Saturday, February 27, 2010

Preaching Materials for March 7, 2010

R U M O R S # 591
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 28th, 2010



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


It’s good to be back home.
The last five issues were written ahead of time, and with a bit of help from Jim Taylor (Thanks Jim!) went out on schedule. Bev and I were on bored a ship (no, that’s not a miss-spelling) which offers Wi-Fi e-mail but it is a hopelessly clunky and expensive system. 75 cents a minute!
So I saved your assorted missives and will respond as soon as I can but there was a mountain of stuff waiting to be done when we got home and its getting toward tax time and I caught a doozer of a cold and, and, and…..
I should hastily add that the cruise was really quite good. As was the weather.
There were a fair number of dead people on board, but also some very interesting folks and some powerful and useful things to see and do at the various ports.
The main objective, to get Bev into the sunshine she so desperately needs in winter, was accomplished.


The Story – rest assured
Rumors – teaching moments
Soft Edges – fear of being forgotten
Bloopers – boa conscriptor
Mirabile Dictu! – for whom the Tells bowled
Bottom of the Barrel – Sorry. Didn’t manage to get to the bottom.
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Sorry. There’s no Reader’s Theatre this week.
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – These delightful giggles from Stephani Keer

Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked, 'How old was your husband?'
'98,' she replied, 'Two years older than me'
'So you're 96,' the undertaker commented.
The old crone shone her wrinkles at the neat, young mortician. 'Hardly worth going home, is it?

Reporter interviewing a 104-year-old woman: 'And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?'
She smiled at the youthful reporter. 'No peer pressure.'

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 7th, which is the Third Sunday of Lent.
* Isaiah 55:1-9
* Psalm 63:1-8
* 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
* Luke 13:1-9

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Luke 13:1-9
Jim says –
I’d love to read Luke’s mind, whoever he or she really was. I’d love to know why Luke put these two stories in sequence. Because I see them presenting opposite messages.
The parable of the fig tree is about getting a second chance. The fig tree has failed its purpose. For three years, it has produced no fruit. But, thanks to the pleading of the gardener, it gets another chance.
The preceding verses sound more like judgment. Yes, Jesus denies the common belief that suffering was punishment for sin. Whether the suffering came from human agency (Herod) or natural causes (the tower that collapsed), these people were not singled out by God because of their sins.
Nevertheless, Jesus repeats, “You will all perish as they did, unless you repent.”
I find myself turning to Isaiah for comfort and consolation: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
With that assurance, I am willing to rest content.

Ralph says –
The story to work on for this Sunday is quite clearly in the gospel – the parable of the barren fig tree. Paul seems to be telling us that if you don’t do right, God’ll get you. In other words all sinners deserve the death penalty.
I don’t know about you, but I know I wouldn’t be here if that were true. But I take comfort in the words of Isaiah who says God will “abundantly pardon,” and in the teachings of the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed that God has only one characteristic and that is love. That love is so great, that God really can’t do anything except forgive our sins even before we commit them. And the punishment for the sin is built into the sin itself.
I like the parable of the barren fig tree. It’s not doing anything except “wasting the soil.” But the gardener (who would that be?) thinks a good feeding of manure might just make the world of difference.
City folks like us tend to think of manure (human as well as animal) as a waste product that is smelly and awful but country people think of manure as a useful by-product which, if wisely used, helps things grow. Someone once commented that manure, if it is piled up high, becomes a stinking waste, but if it is spread thinly and wisely, it is a source of life. One of the best sermons I ever heard was at a minister’s induction. It was called, “Manuring the Kingdom.” It made the points mentioned above, but also pointed out that even if a worship service is mostly BS, it can still help you grow.

Isaiah 55:1-9 – This is another one of those beautiful, poetic passages in Isaiah who reminds us that God’s grace is there for the taking. It requires nothing but an open mind and an open heart. And if that is hard to believe, he tells us that’s ok because we simply don’t have the marbles to think like God. So take the gift and be grateful, and stop trying to analyze everything.

Psalm 63:1-8 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Why do we need downtown churches? Because a few people come there to seek sanctuary.
1 Crowds of people crush me.
They bump and bounce my mind;
they break my concentration.
I feel like nothing more than a means to an end, merely a cog in the machinery.
I long for the gentle touch of loving fingers, the intimate whisper of acceptance.
2 So I have come looking for you, Lord, in your holy places.
3 In this dimmed light, in this hushed silence, I sense your presence.
4 I wish I could feel you as near me in the rabid frenzy of life in the city core.
I want to reach out and touch you in the marketplace as well as the chancel.
5 Then I will not feel alone; you will be part of every thought and every breath.
6 I will know you at my desk and in my den, in my bed and in my bathtub.
7 Nothing will come between us.
8 And I will hold you close in the forest of my fears.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – I’m sorry, but I simply can’t believe that God wipes out whole batches of people because they sinned. And the final verse in this reading also bothers me because I know of genuinely good people – and yes, I realize that’s my evaluation, not God’s – who have suffered to the point where they were physically and emotionally destroyed. Nor do I believe that God sends suffering as punishment for sins.
I know it upsets some of you when I take issue with the scripture, but I believe we are called to bring our intellect and our life experiences into our reading of the Bible. When I do that, it seems to me that in this instance, Paul struck out.
Isaiah reminded us that we can’t follow God’s thoughts. Which I think is true. And that applies to all of us, Paul included.

A children’s version of the Isaiah passage called “You Can’t Buy Love” may be found on page 93 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C.” And on page 96, you’ll find a children’s version of the gospel passage called “God Doesn’t Do Things Like That.”
Many preachers find it really useful to read one of these children’s versions of the key lection, to the children of course. But it also helps the adults who are much more able to grasp the passage when read from the Bible later in the service.
If you don’t already own 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 – As noted above, Bev and I just got back from a rather long cruise. Getting her out of our gray Okanagan winter skies into some sunshine seems increasingly necessary for her assortment of chronic illnesses.
Getting back home was not without its teaching moments. We were having dinner in a nice little restaurant in San Diego when out of the blue, the chair I was sitting on collapsed, and I landed on the floor whanging my head on a nearby cupboard in the process.
Half the people in the little restaurant came rushing to my aid. But I wasn’t hurt. Not even my head. After a bit of dusting off and a new chair we continued our meal. But the owner of the restaurant was convinced, and is probably still convinced, that I would sue him and put him out of business, even though I told him I planned nothing of the kind. I didn’t use the word “forgiveness,” but that’s the essence of what I said to him. He couldn’t believe it. He may still be lying awake nights waiting for a call from the team of high-priced lawyers I’ve assembled to take every nickel he has.
When Bev and I got as far as Vancouver, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember where I had put the key to our house. We spent the first night home in a motel before I suddenly remembered. I had put the key in my fanny pack in an obvious and logical place, but the fanny pack was out of sight at the bottom of a suitcase.
We were a couple of pretty tied puppies when we finally got into our house. Bev teased me about the key a bit, but it didn’t occur to me to ask her for forgiveness or for her to offer it. My stupidity was forgiven long before the incident happened, because we live in a state of forgiveness.
I know that’s kind of pale and weak compared to the state of forgiveness we live with God. But we learn from the life we live, and such incidents help instruct us and remind us of that wondrous reality.
We are forgiven. Thanks be to God.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
By Jim Taylor
Fear of Being Forgotten
A shiny new park bench appeared on a beach by the lake.
The seat and back are polished concrete. The frame is cast iron, bolted down to a concrete pad.
It’s a nice bench, a comfortable place to sit, looking out across a little bay to the hills on the far side of the lake.
The bench is a memorial to a 20-year-old son who died a little less than a year ago.
It’s also illegal. The bench sits on public parkland. Last year the municipality went to considerable expense – and controversy – to remove all unlicensed docks, campfire rings, and other structures. The parent who erected this memorial has not always enjoyed amicable relationships with municipal bureaucrats.
So I doubt if they gave permission to erect this memorial bench along the shore. I could be wrong, of course. But who’s going to protest a grieving father’s last symbolic gesture to his son? Certainly not me. My wife and I lost our son 27 years ago; the wound still remains raw.
What interests me – about this memorial, but also about others – is our human compulsion to leave something permanent behind. A park bench, at an appropriate location, with a suitable plaque mounted on it. A bursary or scholarship. A book. A building...
Something, anything, that will outlast the donor.
Some wit caustically called this compulsion an “edifice complex.” Wealthy philanthropists fund a concert hall, a university faculty, a church... Less affluent families plant a tree, a memorial garden...
The Holy Land takes this compulsion to an extreme. Every site of any significance seems to have a church built on top of it.
The “edifice complex” is even recorded in scripture. At the miracle known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus appeared with a pair of long-dead predecessors, an awestruck Peter blurted, “Let us build three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Our compulsion to leave something permanent probably starts with a fear of being forgotten. “Life’s but a walking shadow,” Shakespeare mused, “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
Memories are mortal, after all. In “Funeral for a Stranger,” Becca Stevens pondered, “Not only are we dust, but our memories are dust... Our memories are as fragile as the neurons that carry them.”
And then she makes an enormous leap: “One of the beautiful things about sacred texts is that they remind us we are not forgotten; we will be remembered by God.
“Heaven is God’s memory. We are preserved in the memory of love that is big enough to contain all creation, for all time. No one is forgotten, because everyone is beloved.”
As regular readers will know, I have trouble with many conventional images of heaven. Streets paved with gold and long white nightgowns fail to attract me.
But to be cherished forever, in a memory that will never fade – that, to quote Shakespeare again, is indeed “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – On our recent junket we heard a tour guide referring to a large snake as a “boa conscriptor.” Made us think of some of the way some folks get volunteers in our churches.

Trevor Quinn wonders: If your memory (like mine) is full of holes, would it be holy?

Jane Millikan or Fargo, North Dakota writes: “Our pastor was at home with a cold last week. The secretary called him for bulletin details. “The sermon title will be ‘The Prophetic Voice’,” he rasped thru his sore throat.
On Sunday morning the sermon title was in the bulletin as "The Pathetic Voice."And our pastor had an extra sermon illustration!

Claire Phillips-Orate of Deming, New Mexico saw this in her church bulletin. "The project assigned to the UMW and UMM was to deliver holiday fits to those who would be working on Christmas Eve, away from their family and friends."
Claire adds that (unfortunately, in my opinion) the error was caught before it went to publication.

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! – You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.
Winston Churchill via Cliff Boldt

I dream of the day when the beauty of a piece of theological writing is deemed no less important than its accuracy, for how could one speak well of God in ugly prose?
Nicholas Lash via Jim Taylor


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “for whom the Tells bowled!”)
These brain-numbers from Doris Gist

King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
"I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it," Croesus said.
"But I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the king!"
To which Croesus replied, "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."

Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss league records were destroyed in a fire. So we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

A man rushes into a busy doctor's office and screams, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking! I think I’m shrinking!"
"Now, settle down,” says the doctor. You'll just have to be a little patient."

A marine biologist developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls.
One day, the biologist’s supply of the birds ran out so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them.
Immediately, he was arrested and charged with transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.

Back in the 1800's the Tate's Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products, and since they already made the cases for watches, they used the watches to produce compasses. The new compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California.
This, of course, is the origin of the expression, "He who has a Tate's is lost!"

A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the toilets and urinals, leaving no clues.
A police spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."

A tribal chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine woman. After a brief examination, the medicine woman took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day.
After a month, the medicine woman returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on."

A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."


Bottom of the Barrel – Didn’t manage to get to the bottom this week. Barely managed to skim along the top.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Sorry. I simply didn’t have the time or energy to $do it for this week. I’ll try to mend my ways for next week. Thanks for understanding.

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