Friday, May 8, 2009

Preaching Materials for May 17, 2009

R U M O R S # 552
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

May 10, 2009



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

“Them thar computer gizmos is gonna be the death of me!”
Alexander Salamander John Henry Jones

I just discovered that a batch of mail from you folks was being stashed in a file called “Junk Mail.” Which mostly it wasn’t.
I use a spam filter called “Cloudmark” which is really quite wonderful. Because my e-mail address goes out every week in Rumors, and appears on several websites, the crawlers which the spammers use to “harvest” e-mail addresses have found mine, and I get about 300 pieces of junk mail every day.
I thought the “junk mail” file was just one of the places my spam filter put the garbage. I was wrong.
Microsoft Outlook was the culprit. I found several dozen pieces of real mail there, most of it from Rumors readers. So if you’ve sent me an e-mail in the last few months and I haven’t responded, that’s probably why.
Over the next few days, I’ll try to catch up.


The Story – get the whole story
Rumors – love one another
Soft Edges – filling the gaps
Good Stuff – funeral music
Bloopers – silent medication
We Get Letters – wrestling women
Mirabile Dictu! – Ding Gogh
Bottom of the Barrel – inner peace
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Acts 10:44-48
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Mary Lautensleger of Charlotte, North Carolina sends this chuckle.
A little boy was in a relative's wedding. As he was coming down the aisle, he would take two steps, stop, and turn to the crowd, put his hands up like claws and roar.
So it went, step, step, roar! Step, step, roar! All the way down the aisle. The crowd of course, roared with laughter.
When asked what he was doing, the child sniffed and said, "I was being the Ring Bear."

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 17th, which is the 6th Sunday of Easter.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) is Acts 10:44-48.

Ralph says:
We get only the tail-end of the story. In fact, nowhere in the lectionary cycle is the whole story told – i.e. the whole of the 10th chapter. That’s why the folks who did the versification way back when put it all in one chapter. They could recognize a story, even if the Common Lectionary folks have trouble with the concept.
If you scoot down to the Reader’s Theatre version, you’ll see that our famed thespians also tell the first part of the story – which one way or another really needs to be done – if folks are going to get the point of the last four verses.
The story as a whole is important. A recent cover story in Maclean’s Magazine “reveals the limits of religious tolerance in Canada.” That stings a bit because we Canucks tend to think of ourselves as open minded and accommodating – accepting people from all walks of life and from every part of the globe. Turns out it’s a bit of pious fiction.
But this is a time when we really need to hear that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him (10:34-35).”
Of course that’s mostly been interpreted to mean that God likes us if we are card carrying Christians of one sort or another, but the time has come and now is when we need to knock down those perceptual walls and notice what God is doing through people of different faiths, colors, nationalities, etc.

Jim says –

Ralph’s right – you need to tell the whole story of Acts 10, not just these four truncated verses. In fact, you should also add Acts 11:1-18, which tells how Peter got hauled onto the carpet for exceeding the accepted norms.

To my mind, this is the core passage of Acts. Acts 2, the arrival of what we call in sepulchral ones “The Holy Spirit” gets more attention. So does Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. But it is here that the church moves beyond being just a Jewish sect, and begins to reach out to the Gentile world.

Some scholars say it took 14 more years before Paul began his missionary expeditions. Paul is usually considered the Apostle to the Gentiles. But Peter and Cornelius opened the door.

However, even if you choose to preach only on these four verses, there are some gems worth exploring. For example, the astonishment of the circumcised believers who had come with Peter, that the Holy Spirit could be poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles. As if a foreskin was sufficient to keep God out!

So I might explore some equally ludicrous assumptions many of us still cling to. For example:
* That a wedding ring entitles a husband to rape his wife.
* That having a uterus disqualifies women from making decisions about abortion.
* That church rules and traditions can’t be questioned.
* That anyone who can’t speak English can’t possibly be a world leader.
* That using the name of Jesus requires God to fulfill our prayers.
* That those who don’t attend church – or who don’t give generously to it – can’t be truly religious.
* That a gay or lesbian orientation excludes one from the circle of God’s mercy.
Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much in 20 centuries.

Psalm 98 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Commanded to Love
1 How different God's creation is from human conflict.
The clamor of human strife creates a cacophony.
Like orchestras competing with their conductor, nations murder each other's melodies.
2 But God has other music.
3 The colors of nature never clash with each other.
4 In a garden, every shade of leaf and flower join in a joyous chorus;
bare branch and bonsai provide a counterpoint balancing the beauty of blossoms.
5-6 In the depths of the jungle, the sounds of termite and tiger
weave a wondrous harmony;
eerie descants echo through the ocean's deeps;
the rhythm of life throbs in every cell,
and the seasons swell and ebb away.
7-8 From the farthest nebula to the tiniest atom, all creation dances to honor its choreographer.
9 God applauds each performance.
But God detects the discords, too.
And God does not applaud.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 John 5:1-6 – Verse 3 says if we love God, we will “obey God’s commandments.” There are nuances in those words that I find troubling.
When I was doing the “Lectionary Story Bible,” I offered a tale of children ducking down into the water, letting it soak right through their clothes, as a metaphor of living in God’s love. I didn’t want the children to get the idea that to “obey God’s commandments” meant a kind of unthinking, military style obedience. “Yes sir! Very good sir! How high sir?”
Loving God means that God’s love surrounds you like the water you swim in or the air you breathe, and that you want nothing more than to “live God’s way,” a phrase that recurs often in those books.
John 15:9-17 – Again, words like “command” need a bit of poking at. That phase does not mean “You are my friends if you do exactly what I tell you without quibbling.” That kind of demand doesn’t reflect love.
I am a very fortunate person in that I have a number of friends. I wouldn’t say that to them, nor would they say it to me. And yet our mutual yearning, desire, is to respond to the other’s needs. That’s part of the friendship, and we try to respond to, or at the very least, respect those needs.
Jesus doesn’t want our mindless flattery – a litany of praises – constantly telling Jesus how wonderful he is and what awful scum we are. Yet, that’s the content of many prayers and praise songs. That’s not love. That’s mindless dependence.
Jesus wants our friendship, and doing what he commands means caring what he cares for. Not blindly, but intelligently and freely. Loving what he loves. Working for justice for the rest of the human flock God loves so much.

The whole Peter-Cornelius story begins on page 115 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B.” “Duck Down Under the Water,” a children’s version of John 15:9-14, is on page 117.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday of 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 – “Love one another.”
That easily ranks as the most popular commandment. And it should be. There is no greater power than love.
My dad was a teacher. He taught high school, and one of the boys in that high school, a classmate of mine actually, was (to be very politically correct) socially challenged. Well, no, that doesn’t do it. Stan (not his real name, of course) was royally messed up. He needed help, and he needed it badly.
There were only three or four boys my age in the small town, and Stan was one of them. I had a hearty dislike for him, even though I couldn’t afford to show it. Stan was bigger and stronger and I knew that any show of dislike would have resulted in a very bad nosebleed.
Stan's dad was chair of the school board, and hence my dad’s boss. One day Stan's dad came by our house in that tiny Manitoba town. I was in the shed fixing my bike, so I overheard the conversation outside in the garden.
Stan's dad wanted to talk about my dad’s chickens, which we kept to supplement the meager teacher’s salary. My dad wanted to talk about Stan. Several times, my dad introduced the subject of Stan’s problems. Several times, Stan’s dad changed the subject to the chickens.
Finally my dad lost his patience. “You are more interested in my chickens than your own son,” he blurted out.
Stan’s dad turned on his heel and left. That night, Dad was called to a special meeting of the school board. He was fired.
When he came home from that meeting, after telling Mom what had happened, he wrote a long letter to Stan’s dad. Not about being fired. About Stan. “The boy will wind up in jail,” said my dad. And he was right. That’s exactly where Stan wound up.
Whenever I look for a definition of the kind of practical love Jesus was talking about, I think of my dad’s love for Stan.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Filling in the Gaps
When I was younger, I believed that eggs made water boil faster. Why not? When I looked in the pot of boiling water, the eggs were always where the water was boiling hardest.
It took me years to realize that the heat created circulating currents in the water; the currents drew the eggs into the spot where the water was rising fastest.
Similarly, an information-technology speaker named Derek Powazek tells that his grandmother believed cucumbers hurt her hands. Why not? Her hands hurt when she was chopping cucumbers for cucumber salad; they didn’t when she wasn’t.
“Our brains,” Powazek explains, “take a ton of input and turn it into narrative stories to help us understand the world... But if you take away some of that input, our brains work twice as hard to fill in the gaps.”
And when we feel that we have lost control, we tend to fill in those gaps with conspiracy theories.
Think about the range of conspiracy theories that flourished after John Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Some still make the rounds.
Or the conspiracy theories about the airliners that crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, into the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania. Many of those are still circulating, blaming everything from the White House administration to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to a shadowy group of mostly Jewish bankers intent on taking over world government...
Unfortunately, modern technologies exacerbate our feelings of helplessness.
Few things get me more riled up than voice mail. When my computer dies, when my furnace quits, when I need to see a doctor, the last thing I want is a recorded voice telling me which button to press.
And the Internet is no better. Alex Trebek encouraged Jeopardy viewers to register to win a free trip to the Galapagos Islands, personally escorted by Alex himself. All we had to do was remember the category for the final question on the program.
I tried to register.
But the on-line registration form would not accept a Canadian province as a valid address.
The promotional materials did not say, anywhere, that the contest was restricted to U.S. residents. I tried to protest. The little box provided for comments cut me off when I exceeded a certain number of characters. But it didn’t tell me how many characters I was allowed.
Aarrrrggghhhh! Talk about feeling out of control!
“This begins to explain why normal people become jerks on-line,” Powazek explains. “Their brains are working harder to make meaning out of chaos, and the meaning their stressed-out brains see is one where they feel justified in lashing out.”
That’s why – despite technological advances – we still need to meet face to face. Forms, questionnaires, and voice-mail menus are all very well. But they are, inevitably, anonymous. Artificial. Mechanical.
We need to know the other person well enough to fill in the gaps with some sensitivity and empathy.
Otherwise, we may fill the gaps with hostility.


Good Stuff – Alan Craig sends this cheery report from London. Or wherever it is that he is.
He says someone else sent it to him, leaving open the possibility of blaming that someone else if this item turns out to be hogwash. If that turns out to be the case, I will blame Alan, and Alan will blame the nameless soul out there in that electronic internet haze. It’s a very practical arrangement.

Forget hymns like "Abide With Me", "Amazing Grace" and "Jerusalem" the next time you attend a funeral, because you're more likely to hear – at least in Britain – Monty Python's "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" or the theme song from the Benny Hill television show.
A survey of 30,000 funerals conducted last year found that hymns were now the most popular requests at only 35% of services. "My Way" by Frank Sinatra was the most popular, followed by "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler and "Time To Say Goodbye" by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.
"You Raise Me Up" by Westlife and "Angels" by Robbie Williams made the top 10, while X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's "Hallelujah" was at number 26 only months after topping the Christmas chart.
Lorinda Sheasby, of Co-operative Funeralcare, said the findings indicated that tastes are changing, with television programs and chart hits influencing people's choices.
"Today's tear-jerking chart topper is extremely unlikely to be tomorrow's funeral classic but it's quite possible it will figure highly in the months or even years to come."
On the downside, priests reject one in 10 requests, including those for AC/DC's "Highway To Hell" and "Another One Bites The Dust" by Queen. Even further on the downside is that some requests are for theme songs from soap operas.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – I have it on unimpeachable authority that in a local church last Sunday, the Acts passage was read as “…and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Anus the high priest…” That may be a fairly accurate metaphor showing us how those new Christians felt about him.

April Dailey writes: “Your list of hymns this week reminded me of the secretary at the church where I was an intern (waaay too long ago). During Lent, she listed the Hymn of the day as "Jesus, Refuse of the Weary". The pastor and I had to laugh and remembered Golgotha was near the garbage pit for the city of Jerusalem. Continuing proof of God's sense of humor!

Jan Morony of Colby, Kansas, says a friend typed a bulletin which told folks that following the sermon, there was to be a “time of silent medication.”
Right on, Jan. As my pastor Karen Medland said last Sunday, it’s the job of the preacher to comfort the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. So the sermon is good if it leaves you feeling bruised and in need of medication.

Su DeBree saw this “about the men’s church group starting a new project.
“At our May meeting we will host our first annual Widow’s Banquet. Invitations have been sent and the men are looking forward to the event.”

Judy Brown of Lincoln, Vermont, says their spell-checker doesn’t understand churchy words. The spell check corrected the word “"parishoners." So the announcement read: "Dick will give this info to Judy so that we can let prisoners know in the Sunday bulletin and the news letter."

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! – A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
Thomas Jefferson via John Severson

God is not a moral theologian, for which we should all be grateful.
William James via Stephani Keer

All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterwards that causes all the trouble.
source unknown


We Get Letters – Karen Dickinson of Nova Scotia writes: “We noticed this on the large outdoor sign at a nearby Community Centre. ‘UCW Wrestling coming in May. Get your tickets.’”
In Karen’s congregation, “UCW” usually stands for “United Church Women.”
Karen continues: “We knew that UCW stands for Ultimate Championship Wrestling, but the sign sent our minds racing to so many possibilities for a fund raiser! And to say nothing of the ‘wrestling monikers’ – ‘Battlin’ Bertha’, ‘Carol the Conqueress’ – the imagination runs wild! Some of the women felt they might have a problem with the leg holds as they hadn’t had their hip replacements yet!”

Horace King of Binghamton, New York, sends along these “two old chestnuts from the hymnal” to add to our list. 'While Shepherds Washed Their Socks by Night" "O Thou Who Changes Snot, Abide With Me".Nancy Prieb of Hutchinson, Kansas writes about a sign she saw, “with my Dad, who is 83 years young, in an oncologist’s waiting room. "Loud Snoring Is Not Allowed In the Waiting Room"
Nancy also passes on a quote she heard from a 75 year old lady with lung cancer: "Old Age Is Not For Sissy's"
Nancy – as one of those now amply blessed in years, I can really affirm that statement.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “ Ding Gogh!”) Loretta Romankewicz “had a great chuckle about the Van Gogh relatives. In 1999 my husband and I had a great time composing "a family tree" for the Van Goghs. May I add a few of our 'thoughts' to your list?
* Lumbay Gogh – uncle with a bad back;
* Impeti Gogh – the aunt with a bad rash;
* Giddyupan Gogh – the bronco buster son;
* Legg Gogh – the building blockhead of a son;
* Tierra del Fue Gogh – the family estate
* Ding Gogh – the family dog;
* Cali Gogh – the family cat
* Mary Gogh – married Mr. Round
* Archie pela Gogh – oceanic explorer
* Indi Gogh married Ping Gogh and had Siamese twins called Izzy Cum and Izzy Gogh
Before you tell me Where to Gogh, all the best to you and your wife and a thank you to Jim for his fine paraphrasing of the Psalms.
Gotta Gogh!


Bottom of the Barrel – We got this memo from Vern Ratzlaff.

Subject: Inner Peace

I am passing this on to you because it definitely worked for me today, and we all could probably use more calm in our lives. Some doctor on television this morning said that the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.
So I looked around my house to see things I'd started and hadn't finished and, before leaving the house this morning I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of shhhardonay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of vocka, a pockage of Prunglies, tha marinder of botl of Prozic and Valum pscriptins, the res of the Chesescke and a box a chocolets.
Yu haf no idr who fkin gud I fel. Preas sen dis orn to dem yu fee ar in ned ov inr pece

Vern: My Spell Checker has just applied for indefinite stress leave.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Acts 10:44-48
Reader I: It doesn’t work!
Reader II: What doesn’t work?
I: This itty-bitty scripture. Four verses from the book of Acts. It’s like coming in during the last two minutes of the movie when the guy gets the girl and they all live happily ever after.
II: I don’t think they make movies like that anymore.
I: Well they should.
II: But you’re right. The first sentence in the passage says, “While Peter was still speaking…” I mean – to whom? Why? What’s going on?
I: OK. Let’s go back to the beginning and tell the whole thing. Then we’ll read the passage that’s assigned to us.
II: The scene opens in the city of Caesarea (SEE-za-re-ah). There was a centurion, a guy from the Roman army. He was a good type who played fair, and gave lot of money to charity. And he believed in the one God that the Jews believed in.
I: You mean he was a Roman but he was Jewish.
II: No. There were lots of people who had learned about the one God from the Jews, but hadn’t actually become Jews. Among other things, if you were male, it meant you had to be circumcised.
I: Yeah, ah, that would be a challenge.
II: His name was Cornelius. And he’d had a dream – a vision he called it, since it happened in the middle of the afternoon – that he should send for a man named Peter …
I: This is the same Peter who was Jesus’ disciple?
II: Correct. Except that instead of being kind of dumb and inarticulate, Peter is now a first-class preacher. And Peter also has a dream. Or a vision. Because it happened in the middle of the day.
I: They hadn’t been into some weird mushrooms, or smoking something or…
II: No. No. Peter had a vision about a huge sheet that came down from the sky. And in the sheet there were the animals that Jewish dietary laws said were no-nos. Peter heard a voice.
I: “Get up, Peter. Take and eat.”
II: “No-way! I am a good Jew. I don’t eat that stuff. It’s dirty.”
I: “What God has made clean. Don’t call dirty. Or profane.”
II: That happened three times. So Peter figured, this must be serious.
I: That’s when the doorbell rang.
II: They didn’t have doorbells. Somebody knocked.
I: OK, somebody knocked on the door and it turned out to some messengers from Cornelius, the Roman soldier.
II: “Our master, Cornelius, would like you to come to his house. He’s had a vision that told him to ask you to come. He knows you have something important to tell him.”
I: Peter hemmed and hawed a bit, because Jewish law said that a good Jew didn’t go into the house of a Gentile. If he did that, he would be ritually unclean. But Peter kept hearing this voice in his said, “What God has declared clean, don’t you call dirty.”
II: So Peter went. He was in a cold sweat all the way, but he went. And when he got there, the house was full of people. Cornelius had invited all his friends and neighbors.
I: “So tell us Peter. What has God commanded you to say to us?”
II: “My friends. God shows no partiality. In any place or nation, anyone who tries to live a decent faith is acceptable to God. That includes you people.”
I: Then Peter preached the sermon of his life. He told the story of Jesus – the gospel of love and justice that Jesus had lived – and how he had been found guilty of sedition and crucified on a Roman cross.
II: “They put him to death by hanging him from a tree, but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
I: OK. Now we get to our assigned Lectionary passage. The book of Acts, chapter 10, verses 44-48.
II: While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
I: Then Peter spoke to them.
II: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"
I: So Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

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