Thursday, November 12, 2009

Preaching Materials for November 22nd, 2009

R U M O R S #576
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 15, 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 – a different kind of king
Rumors – they might have seen themselves as brothers
Soft Edges – while women weep
Bloopers – stiff opposition
We Get Letters – fingers connected to the brain
Mirabile Dictu! – save the whales
Bottom of the Barrel – having a wife
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 18:33-38a
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – At Sunday school they were teaching how God created everything, including human beings. The children in the Kindergarten class seemed to be very intense as they drew a picture of how Eve was created.
Later in the week the mother of one of the kindergarten boys noticed him lying down as though he were ill.
“I have a pain in my side,” said the boy. “I think I’m going to have a wife.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, November 22nd, which is Reign of Christ Sunday, or Proper 29 (34). That’s the last Sunday of the Christian Year. The following Sunday is Advent 1. Fa la la la la, etc.
* 2 Samuel 23:1-7 or Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
* Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) or Psalm 93
* Revelation 1:4b-8
* John 18:33-37

2 Samuel 23:1-7 – “Famous last words” – a phrase that has entered our culture. I recall being in a guided meditation once, where the leader asked us to imagine that we were on our death bed with the most important people in our lives gathered around us. And we were to imagine what we would say to each of them. I remember thinking that I had the same words for all of them, namely, “I love you,” and “Live God’s dream for you.”
I can’t quite imagine David saying the carefully honed last words we read in this passage, but maybe he did. I’ve been at a number of dying bedsides, and in none of them has the dying person been in a position to say anything. Maybe we need to say our famous last words well before we’re on our death beds.
Maybe right now.

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)
Jim has paraphrased verses 11-18
11 When God makes a promise,
God does not break it.
So God said: "I have chosen to live with you.
I will live with your children, too.
12 If they continue faithful,
If they abide by our agreement,
Then their children too,
and their children's children,
will continue to enjoy my company forever."
13 God made a choice;
God wanted to be part of this people, this planet.
14 God said, "This is my home.
This is where I want to be life itself.
15 As long as I live here,
life on earth will be rich and abundant.
16 Those who do not vandalize my artistry,
all living things remain true to my vision,
I will be with, as close as their clothing.
17 I will not look to outsiders to solve the earth's problems;
The tree of life has its roots right here.
18 Those who conspire against life, I will ultimately destroy;
But those who choose life will shine like the sun."
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Revelation 1:4b-8 – I really don’t know what to do with a passage like this. It is wild and mystical, and might begin to offer its gift to me if I read it repeatedly during an hour or two of meditation. Otherwise, I would leave it alone. I certainly wouldn’t read it to a congregation in church.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – John 18:33-37 plus my addition of 38 a.
Ralph says –
Most good pew sitters have no idea who Pilate is. Nor do they have in their heads the incidents that lead up to this scene. I’ve written the Readers Theatre with that in mind.
I’ve added the first half of verse 38, which adds the question that reverberates through our world. “What is truth?” I can’t imagine why that was left out of this reading, unless the lectionary makers were thinking, “That opens another can of worms.” Which is true. But it’s a can of worms we dare not run away from.
That can of worms is the heart of this confrontation between Jesus, the penniless, wandering, story-telling, imaginative Jew, and Pilate, the hard-nosed, logical, practical, no-nonsense Roman functionary.
If you ask, who is right, Pilate or Jesus, I’d have to say, both of them.
If you ask, who is wrong, my answer would be the same. Both of them.
This utterly amazing creation that God has fashioned, the human, can think on both the logical and the poetic plane. And the truly healthy human can do both as the need arises – often at the same time.
This last summer, a scientific neurologist used the finest technology available to discover what was happening inside my brain. That same scientist is also a caring, loving human who knew why it was so important to do that, and understood what it meant in my life.

Jim says –
We just had royalty visiting Canada – Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, with his wife Camilla. Pontius Pilate would have freaked out. Herod would have been appalled. There were no burly bodyguards, no mounted storm troopers, not a handgun in sight.
Kings are supposed to live in impregnable fortresses. To send out heavily armed platoons to impose their will on an unwilling populace. Not to glad-hand adoring fans like a politician at a barbecue.
This is “Reign of Christ” Sunday – “Christ the King” Sunday in more traditional terms. But the people who wrote the Bible wouldn’t recognize today’s kings. What good is a king, Pilate would have asked, who owns no land, who can’t raise an army to defend himself, who doesn’t extort taxes, who refuses to force people to do things his way...
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied.
Tragically, 20 centuries later, we still tend to think of Jesus’ reign in biblical terms. “When Christ returns,” insisted a man in one of my Bible study groups, “he will use his power to destroy evil.”
But that wasn’t what Jesus said: “I came into the world to testify to the truth...”
It’s a hard lesson for us to learn. We’re not called to sit beside the throne, dispensing orders and issuing commands from on high. We’re called to tell the truth, and to be the truth.
A kin-dom where truth reigns paramount still escapes our comprehension.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 229 where you’ll find a story based on the Revelation passage. It’s called, “John’s Wonderful Dream.” It’s really based more on the whole book of Revelation than this particular passage.
There’s still time to get this three-volume set for your favourite clergy person (including yourself if that applies) or your favourite Christian Education leader.
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 – The story of Pontius Pilate…
As told by his wife, Claudia.
"...they might have seen themselves as brothers."

I wonder sometimes, if they might have been friends. If they had met in some other circumstances, I think my husband and Jesus might have liked each other.
They were about the same age. Both of them passionate, committed, opinionated. Bullheaded sometimes. And intelligent too, I think. Except they thought so differently.
Jesus was a Jew. Pilate was a Roman. And Pilate never understood the Jews, and that drove him almost to distraction. "You can't get a clear answer out of them about anything," he would fume. "Ask them a straight, logical question and they tell you a story, for gawd sake!"
Pilate wanted so badly to make a success of governing the Judeans. He knew perfectly well he would never have gotten the appointment as Governor if he hadn't been married to me, granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus. And even so, Judea wasn't exactly a plum of an appointment, insofar as these diplomatic posts go. But Pilate hoped that if he did this well, his next appointment would be to something he and I would both be proud of. Something a little closer to Rome, we hoped.
But things got off to a bad start as soon as we arrived in Judea. Pilate had a showdown with the Jewish leaders over whether Caesar's image could be displayed in the temple area. It was a dumb thing to fight about and Pilate knew it. "But I've got to show them I am strong and resolute, Claudia, "he said to me. "If I show just a hint of weakness, if I back down even an inch, that snake of a high priest, Caiaphas, will take every slight advantage that I give him."
The showdown came when 7,000 Jewish men kneeled down in the market place, bared their necks, and dared Pilate to massacre them. Pilot folded. I don't think he ever really recovered.
Judea was a 'no-win' situation for him. The bureaucrats in Rome just read the bottom line. Did he collect his quota in taxes? Did he avoid any embarrassments? If the answer was "yes" to those questions, you stayed on and maybe eventually got promoted to a better posting. If "no" you were recalled to Rome and sent to shuffle papers in an office somewhere. But Judea was so much more complicated than that.
Pilate tried. My gawd he tried. He read that blessed policy manual every night and memorized every procedure. But of course the manual procedures never fit reality. "Who wrote this stuff anyway," he fumed. "I bet they've never been outside of Rome. They sure as hell have never been out here in Judea." And then he would throw the scroll in the corner and read the philosophy he loved so well–philosophy that seemed so clean and rational to him, and so unlike reality around him in Judea.
And then the Jesus business broke. It was a recipe for disaster. Pilate couldn't win this one and I knew it. I even had dreams about it. "Get this man Jesus out of your life, Pilate," I said. "no matter what you do, you'll lose,"
"I'll do what's appropriate and necessary, Claudia," Pilate said in his official voice, which meant that he was frightened. "I will interview the prisoner and judge him according to our Roman justice. He will be treated fairly."
"I know that Pilate, but that's not the game here."
"I'll decide what the game is, Claudia!" he said. And there the conversation ended.
They brought the prisoner up to the Prætorium. Pilate met them outside, a gesture of good will, so the Judean leaders wouldn't need to contaminate themselves, or whatever terrible thing is supposed to happen when they set foot inside a Roman building. He interviewed Jesus there in front of them.
"Look," he finally said. "the guy is just a little crazy, and yes, a bit of a trouble-maker. But he hasn't done anything to deserve execution. I mean, I can't have him killed just because you people don't like him. What I'll do is have him flogged. That'll straighten him out."
Well, you should have heard the hullabaloo. "We want him dead!" they yelled. "We want him crucified!"
Listen. Pilate has integrity. He's shown that before and he showed it now. He wasn't about to execute a man unless a crime had been committed, and blasphemy against the Hebrew God was no crime in Roman eyes. But Pilate was no fool either. He knew that Caiaphas had his ways of getting messages to Rome.
What followed was a mish-mash of political maneuvering and charges and counter charges. I don't quite know what happened. I was in bed for most of it, fighting off a migraine.
But I'll not soon forget what happened when Pilate dragged this Jesus up into our quarters so he could talk with him, away from all the yelling and screaming outside. That was when it struck me how alike they were, and yet how different. Two men of talent and integrity speaking to each across such vastly different realities.
In spite of all the pressure, Pilate still wanted to do the right thing. "Look," he said to Jesus. "Give me a reason, give me something that'll satisfy that mob–something I can put in my report to Rome so I don't have to have you killed." Jesus looked right back at Pilate–looked at–through him. But he said nothing.
Pilate lost his cool. "Look, I have the power of life and death over you. I can send you out to be torn apart by that mob, or I can save your hide."
"You have no real power over me," said Jesus. "No power that really counts. You and I are caught in this evil drama. You have your role to play and I have mine.
"All right," said Pilate. "What is your role except to satisfy the blood-lust of that mob?"
"I am called to live the truth," said Jesus.
"What is truth?" Pilate asked quietly, almost cynically. Jesus looked at him intently. And yes, compassionately. But he said nothing.
"Look, I asked you a question. What is truth?" Pilate lost his cool again. He paced around the room and banged his fist against the wall. But both men knew, I think, that Jesus could not reply in any way that Pilate could comprehend. Nor would Jesus have understood had Pilate defined truth for him.
The conversation stopped. There was nothing else to say. Jesus would die. And Pilate knew he'd spend the rest of his life rehearsing that conversation. "Why couldn't he just explain to me, logically and rationally what he was up to?" Pilate asked that question over and over. "Those Jews. You ask them a question, and they sing you a song or tell you a story."
I too have rehearsed that conversation. I am back in Rome now, by myself. Pilate has been banished from the capitol, not because of what he did to Jesus but another diplomatic fiasco in Judea. Pilate did not understand the Jews.
And yet I wonder. If Pilate and this Jesus had met some other way, perhaps they would have learned to like each other – if they had a chance to really talk, without the pressure. Pilate, the logical philosopher might have discovered the poetic dreamer deep inside himself. And Jesus the poetic dreamer, might have shown to Pilate the philosophy on which his dream was built.
There would have been respect at least. And just perhaps they might have seen themselves as brothers.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
While Women Weep
I watched another coffin coming back from Afghanistan. Cameras showed grim-faced soldiers carrying the coffin in a slow march. The soldier’s widow, dressed in black, walked behind, weeping.
Eight years ago, for Remembrance Day 2001, I wrote a column that bears repeating. Here it is:

Remembrance Day began to honor those who died in World War I – which officially ended, as speakers love to remind us, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day has since been expanded to include the dead of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, two Gulf Wars...
And here we are in the middle of another war, launched on another eleventh – the eleventh of September, exactly two months before Remembrance Day – when two airliners smashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
Television showed us pictures, endlessly, of what happens when a plane crashes into a building. The mushroom of fire. The smoke. The collapse. The dust. People screaming, running...
And pictures of women weeping.
I can't help noticing that the 19 suicidal fanatics who hijacked and crashed those planes were all men. That all of the people who stood at microphones to make official statements were men.
While the women wept.
I don't know what proportion of the pilots who have dropped bombs and fired missiles at targets in Afghanistan were men. Or what proportion of the special combat troops now fighting on the ground in Afghanistan are men.
But I can see that those who issued the commands were all men. Some stand in front of the cameras wearing dark suits, white shirts, shiny neckties. Others wear uniforms, either combat camouflage or full-dress with rows of ribbons prominently displayed.
For sure the leaders of the Taliban, and of the Al-Qaida network, are all men, because in their minds women do not exist. Women have no rights – to education, to freedom, and certainly not to express their opinions or vote. In their scheme of things, women matter only as the property of men.
But in the squalid refugee camps, without food or water or sanitation, the women huddle under makeshift tents and try to comfort children with runny noses and bleary eyes. And women scavenge for twigs to burn, and scraps to eat.
And the women weep.
I can't help remembering that it was men who conspired to arrest Jesus. Men tried him, beat him, and drove nails through his wrists. Men guarded him as he died.
While the women stood watching, and weeping. Those same women went to the tomb that Easter morning to provide one last act of love for their vanished friend. And they stood at the tomb and wept.
Men are afraid of weeping. We stifle our tears. We toughen ourselves. We refuse to let soft-heartedness get in the way of getting things done.
Things like going to war.
Perhaps our world might be a little less ruthless if we got fewer things done. And if we did a little more weeping over fractured relationships


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Randy (he didn’t give his last name) of Hiawatha, Kansas writes: “The children here are learning a new song for Advent.
One young mother called the church to verify the words her daughter was reciting. ‘Get ready. Get ready. Xavier is coming’.”

Lois Carey of North Bay, Ontario writes: “The local paper yesterday was advertising church teas. One item stated, about a local United Church, that the Untied Church Women would be having a bazaar and tea.

This from Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta who got it from Michael Kerr. It was a newspaper headline.
“Stiff Opposition Expected in Casket-less Funeral Plan”

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton at (change the “at to the symbol and remove the spaces.)

Wish I’d Said That! – Honk if you love Jesus. “Text” while driving if you’d like to meet him soon.
from a bumper sticker via M & B Zettler

Personally, I think humans are not intelligent enough to define intelligence.
Laurel Hyatt via Jim Taylor

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.


We Get Letters – I know I should try harder to get it all right, but it’s such a bore and I would rather spend my time doing almost anything rather than checking all my facts. But it seems that last week I had “Capitol Hill” referring to Ottawa rather than Washington. I am trying really hard to feel repentant.
In another place, I used the word “tract” when I obviously meant “track.” My fingers are only partially connected to my brain and they have a way of typing things I don’t really intend.

Bob Buchanan writes: “Our minister announced that admission to a church social event would be six dollars per person.
"However, if you're over 65," he said, "the price will be only $5.50."
From the back of the congregation, a woman's voice rang out, "Do you really think I'd give you that information for only fifty cents?"


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “save the whales!”)
These Biblical bumper stickers from Evelyn McLachlan.
* Jonah: Save the Whales
* The Israelites: Honk If You Love Moses
* Elijah: My Other Chariot Rolls
* Goliath: Support the Ban on Slingshots
* Lot: If You Can’t See Sodom, You’re Too Close
* Methuselah: Be Kind to Senior Citizens


Bottom of the Barrel – David Evans of The Glades, New Brunswick sends along a story that has one of those endings you can change and apply to your own situation. David’s version applies to the National Hockey League. If you’re Canadian, you could apply it to the Grey Cup that will be played before a batch of frozen fans well protected by their favorite anti-freeze in Calgary.

A man is met at the pearly gates by St Peter and told he has a choice to make. He is one of the rare individuals who can choose, after death, whether he will go to heaven or hell.
He is told to go check the other place out. Over against the wall is an elevator with only two buttons. Push the down button and upon arrival the door would automatically open and he could observe the life style in hell.
He was cautioned however not to exit the elevator for if he did he would be unable to return.
The man entered the elevator, pushed the down button and shortly the doors opened. He looked around in amazement at what greeted his eyes and, strictly following instructions stayed in the elevator. Shortly he pushed the up button and returned to speak to St. Peter.
“Well what did you think?”
“It’s not what I expected,” the man answered.
“What did you expect?”
Well I sort of expected fire and brimstone, wailing and gnashing of teeth, a lake of fire, stuff like that.”
“Of course.” said St. Peter, “What did you see?”
“I saw snow. I saw ice. I saw a blizzard like I have never seen before, and I’m from the east coast, I know blizzards!”
“Oh darn!” said Peter. “The Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup!!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 18:33-37 +38a
Reader 1: In our reading this week, we have a kind of dialogue between Jesus and somebody named Pilate. But who is this Pilate? I’ve never heard of him before. How does he fit into the story?
Reader 2: Today’s reading would fit more easily just before Easter. The lectionary puts it here because today is “Christ the King” Sunday.
1: (SARCASTIALLY) Oh, Jesus is the King, the way they talk about Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson being “the king.”
2: I know you’re joking, but it’s really not that far off. Presley and Jackson fans mean that these musicians were absolutely the best musicians ever. It has nothing to do with crowns and thrones and being boss of the whole country. It means they are devoted fans. When we talk about Christ as the King, it’s a little like that. It means we are Christ’s devoted followers and we are ready to do what he calls us to do, because we love him. Not because he can chop off our heads.
1: OK, but I asked you who this Pilate character is. Does he fly an airplane?
2: Oh, cumon! It’s Pi-LATE, not Pi-LOT.
1: But who was he?
2: It happens just before Jesus is crucified. Jesus has managed to get himself in trouble with the authorities in the Hebrew Temple, and he has been saying things about the Romans rulers – the military people who had conquered the country and were ruling it. Some of his teachings amounted to the crime of sedition – of trying to undermine Roman authority.
1: Such as?
2: Saying that he was chosen by God to bring the people freedom and fulfillment.
Anyway, the temple authorities arrested Jesus in the middle of the night and dragged him to Pilate’s place. Pilate was the governor appointed by Caesar in Rome. The Temple leaders didn’t have the authority to sentence someone to death, but Pilate did.
1: Finally, we find out who he is. It took you long enough.
2: But we haven’t quite got to the setting for our reading. The temple authorities drag Jesus in front of Pilate and accuse him of sedition. They want Pilate to have him killed. But Pilate isn’t quite satisfied by what the Temple authorities say, so he takes Jesus inside so he can have a one-on-one conversation with him.
1: Was there someone keeping a record of what was said? I mean, how did the writer of John know what went on behind closed doors.
2: He didn’t know. This whole story is written years later, and this is the dialogue the writer of John imagines went on in Pilate’s office.
1: So then. Let’s read the scripture. From the gospel of John, chapter 18.
Then Pilate entered his headquarters, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"2: "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?"1: (SLGHTLY ANNOYED) "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?"2: "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."1:"So you are a king?"
2: "YOU say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

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