to cry. When you thought I wasn't looking
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.When you thought I wasn't looking
I learned most of life's lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up. When you thought I wasn't looking
I looked at you and wanted to say,
'Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn't looking.'

Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – On the invitation to an international conference in Toronto: "I am sphere heading the event this time ..."
Heather Ebbs via Jim Taylor

A TV newscaster was reading an obituary on the air. The last sentence consisted of two words: "Interment following." The newscaster, instead, said, "Intermittingly flowing."
Bob Lewis

Our choir director’s first language is not English. Sometimes he gets frustrated because the choir doesn’t really pay attention to the directions in the music. One day he blurted out, “Do what zee music tells you. When it says ‘pp’ (very soft) I want you to go pee pee.”
Joyce Pritchard

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! – Comedy is an escape – not from truth but from despair.
Christopher Fry via Evelyn McLachlan

If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon.
George Aiken via Evelyn McLachlan

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for. source unknown via Mary of Oman


We Get Letters – Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
You all remember that song. Aaron Thorpe wrote asking for a set of theological words that he remembered to that tune. I remember them too, but I can’t find them in my files.
Does anyone out there in Rumors Land have them? If so, could you send it to me at my new e-mail address which is:
ralphmilton at
(remember to change the at to the symbol and remove the spaces). Then we can all enjoy them again.

Nancy in Nova Scotia heard a preacher say, “If you want to be happy for an hour win the lottery. If you want to be happy for a day go fishing. If you want to be happy for a month get married.”
Now, I was visiting, so did not rush right up to him and ask to meet his wife.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “probably not kosher!”)This from John Severson.
Things I Didn’t Learn In Hebrew School
* The High Holy Days have absolutely nothing to do with marijuana.
* Where there's smoke there may be salmon.
* No meal is complete without leftovers.
* According to Jewish dietary law, pork and shellfish may be eaten only in Chinese restaurants.
* A shmata is a dress that your husband's ex is wearing.
* You need ten men for a minion but only four in polyester pants and white shoes for pinochle.
* One mitzvah can change the world; two will just make you tired.
* Anything worth saying is worth repeating a thousand times.
* Next year in Jerusalem. The year after that, how about a nice cruise?
* WASPs leave and never say good-bye; Jews say good-bye and never leave.
* If it tastes good, it's probably not kosher.
* Without Jewish mothers, who would need therapy?
* If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. If you can afford it, make sure to tell everybody what you paid.
* Laugh now, but one day you'll be driving a Lexus and eating dinner at 4 p.m. in Florida.


Bottom of the Barrel – The somewhat stuffy old man was boasting again. “Did you know that I can trace my ancestry right back to William the Conqueror?”
“That’s amazing,” said his guest, refusing to be drawn into this kind of game.
The old man wouldn’t give up. “How far can you trace your ancestry?”
“Ah, well,” said the guest. “We had to give up on that. All our family records were lost in Noah’s flood.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 10:35-45
Reader 1: Have you ever been at a political party nominating convention?
Reader 2: No. But I’ve seen them on TV and read about them in the papers. They can turn into a real dog fight.
1: Have you ever stood up in church and made some promises?
2: Well, yeah. When I joined the church, I made some promises.
1: What did you promise?
2: Hmm. I can’t really remember.
1: So there’s not much point asking if you kept those promises.
2: So why are you grilling me like this?
1: Sorry. I really didn’t mean to put you on the hot seat. But this whole business of jockeying for position, and making promises you aren’t going to keep – that’s what this passage is all about.
2: I was looking at that passage. And your right, it does sound a lot like some of the political conventions where everyone if jockeying for top spot and making all kinds of promises they either can’t keep, or have no intention of keeping.
1: So let’s look at the passage. It’s from the 10th chapter of Mark.
1: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus.
2: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."1: "What is it you want me to do for you?"2: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."1: "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"2: "We are able."
1: "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."2: When the ten disciples heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them all together.
1: "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

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1 comment:

Kurt said...

The theater comparison really worked for me. Well done! I used it in my sermon (giving you credit of course.) I just put it on my blog today.

Please let me know if you have a problem using your material this way.