Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Preaching Materials for February 15, 2009

R U M O R S #540
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 8th, 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 – from the bottom of the social ladder
Rumors – that muddy creek soaked off his armor.
Soft Edges – religious reformations
Bloopers – a sample of the sermon
We Get Letters – hell in the hallway
Mirabile Dictu! – celebrate
Bottom of the Barrel – the psychiatrist and the proctologist
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – the general and the slave girl
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 Wayne Seybert, Longmont, Colorado.
A family of skunks was trapped in a thicket, surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves that were edging even closer.
“Come, children,” said mama skunk. “Let’s put our heads together so we can deal with this situation.” The children skunks all gathered in a neat circle, their heads together.
Mama smiled at her children. Then she bowed her head and said, “Let us spray.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, which is the sixth’s Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – 2 Kings 5:1-14

Jim says…
I cannot resist the story of Naaman. Except that it’s not just the story of Naaman, the Syrian general. It’s also the story of Naaman’s unnamed wife, who felt confident enough of herself in a ruthlessly patriarchal culture to advise her husband. And of the wife’s unnamed Israeli slave girl, who dared suggest a means of healing Naaman’s leprosy.
And of Elisha’s servant, who went out in fear and trembling to take Elisha’s message to a very powerful man who was getting increasingly frustrated at the buck-passing going on. And of the unnamed slave who braved Naaman’s temper tantrum, urging him to follow Elisha’s second-hand advice.
Lois Wilson told two of those stories – the slave girl, and the servant who braved Naaman’s anger – in her book “Stories Seldom Told” (Northstone, 1997).
If I had the time, I would gather half a dozen people and work with them through the week to explore the story and develop their roles. Then on Sunday, I would have each of them tell their part of the story through the eyes of their character.
And at the end, I would invite Naaman himself to recognize that more than his skin got healed when he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan. As the almighty general heard those stories, as he realized how many people had taken risks for his sake, he might discover that his eyes had been opened too.

Ralph says…
There are many themes running through the stories of the Bible. One of them could be called, "the least expected." Bev (to whom I am married) pointed out to me that the unnamed Israelite slave girl in this story was certainly "the least expected." Foreign, female, slave and young. You couldn't get any lower on the status ladder.
I am convinced that God has a sense of humor. Army commanders and Kings generally have a fairly high opinion of themselves. Naaman and his king were no exception. So when a Hebrew slave girl made a suggestion through Naaman's wife (also unnamed), the Commander had to swallow pretty hard. One of the gifts the leprosy gave to Naaman was at least a touch of humility. Or was it desperation that forced him to pay attention to her suggestion?
Then Naaman had to take a deep breath and go to a country full of foreigners who had a weird language, ate strange food and were generally considered inferior. When he got there, Naaman was really ticked off when the prophet didn't even come out of the house and perform some spectacular pyrotechnics. The prophet sent a note. "Take a bath in the Jordan." I can understand Naaman's feelings. I would have felt slighted too. Maybe I have the same problem as Naaman.
Foreign slave girls, rude prophets, muddy creeks – God uses the least expected people and the most ordinary things to bring healing. Healing of the body sometimes, yes, but especially healing of the soul.
It seems to me this ancient story speaks to us of healing – what it is, how it is done, and the healing all of us need.

Check out “Rumors” below which is the story told from the point of view of the Hebrew slave girl. And the Reader’s Theatre version of the scripture reading right after the “Bottom of the Barrel.”

Psalm 30 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
The greatest liberation for many women is to discover that they are not intrinsically inferior to the men in the lives.
1 My God, O my God, what a gift you have given me!
2 I thought I was born a loser;
you have given me self-esteem.
3 I let others speak for me; I let others think for me.
I felt I was nothing.
You have given me life.
4 I am not a faulty copy of anyone else, God.
I am me. Thank you.
5, 7 Once I thought God despised me.
But I have felt God's gentle hands lift me into the light.
8 I cried silently in the night, afraid to be heard.
I stifled my own suffering.
I thought I didn't matter.
9 I could have died – but I was afraid no one would notice.
10 "Can anyone hear me?" I cried. "Does anyone care?"
11 And you heard me, God.
You turned my rainclouds into rainbows;
you stirred spices into the watery soup of my life.
12 I am done with self-abasement.
I will delight in me and in you forever.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – I am writing this in Tucson, Arizona from the home of our son Mark. Last Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburg Steelers faced off in the Super Bowl – easily the biggest religious* assembly in North America! All “glory, laud and honor” went to the winners. The Cardinals went home feeling noble but deeply disappointed. As Paul says in this reading, it was winner take all.
Which seems unjust.
So often the decisions of our courts of law, based largely on an adversarial system, seem to reach simplistic decisions which ignore the complexity and shared responsibility involved.* Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.

Mark 1:40-45 – The story of Naaman was, I am sure, chosen to compliment this gospel account of Jesus healing a leper. But it seems to me there’s far more meat on the Hebrew story than on this one. Mark, typically, gives us just the bare bones.
Who was this leper, and why couldn’t he keep his mouth shut when Jesus expressly asked him to?
It’s quite understandable, of course. Leprosy (more correctly Hansen’s Disease) was the most dreaded disease of the time. There were a bunch of assorted skin diseases that were called leprosy in those days. And those who had it were kicked out of town and out of people’s lives and lived in miserable little clusters on whatever tidbits of food and kindness they could beg. Probably more of them died from starvation, exposure and heart break than from the disease.
If someone cured your leprosy, you got your life back. So when the guy discovered he was cured, he went shouting and yelling and singing and rejoicing and totally out of control.
Who could blame him?

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 63 where you will find a re-telling of the 2 Kings reading, and page 65 where you will find a children’s version of the reading from Mark.
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 – The story of Naaman
"...that muddy creek soaked off his armor."
from “Is This Your Idea of a Good Time, God?”
Wood Lake Books 1995

It was dark as pitch. Miriam lay on her mat, listening to her mistress toss back and forth in her bed in the next room.
"I'm coming, ma'am."
Miriam had been expecting the call. She had been called every night for months now. Her mistress would fall into a fitful sleep, then wake a few hours later, tense, tired and frightened.
Even the smoky oil lamp seemed bright to Miriam's eyes as she emerged from the darkness of her little cell. "May I rub your back ma'am?" she asked.
"Yes, Miriam. Gently!" Ghazal's voice was tired. Miriam could hardly hear it, but it didn't matter. She had done this every night. Her strong, young hands moved firmly, gently along the knotted muscles in Ghazal's neck and shoulders.
Ghazal's shoulders sagged, relaxed just a little from the burden of fear. "It doesn't count for anything, Miriam. Not a thing."
"Money. Status. Power. It doesn't get you anything in the end. They'll throw us away, like so much garbage. In the end, that's what will happen."
"Oh, ma'am. Surely not. Your husband is the Commander of the Army. He serves the king."
"Exactly!" Now there was anger in Ghazal's voice. "He serves the king! Naaman is commander of the army. The second most powerful man in this stupid country. And this man has leprosy! He has stinking, dirty leprosy! You know what they do with people who have leprosy, Miriam. As soon as it gets a bit worse, as soon as he can't cover that spot anymore, as soon as the wounds get ugly, they'll throw him onto the garbage heap. And me with him! Wives are attached to their husbands, so I go too. They'll send us out to live in the caves with the other lepers."
Ghazal fury dissolved into tears – great screaming sobs that shook her whole body. Miriam's fingers continued their quiet ministry to Ghazal's aching shoulders, and the sobs moved into tears of quiet exhaustion.
"Oh Miriam, what would I do without you?" Ghazal reached back over her shoulder and took Miriam's hand. "Sit down, my child."
"How old are you, Miriam?"
"I don't know ma'am. I have been your slave for six winters since the warriors brought me here from Israel. I was very small then."
"You are old and wise beyond your years, Miriam. You are a girl-child, a slave, a Jew, and I couldn't survive all this without you. In your quiet way, you are wise. You seem to understand, and you seem to care about me. How can you possibly care about me, Miriam, when you are my slave and I have the power of life and death over you?"
The older woman looked deep into the dark, sad eyes of the girl. "Perhaps you are wise because you have suffered," said Ghazal. "You were ripped away from your home, your family. You have nothing left, except wisdom. Do we all have to suffer before we can be wise, Miriam?"
Ghazal began to cry again. "I've never suffered anything, Miriam, until now. I was a pampered child. I had wealth and power, or at least as much power as a woman can ever have. I never had to think or do anything for myself, Miriam. Nothing. I've never even had any children, so I don't even know what that is like.
"And now this thing with Naaman's leprosy. My whole world is coming apart, Miriam. They'll send Naaman away soon, when his leprosy spreads. They'll send him off, and then what's going to happen to me? I'll have to go and live in the caves with him? I can't survive in the caves with him. I can't live with him here, Miriam. He's so angry and afraid. He's always been proud and distant. Always the tough, aristocratic male. Now he's in pain and he pushes me away. You know, I haven't been in his bed for months?"
Miriam nodded. Of course she knew. Miriam was a woman in a child's body. She stood up and went behind Ghazal's chair. Again, she massaged the burden from the knotted, hurting neck and shoulders.
"Ma'am!" Miriam said hesitantly.
Ghazal looked up at her.
"I'm sorry ma'am. I was going to say something but it is not my place to make suggestions."
"Oh Miriam. If you have something to suggest that might help, please say it."
"There is a prophet in my home place. He is a prophet of the God of Israel."
"What are you saying, Miriam? Are you saying he can cure leprosy?"
"I'm not sure, ma'am. I've heard it said."
"Do you think there's any chance, Miriam? Do you think there's any chance?"
"A great commander of the army would not accept the word of a Jewish slave girl."
"No, he wouldn't. Naaman is far too proud for that." Ghazal sat for awhile, the urgency, the desperation building inside her. "But he must. Leprosy doesn't respect commanders of the army. Naaman's just has to get off his high horse and listen, even to the word of a Jewish slave girl."
For the first time in months, Ghazal stood up straight. She took the oil lamp, tucked her night dress firmly around her, and walked toward the door leading to Naaman's bedroom.
Miriam went back to her mat. She was very tired. Through the small window of her cell she could see the first light of dawn.
It was light outside one morning when Miriam woke with a start. She had slept right through the night. She had not heard Ghazal stir, had not massaged Ghazal's shoulders, hadn't listened to Ghazal talk. Had Ghazal called and had she not heard?
Miriam rushed to Ghazal's bed. It was empty. It hadn't been slept in. For what seemed like an eternity, Miriam stood there at the bedside, wondering what had happened. What did the empty bed mean? Had Naaman come back? Her body rigid with fear, Miriam waited.
It was late in the morning when Ghazal finally came through the door. She was still in her nightgown. Her face was soft and she was smiling.
"Oh Miriam. He's back. The leprosy is gone, Miriam. He did go to the Jordan River and he's cured." The older woman took the girl in her arms. "Thank you Miriam."
There was a long silence, as the two women sat in each other's embrace. Finally Ghazal spoke again.
"We talked all night, Miriam. We really talked to each other. Among other things, of course." Miriam blushed and Ghazal chuckled.
"There's something that's been healed besides Naaman's leprosy, Miriam. I'm not sure what to call it, but it feels like a miracle. It was the Commander of the Army who went to Israel. But it was a man named Naaman who came back. He's a real man now, not just a swollen ego in a soldier suit.
"Naaman says that Jordan River of yours is just a muddy creek, Miriam. But maybe it soaked off his armor. Naaman says he did a lot of thinking along the way. I guess – I guess that God of yours knew that leprosy wasn't Naaman's main problem."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Religious Reformations
A friend and I had an animated discussion a while ago. His argument was simple: if all religions are the same at heart, why does it matter which one you belong to?
As my friend Ralph Milton has occasionally commented, “I don’t think God cares about our petty arguments over who’s got the right theology.”
Notice – Ralph is not saying that God doesn’t care about us, or about what we believe; simply that God finds our endless nit-picking over doctrinal details a waste of energy.
Was the Virgin Mary really a virgin? Can one man’s death erase all the sins ever committed by humanity? Does a tasteless wafer turn into human flesh?
It’s true that all religions have, at their root, two primary concerns – our relationships with each other, and our relationship with the world around us.
Yes, I know, the primary relationship is supposed to be with our deity-of-choice. But I contend that we first experience that deity through our relationships with each other and with the world.
Over time, the nature of the deity that we discover through those relationships becomes codified. That code – that system of thinking about the deity – eventually becomes a religion.
That’s why you cannot simply switch from Christianity to Buddhism or Hinduism or any other religion. You also have to accept a lot of baggage – that religious culture’s attempt to explain the experience of the divine, to build a rational framework that will, hopefully, keep wild speculation under control.
Over time, that framework grows. Ever-more elaborate explanations get added to the previous explanations, until religions develop a tottering superstructure that invites skepticism.
That is why every reformation, regardless of the religion, always starts by cutting back some of that superstructure, trying to recapture the original roots of the experience of the divine.
I can’t think of any reformation that started by adding a whole bunch of new terms and conditions to the existing belief structure.
I suspect that 100 years from now, historians will look back and conclude that several religions have been going through a reformation right now.
Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam are all developing two contrary streams. On the one hand, there’s a rise of fundamentalism. On the other, there’s a radical liberalism.
Both apply a new lens to historic scriptures – one literally, one figuratively.
In Christianity, this reformation may have started with Latin America’s “Liberation Theology.” Or perhaps with feminism, which forced its advocates to read between the Bible’s patriarchal lines.
This reformation might even have started with the abolition of slavery – thus deliberately rejecting a status endorsed by most of the Bible.
The mere fact that reformations keep happening refutes a common prejudice that religion is a form of brainwashing – a conviction, as one acquaintance charged, that “My god can beat up your god.”
Reformations happen because a growing number of people become convinced that what they believe DOES matter.
So they set out to change their church, their faith, and themselves.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – David Coffman of Walhalla, South Carolina writes: “Last Sunday we installed our church council following the sermon. There in the bulletin, it stated, ‘Council Instillation.’ So we had a special prayer as the congregation grabbed a hand of a neighbor and we prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit to be ‘instilled’ in them.

April Dailey, who is a Pittsburg Stealers* fan, says young Jacob was given a multiple choice question. “Who is called the author of the first five books of the Bible? Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Daniel?”
Young Jacob’s answer: "It was Moses, because Abraham Lincoln wasn't around when the Bible was written!”
* Please note correct spelling. In view of the Super Bowl last Sunday, “grand larcenists” would be more correct.

Sandy Cross of Brandywine, Maryland typed an announcement for a choir rehearsal, that went like this. “Choir Rehearsal is at 7 p.m. We will begin sinning the Easter Cantata at 7:30 this week. Please join us.”
Unfortunately, Sandy noticed in time to make the correction.

Patricia Ling Magdamo writes: “My pastor friend put sanitary hot air hand dryers in the rest rooms at his church but after two weeks, he took them out. I asked him why.
“They work fine,” he said, “but someone put a sign on them that said, ‘For a sample of this week's sermon, push the button’."

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! – Try Jesus! If you don't like him, the devil will always take you back!!
source unknown, via Stephanie McClellan

Church is a Gift from God. Assembly Required.
from a church sign in Orillia Ontario via Jim Spinks

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
Victor Borge via Velia Watts


We Get Letters – Douglas Lawson, Heather Nesbitt, David Gilchrist, Linda McMullan and several others sent notes about last weeks sign post: “This is a chu__ch. What is missing?” They point out that it should have read: “This is a ch__ __ch. What's missing? Answer: U R.”

Priscilla Gifford sent our cold beer and ice-cream diet to her friend, Jeff Grove who checked all the facts of that amazing calculation and found them wanting.
Priscilla, tell Jeff that facts are not relevant in cases like this. You’ve got to be a believer! If you firmly believe you will get thinner with this diet, you will believe you actually are getting thinner. The trick is to stay away from things like scales and mirrors.

Robert Moore writes: “A friend liked to quote the old saying, ‘When one door closes, another one opens.’ After she suffered a health setback, she went through months of unemployment. and someone else added, "but it's hell in the hallway."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “celebrate!”)
There was a Pope who was greatly loved by all of his followers, a man who led with gentleness, faith and wisdom. His passing was grieved by the entire world, Catholic or not.
As the Pope approached the gates of heaven it was Saint Peter who greeted him in a firm embrace.
“Welcome your holiness, your dedication and unselfishness in serving humanity during your life has earned you great stature in heaven. You may pass through the gates without delay and are granted free access to all parts of heaven.
“You are also granted an open door policy and may at your own discretion meet with any heavenly leader, including the God, without prior appointment.
“Is there anything which your holiness desires?”
“Well yes,” the Pope replied, “I have often pondered some of the mysteries which have puzzled and confounded theologians through the ages. Are there perhaps any transcripts which recorded the actual conversations between God and the prophets of old? I would love to see what was actually said.”
Saint Peter immediately ushered the Pope to the heavenly library and explained how to retrieve the various documents. The Pope was thrilled and settled down to review the history of humanity’s relationship with God.
Two years later a scream of anguish pierced the stacks of the library. Immediately several of the saints and angels game running to the Pope’s side to learn the cause of his dismay.
There they found the Pope pointing to a single word on a parchment, repeating over and over, “There’s an ‘R.’ There’s an ‘R’ ...”
The word was “celebrate.”


Bottom of the Barrel – John Severson writes: “This one is just for you – unless you're brave enough to send it along! HA!”
John, my daddy told me never to accept a dare. But then, I didn’t always do everything my daddy said.

The Psychiatrist and the Proctologist
Two doctors, a psychiatrist and a proctologist, opened an office together in a small town.
They put up a sign reading, "Dr. Smith & Dr. Jones: Hysterias & Posteriors."
The town council was not happy with the sign so the doctors changed it to, "Schizoids & Hemorrhoids."
This was not acceptable either. In an effort to satisfy the council, the doctors changed the sign to, "Catatonics & High Colonics."
No good. Next, they tried, "Manic Depressives & Anal Retentives."
Thumbs down again. Then came, "Minds & Behinds."
Unacceptable, again! So they tried, "Analysis & Anal Cysts."
Not a chance. So "Nuts & Butts?"
No way. How about "Freaks & Cheeks?"
Still, no go. Maybe "Loons & Moons?"
Forget it.
Almost ready to admit defeat, the doctors finally came up with, "Dr. Smith & Dr. Jones: Odds & Ends."


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 2 Kings 5:1-14
Reader I: It’s a great story! I love it!
Reader II: C’mon! It’s another one of those dusty Old Testament stories about things that probably never happened.
I: I don’t care. It’s a great story.
II: What’s so great about it?
I: Well, it’s got a great army general. Secretary of Defense. Medals all over his chest. Scrambled eggs on his hat and shoulders. And there’s his spoiled and beautiful wife and her slave girl. To say nothing of a scared-stiff king and a religious guy who is supposed to be able to cure sickness. And this general has a really ugly disease and has to get rid of it or he’ll lose his job and probably his life. What more do you want in a story?
II: OK already! Let’s read the story.
I: Second Kings. Chapter five. You start.
(slight pause)
II: Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
I: Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She spoke to her mistress.
II: "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy."
I: So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king said…
II: "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel."
I: So Naaman went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel. This is what the letter said.
II: "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy."
I: When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes.
II: "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure someone of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me."
I: But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king.
II: "Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel."
I: So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman.
II: "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean."
I: But Naaman became angry.
II: "I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?"
I: Naaman turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached him.
II: "Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"
I: So Namaan went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God. His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

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