Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Preaching Materials for January 18th, 2009

R U M O R S #536
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 11, 2009



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

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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there.


The Story – a child hears the voice of God
Rumors – a three-wheeled philosopher
Soft Edges – seeing the light
Good Stuff – welcome news out of the economic crisis
Bloopers – the child knows
Mirabile Dictu! – mail carriers
Bottom of the Barrel – an atheist ponders
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – a child listens
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A pastor of (your denomination – could even be your own pastor) gets a call from a lady who wants a funeral and burial for her dog. The pastor suggests she call the church of another denomination across the street.
“I have one more question,” the woman says. “How much should I pay their minister for doing the service? I was thinking somewhere between $800 and $1,000. Would that be enough?”
“Oh,” said the minister. “You didn’t tell me your dog was a (your denomination).”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 18th which is the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – I Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Jim says –
We usually tell only the first half of this story, in which Samuel learns to hear God’s call. That leads to an assumption that all we have to do is respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” and everything will be fine.
But it won’t. Because God’s call often leads us into areas where angels would fear to tread.
So of course I would tell the story again. I would dwell on young Samuel’s wonder and amazement at being wakened in the pitch-dark night by hearing his name called – four times, repeatedly and insistently. But I would also explore how a young boy must have felt, being given bad news about his mentor, his boss, his employer. And how he must have wriggled and squirmed to avoid passing that bad news along.
After all, Eli was Samuel’s guardian. In the social values of that time, Eli had authority to beat Samuel, fire him, even put him to death. Children and slaves were property, for the master to dispose of as he wished.
Why then should we assume that responding to God’s call will be easy and/or fulfilling for us?
I could get personal, about some difficult things I have felt called to do. Because I’m a writer, it would probably be about things I felt compelled to write, to tell the truth about, even though I knew I would offend some readers.
During the sermon, would probably also set someone up to call my cell phone – repeatedly and insistently – while I’m doing something important, like preaching.
And I’ll put them off – refuse to answer, take a message, tell them to call back when it's more convenient – until I finally have to submit:
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Ralph says:
After writing the three volumes of “The Lectionary Story Bible,” I realized how few stories about children there were in the Bible. So we must not let this one pass us by.
In the congregation where I worship there’s a very high proportion of grandparents. Many of them have moved beyond the complicated necessities of child-rearing, into an openness to the voice of God coming through children.
Like many parents, I have memories of a child coming into our bedroom repeatedly because they can’t sleep and things – real or imagined – are happening in the night. They don’t understand and so they are afraid.
Children often have experiences of God and we tend to idealize those as open and honest and beautiful. Is that because we long for our own lost innocence or for our childish naïveté? Do children really have an open, uncomplicated receptiveness to the movement of the Spirit? Or is it we adults who are naïve about children?
The answer to all three questions is, “Yes and no.” But it’s important to keep them running in the back of our minds – like a computer program constantly checking for spam. Which in this case comes under the heading of “wishful thinking” or “sentimentality” or “nostalgia.” The other danger is to miss the revelation, the insight, the beauty of childlike receptiveness to the whispering of the Spirit. The idea, I think, is to listen to the voice of our children with our hearts and our eyes wide open.
The story of Eli and little Samuel might generate stories of God speaking to us through children. Like the one below from “The Spirituality of Grandparenting.”
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – this paraphrase by Jim Taylor is for verses 13-18.
13 No wonder you know me so well, God.
Even before my mother knew I existed,
you wrote the genetic code of my cells.
14 You created my life.
15 Wombs and worlds are one to you;
they have no secrets from you;
you are the essence of all life.
16 As once you shaped the cells that formed my fingernails and my hair,
so you still guide me through the events of each day.
17 Even if I am only a fleeting thought flickering through the mind of God, I am in good company.
18 All of creation owes its existence to you, God.
I can no more imagine your thoughts than I can recall every detail of my dreams.
But you are not a dream, for when I wake, you are still with me.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to
I Corinthians 6:12-20 – It would be unwise, I think, to have this passage read to a congregation without some unpacking. There are all kinds of red flags in there just waiting to be misunderstood. They get in the way of some very important insights.
Somewhere between Victorian prudery and 20th century permissiveness – between Miss Grundy and Madonna – we’ve lost the power and beauty and holiness of what can happen when people bring their bodies together in a mutual, committed relationship.
The concept of the body as a “temple” is powerful and important. Let’s not lose it in a school of red herrings.

John 1:43-51 – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip wisely doesn’t argue the point. He says, “Come and see.”
My own experience of moving beyond my racial, gender, homophobic, regional and class prejudice has never been based on rational argument. My prejudices began to disintegrate as I got to know individual people. Because very few people, if you get to know them, really fit the stereotype. Especially if you get to know them well.
So the best response, when we encounter such attitudes in ourselves or others, is to “come and see.”

A children’s version of the story of God’s call to Samuel can be found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 131. There’s also a paraphrase of those selected verses from Psalm 139 on page 49, and a story based on the John passage, on page 50.
If you are one of those poor souls who didn’t get these two books in your Christmas stocking, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
Actually, those books don’t fit in a stocking anyway, unless you have unusually large feet. They’re full colour, hard cover, illustrated volumes that’ll serve you well for years and years.


Rumors – A three-wheeled philosopher
From “The Spirituality of Grandparenting,” by Ralph Milton
Northstone, 2008, available at

Bev and I were staying at Redeemer College in Hamilton, Ontario a number of years ago. It was a beautiful day and I was sitting on a chair out on the lawn, reading. I had just decided to retire from my work as publisher, but the decision raised a batch of unnamed anxieties.
Along the sidewalk came a girl on a tricycle – about six years old was my guess. We smiled at each other. Then she stopped, gave me a most intense look and asked, “Are you old?”
I’m usually quite quick off the lip, but the child’s question stopped me cold. She waited. Maybe she knew she had asked a profoundly disturbing question. Eventually, I responded. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Then she said, “Will you play with me?”
Were the two questions connected in her mind? They were in mine. They said to me, “If you are old, I will trust you.” For her, none of the bad jokes they throw at people on their birthdays, just: “Will you play with me?” And I wanted so much to do just that, to hear more from this three-wheeled philosopher, to learn from her wisdom and to delight in the joy of her life.
But we lived in a real world, my little friend and I. So I had to say, “I would really like to play with you, but first you need to go and talk to your mom or your dad, and if one of them comes here and tells me it’s OK, then we can play.”
“My dad doesn’t live with me anymore,” she said very soberly. “I’ll ask my mom.”
She didn’t return. But she had left her gift with me.
She had changed me from a man, fearful of retirement, angry at his age with its limitations and necessities, to a man delighting in his age and its possibilities – transfigured by the candid, open, affirming trust of a child.
“Yes, I am old. And yes, I would really like to come and play with you.”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Seeing the Light
Yesterday, Christian churches in the western world celebrated Epiphany. It’s certainly not a major festival, compared to Christmas, Easter, or even Halloween. In fact, you may not have noticed it passing by. Not many churches hold midweek Epiphany services – they usually tack the Epiphany message onto the Sunday before or after.
Epiphany is a much bigger event in the eastern world of the Orthodox churches – even if they do celebrate it 13 days later. In Ethiopia, where they call it Timkat, an emperor had an entire river diverted to flow through a specially built swimming pool, so that the whole populace could participate in a mass baptism.
Epiphany is sort of a schizophrenic celebration. It attempts to deal with two events at once. On the one hand, it recalls Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, in the waters of the Jordan River. On the other hand, it’s commonly used to mark the visit of the Magi, the wise ones from the east.
I’m regularly amused by the things that people insist the Bible says, when it doesn’t.
I’ve written before about the Sunday school student who bet me a box of Christmas cookies that the Bible said there were Three Wise Men. It doesn’t. It merely identifies three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
It doesn’t say they rode camels. In fact, it doesn’t say anything about how they travelled.
Nor does it say there was a star over the stable at the time of Jesus’ birth, like you see on Christmas cards. It only says that the Magi (probably astrologers, reading the signs of the Zodiac) had seen his star rising in their homelands, and had followed it.
For how long? Perhaps up to two years.
Because when Herod realized he had been tricked, he massacred every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two, to eliminate potential threats to his throne.
I still chuckle about the placard-bearing woman who accosted a TV news reporter. Waving an angry finger under his nose, she warned him: “Remember what Jesus did to Sodom and Gomorrah!”
You don’t get it? Jesus doesn’t appear in the Bible until roughly 2,000 years after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But back to Epiphany.
If you look up the word in a dictionary, it will refer to a revelation, a sudden intuitive realization. It’s commonly described as “seeing the light.” When comic strips show a light-bulb glowing over someone’s head, they honour the notion of epiphany.
That’s why the Feast of Epiphany serves two purposes. Both the visit of the Magi and the baptism of Jesus were revelations. The visit of the Magi symbolically introduced the light of God to Gentile peoples. And at Jesus’ baptism, what’s described as God’s spirit settled on Jesus like a dove. At that point he realized – perhaps for the first time – the ministry God had in mind for him.
His light went on.
Okay – here’s your test question. What color was the dove? Are you sure? Don’t guess – better look it up!


Good Stuff – At last, in all that financial doom and gloom, some good news. Really good news. And it generated a five-page spread in Maclean’s, a Canadian news magazine. Page 38. Titled, “The Recession That Saved Christmas.” It was written before Christmas.
The first part of the story points out that people are not spending as much money on Christmas, and in the process finding more meaning, more depth in the season. As you’d expect in a secular magazine it reflects a kind of Humanist Theology Lite perspective, but that’s ok. The point is valid.
The second half is the best part. Citing case after case, the mag points out that the county’s economic troubles stimulated an outpouring of gifts to charitable causes of all kinds. Church related and secular. As people cut back on their own spending, they seem willing to give more to folks who have less. “Donations to charitable causes are up and companies are doing more.”
Most of the time when we cite secular news sources in our sermons and other church-related communication, we are pointing to bad news. That’s valid, and there’s lots of that to go around.
But when there is good news out there, I think it’s important to note that the Spirit works in mysterious ways. Hallelujah.
Those of you who live outside of Canada or don’t subscribe can find the article on line at:
If you’re in a hurry, you can cut to the chase on page four.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Cheryl Perry was with the children in church last Sunday. She asked them, “Who were the first people to know that Jesus had been born?” She expected, of course, that she would hear, “The shepherds.”
But a small voice piped up, “Mary and Joseph.” Cheryl very wisely didn’t argue with that.

Mike Crockett of Cape Town South Africa was greeting an elderly man in the pew one Sunday morning. He looked up at Mike and said, "After sixty years of razor blade abuse, it seems now as if my beard is fighting back through my ears and nostrils!"

From the file:
* Next week’s sermon: What is hell like? Come and hear our organist.

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! – Humanity is the creator of history. But we are also the creature of the history we create.
Reinhold Niebuhr via Alan Reynolds

Two aphorisms about attitude.
Attitude is the mind's paintbrush. It can color any situation."
Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?
authors unknown. From someone named Jim in Kingsville, Ontario.

A sense of humor is maturity and wisdom; and there is no maturity and wisdom without a sense of humor.
George Mikes via Velia Watts


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Mail carriers!”)
TO: God
* Does it mean anything that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards? If so, what?
* Why do humans smell the flowers, but seldom, if ever, smell one another?
* When we get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it still the same old story?
* Why are there cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit, but not ONE named for a dog? How often do you see a cougar riding around in a car? Dog’s do it all the time. Would it be so hard to rename the “Chrysler Eagle” the “Chrysler Beagle”?
* If a dog barks his head off in the forest and no human hears him, is he still a bad dog?
* We dogs can understand human verbal instructions, hand signals, whistles, horns, clickers, beepers, scent IDs, electromagnetic energy fields, and Frisbee flight paths. What do humans understand?
* More meatballs, less spaghetti, please.
* Are there mail carriers in Heaven? If there are, will I have to apologize?
P.S. Dear God: When I get to Heaven may I have my testicles back?

Bottom of the Barrel – Alex was an atheist. But he was an atheist with scruples.
He had an old tree in his backyard. In a bad storm it was blown over and fell on a neighbor’s house.
The atheist checked with his insurance company, and received the following response. “If the tree fell over because it was dead, it would not be covered by your insurance. But if the tree fell because of ‘an act of God’ it would be covered.”
An now Alex had a problem.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – I Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Reader I: I think maybe you should read today’s scripture by yourself.
Reader II: Why?
I: Because I don’t understand it. Samuel is just a kid and he gets the job of reading the riot act to Eli, his boss. His foster father. And there’s all the business about hearing God’s voice in the middle of the night. Kids are forever imagining things.
II: Why do you suppose this story is in the Bible?
I: How would I know? I didn’t write the Bible.
II: Just stop and think now. If you can figure out why the story is there, then maybe it’ll mean more to you.
I: Well, I was reading some of the other stuff that comes before and some of the rest of the story after this passage. I think it has to do with credibility. I think they’re trying to set up Samuel to be the great prophet of Israel.
II: Bingo! Eli was disgraced because he couldn’t control his kids, and Samuel took over as top dog in the prophet business. And the folks writing this want us to know what a great guy Samuel was, so they tell stories about how he was such a smart kid and even when he was just a boy, he could hear God’s voice when old Eli couldn’t.
I: Ah! So now it makes a bit of sense.
II: So let’s read it.
(slight pause)
I: Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
II: At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
I: Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!"
II: "Here I am!" Then he ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am. You called me."
I: "I did not call; lie down again." Then the Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli.
II: "Here I am. You called me."
I: "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli.
II: "Here I am. You called me."
I: Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. "Go, lie down; and if God calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!"
II: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
I: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be paid for by sacrifice or offering forever."
II: Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.
I: But Eli called Samuel. "Samuel, my son."
II: "Here I am."
I: "What was it that God told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that was told you."
II: So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then Eli said, "It is the Lord; who will do what seems good."
I: As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
II: And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

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