Thursday, November 19, 2009

Preaching Materials for November 29, 2009

R U M O R S # 577
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 22, 2009

"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

Note: Jim Taylor is on the road this week and is having internet problems. He used that antique invention, the phone, to tell me that he would not be able to provide his comments to the lectionary nor his “Soft Edges” column.
He’ll be back next week.

The Story – breathless beauty
Rumors – Look God, you blew it
Soft Edges – not available. See above.
Bloopers – holy Holly
We Get Letters – anguishing joy
Mirabile Dictu! – Déjà Moo
Bottom of the Barrel – when you’re really sick
Rationale for the Alternate Advent Lectionary
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 7:14-16 and Luke 1:26-38
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 John Severson.
The minister waited in line to have the car filled with gas just before a longholiday weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead. Finally, the attendant motioned the minister toward a vacant pump. "Reverend," said the young attendant, "I'm so sorry about the delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip." The minister chuckled, "I know what you mean. It's the same in my business."

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, November 29th, which is the first Sunday in Advent.
* Jeremiah 33:14-16
* Psalm 25:1-10
* 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
* Luke 21:25-36

Last Tuesday you received a special bulletin announcing an alternate set of readings for this Advent – readings that we feel are more relevant to the church as it is today. If you misplaced or just didn’t read that bulletin, it is reproduced below, just before the Reader’s Theatre.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Isaiah 7:14-16 and Luke 1:26-38
Ralph says –
I’ve put these two readings together because they are both about the same thing. It really doesn’t matter that the prophet was probably speaking about his own wife. But the birth of the child was a sign that “God is with us” as the name Immanuel means. Later generations began to read this as a sign of the coming Messiah, which is as it should be. We all read the scripture that way. Every child born into this world is a sign that God is with us.
And let’s not get hung up on gynecological details. The early church, years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, mistranslated Isaiah’s “young woman” as “virgin,” and Luke wrote it down that way. It became so important to them that this Jesus who was for them the Christ, the Messiah, be in some way particularly and directly connected to God. They didn’t know how to express that and so the legend of his birth grew and blossomed.
So of course it had to be the angel who made a special trip to deliver the message and of course Mary had to be the perfect woman because who else but a perfect woman could give birth to such a person.
I’m a bit sad that the implication is that a child born out of the love of both a man and a woman might be less than perfect and less a messenger of God’s love. But I’m not going to let that spoil the breathless beauty of this legend.
I tried to capture this beauty and wonder in children’s versions of both the Isaiah and Luke readings, in the Lectionary Story Bible (see below). Adults really benefit from hearing these and understand the bible readings more deeply. That is why many worship leaders choose to read them while the children are still with the adults. The grown-ups don’t realize it’s as much for them as for the kids.

Psalm 25:1-10 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 I look up to you, my Savior. I trust you.
2 Do not disgrace me. Do not let others crow over my humiliation.
3 Those who are sneaky and devious–let them make fools of themselves, Lord.
4 But I do not want to be one of them, Lord.
I want to be more like you.
5. So take me under your wing. Protect me while I learn to fly.
Hold my hand while I learn to walk.
You are my only chance; I hang all my hopes on you.
6 I've been told you don't hold grudges;
I have heard you are compassionate.
7 Don't hold my past against me.
I have done wrong–but who hasn't?
Except you.
If you must judge, set an example for us;
Show us the compassion and kindness you expect us to show others.
8 Act according to your own standards, not according to the world's.
9 Then the humble will learn how to handle themselves;
the broken of body will be able to stand tall;
the poor can walk proud,
10 because they walk in your ways.
Your way is founded on love and faithfulness;
those who choose to walk with you, learn from you.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

If you are planning to stick to the prescribed lectionary, you will find two useful children’s stories in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C.” On page 16, you’ll find a story based on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 called “How to Be a Church Together.” On page 21 you’ll find a story based on the passage from Luke called “What Do Prophets Do.”
If you are going with the alternate readings we suggest, you’ll find a delightful story (at least, I enjoyed writing it) called “A Child Named Immanuel,” based on Isaiah 7:10-16 on page 33 of volume A. Also in volume A is an annunciation story based on the readings from Luke and Matthew. It’s called “Joseph’s Brave Choice,” and it’s on page 35.
If you don’t already own this three-volume set of stories based on the Revised Common Lectionary, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
If you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – “This time, God, you blew it!”
The Incarnation– a fantasy
ÓRalph Milton
(Note: This is a very unorthodox and somewhat heretical perspective. Some might find it deeply upsetting. Please read it yourself before you read it to a congregation or a Bible study group.)

God had called a meeting of the heavenly hosts to consider the proposal.
"I've told 'em and told 'em and I've told 'em," said God, when they were all sitting around the board room table. "All that business with Abraham and Isaac and Joseph. And then there was Isaiah scaring the pants off 'em and Jeremiah with his audiovisuals. Even Ezekiel on his psychedelic trip. Nobody listens to me anymore. I get no respect.
"How about another prophet?" said Gabriel. "Only this time, one with a bit of class. White suit. Healing everybody. Strong speaker. Charismatic personality. Tongues...yeah, speaking in tongues. We haven't done that little number...."
"Look, Gabe...," said God. "I know I put you in charge of PR but another prophet won't do. Even with a white suit and tongues. It's gotta be something more. It's got to be the Messiah."
"You're kidding," said Gabriel.
"No. I mean it. Time to stop fooling around. If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. So I shall become flesh and dwell among them. Get me the Messiah suit."
Gabriel was dumbfounded. He didn’t expect God to go through with it. Never did he expect God to become a human being, even though there had been promises to that effect for centuries.
And Gabriel had certainly never seen a Messiah suit. But there he stood at the locker with the key in his hand.
It was a greyish, moth-eaten piece of badly woven wool.
"Ah...God...." said Gabriel on the intercom to the throne room. "I think you must have sent me to the wrong locker. It was number 666, wasn't it?"
"Of course!' said God. "I don't make mistakes."
"Well, ah, it doesn't look much like a Messiah suit to me. It isn't really the kind of thing you'd wear on a triumphal ride into Jerusalem. It's nothing but an old wool rag..."
"That's it!" said the voice on the intercom.
"But God..."
"That's it!"
Back in the throne room Gabriel was busy trying to work out the logistics of it all. "We've got to get you born, first of all. Now you had one of your prophets tell people the Messiah would be born of a virgin..."
"Got just the girl," said God.
"Let me guess," said Gabriel. "Salome, the daughter of King Herod."
"She's NOT a virgin!" said God.
"Besides –I've got a girl from Nazareth called Mary...."
"She's not a virgin either," said Gabriel.
"She was raped," said God angrily. "By a Roman soldier. As far as I'm concerned, she's a virgin."
"Gimme a break, God. I'm not stupid, y'know."
"You're not stupid, but you haven't really paid attention to the prophets, Gabriel. The Messiah will be "despised and rejected, a child of sorrow and aquatinted with grief." Who could be more despised and rejected in Jewish society than the bastard child of a Roman solider.
"You are right of course, God," Gabriel groveled. "But she is still not a virgin."
"Oh?" said God. "A child, just barley a woman, brutally raped on her way home one night, has committed no sin. She is a victim of sin. But she is ready to bear and love that child, and as far as I'm concerned, she is a virgin, and henceforth, all nations shall call her blessed."
"But you always seem to go to the dregs of society for your leaders, God. Why?"
"Why? Why Gabriel? Because my name is Love. And when someone is hurt, I can't help but love them just a little more. That's why I chose the Hebrews–such a poor, pathetic little tribe. That's why I chose Sarah, such a sad old woman who laughed when I announced her pregnancy. That's why I chose Jacob who was dishonest and all thumbs, and why I gave him Rachel so he could make something out of himself. That's why I chose Ruth, a starving widow and David, a shepherd from the boondocks."
"Yeah," said Gabriel. "Youngest sons and women. The ones voted least likely to succeed. It's no wonder most of the world has never heard of you. You know how to pick the winners, that's for sure."
God sighed. "Go tell her Gabe. Tell that poor frightened girl, she's going to have a baby. Me."
It was years later. Gabriel was busy minding the shop while God was off being a human. Gabriel's biggest problem was trying to explain things to all the cherubim and seraphim that kept pestering him with questions.
And Gabe wasn't doing very well.
"I guess God's really taking it seriously, this business of being human. Seems to me the Messiah could have reserved a few divine privileges. That stable was a mess. You couldn't believe the smell. And the cockroaches. But then I guess God created the cockroaches too, though I'll never know why."
Then Gabriel tried to force a little optimism. After all, when you're in PR the name of the game is optimism.
"But I think God's going to do it right this time. There's a plan for a big ride into Jerusalem...people waving and shouting, all that sort of thing. I've got Judas all geared up to really challenge God to do it up brown. 'Be the Messiah and take charge', Judas is going to tell God. 'Show them who's boss'. Judas can pull it off.
"Gabriel, sir." It was one of the cherubim. "I was just down there flying around a little. And I was wondering....for the parade into Jerusalem...why did they choose a donkey?"
"A donkey! For Pete's sake. God..." and Gabriel stopped just short of blasphemy. "So what's wrong with a horse? That would have been impressive. Conquerors and kings ride on horses."
"Maybe God doesn't want to be a conqueror," said the cherubim.
"Of course God is the conqueror!" Gabriel was shouting now. "How else do you take charge of the world? Being sweet and nice is fine for openers, but if you want to be God of Gods and Lord of Lords...if you want to be the Messiah... you've got to show some muscle. A donkey..."
It was just a week later. Gabriel was sitting in his office nursing a very large, very dry martini. There was a tiny knock at the door.
"What?" shouted Gabriel.
"Pardon me, sir," said the cherubim. "But I thought I should come and tell you."
"What's to tell. They made God the laughing stock. Crucified him like a crook out on the garbage dump. All we got was a few pious niceties from the cross. 'It is finished'. How's THAT for an exit line? 'It is finished. I'm finished.'"
"But God isn't."
"Isn't what?"
"Finished. The women went to the tomb. The body wasn't there. And then God appeared to the women and the other disciples. God is alive!"
"Great! Marvelous! I love it! Hey, I knew the boss had some tricks up that old sleeve. How about that? Now God is going to ride right back through town and show those Romans which end is up. How about that?"
"Are you sure?"
"What do you mean? Of course I'm sure. I'm the Archangel Gabriel, ain't I?"
"Well," said the cherubim. "God doesn't seem to be doing that. God doesn't seem to be meeting with anyone except the disciples."
"The disciples? That bunch of wimps? What for? A bunch of nerds who can't walk and chew gum. Damn! Why is it, that an all-powerful God never uses that power. When you're holding four aces, why not play them?
"You'd think, from the way God is acting, that it's better to be weak. That losers win.
"I never thought I'd say it, but God, the Lord Yahweh, Creator of Heaven and Earth, couldn't make it as a human.
“God! This time you blew it!"


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Linda Paddon writes: “A typo in our order of service one Sunday changed our daughter Holly to Holy!”
Well Linda, I’m sure your daughter is.

Jessica Cottrell of Englehart, Ontario says she “went to announce the next hymn and saw it printed as ‘What a Fiend We Have in Jesus’."
WWJD? I bet he'd use his turn signal!
seen on a bumper sticker via Evelyn McLachlan

“…a really neat idea just pooped into my head.”
seen on a newsletter

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! – If my memory was any shorter, I’d be going back in time!
Pat Jones

You can't have a better tomorrow if you're thinking about yesterday.
Charles Kettering via Pat Jones

It is never too late to give up our prejudices.
Henry David Thoreau via Mary “in lovely sunny Oman”


We Get Letters – Thanks to the many who wrote in response to our presumptive foray into lectionary improvement. There were many, many enthusiastic positive responses. But also a healthy number of thoughtful letters from those who feel we may be missing something important.
I don’t want to get into a debate on this topic, so let this one letter from Jim Lawton stand for those who made a strong and useful case for seeing the strength and necessity in the lectionary as it is.
“It may be presumptuous to think we don't need to hear about (and prepare to prepare!) preparing to welcome Jesus into our lives/world/church. I see too much of this Gospel-by-marketing-priorities here in the states. It IS a sellout, though. I think is an indication of how our western culture has sold out and simply doesn't have the patience to deal with expectation and looking ahead, and how we can't “get" the Jewish view-take on life. I will be trying to get "the people" to remember the anguishing joy of all the expectations we had leading up to Christmas.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Déjà Moo!”) These from Marilyn MacDonald. Some of them have been around before but I laughed all over again so I’m including them. A few are new. At least to me.
* Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
* A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, 'I'll serve you, but don't start anything.'
* Two peanuts walk into a bar and one was a salted.
* A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: 'A beer please, and one for the road.'
* Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, 'I was artificially inseminated this morning.' 'I don't believe you,' says Dolly. 'It's true; no bull!' exclaims Daisy.
* An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.
* Déjà Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.
* I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn't find any.
* I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a mussel.
* What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
* A dwarf, who was a mystic, escaped from jail. The call went out that there was a small medium at large.
* There was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Marilyn MacDonald, by way of Carl Chamberlain on “e-talk.” The pastor visited a man in the hospital. The parishioner had been told they did not know what was wrong with him, but it seemed he was 'going downhill' very quickly.
The patient asked the pastor to pray for him, with the statement, 'If I get better, I will give $10,000. to the building fund of the church.
The pastor relayed this information to the chair of the Building Committee.
When the man did actually get better, and had arrived home, there was no mention of the pledge, so the pastor decided to remind him of his promise.
The response was, 'Pastor, did I actually say that?'
' Yes, you did.'
'Well,' said the man, 'that just goes to show you how really sick I was, doesn't it!'


Special Bulletin (sent to the entire Rumors list last Tuesday)
for those Rumors readers who are preparing worship services during the four Sundays of Advent.
We (Jim Taylor and I) plan to abandon the lectionary for this season. Yes, we know that’s both presumptuous and heretical. Also a little arrogant.
But here’s why.
It’s more important for people to hear the Christmas story than it is to be faithful to the lectionary. The Revised Common Lectionary is a useful tool and we will return to it. But in the Advent season it fails us.
In the churches Jim and I know anything about, attendance peaks during the four Sundays of Advent. That’s when the “almost committed” are there. This is our evangelistic opportunity. This is our one chance to talk to them about the one Christian story they know best. For many, the only Christian story they know.
Yes, the faithful core of worshippers will be there after Christmas, but even they don’t really understand why they shouldn’t sing carols and hear the Christmas story during what they think of as “the Christmas season.”
If people don’t hear the Christmas story in church, they will hear it only as told by Wal Mart and on TV. Reminds me of the couple who noticed a manger scene on the lawn of a church. “Look at that,” said one to the other. “Now even the churches are trying to horn-in on Christmas!”
So here’s a bit of advance notice about the readings we’ll be featuring during the four Sunday in Advent. In the “Reader’s Theatre” we will be using both the readings from Isaiah and from Luke.
Advent one:
Isaiah 7:14-16 “a young woman is with child and shall bear a son. . .”
Luke 1:26-38 “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee . . .”
Advent two:
Isaiah 11:1-9 “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. . .”
Luke 1:39-45, 56 “Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb”
Luke 1:46-55 “My soul magnifies the Lord . . .” can be used in place of the psalm or included in the gospel reading.
Advent three:
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child has been born to us. . .”
Luke 2:1-7 “she gave birth to her first-born son. . .”
Advent four:
Isaiah 52:7-10 “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet. . .”
You may decide to do Luke 2:1-7 again on this Sunday and then add. . .
Luke 2:8-21 “there were shepherds living in the fields. . .”

We hope this advance notice has been useful to you.
Ralph Milton


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 7:14-16 and Luke 1:26-38
Note: It would be good if reader 1 could be female, since number 1 has the role of Mary in the second reading.

Reader 1: Well, the time really gallops, doesn’t it? Here it is, the First Sunday in the season of Advent.
Reader 2: So what’s with this Advent business? I thought this was the Christmas season.
1: It’s about getting ready. Getting prepared. So that when Christmas Day arrives, you’ll really know what it’s about.
2: I know. It’s about gifts. Getting your Christmas wish list. Going on a shopping binge. Do you know what I want this Christmas?
1: No, and please don’t tell me. It’s about gifts, all right, but not that kind of thing. It’s about God giving us the greatest gift imaginable. It’s about God giving us God.
2: What?
1: God giving us God!
2: I still don’t get it. I mean if God is everywhere, and God made everything there is, and if everything belongs to God including me and you, then how can God give us God?
1: Isn’t it wonderful? It’s a mystery that you can’t get your head around and neither can I. And neither could those first Christians. They believed so deeply – so powerfully that it almost hurt inside. They believed that in some mysterious way, this man named Jesus whom they had seen and heard and eaten with, was actually God.
2: Is that why they started digging around in the writings of the ancient prophets, thinking that maybe those ancient people knew what was coming?
1: Exactly. And that’s our first reading. It’s from the prophet Isaiah. Chapter 7.
2: God will give you a sign.
1: Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.” This son shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. Because, before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”
2: Isaiah was talking about the political situation in his own time – long before the time of Jesus.
1: But I guess the folks in the early Christian church looked for everything they could find to support their gut-level belief that Jesus had been God. Maybe they picked up on that name. Immanuel. God is with us. Because when Luke sat down to write his account of how Jesus was born, the early Christians had already developed a legend out of this passage.
2: But isn’t it a bit strange? I mean there’s poor Mary, she’s not married or anything, and suddenly an angel comes and tells her that God will make her pregnant. And she says, “OK. Sure. Whatever.”
1: That is not what she says. But this mysterious scene that Luke describes is the early church’s way of saying this man Jesus was more than just exceptional. This man Jesus was God.
2: OK. Let’s read!
1) In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Gabriel came and spoke to her.
2: "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
1:But Mary was much perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
2: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. This child will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
1: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
2: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And here’s something to help you believe. Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. You see, nothing is impossible with God."
1: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
2: Then the angel departed from her.

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