Friday, January 2, 2009

Preaching Materials for January 11th, 2009

R U M O R S # 535
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 4, 2009



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

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The Story – canned grasshoppers
Rumors – outworn habits
Soft Edges – independent thinking
Bloopers – forgive us our debits
We Get Letters – let me get this straight
Mirabile Dictu! – Rock-Away Rest
Bottom of the Barrel – and God created Minnesota
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – would you let him into your church?
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 Evelyn McLachlan.
The church service was over. The pastor stood at the door shaking hands with the people as they left. One of the worshippers took the pastor’s hand and said, "You know what? I don't think I'll come back anymore. Every time I come, either you sing 'He Arose' or 'Silent Night, Holy Night.'


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 11th, which is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus Sunday.

Genesis 1:1-5 – I think the lectionary creators want us to connect this story of God’s creation of light with the gospel reading about Jesus’ baptism. Which I like. Because light is a powerful metaphor for the Spirit of Christ among us.
I do a lot of photography which is sometimes described as “painting with light.” It is the light reflected from various surfaces that creates the picture seen through our eyes and which is registered as an image in the camera.
But the light is far more than simply something to see by. The light of the sun is converted to energy that is stored in plant life and from there in animal life. In fact, life would be impossible without the sun – or the various suns in the universe.
So the metaphor works. God provides the light of the sun and the light of Christ, without which life would not be possible.

Psalm 29 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
A river in flood is an awesome sight.
1 Don't try to cross the river alone, my child.
2 Let your father carry you.
3 The waves are higher than your head;
the torrent will sweep you away.
4,5 It rolls the rocks in their beds;
it bites earth from its banks;
even mighty trees topple and fall.
6 But you will be safe in your father's arms.
He will hold your head above water;
7 His feet will stand firm against the flood.
8 Trust him.
Wrap your arms around his neck, where he can murmur comfort in your ear.
9 Then you will know the torrent cannot touch you.
11 Your father is much stronger than you are.
Trust him to carry you to safety.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Acts 19:1-7 – So you see, Paul was the first Anabaptist – a “re-baptizer.” Those of us with some Mennonite sensibilities will be glad to hear that. John’s baptism was okay, but it wasn’t the full-meal deal. It took Paul to do it right.
So are one or two baptisms in your lifetime enough? If we don’t wash our bodies more than once or twice in a life-time, we develop – ah, let’s just call it and “aura.”
Here’s a crazy suggestion. Let’s re-baptize everybody – by immersion for a full minute – when they come to church every Sunday.
Never mind the logistical problems.
Think of what church would be like if the people who came were only the ones who really, badly, wanted to be there – wanted it badly enough they were willing to be baptized by immersion every Sunday.

Mark 1:4-11 – The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary)
Jim says:
The story of Jesus’ baptism raises more questions for me than anything else. Did his ministry really start with his baptism by the Holy Spirit? If so, did he have no ministry before? What about all those legends of childhood miracles?
And if John baptized for repentance for sins, what did Jesus have to repent? What about all those doctrines teaching that he was sinless?
And if baptism was so central to the early church, how come Jesus never baptized anyone himself?
Mostly, though, I wonder if Jesus knew what he was in for, when the Spirit of God descended onto him. Was everything revealed to him in a great flash of understanding? Or did he figure it out as he went along?
You see, I’ve never been sure of anything in my life. I get pushed this way and that; I gather information and impressions; I weigh and balance and estimate... And then I plunk, and realize later that I had no idea what I was doing when I made that choice. But I made it, and now I have to live with it.
Or, in Jesus’ case, die with it.
Perhaps that’s why he headed out into the desert for 40 days. Because he could see where this thing was going. And he didn’t want to go there.
Am I trying to re-make Jesus in the image of me? Quite likely. It’s a lot easier than re-making me in the image of Jesus.
I just wish I could be sure. Of anything.

Ralph says:
I saw them once in one of those airport novelty gift shops. Canned grasshoppers. Chocolate coated. Also chocolate coated ants.
Some years ago, some poor sot started raising earthworms which he made into earthworm burgers. He couldn’t imagine why people refused to eat them.
It is, after all, a cultural thing. There are many cultures where insects are considered a delicacy. But us well-mannered wasps don’t eat insects. No good or logical reason. They are nutritious and who knows, maybe even delicious. But there ain’t no bug gonna get inside me no-how, no-time, never. Period.
Neither are we going to allow a foaming-at-the-mouth, bug-eating weirdo who wears camel’s hair and leather girdles into our church, much less into our pulpits. If one of them wanders off the street into our church we give him a sandwich and five bucks and make sure he gets out the door.
I sit here at my computer writing this and feeling quite self-righteous knowing that if John the Baptist wandered into my house or my church, I would welcome him. I’m not at all like the rest of the people in my church.
Sure. Tell me about it.
That kind of moralizing is easy to do, and all of us would, in theory, welcome a John the Baptist. But the reality is that none of us would recognize him. Especially those of us well-schooled in Christian customs.
And I’ve just painted myself into a corner. I should have something positive and practical to suggest at this point, but I find myself wanting to retreat into my comfort zone.
The best I can do is mutter a prayer. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

There are two stories in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B” for this Sunday. “Another Kind of Baptism,” is found on page 44, and “When Jesus Was Baptized,” based on the Mark passage, is on page 47. The mail I get tells me that in many churches, the first reading, while the children are present in church, is from “The Lectionary Story Bible” and the second reading, when the children have left, from the Bible itself. Some worship leaders will use the same passage for both readings, knowing that hearing the children’s version will help adults understand the passage.
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 – Bev and I listened to a lot of music in the week between Christmas and New Years. We enjoy the dignified old Christmas hymns, some of the new stuff coming along, and for me particularly, medieval carols.
I think I enjoy medieval stuff because I’ve had an ongoing love-affair with the English language, even though it keeps on giving me headaches.
The problem with English is that spelling conventions mostly date from the late medieval period when people started writing the language. The pronunciation has changed significantly since then, but the spelling hasn’t. If you read medieval English out loud, you start by pronouncing every letter phonetically. “Right,” is not pronounced “rite” but more like “richt.” And all the “ough” combinations would be “ooch,” not the half-dozen ways we now pronounce it. We have relic letters like “c” and “q” which are completely unnecessary.
G.B. Shaw pointed out that you can spell “fish,” “ghoti.” “Gh” = “f” as in “enough.” “O” = “i” as in “women.” “Ti” = “sh” as in “nation.” He advocated a totally phonetic spelling, but that would be impossible. Whose phonetics are you going to use? There are hundreds of varieties of English. People speaking all of these can read the words you are now reading, but might be baffled if I impose a phonetic spelling from my own Canadian dialect of English. Would Australian English (aka “Strine”) be understood by a person from South Carolina?
The gap between pronunciation and spelling will get wider. I had thought that with radio and TV broadcasting, some standardizing of English pronunciation would occur, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. And gradually, written English has less and less phonetic connection with spoken English of whatever variety. We guard those archaic spellings as if they have some great intrinsic value. I regularly get letters from fellow Canadians who find something mildly traitorous about my spelling of “Rumors” instead of “Rumours.”
Gradually, English is becoming more and more like Chinese characters which are read and understood by Chinese who speak a wide variety of dialects, even though they would not be able to understand each other’s spoken language. The problem can only get worse for English as the language continues to evolve while spelling conventions are petrified.
This really isn’t a rant about language though. It is about the insidious way in which our outworn habits and conventions keep us imprisoned in outworn practices that no longer serve us. My comments here spring out of a conversation with friends who are not optimistic about what 2009 might be like.
One of those outworn thought forms is the fiction of redemptive violence. It is the idea that wrongs can be righted, justice can be served, problems solved by the use of violence. There seems to be an unwillingness to realize that violence may demonstrate who is most powerful, but nothing more. “Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword,” said the Prince of Peace (Matthew 26:52).
Violence, no matter how justified we feel in using it, never solves problems. Yes, it may be necessary for police to capture and imprison those who break our society’s rules, but that does not solve the problem that led to the lawlessness in the first place. Yes, there may be such a thing as a just war, but it will only remove the troublesome persons or nations. It doesn’t solve the problem.
Violence can sometimes address the symptom. It will do nothing to remove the cancer that caused the disease in the first place. So while the disease is suppressed in one place, it pops up in another.
Until the wealthy nations (including my own) discover why we are hated so much that people will give their lives to destroy us, we will not solve the problem of terrorism. If we insist that the whole problem is “them” and not in any way “us,” we will continue reacting to symptoms. Sending troops to the Mediterranean area may remove one small part of the symptom, but it won’t touch the disease. In fact, it may fuel international terrorism, not stop it.
Self-examination is not something we humans do easily or willingly – whether as nations or as individuals. Reconciliation begins with confession and an honest resolve to change what we need to change. It is by looking at ourselves and how we are perceived in the rest of the world, that we will find the solutions.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Independent Thinking
A common debating tactic involves dividing things into two kinds. It’s a useful tactic, despite humorist Robert Benchley’s satiric comment, “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't.”
For example, I could argue that there are two kinds of religious education – those that encourage people to think for themselves, and those that don’t. (Of course there are more, but it’s a useful distinction for making a point.)
Most catechisms fit the second pattern. They expect students to memorize predetermined answers. Whether those answers are wise or foolish doesn’t matter – they’re what you’re supposed to know.
Similarly, some Sunday school programs concentrate on ensuring that children learn the biblical stories correctly.
The other kind of education tries to teach students to think for themselves. To do more than regurgitate pre-digested answers.
Most churches and schools I’ve known have concentrated on the second kind of education. They rejoice when students ask probing questions, do their own research, and challenge conventional assumptions.
But only up to a point.
A friend of mine described a book study group that he belongs to. Its members are all intelligent and thoughtful, all seriously committed to living ethically and responsibly in today’s complex world.
“But,” my friend lamented, “I’m the only one who still goes to church. The others used to, but they no longer get anything from it. They would say that they’ve moved on.”
We sympathized with him.
Later, I started thinking – why do we celebrate when people graduate from kindergarten to grade school, from high school to university, from university to a profession, but not when they graduate from one level of religious faith to another?
Sure, we celebrate if Sunday school pupils become adult members of a church. But if they then find their church association confining and move on, we treat it as a tragedy.
Sociologist Reg Bibby of the University of Lethbridge has documented that most churches grow by poaching dissatisfied refugees from other churches. People seeking certainty move from United or Anglican churches to Baptist or Pentecostal. Conversely, people who can no longer stomach their churches’ rigid attitudes to abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality, euthanasia, birth control or capital punishment move to more liberal denominations.
In my own congregation, most of the leading lay people have roots in other denominations. We welcome them. We celebrate that they have learned to think for themselves.
Shouldn’t we also celebrate when some conclude that their current church connections may hold them back, rather than push them forward?
Or do we really believe our particular brand is the ultimate expression of what church should be?
Robert H. Jackson, university professor and Editor of the British Journal of Religious Education, reworked Benchley’s aphorism. “Zealots,” he suggested, have a “fanatical conviction that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds – that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”
Sometimes even the liberals among us fall into the zealotry trap.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – The gospel reading has me remembering the classic spoonerism on verse 9. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by Jordan in the John.”

Wendolyn Trozzo remembers a “Blessing of the Animals” service which was followed by a picnic and fellowship time. The bulletin announcement read, “Blessing of the Animals. Bar-B-Q to follow.”

Renae Pearse of South Lake, Western Australia writes about receiving Communion beside a boy for whom the Eucharist was a very new thing. “Matthew,” she writes, “solemnly took his wafer and placed it in his mouth. Then remembering he was supposed to ‘dip’ the wafer first, took it back out of his mouth and ‘dipped.’ Of course the whole congregation was watching this! We hope that no-one minded!”

Nancy Phipps of Wichita, Kansas doesn’t know for how many Sundays this was replicated in the bulletin. They discovered that the Lord’s Prayer read, “and forgive us our debits,” rather than “forgive us our debts.”
Nancy, most folks are like me and don’t know the difference. But I looked it up and learned that a debit is “a recorded debt or expense,” and “an amount taken out of an account.” If we don’t limit that to money, most of us have received far more of life and grace than we’ve put into it. So maybe “debit” is more apt than “debt.”

Erin Sterling of Victoria, BC says his son Aidan loved the Narnia series. So when Aidan was narrating part of the Christmas drama, it was understandable that he said, "Mary and Joseph left Narnia and traveled to Bethlehem for the census."

My friend of many years, Murray Garvin, saw a bulletin note about his work as an English teacher at Yu Shan Theological College, Taiwan: ". . . an electric course in English Drama is now part of the curriculum."
Murray notes: “Judging by the enthusiasm with which the students participate in my ‘elective’ drama course, perhaps ‘electric’ isn't out of line!”

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! – Maybe forgiveness means stories to tell...
Maybe redemption is right where you fell.
Switchfoot via Wendolyn Trozzo

We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot via Wayne Holst
The problem with common sense is it ain’t common enough.
source unknown via Carl Chamberlain

We Get Letters – Russ Plumley of St. Catharines, Ontario writes: The story about Moses and President Bush brings to mind a cartoon depicting Moses carrying the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. He is looking up at a rather menacing cloud, and he says, "Now let me get this straight. The Arabs get the oil and we have to cut off the ends off our what?"


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Rock-away Rest!”) Here’s a geriatric take on “The Night Before Christmas” It’s from John Severson, who I have graciously forgiven for sending this to me, since I do not at all identify with the persons mentioned here. Not a bit. None. Not in the slightest.
A Senior Christmas Poem
'Twas the night before Christmas at Rock-Away Rest,
And all of us seniors were looking our best.
Our glasses, how sparkly, our wrinkles, how merry;
Our punch bowl held prune juice plus three drops of sherry.

A bedsock was taped to each walker in hope,
That Santa would bring us soft candy and soap.
We surely were lucky to be there with friends,
Secure in this residence, in our Depends.

Our grandkids had sent us some Christmasy crafts,
Like angels in snowsuits and penguins on rafts.
The nursing assistant had borrowed our teeth,
And from them she'd crafted a holiday wreath.

The bed pans, so shiny, all stood in a row,
Reflecting our candle's magnificent glow.
Our supper so festive – the joy wouldn't stop –
Was creamy warm oatmeal with sprinkles on top.

Our salad was Jell-O, so jiggly and great,
Then puree of fruitcake was spooned on each plate.
The social director then had us play games,
Like "Where Are You Living?," "What Are Your Names?"

Old Grandfather Looper was feeling his oats,
Proclaiming that reindeer were nothing but goats.
Our resident wand'rer was tied to her chair,
In hopes that at bedtime she still would be there.

Security lights on the new fallen snow
Made outdoors seem noon to the old folks below.
Then out on the porch there arose quite a clatter
(But we are so deaf that it just didn't matter).

A strange little fellow flew in through the door,
Then tripped on the sill and fell flat on the floor.
'Twas just our director, all togged out in red.
He jiggled and chuckled and patted each head.

We knew from the way he strutted and jived
Our Social Security checks had arrived.
We sang – how we sang in our monotone croak,
Till the clock tinkled out its soft eight p.m. stroke

And soon we were snuggling deep in our beds.
While nurses distributed nocturnal meds.
And so ends our Christmas at Rock-Away Rest.
Don't laugh, soon you'll be with us. We wish you the best!


Bottom of the Barrel – This from John Severson. I’ve heard this story told about the creation of Canada, Wisconsin and Norway. Adapt it to whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
On the sixth day God turned to the Archangel Gabriel and said: “Today, I am going to create a land called Minnesota. It will be a land of outstanding natural beauty; a land of 10,000 beautiful lakes, each one full of fish. It shall have tall majestic pines, peacefully flowing rivers, landscapes full of buffalo, tall grass, and eagles, beautiful blue skies, forests full of bear, elk and moose, and rich farmland. I shall make the land rich in resources so as to make the inhabitants prosper and they shall be known as a most friendly people, people who practice being Minnesota Nice every day.” “But God,” said Gabriel, “Don't you think you are being too generous to these Minnesotans?” “Not really,” replied God. “Just wait and see the winters I am going to give them.”

Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre –
Reader one: Would you let yourself be baptized by a man who ate bugs?
Reader two: We wouldn’t let a guy like that into our church.
Reader one: Would you trust a man who claimed to see the sky open up, and that God came down in the form of a bird – a guy who hears voices from the sky saying he is the Son of God.
Reader two: We for sure wouldn’t let a guy like that into our church.
Reader one: Well, our scripture passage is about a guy who eats bugs, who dunks a man who hears voices from the sky.
Reader two: You mean that story is in the Bible?
Reader one: You got it!
Reader two: So what do we do with a story like that? Are we supposed to believe it?
Reader one: Believe what the story is about? Believe the inside of the story. Believe that inside the story is an important message about John the Baptizer, about Jesus, about who they were and their relationship to God. Listen to the inside of the story.
(slight pause)
Reader two: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Reader one: And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Reader two: Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. This is what he proclaimed.
Reader one: The one who is more powerful than I, is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water. But he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Reader two: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Reader one: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven.
Reader two: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

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