Saturday, December 19, 2009

Preaching Materials for December 27th, 2009

R U M O R S # 581
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 20th, 2009



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

The two of us (Jim & Ralph) wish all of you the deep joy of Christmas, as we experience again the birth of the living Christ within us.


The Story – amazing twelve-year-olds
Rumors – nothing to report
Soft Edges – acting like raccoons
Bloopers – curing the darkness
We Get Letters – all is clam
Mirabile Dictu! – ten Lords a leaping
Bottom of the Barrel – four to go
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 2:41-52
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The couple was teaching their three-year-old the Ten Commandments. All went well until they came to the 6th. The three-year-old version was: “Thou shalt not admit adultery.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, the first Sunday after Christmas Day.
*1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
* Psalm 148
* Colossians 3:12-17
* Luke 2:41-52

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Luke 2:41-52 (Yes, we are being good little boys and sticking with the Lectionary again.)

Ralph says–
The story is obviously the Luke passage. If Jesus had living grandparents, this is the kind of story they would have told. And if they were like grandparents through the ages, the story would have grown just a little with each telling. Especially in the company of other grandparents who play a little game called “my-grandchild-is-more-wonderful-than-your-grandchild.” Bev and I never, ever do that, of course, but we’ve certainly heard it from other grandparents.
Twelve-year-olds can have an amazing capacity to absorb information if they are encouraged and given the resources. If there was a synagogue school in Nazareth and if it had even a small collection of books, it’s not impossible that Jesus would have virtually memorized them. And his ability to quote verbatim from those books would have genuinely amazed the scholars in the temple. Their wisdom was broad and deep, while Jesus’ learning was new and focused.
And for Jesus it was exciting. It is very easy for older people, who have read widely and lived deeply, to become somewhat jaded. Intellectually tired, perhaps.
I’d put myself in that category. From time to time I’ve encountered young people who are full ideas and information that is new and fresh to them. The life they’ve encountered in their few years becomes clear – focused through their new perspective on life.
My temptation is to brush them off. “Yeah! Yeah! Been there. Done that. Come and talk to me in ten years when you realize how complex life really is.”
Evidently, the priests and scribes in the Temple didn’t do that to Jesus, for which we can all be profoundly, deeply grateful.

Jim says –
The King James Version had a nice ring to it: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Depending on the version you prefer, you’ll find the message repeated, more or less word for word, in 1 Samuel.
I’d want to get that linkage of Jesus and Samuel out of the way early. To modern worshippers, Samuel is a meaningless figure. The parallel may have lent some authority to Jesus, for people who lived by the Hebrew scriptures; it doesn’t today.
To illustrate that growth in stature, I might use a measuring stick, like the wall or door jamb on which families mark the increasing heights of their children. But how do we mark increasing wisdom?
The memorable story here, I think, is not about Jesus, but about his parents. Every parent can identify with the desperation, the panic, that a missing child creates.
Whenever a child disappears, the news media fan fears the child may have been abducted, kidnapped, sexually abused, even murdered... Tragically, those fears are sometimes justified.
Fortunately, in most cases the child is found. He or she simply wandered off. The relief is as overwhelming as the panic had been.
We lost our son once, when he was about three. One moment he was with us in a department store; the next, he wasn’t. We – and several clerks – commenced a frantic search. We found him when we noticed the lights going out on various displays. We traced the power cords, and found him happily pulling plugs out of the wall!
If the parents in your congregation can live into that terrible paralyzing fear that Mary and Joseph must have felt, this Bible story will become real for them

Psalm 148: 1-14 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Jubilation, exaltation, celebration, one and all!
2 Within the womb of the heavens, the orb of earth leaps to praise its Creator.
3, 4 As the pearl necklace of the planets swings around the sun,
as the shining oceans embrace the continents,
so do all living things praise the giver of life.
5 For God expressed a thought, and the thought took life.
6 God wanted to speak, and the Word became flesh and lived among us.
7 In that Word was holiness,
the spirit that makes every life more than the sum of its chemicals.
From the tiniest plankton in the sea to the great whales,
from the ants that burrow in the dust to the eagle that soars in the heavens –
all owe their existence to God.
8 Fire and hail, snow and frost, sun and drought, wind and rain –
in God, all things work together for good.
9 The mighty mountains compost into rich soil;
fruit trees and cedars aerate the atmosphere.
10 The dung beetle depends on the wastes of cattle;
birds and currents carry seeds to new orchards.
11 No one is cut off from the energy of God,
neither presidents throned in offices nor derelicts huddled under bridges.
12 For in God there is neither male nor female, old nor young, black nor white.
13 All have been equally created by God;
their lives all witness to God's grace.
14 With profligate generosity, God scatters new life among weeds and thistles.
And all of creation responds with rejoicing.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Samuel 2:18-20, 26 – This is a story that tugs at my emotions. I wonder how deeply painful it must have been for Hannah to make that little robe for her child and take it to him when she would see him just once each year. And I wonder what it was like for that little prophet-in-training to grow up without a mother to hold him and rock him through the long, dark nights.
The story of Jesus in Luke’s gospel is clearly told as a parallel to this one, as are many other gospel accounts, to show that Jesus was a prophet in the tradition of the ancient ones. I wonder if that means much to us, nowadays.

Colossians 3:12-17 – This passage is a powerful little sermon all on its own. Unlike so many lectionary passages, it can be read on its own without commentary. But it probably would be good to read it twice – maybe even more times – so that all those powerful admonishments would sink in .

A story called “Jesus Goes to the Temple” is found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C,” page 34. It uses parts of Psalm 148 and references to 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26.
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.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – This is the time of year when friends all over the world send Christmas letters telling us a bit about their life over the past year.
Because our family has lived in three countries and six cities – and because many of our friends have not been the kind who hunkered down and stayed put – those letters come from many different places. And they tell many and varied stories.
There are a few, very short notes from surviving children saying that mom or dad passed on during the year. Almost all the letters tell stories of struggle and hope. Most of them try, but not all succeed, in avoiding the “organ recital,” the litany of pains and pills that come with aging. Old age is not for sissies.
Bev and I have never quite managed to get all our ducks in a row in time to send out a Christmas letter, so we’ve made a virtue out of necessity (or reality) and we do an Epiphany letter each year.
Our greatest joy will be to tell people that nothing is happening. No, we’re not cured of all the maladies that afflict us. We both take half a bushel of pills every day, but those pills are doing their job. We’ve managed a kind of homeostasis – a normalcy where the things that are, simply are, and therefore not worth commentary. And what a gift that is. To feel normal.
Not miserable and not euphoric. Simply normal. The big news is that nothing much is happening, at least not to Bev and me. We’re part of an extended family where there’s all kinds of stuff going on but not for us.
I have no illusions that someday a certain pill will give me the body of the fabled 20-year-old Swede. I never had such a body. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had one now.
Nor do I have illusions that this blessed state of normalcy will continue forever. Something else will go wonky and we’ll have to deal with whatever it is.
But for the moment, I am delighted to report that there is nothing to report.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Acting Like Raccoons
According to legend, exactly at midnight on Christmas Eve, barn animals bow in homage to the infant born in their midst.
“Ox and ass before him bow,” we sing in one familiar carol. In his poem “The Oxen,” Thomas Hardy imagined the beasts dropping to their knees in the straw.
I’m guessing that they didn’t have raccoons back then. Somehow, I cannot imagine raccoons kneeling in homage to anybody. Not even Jesus.
As a young man, I heard the local raccoon gang invading our garbage cans. I went out with a flashlight, expecting to shoo them away. They didn’t budge. And when they started baring canine teeth, guess which of us backed off?
An acquaintance had a similar experience when she tried to scare a squad of raccoons destroying her third backyard inflatable pool. “Their reaction to me running out into the yard waving a broom, yelling at the top of my lungs,” she wrote, “was an unconcerned glance in my direction, and back to shredding the pool.”
Her sister had to have rabies shots after a raccoon ripped through the screen on her bedroom window. Neither two dogs barking, nor the sister trying to whack the intruder with a 2x4 -- “Doesn't everyone keep one of those handy?” my informant asked -- deterred the unwelcome visitor.
Finally, one of the dogs tackled the raccoon. Sister intervened, and got a full set of raccoon teeth embedded in her hand.
The dog, fortunately, had had rabies shots. The sister hadn’t – yet.
This was, fortunately, a lone intruder. Raccoons are generally social creatures, who work together to create havoc.
Our next door neighbours were having a barbecue one evening. Guests gathered to watch Mama Raccoon parade her brood across the end of the yard. Meanwhile, Papa filched a steak right off the barbecue.
With their little masked bandit faces, raccoons are as cute as buttons. They’re intelligent. Their fingers uncannily resemble ours.
Perhaps that’s why we feel a kind of kinship with them. We share a lot of traits.
Which is why I suspect that if there had been raccoons in that stable, on that first Christmas, they’d have been more likely to steal any scraps of food Mary and Joseph had than to kneel in awe beside the manger.
Instead of gazing benignly upon an idealized mom-and-child scene, Joseph would have been chasing a bunch of irreverent bandits around the stable.
The nativity story, handed down through some 80 generations, tells us that the only humans who knelt beside the manger were total strangers, shepherds awed by some near-hallucinogenic visions in the fields.
The rest of Bethlehem, it would seem, acted more like raccoons. They carried on with their usual business of surviving in a country occupied by a foreign army and ruled by a corrupt king.
For some, no doubt, their “usual business” included a certain amount of theft, larceny, and under-the-counter dealing.
Just like today.
It makes me wonder just how far we have really progressed in 20 centuries.
I wonder, in fact, how many of us humans today still carry on with our usual business, without much thought for the miracles that take place in our midst.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Paul Hartman discovered this interesting and possibly profound typo in a list of things that “Hope” does.
“Hope lights a candle instead of curing the darkness.”
Perhaps Paul, that means we tend to address the symptoms rather than the underlying problem.

John Ellis of Paris, Maine writes: “A recent choral concert ended with a sing-along. The song sheet instructed the audience to sing ‘Silent night, holy night, all is clam, all is bright’."

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! – There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.
Elie Wiesel via Jim Taylor

We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress.
Will Rogers via Evelyn McLachlan

Christmas comes but once a year. Which is just as well.
source unknown


We Get Letters – Kelly Taylor-Schaus saw this on a church bulletin board.
“Beat the Christmas rush. Go to church THIS week.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Ten Lords a Leaping!”) Traditionally, the 12 days of Christmas begin on December 25th. That funny old carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which we like to bellow each year, is a good one to sing during that time.
It’s more legend than fact, but the story goes that during the era when Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly, this song was written as a secret catechism for their children.

The symbols are as follows: * My True Love is God.
* Partridge in a Pear Tree is a reference to Jesus Christ (perhaps from Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34).
* Two Turtle Doves are the Old and New Testament.
* Three French Hens refer to faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13).
* Four Calling Birds are four gospels.
* Five Golden Rings are the Torah, the first five books of Hebrew Scripture.
* Six Geese a-Laying are the six days of Creation.
* Seven Swans a-Swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
* Eight Maids a-Milking refer to the eight beatitudes from Matthew 5.
* Nine Ladies Dancing are the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.
* Ten Lords a-Leaping refer to the Ten Commandments.
* Eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful disciples.
* Twelve Drummers Drumming are the twelve points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed.
* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Bottom of the Barrel – This classic from Evelyn McLachlan.
The local news station was interviewing an 80-year-old lady because she had just gotten married for the fourth time. The interviewer asked her questions about her life, about what it felt like to be marrying again at 80, and then about her new husband's occupation.
"He's a funeral director," she answered.
"Interesting," the newsman thought.
He then asked her if she wouldn't mind telling him a little about her first three husbands and what they did for a living. She paused for a few moments, needing time to reflect on all those years.
After a short time, a smile came to her face and she answered proudly, explaining that she had first married a banker when she was in her early 20's, then a circus ringmaster when in her 40's, and a preacher when in her 60's, and now in her 80's, a funeral director.
The interviewer looked at her, quite astonished, and asked why she had married four men with such diverse careers.
She smiled and explained, "I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go."


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 2:41-52
Reader 1: It was strange, y’know. I read the passage from 1 Samuel, and then I read this story in the gospel of Luke. It’s almost as if the Luke story was patterned on the older story.
Reader 2: It probably was. The gospel writers made a conscious attempt to make Jesus look like the ancients – like Samuel the prophet, like Moses, like Isaiah. It was really important to them that Jesus was connected to those old Hebrew stories.
1: (SPEAKING TO READER 2) Does that matter to you? (SPEAKING TO CONGREGATION) Does it matter to you?
2: No. At least it doesn’t matter nearly as much. People want the Bible to make sense to them in the here and now. In terms of today’s reality.
1: Okay, then this story will make sense to anyone who’s had a child go missing, even for a few minutes. The sense of sheer panic was overwhelming.
2: It’ll also make sense to anyone who has experienced an exceptionally bright child. I know one twelve-year-old who was reading adult books and remembering everything in them. Sometimes it seemed there was an adult brain in a 12-year-old body. Then the next minute he seemed like a kid again. That’s what Jesus sounds like in this story.
1: Well, let’s read it. It’s from Luke’s gospel.
2: Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
1: When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that Jesus was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.
2: When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
1: And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother spoke sharply to him.
2: Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."
1: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
2: But they did not understand what he said to them. Then Jesus went down with his parents and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
1: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

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