Friday, February 13, 2009

Preaching Materials for February 22nd, 2008

R U M O R S # 541
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

February 15, 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 – returning to the source
Rumors – Transfiguration Mountain
Soft Edges – insect bites
Bloopers – let there be light
We Get Letters – making mistakes
Mirabile Dictu! – soup of the dog
Bottom of the Barrel – comparing sons
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Elijah and Jesus returning to the source
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 Bob Buchanan.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class, "What was Jesus' Mother's name?" "Mary," said the child who always had the right answer. "And what was Jesus' father's name?" "Verge." “Verge?” said the confused teacher. "Where did you get that?" "Well, you know they are always talking about The Verge 'n' Mary."


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, February 22nd, which is Transfiguration Sunday.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) for this week seems to be two stories. 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-9. The story of Elijah being raised up to heaven and the story of Jesus’ on the mountain seem to be so connected.

Ralph says:
We probably need to be reminded again that the Hebrews (which includes Jesus and his disciples) didn’t normally make statements about what they believed. “I believe Elijah was God’s chosen prophet,” or “I believe Jesus was the Messiah.” They told stories to communicate their beliefs.
Actually, propositional theology – talking about concepts and ideas in the abstract – has always been something of an educated-class venture. It seems to me that common folk in all cultures do their theology through story – the stories of what happened to whom. “God must have been looking after me because I survived that accident.”
And so I’d tell these two stories for what they are – legends that allow us to see how ancient peoples thought about their prophets – not history telling us what happened. And perhaps we can find some of our own stories that tell what we really believe about God’s activity in our lives.
To me, the two stories are about Elijah and Jesus returning to the source. Going home (Elijah) – visiting home (Jesus). Drinking at the well. Leaning on the breast – perhaps even feeding at the breast – of a loving God.

Jim says,
On Transfiguration Sunday, I would have to deal with the Transfiguration; Elijah’s ascent into heaven on a whirlwind is a bit of background that helps to validate his presence on the mountain with Moses and Jesus.
I would want to ask what it means to be transfigured. Is an Ugly Duckling transfigured if it grows into a lovely swan? Is an alcoholic transfigured by giving up the bottle? Are you and I transfigured when we fall in love?
I would suggest that transfiguration doesn’t mean glowing in the dark, but seeing others (and ourselves) in a new way. The three disciples were changed by seeing Jesus in a new way. We are changed when we see a girl/boy we’ve taken for granted, with the eyes of love. The world is changed when we begin to view other religions, other races, other genders, with caring and compassion.
It’s pointless to ask how Jesus’ transfiguration took place – we’ll never know. But we can ask how our own transfiguration will take place – and _that_ transfiguration we can monitor, day by day.
And then, perhaps, we too will seem to glow.

Psalm 50:1-6 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 As an alarm drags us out of deep slumber,
2 so God rouses us from our lethargy.
3 God does not sneak into our consciousness on soft-soled slippers.
God enters like a roaring lion,
a tornado rampaging across the prairie,
a parent who has already warned us three times.
4 God rattles our excuses.
Feeble rationalizations cannot defend us.
5 At baptism, at confirmation, at communion, we make promises.
God comes to judge how well we live up to our commitments.
6 How can we challenge God's verdict?
We know how often we have failed.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – I wonder if it’s possible that Paul was thinking of the story of Elijah’s raising and of Jesus’ transfiguration when he writes about God “blinding” the eyes of unbelievers so they can’t know the truth inside those stories.
Certainly there are many who dismiss such stories as pious legends, even though I don’t believe that it’s God who keeps them from knowing what the stories are really about. And there is certainly no use in arguing with such people on the basis of logic or historical fact.
Faith, truth, beauty, hope, joy – are the essence of experience. They cannot be analyzed or explained. They can and should be examined, however, because darkness and cruelty and sham can lurk inside them.
Here’s a bright idea to consider.
Andrew O’Doyle of Capetown, South Africa, writes: “The folks in my congregation would be mightily offended should I read them your children’s version of scripture. So the first scripture reading is from your Story Bible and it’s listed in the bulletin as, “The Scripture for Children.” But of course, the adults hear it too. Several adults have admitted that hearing the children’s version first has enabled them to understand the ‘adult’ version so much better when I read it later in the service. And it bothers none of them to hear the same scripture twice.”
“Jesus on the Mountaintop” is a children’s version of Mark’s transfiguration account. It’s in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 74.
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 – We were riding on a bus though the Galilee.
Don, our leader, had just pointed out an interesting feature of Mount Tabor which, according to tradition, is the Mount of the Transfiguration. We had just come down from that mountain, and the hot afternoon made the mountain shimmer.
We were not tourists. We were a bus load of students studying biblical archaeology – mostly priests of the Roman Catholic Church and a few seminarians. And three laypeople. A professor of communications. Myself.
And Sister Jennifer, a nun who had sparkle in her eyes, laugh lines around her mouth and the fire of a lively faith in her soul.
We had read the scriptures and talked about the transfiguration all the way from our camp on the Sea of Galilee.
One of the priests in our group said a Mass in the church at the top of the mountain, and preached a homily on the Transfiguration. Then we walked through the light mist and tried to imagine what might have happened there, two-thousand years ago.
“Look out the window!” Don said to our group as our bus rumbled away from the mountain. He pointed to Mount Tabor shining in the afternoon sun. “Did you notice that the mountain is shaped like a woman’s breast?”
It was. Very clearly.
I found Don’s comment deeply moving. “That brings it together for me,” I said. “Jesus returns to his mother God for comfort and nourishment.”
The comment was troublesome to most on the bus – deeply offensive to a few. And the conversation quickly came to an embarrassed halt. There was an unnatural silence. The priests, but especially the seminarians, stared out the windows.
Sr. Jennifer took my arm as we got off the bus. “Yes!” she whispered in my ear. “Yes! Yes!”


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Insect Bites
Scientists investigate all kinds of things that the rest of us rarely think about until we experience it personally. Like pain, for instance.
Long ago, a magazine I edited devoted a whole issue to the subject of pain. One of the medical experts stated flatly, “There is no such thing as a pain thermometer.”
“The only way to find out how much pain a person is feeling,” said that author, “is to ask them.”
Pain is relative. Some people can go through major surgery and come out with minimal after-effects; others find the same experience utterly debilitating.
Nevertheless, our human minds keep trying to quantify the unquantifiable. When I was rushed to the emergency ward of a Halifax hospital a few years back with a totally blocked-up prostate gland, the triage nurse asked me, “How much does it hurt?”
“A lot,” I said bravely (at least, I tried to sound brave).
She wasn’t impressed. “Rank it on a scale of one to ten,” she instructed, “with one being like getting a thorn in your thumb, and ten being the worst pain you’ve ever known.”
A few people have built their careers around finding ways to measure pain.
For example, an American chemist, Wilbur Scoville, developed a scale to measure how hot chili peppers can get. India, it seems, has a pepper called Naga Jolokia, which is about 200 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper, and about ten times hotter than a habanero.
My mouth hurts thinking about it.
Since I have just come back from two weeks in Honduras, a Central American country with an abundance of stinging and biting insects, I found myself interested in the “pain index” developed by an entomologist, Dr. Justin Q. Schmidt, for different kinds of insect stings. His imaginative analogies would do credit to a wine writer:
* 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
* 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
* 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
* 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
* 2.0 Yellow jacket wasp: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
* 2.4 Honey bee: Like a match head that flips off and burns on your skin.
* 3.0 Harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
* 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
* 4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
* 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.
There, now, doesn’t that make you feel better about your own relatively minor aches and pains?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – I don’t know if this is a blooper or a quote or a letter or what, but it’s too good to miss. It’s from Ellen DeGeneres via (who else?) Evelyn McLachlan.
“In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.

From the file:
* The person who typed the stencil for the church bulletin couldn't quite get all the word "Father" on one line, so decided to put the whole word on the next one, forgetting to erase the "Fat" already typed on the previous line. (Does that make sense?) So the Lord's Prayer read, "Our Fat Father..."
* The service will close with "Little Drops of Water." One of the men in the choir will start quietly and the rest of the congregation will join in.

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! – Whatever hits the fan...will not be evenly distributed.
source unknown via Jim Spinks

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?
Robert Schuller via Evelyn McLachlan

If it weren't for stress, I'd have no energy at all. source unknown, via Jim Spinks


We Get Letters – I make mistakes. And I made one last week by running the joke about the psychiatrist and the proctologist. Thanks to Clayton Buck of Calgary, Alberta, for calling to my attention the fact that people who are struggling with psychiatric problems would find this hurtful.
I ran the item thinking it was a delightful bit of wordplay. Which it was. But my definition of a “dirty joke” is one that has a victim, and in this case there were victims.
So I am sorry! I apologize for the hurt I caused.

Kay Lynn Perry of Bloomington, Illinois, writes: “I was putting my 6-year-old to bed, and asked him to pray.
After hearing yet another repetition of his selfish little formula (God, help me to have a good time . . .), I thought it was time to push him to a broader understanding of prayer. After his "amen," I said, "But you didn't pray for me. Would you pray for mommy?"
He looked at me bewildered, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. He thought and thought, and finally prayed: "God, please help mom . . ." another torturous pause, while he racked his brain for something he could say to God about me, then inspiration: "and stuff. Amen."
Well, at least he's more likely to get a "yes" on that one than his request for another snow day with no school.

AAAGGGGGHHHH! Those horrible, hateful, horrendous homonyms again!
Vern Ratzlaff writes: “I don't know whether this is a blooper or a deep insight, but in this Sunday's edition of Rumours . . . 'the story of Naaman was, I am sure, chosen to compliment this gospel account.' I find fascinating the possibility of the common scriptures' story deferring in politeness to the New Testament reading and granting accolades – a wondrous development in hermeneutical good graces.”

Dave Schiffer enjoyed the “let us spray” joke in last week’s Rumors, which reminded him of an age old limerick in similar vein.
The indolent vicar of Bray
His roses allowed to decay,
His wife, more alert
Bought a powerful squirt
And said to her spouse, "Let us spray".


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “soup of the dog!”) It’s not just bulletin typists that make interesting mistakes. Ditto those who type menus. For instance:
* Soup of the dog* Served on a warm nun* Kindly beans* Dark meat of chicken – two things and two legs* Pork with geek and garlic* Kids’ menu (served to chicken under 12)* Curried lamp and rice* Scared breast of chicken* Cork chops

Bottom of the Barrel – Four Catholic ladies are having coffee together, discussing how important their children are.
The first one tells her friends, “My son is a Priest. When he walks into a room, everyone calls him ‘Father.’”
The second Catholic woman chirps, “Well, my son is a Bishop. Whenever he walks into a room, people say, ‘Your Grace.’”
The third Catholic woman says smugly, “Well, not to put you down, but my son is a Cardinal. Whenever he walks into a room, people say ‘Your Eminence.’”
The fourth Catholic woman has a kind of beatific smile. She sips her coffee and says nothing for what seems like ages. Then in a very quiet voice: “My son is a gorgeous, 6’ 2,” hard-muscled, body builder. Whenever he walks into a room, women say, ‘My God!!!’”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Because the Hebrew and Christian readings are so linked, I’ve used them both this Sunday.

Reader I: It feels like tiny little people with cold feet running up and down my backbone.
Reader II: What does?
I: Those two scripture readings for today. The story of Elijah rising up into the sky, and the story of Jesus on the mountain talking to Elijah and Moses.
II: They are a bit weird. It’s hard to believe that this kind of thing really happens.
I: Maybe that’s why they’re important.
II: Because they are weird?
I: Yeah. Weird stories like this are usually trying to tell us something important. Like the Hebrew scripture reading from the book of Kings. I think it’s a really old legend from way back in the mists of time, and it’s trying to tell us that Elijah was more than just a very good prophet. He was God’s favorite prophet because he didn’t have to die in order to get up to heaven. God raised Elijah up into the sky as is. Body, mind, spirit. The works.
II: So let’s read the ancient legend of Elijah and his side-kick Elisha. It’s in Second Kings.

I: Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah spoke to Elisha.
II: "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel."
I: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
II: So Elijah and Elisha went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and spoke to him.
I:” Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?"
II: "Yes, I know; keep silent."
I: Then Elijah spoke to him.
II "Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho."
I: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
II: And so they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and spoke to him.
I: "Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?"
II: "Yes, I know; be silent."
I: Then Elijah spoke to him.
"Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan."
II: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
I: And so the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah spoke to Elisha.
II: "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you."
I: "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit."
II: "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not."
I: As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out.
II: "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!"
I: But when Elisha could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
II: What was that about the “chariots of Israel and its horsemen?”
I: I have no idea. But legends are like that. The story gets passed down from one generation to the next, and often we lose some of the meaning in the process.
II: The New Testament reading is like that too. Jesus is seen talking to people who have been dead for centuries – there’s the whole business of the clothes that shine like neon lights – and Peter making the silly suggestion about building three huts or booths.
I: Well, lets stop talking about it and read it. This is from the Gospel of Mark.
II: Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
I: And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
II: Then Peter spoke to Jesus.
I: "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
II: Peter did not know what to say, because he and the other disciples were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice.
I: "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"
II: Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
I: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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