Friday, December 26, 2008

Preaching Materials for January 4th, 2009

R U M O R S # 534
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 28, 2008



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

Jim and I would like to wish all of you a joyful New Year, with just enough challenges to make life interesting, a deep and lively faith in God, and a profound sense of being part of God’s ministry of love to the world.


The Story – not how but why
Rumors – gifts and miracles
Soft Edges – the turning seasons
Bloopers – naval oranges
We Get Letters – more shapely rears
Mirabile Dictu! – Jesus loves me
Bottom of the Barrel – talking to a bush
Readers’ Theatre – John 1
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This groaner from Evelyn McLachlan.
The custodian of a church quit, and the pastor of the church asked the organist if she would be able also to clean the church sanctuary.
The organist thought before replying," Do you mean that I now have to mind my keys and pews?"
Evelyn’s also responsible for this giggle.
The parishioner says to the preacher "that was a really good sermon, Reverend!" "It wasn't me,” says the preacher. “It was the Lord.”
"Oh no,” says the parishioner. “It wasn't that good!"


Next Week’s Readings – Some of you may choose to celebrate Epiphany next Sunday, even though technically it falls on Tuesday, January 6th. Those readings are:
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

These are the readings (as indicated by the Revised Common Lectionary) you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 28th, which is the second Sunday after Christmas Day.

Jeremiah 31:7-14 (or Sirach 24:1-12)
Kari and Don, my daughter and son-in-law, are doing a better job of parenting than Bev and I did. There are probably a number of reasons for that, but one of them is that Bev and I were the among the first generation of parents to realize that parenting was far more than simply keeping the kids in line and out of trouble.
Most particularly, we knew that “spare the rod and spoil the child” was really bad advice, so we used corporeal punishment minimally in our child rearing. But we still used punishment. Don and Kari use punishment minimally and rely on encouragement, reinforcement of positive actions and attitudes plus deep involvement in their lives. And love. Lots of love.
What we’ve learned about parenting in the last two generations also applies to preaching and pastoring. And this passage from Jeremiah is certainly a good reinforcement of positive values suitable for the first Sunday of 2009.
Of course us pew warmers deserve to have our ears boxed and our backsides booted, but I doubt it really does much good. At the least, it begs the question whether we act out of guilt or out of love.
The Bible is full of ear-boxing rhetoric. This is one passage to remind us that God works in our midst through the power of love.

Psalm 147:12-20 (or Wisdom of Solomon10:15-21) – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Ralph and I discussed our images of God one day. We concluded that most of the time God feels more like a mother than a father.

12 Thank God that God does things differently.
13 By the wisdom of this world, an unborn child has no value.
It has no name; it is not yet a person.
Yet while it is still in the womb, it somersaults with joy.
14 Its mother's eyes shine with hope;
her breasts swell with the milk of life.
15 To the mother, the unborn child within
matters more than any international agreement;
she wraps the child in her own body.
16 God carries us in her womb.
With her own lifeblood, God feeds us.
Like a mother preparing a nursery for her newborn,
God readies the earth to receive us.
17 Winter gives way to spring;
frozen hearts thaw;
tightly buttoned spirits burst into fragile new leaf.
18 That is God's way:
out of darkness comes light;
out of ice, water;
out of pain and struggle, new life.
19 That is how God gives birth.
20 Others may not recognize this mystery.
But to us God has revealed the miracle.
Our cry of weakness is a cry of triumph;
our thirst invites us to lie close to the heart of God and drink our fill.
God does things differently. Thank God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Ephesians 1:3-14 – It’s tempting to read this passage as a bit of Christian triumphalism – God’s on our side and not yours. If that’s Paul’s intention, then it’s not helpful. I read this as Paul reflecting on the joy of being part of the Christian community much the way I can reflect on the joy I find in my family or friends – all the while wishing that others could be similarly blessed.

The Story: John 1:(1-9), 10-18 – I often reflect on the first five verses of this passage when in conversation with my son Mark, an astronomer. It seems to tell, in theological language, what astronomers say to us in scientific language. I am convinced that when quantum mechanics (about which I have no idea whatever) finally gets to whatever it is that would explain everything, it’ll sound more like the first verses of John than like something written by Stephen Hawking.
And it will be “elegant.” I enjoy reading popular science, even though I am singularly lacking in scientific smarts. And I am constantly astounded at the complexity, the mind-boggling miracle that is human life, our planet, our solar system, our universe. When (if?) we arrive at an understanding of how and why (especially why) it happened, it will not be a formula. Nor will it not be a piece of dogma. It will be a story, or a vision, or a song, or a revelation. It will be that fundamental reality that John called “logos” and which is so awkwardly translated a “the Word.” And there, smiling through it all, will be our God.
There’s a Reader’s Theatre version of this passage from John right at the end of Rumors. It has a bit of fun trying to get some clarity on the “word/logos” thing. It’s just before the technical stuff about subscribing and unsubscribing.

There’s no commentary from Jim this week because he’s all tied up with computer problems and two grandchildren. I get the distinct impression that he prefers the grandchildren to the computer problems.

There’s a children’s story based on the first chapter of John, in Year A of “The Lectionary Story Bible,” page 37. 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’m taking the easy way out.
I am writing this issue of Rumors on December 23rd, and last night was the longest night of the year. It’s also my birthday and I am now a well-ripened 74 years and I want to take the rest of the day off to sit in a corner and feel sorry for myself.
Not really. This is a glorious and creative time of life, and I am enjoying myself thoroughly. But I’m still going to goof off and give you a piece that sort of fits with my blurb about the first five verses of John. It’s from the book “Angels in Red Suspenders.”

Gifts and miracles...
It was a gift.
Bev and I had no idea there would be a major and complete solar eclipse – the sun would be hidden by the moon – except for a spectacular corona the like of which would not be seen this way for many lifetimes. We had come to Encinedas on the California coast because we found an inexpensive motel there. And we thought perhaps it might be sunny.
We heard of the eclipse by accident, and so found ourselves on the beach with thousands of others, curious and eager.
As we stood and waited, I felt a gentle arm around my knee and glanced down to see a small boy of five or six, to whom one blue-jeaned leg was much like any other. His head leaned easily against my hip, and just as easily and naturally my hand went down to rest upon his shoulder.
"Don't look up, little boy,” I thought. “Don't look up because then you will know I am not your father, and you will be embarrassed. You will not know the tender moment you have given me. You will not know the soft memories you have brought to mind, of days when I was a young father with children your age who would come and hold my leg and lean their trusting heads against me and my hand could rest on their young shoulders just as my hand rests on your young shoulder now."
The boy's mother broke the magic, as a mother must. "Kevin, that's not your dad."
I was glad she said it gently. The boy looked up and moved away and I said "Thank you. That was a kind thing you did for me." The boy had no words, just large eyes from the safe haven of his mother, but she smiled kindly and I knew she understood the moment as a touch of grace.
Then the huge magnificence took shape before us, the moon that moved in slow and measured increments to hide the flaming sun – moved until it hid the light and left us only the eternal outer circle of the sun.
And then the moon and sun together dipped into the sea and people clapped and danced their wordless prayer of thanks and we went home.
And I was thankful for a small child's tenderness and for the majesty of moon and sun in confluence, not knowing which of those to call the greater gift or miracle.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Turning Seasons
I’m writing this on Christmas Eve.
Sunday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in northern climes. Already, the days are growing longer, although no one but an astronomer with a stopwatch could detect the difference.
As I write this column, the stock markets – more a thermometer of our emotional attitudes than a true measure of corporate value – seem to have bottomed out like the winter sun.
There is a danger, of course, that if and when the economy recovers and prosperity returns, we will try to claim the credit. When things go well, politicians pat themselves on the back. CEOs accept huge bonuses and pay packages. Retirees like me congratulate ourselves for investing in the right mutual funds.
But when things go badly, it was always caused by circumstances beyond our control, by factors no one could have anticipated. So the automakers, the banks, the mortgage companies, go to governments with begging bowls in hand, hoping for bailouts.
Strange – I didn’t notice them offering to share any unexpected profits with taxpayers. Did you?
They remind me of the Incas, who believed that their rituals could stop the sun from dipping further towards the horizon, by tethering it to a ceremonial hitching post in their temples.
The ancient writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes – whoever he was – understood the cyclical nature of all things. “To everything, there is a season,” chapter 3 begins.
A few years ago, I paraphrased that familiar passage this way:

The pendulum swings, and swings back.
Every action has its equal and opposite reaction.
So we are born, and eventually we die.
We plant seeds in the spring, and rip out roots in the fall.
Killing and healing tread on each other’s heels.
Buildings go up, and get torn down;
new buildings emerge from the ruins of the old.
The Phoenix rises from its own ashes.
You lose someone you love;
you bounce like a ping-pong ball
between tears and hysterical laughter.
If despair were forever, you couldn’t carry on,
but you carry on because you know
despair will someday be displaced by dancing again.
You can’t make love all the time;
sooner or later, you have to become friends.
You misplace your house keys; you find them.
You forget someone’s name;
it comes back to you in the middle of the night.
You lose a job, and a new career opens up.
You spend the first half of your life gaining possessions,
and the second half giving them away.
The animated conversations of young lovers mature
into the comfortable silences of long familiarity.
Why should we expect a single state of mind,
a single snapshot of experience, to last indefinitely?
Does a pendulum stop at the end of its swing?
So war and peace, love and hate,
togetherness and aloneness,
inevitably cycle and recycle.
This is how God teaches us.
Life is full of resurrections.

So Merry Christmas. Until it comes around again next year.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Jim Taylor got a note from his friend, Tim Green, an engineer. Tim says the name of an academic paper caught his eyes. "Infrared Detection of Worship Activity"
“Thought you could talk to God without us knowing, didn't you?” says Tim. “You can hide nothing!”
Tim went on to explain that one small vowel had gone astray. They had intended “warship.” Tim says it “reminds me of the time a friend was making a presentation to city council, and addressed the somewhat aggressive mayor as "Your Warship." Or the sign outside an ethnic grocery the other week. "Special: naval oranges."

Garth Caseley did manage to get this typed correctly into the bulletin but the first time he typed it, his spell checker changed “stuffer” to “suffer.”
“Dove Cookie Cutters & Ornaments for Sale. Just in time for Christmas baking, buy as a stocking suffer, if no time to bake... buy a ready made dough ornament and decorate yourself.”
Garth, in my tireless efforts to squeeze meaning out of everything, the thought occurs that some folks may use suffering is a way to “decorate yourself” – the way military folks wear medals that show they were wounded in battle.
Please notice I said, “some” folks. Not all of them Not even most of them. But some.

Jayne Whyte of Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan writes: “In our Carols and Lessons service today, the 12 year old stumbled only a little on the gifts of the Magi – ‘gold, frankincense and mirth.’ I'm sure Jesus was be pleased. So too was our congregation.”

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! – We don't know who discovered water, but we are certain it wasn't a fish.
John Culkin via Jim Taylor

We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.
Justice Louis Brandeis

Never clutch the past so tightly that it leaves your arms unable to embrace the present.
source unknown via Sharyl Peterson

Why is it that people who praise downsizing for its salubrious effect on the economy are invariably people in no danger of being downsized themselves? The market is now our supreme power. It is a god that requires human sacrifices to keep it pacified.
Russell Baker


We Get Letters – Evelyn McLachlan sends this New Year’s wish to all Rumors readers. “May peace break into your house and may thieves come to steal your debts. May the pockets of your jeans become a magnet of $100 bills. May love stick to your face like Vaseline and may laughter assault your lips!
“May your clothes smell of success like smoking tires and may happiness slap you across the face and may your tears be that of joy. May the problems you had forget your home address!
“In simple words May 2009 be the best year of your life!!!”

Susan Price writes: “Ralph, on that amusing typo, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Rear,” you suggested: ‘it was for people who needed a replacement after having unsuccessfully protected it all year’.
“Come now, surely it is a heartfelt wish of goodwill expressed to those who wish to change their rears for more shapely versions, whether fuller or smaller.”
Wayne Seybert in Longmont, Colorado appreciated the item on Christmas Shopping. “It’s very true and we all need to do that but there is one more thing we need to buy – common sense. If you know where it is for sale please let me know. I am about to run out.”

Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado sends along a “profound Christmas theological insight from a kindergarten student.
“The teacher asked the class, “who can tell me why Jesus was born in Bethlehem?’
Little Katie knew. “Because his mother was there!”
Argue with that, if you dare!
Sharyl also sent along some good advice from one of her parishioners. She had been told by a friend to “Finish all those things you have left unfinished.”
“That seemed like a good idea,” said the parishioner. “So, I finished the rest of last night's cocktail shrimp, half a bag of Doritos, 15 nearly-stale Christmas cookies, the last four pieces of fudge on the festive plate, the last two glasses of wine left in the bottom of the bottle someone brought for the party last week-end, and the dregs of a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. I feel so flippin' good I can hardly stand it! I am filled with peace, light, and the satisfaction of a job well done.”

Evelyn McLachlan sends along a giggle from “the Hebrew side of the holidays!
“Admiring the Christmas trees displayed in his neighbor's windows, a child asks his father, ‘Daddy, can we have a Hanukkah Tree?’
"’What? No, of course not.’ says his father.’
"’Why not?’ asks the child again.
“Bewildered, his father replies, ‘Because the last time we had dealings with a lighted bush we spent 40 years in the wilderness.’
(See also: “The Bottom of the Barrel” below.)


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Jesus loves me!”)
This version of “Jesus Loves Me” is from Margaret Wood. Even though it’s been here on Rumors before, I’m running it today because I’m feeling sorry for myself.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow.
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.
Yes, Jesus loves me (3X)
The Bible tells me so.

Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I'll go.
On through life, let come what may,
He'll be there to lead the way.

Though I am no longer young,
I have much which He's begun.
Let me serve Christ with a smile,
Let me go the extra mile.

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song.
Telling me in words so clear,
'Have no fear, for I am near.'


Bottom of the Barrel – We’ve got to run this story now, because very soon the person in the White House will no longer be a Bush. It’s from John Severson.

Recently while going through an airport during one of his many trips, President Bush encountered a man with long gray hair, wearing a white robe and sandals, holding a staff. President Bush went up to the man and said, "Has anyone told you that you look like Moses?"
The man never answered. He just kept staring straight ahead.
The President said, "Moses!" in a loud voice. The man just stared ahead, never acknowledging the President.
Bush pulled a Secret Service agent aside and pointing to the robed man asked, "Am I crazy, or does that man not look like Moses to you?"
The Secret Service agent looked at the man carefully and then agreed.
""Well," said the President, "every time I say his name he ignores me and stares straight ahead refuses to speak. Watch! "
Again the President yelled, "Moses!" and again the man ignored him.
The Secret Service agent went up to the man in the white robe and whispered,
"You look just like Moses. Are you Moses?"
The man leaned over and whispered back ."Yes, I am Moses. But the last time I talked to a bush I spent 40 years wandering in the desert, and ended up leading my people to the only spot in the entire Middle East where there’s no oil."


Readers’ Theatre
An arrangement of John 1:(1-9), 10-18
(Please rehearse this so that there are no pauses between speakers and so that you can put appropriate expression into the words. The word “logos” is pronounced LO gos and rhymes with “slow boss.”)

Reader one: Our reading is from the first chapter of the gospel of John.
“In the beginning was the Word . . .”
Reader two: (interrupting) Wrong!
Reader one: What do you mean wrong. That’s exactly what it says here.
Reader two: Because the word “word” is the wrong word.
Reader one: Huh???
Reader two: What you are reading is the English translation.
Reader one: Should I have used the Swahili translation? Some of the folks here don’t understand Swahili that well.
Reader two: Stop joking. This is serious!
Reader one: Of course it’s serious. But I have no idea what you are talking about.
Reader two: John’s gospel was originally written in Greek.
Reader one: Some of the folks here don’t understand Greek that well, either.
Reader two: It’s the word “word.”
Reader one: (exasperated) Here we go again.
Reader two: In the original Greek version of John’s Gospel, the writer said, ‘In the beginner there was the logos.”
Reader one: Logos?
Reader two: “Yeah. Logos. So read the first part of that passage again, and where it says “word,” say “logos” instead.
Reader one: (clearing throat) “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” Now I really don’t understand this.
Reader two: Okay. You’ve heard of the “big bang” – the way science describes the beginning of everything. This inconceivably huge explosion that started the whole universe, including us.”
Reader one: Yeah.
Reader two: So read that passage again, and this time where it says ‘word’ say ‘big bang.’
Reader one: (clearing throat) In the beginning was the big bang, and the big bang was with God, and the big bang was God.”
Reader two: We’re almost there. There’s no word in English that translates “logos.” “Word” is as close as it gets. Logos is the divine principle, that wisdom, the reality that is at the bottom of everything. Logos is what’s behind everything. It’s not the ‘big bang’ of science – it’s the thing that was there before the big bang. It’s the power that made the big bang. So read that again, and this time, use “divine power” instead of “Word.”
Reader one: (clearing throat) “In the beginning was the divine power, and the divine power was with God, and the divine power was God.”
Reader two: Go on.
Reader one: The divine power was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through this divine power, and without that divine power not one thing came into being. What has come into being in that divine power was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Reader two: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
Reader one: The true light, which enlightens all of us, was coming into the world.
Reader two: This true light was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
Reader one: He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God.
Reader two: And this divine power became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen this glory, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth.

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