Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Preaching Materials for November 9, 2008

R U M O R S # 526
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 2, 2008


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

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We’re back home.
I know. Most of you didn’t know we were gone. But Bev and I have been a-roamin’ for the last 35 days on a trip to celebrate 50 years of marriage. All the issues of Rumors were done in advance, with my brother Jim making sure the thing was complete each week. And that’s why some sections, like “Bloopers” and “Letters” have been a bit lean. My e-mail was sporadic en route, so I mostly saved up your correspondence to include in this edition and the next few, after which I hope Rumors will be back to normal.

The Story – choose life
Rumors – I must be happy
Soft Edges – getting a grip on gravity
Good Stuff – the stock market
Bloopers – hateful homonyms
We Get Letters – can you afford this?
Mirabile Dictu! – nut bread
Bottom of the Barrel – that neon sign
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 Jim Spinks.
I needed some supplies from a Sunday school cupboard that was seldom used and was secured with a lock. I didn't know the combination, but our clergyperson offered to give it a try.
Father Jack placed his fingers on the lock's dial and raised his eyes heavenward for a moment. Then he confidently spun the dial and opened the lock.
Seeing how impressed I was with this demonstration of faith, he smiled and confided, "The numbers are written on the ceiling."


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, November 9th, which is Proper 27 [32]. Note: November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans’ Day in the USA.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Matthew 25:1-13

Here’s an amazing coincidence. Deuteronomy 30 says that Moses closed his career by urging his people to “Choose life!” Here, Joshua ends his leadership by demanding, “Choose whom you will serve!”
It could be Joshua’s spin-doctors still trying to show that their leader was a worthy successor to Moses.
Or it could be that every leader needs to confront her/his followers with the need to choose. Don’t drift. Choose! Choose now! And then run your life accordingly.
I would hope to dramatize that message with video clips from television ads (copyright be damned – they put them out there to be seen!). All those ads say, “Choose! Choose ME to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be healthy, to be powerful... to be loved...”
If TV ads prove technically impossible, I could resort to glossy magazine ads.
We also need to say, “Choose!” But the real choices are not which product to buy, but which values, which standards, which way of life. Will we support a culture that deals with short-term interests and selfishness, or will we promote long-term values that will benefit all of God’s creation, including us?
As Joshua says, whatever our decision, our life choices make us witnesses against ourselves.
Jim Taylor

It seems to me the Joshua and Matthew readings come together to form a couple of parables with strong contemporary relevance. It’s important to notice that Joshua is not calling on the folks to choose between God and no god. The choice is between God and gods – the gods of fertility and prosperity.
So why not paraphrase the Joshua reading and where he refers to the gods of fertility and prosperity, talk instead of the gods that rule the shopping malls, the car dealerships, the real estate market and yes, in these days especially, the stock market. I might ask them to take out their favorite credit card and look at it while I read the paraphrase.
Be sure to include the built-in warning that’s in the story. Don’t make pious little promises you don’t intend to keep, because they’ll come back and bite you.
And Matthew’s story about the bridesmaids – try not to tell the one about the preacher who asked a group of young men, “Would you rather be with the wise bridesmaids and their lighted lamps, or would you rather spend the night in the dark with those foolish bridesmaids?”
The story reminds me of the geezer who was asked why he spent so much time reading the Bible and doing church stuff. “I’m cramming for the finals!” he said. Or the person who said, “I’m going to stop procrastinating. As soon as I can get around to it.”
This story connects with the Joshua passage in reminding us that good intentions about future changes in our lifestyle or habits are quite irrelevant. The promise must be made in the present tense.
Ralph Milton

Psalm 78:1-7 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
In prehistoric times, I imagine, wisdom was passed down as women gathered around the campfire.
1 Come, children, and sit beside me. Listen while I tell you a story.
2 I will teach you the old wives' tales,
the wisdom of many generations
3 distilled into deceptively simple sayings.
We women have not roamed the world as solitary hunters;
ours is the hearth and the home,
nurturing the lives of our loved ones.
4 In endless talk of nothing much,
we learn from each other's trials and troubles.
We pass our collective wisdom along as aphorisms:
A stitch in time... A rolling stone...
Sleeping dogs... Glass houses...
Each maxim gleams with its own gem of truth, sifted from the sands of time.
5 Through our collective consciousness, God guides us.
Individual insights melt into communal memory.
6 That is how we pass our hard-won wisdom on to generations not yet conceived.
Someday, children, you will tell your grandchildren,
7 So that they too can know that they belong to the people of God,
so that they too be a light to the nations,
a path pointing the way toward God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – You’ve seen the bumper sticker. “In case of the Rapture, the driver of this car will disappear.” And the responding bumper sticker, “In case of the Rapture, can I have your car?”
Such silliness aside, it’s important that folks know the context of this passage or it can be very confusing. (If we can’t deal with it, I think we shouldn’t use it.) The early Christian community had a problem. They expected that Christ would return quickly, before any of them died. But that clearly hadn’t happened. And they were confused.
Paul helps them understand Christian hope a bit more deeply. Jesus wasn’t a one-person, one-time event. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, God will raise all who have died in the faith. In other words (and this connects it with the Hebrew and Gospel passages), because of what God did in the past, we have a future. And so our present is filled with hope.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 232.
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.”


Rumors – I was strolling along the deck wondering about cruise ships. A middle-aged officer in a gleaming white uniform with scrambled egg braid in assorted places came walking along. “How many people do you have working on this boat?” I asked.
He gave me a look that in times past would have had me keel-hauled. “I boat is what you get into when the ship sinks,” he hissed.
“Ah, sorry!” I said. “But how often do ships like this sink?”
“Only once.” He walked away thinking – I’m sure – unwholesome thoughts about cruise ship passengers.
Thinking unwholesome thoughts about cruise ship passengers is not hard to do. Now don’t get me wrong. Bev and I had a good time on our cruise and may well do it again. We had to sell the farm and mortgage the children to do it, but it was a fine way to celebrate 50 years together.
It’s just that there is cadre of brain-dead people on those boats – whoops. Those ships. About half the passengers, I think. People who have been doing not much but cruising for the last ten years. They brag about how many cruises they have been on – some of them boasting about 50 or 60 cruises. Some even more.
Cruise ships are an escape. You put a thousand or two people into a very large, steel container. You take them away from all the big and little aggravations of daily life. You feed them constantly. Make sure the booze is always available. The casino is always open. You have a professional staff providing wall-to-wall entertainments. You provide entertaining lectures on light, non-controversial educational topics. You have smiling stewards who make your bed and wash your clothes and put a little chocolate treat on your pillow at bed time.
The best part – the very best part – is that you never have to really deal with relationship problems. If you don’t like your table mates, get yourself assigned to another table. Besides, there’ll be a whole new batch of tourists on board next week. You don’t ever really have to get to know anyone. And none of them will ever really get to know you.
“Any virtue carried to an extreme becomes a vice.” I don’t remember where I first heard that little aphorism, but it’s true. Nothing wrong with cruise ships until they become a way of life. When the life-style of a cruise ship becomes the norm, it becomes sick and destructive. It dries out the soul. It atrophies the brain and puts pounds on the belly and the buttocks.
A short, tactical retreat from reality can be good and useful. But our affluent consumer society is providing a way of life that is getting dangerously close to life on a cruise ship. As Jim points out (above) the media spin-doctors are working hard to show us that things we once thought of as luxuries to be indulged in occasionally have become necessities of everyday life. And the result is both physical and emotional obesity.
The foolish bridesmaids not only refuse to do the work of getting their lamps ready, they feel deprived – persecuted – because someone didn’t do it for them.
The Joshuas among us demand that we choose – and we do choose. Whatever is the most fun and the least hassle.
Don’t read this as a grumpy, green-eyed rant about folks who have things we covet. It is a lament for the living that is lost. It is a lament for people who “laugh, but not all of their laughter. Who cry but not all of their tears.” (Kahil Gibran)
It is a lament over the dull-eyed wanderers who have made their choice about who they will serve. They spend their days moving from one amusement to the next. They spend their evenings mindlessly pulling the handle of a slot machine. They spend their nights in drugged and dreamless sleep.
And they tell themselves.
“I must be happy, because nothing hurts.”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Getting a Grip on Gravity
Around the time of Moses, the ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god Ra. They were smart enough to recognize that all the other gods that people worshipped – gods of wind, fertility, river, storm, etc. – all depended on a single source of heat and light, the sun.
Moses may have adapted the concept of monotheism – one God, and only one God – from the Egyptians; he was raised in the Pharaoh’s palace, after all. Or he may have borrowed it from his Midianite father-in-law, Jethro, after Moses fled from Egypt as a wanted-dead-or-alive murderer.
Or, of course, he may have received his revelation directly, just as the Bible relates, from a burning bush in the middle of the desert.
There’s a growing trend among some environmental movements to worship Ra again. They recognize that everything on this earth – plants, animals, insects, fish, and yes, humans too – depends on the sun for life.
Without the sun, there would be no photosynthesis and no plants. Without the sun, we would be a sterile rock hurtling through frozen space. Without the sun, water would not evaporate, form clouds, fall as rain, run as rivers, or irrigate our fields.
Even the fossil fuels that our industrial civilization depends on are simply solar energy that fell on the earth millions of years ago.
Some people claim that if we could more efficiently capture the energy that reaches the earth from the sun, if we could store it, convert it to heat and electricity, we would have no need for fossil fuels.
With no pollution, they insist.
But if I were going to worship something other than God, I think I would choose gravity.
That thought occurred to me the other day, while taking the dog for a walk. We go down a steep little trail that the municipality kindly graveled a few years ago.
The top end of the trail has no gravel left, though. Because every time I put my heel down, it crunches a small mound of gravel ahead of it. Thousands of foot-falls over the years have moved the overlay of gravel steadily downhill.
Gravity does more than just drop apples on Isaac Newton’s head. It causes water to flow downhill, carving ravines and canyons. It causes cliffs to crumble. It wraps a thin skin of atmosphere around the earth.
It holds the earth – and the other planets – in stable orbit around the sun.
Indeed, gravity brought the sun god Ra into being, by compressing the solar gases until they ignited the fusion furnace that still gives us light and heat.
Gravity is the only thing that escapes the clutches of an astronomical black hole.
Physicists speak of four forces. Compared to the “strong force” that holds atomic nuclei together, gravity is considered a very weak force.
Yet gravity surrounds us, envelops us, so completely, so universally, that most of us are completely unaware of its presence.
Which is, now that I start to think about it, a pretty good description of how most of us perceive God, too.


Good Stuff – This from Larry Claus.
Once upon a time, in a village, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10 each. The villagers, seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them.
The man bought thousands at $10 and, as supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort. He further announced that he would now pay $20 for a monkey. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again. Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer increased to $25 each, and the supply of monkeys became so small that it was an effort to even find a monkey, let alone catch it!
The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on his behalf.
In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers, "Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at $35, and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each."
The villagers rounded up all their savings and bought all the monkeys.
They never saw the man or his assistant again. Only monkeys everywhere!
Now you have a better understanding of how the stock market works.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – April Dailey found this in a newsletter. “The recent volunteers will have a program during which they will share their incites with those who attend.”
April, I had to read that five times before I figured out what was funny. Whenever I see a blooper featuring a homonym, my sympathies are entirely with the won hoo maid the blooper.
Reason? This from Ted Spencer of Port Maitland, Ontario. He quotes me as writing: “Arriving home from Edmonton with my shinny new doctorate in hand. . .”
Then he adds. “Gosh! I should be able to make something of a ‘shinny’ new doctorate, but dashed if I can. Expert in street hockey?”

Wayne Seybert of Longmont, Colorado got this from Donald Leininger, who got it from ??? It’s a classic blooper that’s always good for another laugh.
“Hymn No. 134: "Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear."
Too bad we can’t run photos in Rumors. Jean McCord sent a delightful series of photos taken of the display boards from two neighboring churches. The photos show the denominations, but I think it works better just to call them “A” and “B” because the difference is not so much of theology or tradition as in a sense of humor. The sign boards went up in this order.
A: Sermon: All Dogs Go To Heaven
B: Only humans go to heaven. Read the Bible.
A: God loves all creation. Dogs included.
B: Dogs don’t have souls. This is not open to debate.
A: Our dogs go to heaven. Your dogs can talk to their pastor.
B: Converting to your religion does not grant your dog a soul.
A: Free dog souls with conversion.
B: Dogs are animals. There aren’t any rocks in heaven either.
A: All rocks go to heaven.

Bonnie Shullenberger of Ossining, New York writes: “In the church I was serving yesterday, the reader misread the first invocation of the Prayers of the People. Instead of asking God to ‘reveal your glory in the world,’ he asked God to ‘revel in your glory in the world.’ I thought that was pretty good.”

It wasn’t a misprint or a misspelling, but a mispronunciation. The lector last Sunday was reading Matthew 22:34 about the “Sad-DUC-cees,” which got me wondering if later in the reading we would hear about the “se-duc-ERS.”

If you’ve potted 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! – Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.
Henry Fielding via Jim Taylor

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.
Aesop via Velia Watts

Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.
source unknown, via Randy Arnold


We Get Letters – Margaret Carr of Arcola, Saskatchewan writes: “Your blooper about the "Rectors message and other rubbish" reminded me of a story. A minister of a Scottish Kirk had worked extra hard on his morning service and was rather pleased with it.
So he asked "Old Angus " what he thought of his sermon as he shook his hand at the door.
" Weel," said "Old Angus," "There were only three things wrong with it. First, Ye read it. Ye shouldn'a have to read it. Second, Ye didn'a read it well. And third, It wasn'a worth reading."

David Stewart of Whittier, California writes: “I've had fun with this recently. It seems that when Martin Luther was nailing his theses to the cathedral door, he used a large hammer. He accidentally hit himself and was hurt.
For several weeks after that his parishioners didn't like him so much. It seems that no one likes a sore Luther.”

While we’re talking about Luther, April Dailey writes: “Your article on the selfish cruise-takers makes me think of Luther's statement of what he'd do if Jesus' second coming was tomorrow. "I'd plant a tree."

Henry Passenger of “sunny Southeast Michigan” writes:
This week's Rib Tickler about paying the doctor hit home.
Last year as I was nervously sweating it out on the hospital bed awaiting a (my word: disastrous) heart cath which led to a stent, the admitting nurse was filling out some of the reams of paperwork. Literally, one of her questions: "Can you afford this?"

Bill Medland of Kelowna, British Columbia writes: “I just found this bit of spam in my inbox and, 'cause I was bored I skimmed it for fun. It is, of course, a fairly standard phish. The bit that got me was ‘US$5,850,000.00 each to 100 lucky recipients each year, undermining your religion.’
“Yep; I guess $6M from the Catholic Church would undermine my religion a bit!”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Nut Bread!”)
Evelyn McLachlan and Carl Boyke both sent this. It is a bit late for the actual season of Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew, “beginning of the year”), when in the celebration of Tashlich, Jews traditionally go to the ocean or a stream or river to pray and throw bread crumbs into the water. Symbolically, the fish devour their sins.
Occasionally, people ask what kind of bread crumbs should be thrown.
Here are suggestions for breads which may be most appropriate for specific sins and misbehaviors.
* For ordinary sins.....................White Bread
* For complex sins......................Multigrain
* For twisted sins......................Pretzels
* For sins of indecision................Waffles
* For sins of chutzpah..................Fresh Bread
* For committing auto theft.............Caraway
* For timidity/cowardice................Milk Toast
* For ill-temperedness..................Sourdough
* For silliness, eccentricity...........Nut Bread
* For war-mongering.....................Kaiser Rolls
* For jingoism, chauvinism..............Yankee Doodles
* For excessive irony...................Rye Bread
* For erotic sins.......................French Bread
* For particularly dark sins............Pumpernickel
* For dressing immodestly...............Tarts
* For causing injury to others..........Tortes
* For being holier than thou............Bagels
* For abrasiveness......................Grits
* For dropping in without notice........Popovers
* For overeating........................Stuffing
* For pride and egotism.................Puff Pastry
* For trashing the environment..........Dumplings
* For telling bad jokes/puns............Corn Bread
In many churches, you now find different kinds of communion bread for folks with various allergies. If we worked in the above, it could really make communion interesting.


Bottom of the Barrel – Various versions of this delightful story surface from time to time. This latest edition is courtesy of Lester Pasley of Sydney, New South Wales.
The elderly priest was having a heart-to-heart with the younger priest. "It was a good idea to replace the first four rows of pews with plush bucket theatre seats,” said the older cleric. “It worked like a charm. The front of the church always fills first now".
The younger priest nodded, and the old priest continued. "And you told me that adding a little more beat to the music would bring young people back to the church, so I supported you when you brought in that rock 'n roll gospel choir. We are now packed to the balcony!"
"Thank you, Father", answered the young priest. "I am pleased that you are open to the new ideas.”
"However", said the elderly priest, "I'm afraid that you've gone too far with the drive-through confessional."
"But, Father", protested the young priest, "the confessions and donations have nearly doubled since I began that!".
"I know, son, but that flashing neon sign, “Toot 'n Tell or Go to Hell,” just can't stay on the church roof".

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