Thursday, December 18, 2008

Preaching Materials for December 28th

R U M O R S # 533
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 21, 2008



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

A family is a circle of love, whether the people are blood relatives or not. May your circle grow wider and deeper as you celebrate God’s gift of love at Christmas.
Ralph and Jim


The Story – Jesus presented at the temple
Rumors – Anna and Simeon – “I already know, old friend.”
Soft Edges – a sympathetic ear
Bloopers – a happy new rear
We Get Letters – identity crisis
Mirabile Dictu! – fruit cake
Bottom of the Barrel – weeweechu
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The pastor was concerned about George. He hardly came to church anymore. On one of George’s rare appearances, the pastor pulled him aside and said, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.” “Then how come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?”
George looked in all directions to be sure he was not overheard. Then he whispered, “I’m in the secret service.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 28th, which is the First Sunday after Christmas.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 – What a delightful, expansive, inclusive song about the realm of God. The prophet is ready, eager, leaning into the future like the bride and groom as they approach their wedding day. An era of salvation and righteousness is about to spring up in the nation.
I’m writing this on my laptop in the living room where the sun is streaming into the windows warming the whole house. Which is nice, because the electricity has gone off, and it’s becoming apparent how little we can do without it. And the temperature is -20C outside.
I could easily translate that into a metaphor about how the power of God’s love warms us, even when worldly powers are gone. It sounds a little corny. Which is OK.
Except that it ignores the reality that most of the world does not have electricity to go off – or windows for the sun to shine through. The promise of hope needs to contain some practical action for those who can’t see or feel that hope.
Hope, yes, but without our action toward justice, it is at the very least, profoundly selfish and narrow.

Psalm 148 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
We Celebrate Renewed Life
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 Books.
For details, go to

Galatians 4:4-7 – This is as close as Paul comes to talking about the birth of Jesus – or to say anything much at all about the earthly life of Jesus. But it’s really an opening comment in which Paul argues that the coming of Jesus changes everything. We’re no longer “minors” or “slaves” under the control of guardians (the law). We are now adopted children – heirs to God’s promise.
In other words, you don’t need to become a Jew before you can become a Christian, as many of the first apostles claimed. Christianity was no longer a sect of Judaism.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) Luke 2:22-40
Jim says:
I first memorized parts of this passage as a child, when we had only the King James Version – which begins, “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace...”
I’m having trouble developing thoughts around this passage. Of course, I could expound the significance of servanthood. Or I could engage in intellectual analysis on “a revelation to the Gentiles” as a later amendment that justified Paul’s mission.
But what really hooks me is Simeon’s phrase “depart in peace.”
Unfortunately, exploring that concept suits the intimacy of small group sharing or personal meditation better than the larger public forum of a full congregation.
Under what circumstances, I wonder, could I say that my life is now complete? My mission is complete. I have received God’s revelation; I’m ready to go.
And if I knew that my time had come, what would I choose as my final acts? What would I say, and to whom?
I would love to see a whole congregation take those questions seriously, to turn to each other and identify what they would do, what they would say, if this were their final hours.
But it won’t happen. Not in any congregations I know.
I’d love to explore with those individuals what those final acts might reveal about themselves. Did they choose a gesture of generosity? Of settling old scores? Of erasing guilt? Of forgiveness? Of acceptance?
Perhaps all I can do is raise those questions, and hope they’ll deal with them later, on their own.

Ralph says:
This gentle, powerful story becomes more and more a favorite as I get older. The Simeon and Anna rôles seem to fit more and more comfortably.
The second Sunday of Advent found us delighting in the annual Christmas pageant at our church. Before the service, I had a few moments with the young couple whose newborn child would be “Jesus” in the pageant. They were dressed as Mary and Joseph, and I took several pictures while they beamed at their baby.
“Joseph” and I fell to talking about pageants and what they were about. We both realized that this is more than simply re-enacting an old story. “I was thinking last night,” he said, “that Christmas comes with every new baby that’s born.”
“And your child, in a deep and mystical sense, is the Christ child. Or at the very least, your child is a symbol of hope and promise.”
And my part in this universal drama is to be “Simeon” who has the years – who has had the grace to drop many of the affectations that cluttered up his youth – who can sense and weep a little at the story and the glory of God’s gift of love made incarnate in every baby that is born.
And this is true, whether the child is born into starvation in Somalia or into the affluence of western Canada.

“Being Happy and Sad” is a children’s story based on Isaiah 61:10-11 in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 34. And on page 37 you’ll find a story based on Luke 2:22-40. It’s called, “Jesus is Presented at the Temple.”
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 – Here’s a little story about Anna and Simeon which I wrote some years ago.

Her legs were bowed with childhood rickets and with eighty-four years of life.
"I walk like an old goose," she would cackle, "but in my mind, eh, in my mind I still soar like an eagle."
Sometimes Anna counted her years by the people she had survived. Five children she had born, and outlived every one of them. She'd been the midwife who brought the High Priest of the temple into the world and now acted as his unofficial "mother emeritus."
"Very unofficial," Anna grins. "His Highness doesn't want it known that I blew his nose and wiped his bum when he was a tadpole. But he comes and talks to me when nobody's looking. It wouldn't do for him to be seen talking to a woman now, would it?"
Anna had moved into the temple, expecting to die there soon. But death didn't come. Instead, a new kind of life, a life of caring and counseling and friendship to the many people who came in and out of the temple each day. Her body grew smaller, her legs bowed a little more, but her eyes grew bright and gentle with wisdom and good humor.
Anna's special concern was for young families. Jewish custom required a first-born son to be brought to the temple and dedicated to God.
"Those parents–they're just children really–they're so frightened, so anxious. We've got lots of priests around here, but they're so busy being important, they don't have time for young families. So I just show them around and help them get things done."
Anna's special concern was for poor families, intimidated by the wealth and power of the temple, afraid of being cheated by the money changers–as they often were. Anna got them through. That was her mission. Getting them through a tough time.
But Anna had a secret dream. She hadn't shared it with anyone except her old friend Simeon. Anna and Simeon, like Jews everywhere, had been raised with the hope that someday God would send a Messiah, a chosen one, someone who would bring in a new era of love and justice.
"Do you suppose we might see God's chosen one?" old Simeon would ask. "Do you suppose it's possible?"
"I live in hope, Simeon. I live in hope."
"But how will we know, Anna? How will we know?"
"We'll know, Simeon," Anna said, then wondered why she felt so confident.

It was getting late in the day. Anna's bowed legs were tired. She'd been active all day in the temple, in her ministry of simply being there for anyone who needed her. Then she saw a frail, teenage girl carrying a baby. Beside her a man, slightly older. Anna walked over as quickly as her goose-like gait could carry her.
"Welcome to the temple, my children." She could see they were hot and tired from their long walk. "Come over here into the shade of the wall. You can rest for a moment. May I see your baby?"
It wasn't that the baby looked different than all the other babies brought into the temple. There was nothing unusual about the mother who held it. But there was something very different happening inside Anna, an exquisite ache, a sense of powerful weakness.
"Simeon!" The name was whispered, but with such intensity, the old man who was dozing nearby woke with a start. He hurried over to Anna.
Simeon looked at the child. He saw nothing unusual. But then he looked into the fire-bright eyes of his old friend.
"Anna? Do you suppose?" Her eyes answered his question.
Simeon began to sing. An ancient song, half remembered, half made up, a song of hope and thanksgiving, a song of pain and rejoicing. Anna, who had no voice at that moment, sang along in her heart.
Dear God,
now I can die in peace,
as you promised.
I have seen your salvation
a gift to all people...
a light for the Gentiles
and glory for your people, Israel.

Late that night, Anna wept long and quietly. She grieved and celebrated all that was, and all that was yet to be. And then she slept.
It was only a few days later that Anna was midwife at another kind of birth. Her old friend Simeon was dying, and she was at his side, holding his hand and helping him through it, as she had helped so many others through life's changes.
"I think I can die now, Anna. I'll know very soon whether that child really is the Messiah, the chosen one. I'll know very soon." Simeon closed his eyes for the last time.
"But I know already, my old friend. Sleep well."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
A Sympathetic Ear
During a pre-Christmas meditative service – candles, gentle chanting, readings, prayers –worship leader Lois Huey-Heck read a psalm paraphrase.
It addressed God as “Eternal Listener...”
I heard nothing more. That phrase, “eternal listener,” hooked me.
So often our attempts to communicate with God consist of what someone called “Gimme prayers.” As children, we want a new red bicycle, a blonde Barbie doll, a skipping rope... As adults, we ask for a red convertible, a new girl friend, a promotion... And if we’re really feeling noble and selfless, we ask for peace on earth, goodwill to all, and perhaps reversing global warming.
But we’re still expecting God to intervene on our behalf.
Then we’re disappointed if God doesn’t respond positively. Maybe we didn’t use the right words. Maybe we didn’t have enough faith. Maybe we got a busy signal...
Almost 30 years ago, my friend Mike Schwartzentruber was days away from death. He had cystic fibrosis, a hereditary illness that plugs up lungs and digestive systems. In trying to come to terms with his situation, he wrote a book about his experience.
Facing the empty stillness of a life that could end any time, Mike wanted to know, “Why me?”
“If I had been able to sit down face-to-face with God and have it out,” he pondered, “would it really have helped me to be less angry, less hurt, less broken?”
Slowly a realization came to him: “An explanation is not what I want. I want to be comforted, consoled. I want God and the people in my life to know that I hurt. I want something to fill the emptiness...”
He wanted people to hear what it was like to confront the end of life, every day.
A magazine I worked for started an advice column. “Keep the advice short,” advised my boss. “What people really want is to have someone hear their stories.”
We called it, “The Sympathetic Ear.”
A truly sympathetic ear is rare among humans. You’re telling me why you’re sad – or happy – but I’m waiting for a chance to top your story with my own. Or I’m thinking you’re a fool. Or I’m wishing you’d push the fast-forward button...
Someone who will listen, who will care, with no agenda, no preconceptions, no judgment – who neither feels threatened by my words nor makes me feel threatened – that’s a rare gift.
Perhaps it gets easier as we age. We have less to lose. Our reputations, our egos, will not be shattered by what we may hear. Perhaps that’s a gift that grandparents can offer grandchildren.
I’ve kept a journal for 40 years. No one but me has ever read it. But I can unload into that journal more honestly than I can to any living human. My journal has been a kind of “eternal listener” for me.
Maybe, all these years, I haven’t been writing those words to myself after all. Maybe that journal was a way of opening myself to the ultimate listener.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Joan Taylor of Lake Country, BC, noticed this unique greeting. “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Rear.”
Joan, maybe it was for people who needed a replacement after having unsuccessfully protected it all year.

Fred Unruh noticed this in a newsletter. “We have the vision of church(es) acquiring a small apartment building with ready access to one of our universities/colleges where students would lie in community.”

Evelyn McLachlan was reading some minutes of a meeting where it said, “Committee stared filling out MEPS 403 JN form.” In a revised set of minutes the secretary sent out, she commented "Staring was probably what we were doing by this time in the meeting!"

Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta says this was a sign in a church somewhere. “After tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board.”

If you’ve spotted 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! – The ornaments of a house are friends who frequent it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson via Mary in Oman

Our lives improve only when we take chances – and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.
Walter Anderson via Jim Taylor

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy via Jim Taylor


We Get Letters – Vern Ratzlaff wants to know – “Did you hear about the dyslexic evil-spirit worshipper? He tried to sell is soul to Santa.”

Steve Warren of Guildford, Western Australia is having an identity crisis. Of sorts. “I typed ‘pastoring’ into a document in my computer, but Spell-check didn’t like it. As alternatives, it offered ‘pasturing’, ‘pestering’ and ‘posturing.’ A sobering thought for those of us in ministry?”
Steve, I think I know how you feel. Last night was trying to put my own picture into a little calendar I put together for the family at Christmas. It kept saying “File contains invalid data.” I’m trying not to take it personally.

Wayne Seybert in Longmont, Colorado writes about our item last week on Christmas shopping. “But there is one more thing we need to buy. Common sense. If you know where it’s for sale please let me know. I am about to run out.”
Wayne goes on to add a bit of deep wisdom. “What is the height of humility? Saying grace before eating crow!”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Fruit Cake!”)
Nancy Thorne of Bristol, England sends along this delightful recipe for Christmas fruit cake.
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
juice 1 lemon
2 cups dried fruit
8 oz nuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 bottle whisky

Sample whisky to check its quality.
* Take a large bowl.
* Recheck the whisky to ensure it is of the highest quality.
* Pour one level cup and drink.
* Turn on the electric mixer and beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl.
* Add one teaspoon of sugar and beat again.
* Make sure the whisky is still okay and cry another tup.
* Turn off the mixerer.
* Break two eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the dried fruit.
* Mix on the turner and if the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver.
* Sample the whisky to test for tonisisticity.
* Next sift two cups of salt, or something. Who cares?
* Check the whisky.
* Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
* Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.
* Then grease the oven and turn the cake tin to 350 degrees.
* Don't forget to beat off the turner.
* Throw the bowl out of the window, check the whisky again and go to bed.

* ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Bottom of the Barrel – I’m really wary of ethnic jokes, but this one, sent by John Severson, seems innocent and appropriate to the season.

It was a romantic full moon. Pedro said, “Hey, mamacita, let's do Weeweechu.”
“Oh no, not now, let's look at the moon!” said Rosita.
“Oh, c'mon baby, let's you and I do Weeweechu. I love you and it's the perfect time,” Pedro begged.
“But I wanna just hold your hand and watch the moon.” replied Rosita.
“Please, corazoncito, just once, do Weeweechu with me.”
Rosita looked at Pedro and said, “OK, one time, we'll do Weeweechu.”
Pedro grabbed his guitar and they both sang. “Weeweechu a Merry Christmas, Weeweechu a Merry Christmas, Weeweechu a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”

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