Thursday, June 4, 2009

Preaching Materials for June 14th

R U M O R S # 555
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

June 7, 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. And if you need back issues, that’s where to find ‘em.


Rumors As Sermon Preparation
I’ve had another e-mail, this time from Albert Chausendy (he didn’t say where he lived), about the use of “Rumors” as a Bible Study resource.
“I have a group of six people who have committed themselves to working with me in the preparation of the homily. We gather at the beginning of each week and begin by someone reading the fun stuff out of Rumors. Then one of us reads the appropriate story from the Lectionary Story Bible. There may or may not be some comments about that, before two of the group do the “Reader’s Theatre” thing. Then someone reads Jim’s comment, then someone else reads Ralph’s. Then we ask the question, ‘How will the people in the congregation hear this reading,’ and ‘What do they most need to hear?’
We always have several translations available, and sometimes one of us will read the passage or a few verses from another translation. But then it is simply a free-wheeling discussion. Nobody says, ‘This is what you should say!’ I always come out of that with a strong sense of what needs to be said and how I can say it. It has made a huge difference to my preaching, and actually shortened sermon preparation time.
The six people all wear badges during coffee hour that say; “Ask me about the sermon.” Their job is not to defend the sermon, but to enter into intelligent discussion about it. And that happens a lot. A lot!
We often close by reading Jim’s Psalm paraphrase.


The Story – choosing leadership
Rumors – mothers know
Soft Edges – seeds and sowers
Good Stuff – make a difference
Bloopers – no lions
We Get Letters – knitting needles
Mirabile Dictu! – see my new shoes
Bottom of the Barrel – no absolutes
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A little boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages.
Suddenly, a leaf that someone had pressed between the pages fell out of the Bible. “Mama, look what I found,” the boy called out.
“What is it, dear?” his mother asked.
“I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, June 14th, which is the 3rd Sunday in the season after Pentecost. The Revised Common Lectionary gives us a choice.
1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13 and Psalm 20 or Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 We’ve chosen the first set.

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) is 1 Samuel 15:34 -16:13
Jim says—
There’s a line in Joseph Heller’s novel “God Knows” in which King David says (I’m quoting from memory here): “I’ve got the best story in the whole Bible, so how come they named the books for Samuel?”
Indeed, David’s probably is the best story in the Bible. Unfortunately, we only read fragments of it in church. Heller does an excellent – and hilarious – job of recreating David’s deathbed reminiscences; it’s well worth reading, though not for the pietistic.
So I would pick up David’s story this week, and whenever possible through the succeeding weeks.
This particular legend was probably included as a “prequel,” an explanation for how a mere boy became involved in the legend of the killing of Goliath.
To me, the most interesting element is how Samuel knew, beyond any doubt, which of Jesse’s sons God wanted. Because we all have those experiences, don’t we? We know something – often something that’s just not right, a conviction that will not yield to rational argument or majority opinion...
But how do we know that? Is it just what we were taught, once, when the world was simpler? Do we tap some deep reservoir of the collective unconscious? Is this evidence of an Absolute Wisdom, which we call God?
And if so, why aren’t others equally aware of it?
And the ultimate question – if we are convinced, are we willing to act on our convictions, even at the risk of personal sacrifice?

Ralph says –
I find it interesting that Jim celebrates the intuitive leap – that sense of knowing beyond all rationality. Because in our many conversations of the years, it’s been Jim who has been the clear-eyed rational thinker and I’ve been taking those intuitive leaps. However, Jim does the intuition thing pretty well too, though it gets a bit chaotic when we’re both on that track.
(Note: If you check under “Rumors” below, you’ll find a story based on my intuition about the intuition of David’s mother.)
Verse 15:35 raises an interesting question. It says that God was “was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” God made a mistake? That probably should bother me, but it doesn’t. I’ve heard biblical scholars talk about the Bible as being the story of the “education of God.” Of course, the response to that is usually that it’s humans that were being educated. But it might be useful to play around with that first possibility.
There’s a delightful little joke in here too, where Samuel tells us that God does not judge by appearances, but then David get’s chosen because of his ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes.
Eyes, they say, are the window of the soul. And it was the soul of David, his essential quality, that made him royal material. But what does that mean? Certainly David was no moral paragon. He was the best and the worst. And for me, personally, he is my favorite biblical character.
I spent a lot of time with Big D some years ago writing the book “Man to Man,” which was an essay on men’s lib, using David’s life as my template.
As Jim says, this story is a “prequel” (ghastly word!) to the Goliath story which comes up next week.

Psalm 20 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
I wish I had known this psalm when our daughter Sharon moved to Alberta. It reflects the blessing I would like to have given her.
1 God bless you, my child.
As you set out into the world, God go with you;
every step of every day, may God watch over you.
2 When you're feeling low, may God send you a shoulder to cry upon,
And a friendly hand to help you up.
3 When you're feeling good, may your laughter echo in the heavens;
whatever you do, may it be acceptable in God's sight.
4 May God hear the deepest longings of your heart,
and let your longings blossom into reality.
5 May the word we hear of you always be good.
Then we will know that you have known God while you were growing up.
We will know that God continues to belong in your new life.
May you remember how to pray;
6 For God will not desert those who stay in touch.
For those who keep in touch, God always responds.
7 Some of your new friends will put their faith in money,
Others in power, and some in fast cars;
Put your faith only in the Lord our God.
8 Those who put their faith in false gods will stumble and fall,
But you will not be afraid of the light;
you can stand straight and tall.
9 Lord, into your hands we commit our child;
take her under your wing,
for our sakes, and for yours.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – Some of Paul’s mysticism shows through here, as it does in all of the two letters to the church in Corinth. He tells us that life is a matter of faith in the unseen rather than in something that can be seen and touched. Everyone else may value a healthy, whole body – strength and invincibility in the face of death, but Paul tells us that our lives are valued very differently “in Christ.”
Mark 4:26-34 – There are two parables here about the coming reign of God. Because he is speaking to a rural culture, the writer of Mark uses examples from nature. Even city folks, in those days were much closer to agriculture and rural life than city dwellers now.
I find verse 34 interesting. “He did not speak to them except in parables,” but explained everything to the disciples later on. It sounds almost as if the Christian gospel belongs to some kind of secret society – which was in fact the case with some groups who we now call “Gnostics.”
The tradition of the parable goes back way beyond Jesus, and its function was to reveal, not hide, the truth. But then, as now, there’s always the tendency of the “cognizanti” to delight in the idea that “we know the secret and you don’t.”

“God Chooses a Child,” is the children’s version of the David story, and you can find that in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 139. And the gospel passage, in a story called “God’s Realm,” is on page 141. If you can find a sneaky way to make sure the adults hear these stories, they’ll understand the readings a whole lot better.
If you don’t already own this series, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – Mothers Know
An aggadah on 1 Samuel 16:1-13
The anointing of David – in the voice of David’s mother

I’m a mother. I know these things.
Men get themselves so tied up with who is strongest, or most powerful, or wealthiest, but mothers see the heart. Like God.
When the old prophet Samuel comes to our place in Bethlehem, at first the men folk are scared spitless.
Jesse, my husband keeps asking. “So what does this Samuel want with us?” Over and over. “So what does he want with us?” He gets the boys all excited. They wonder if maybe God is mad at them. Is Samuel maybe coming to pronounce judgment?
But old Samuel just limps down the road, leading a young cow and talking about making a sacrifice to God. He wants to hold a big prayer meeting. Fine. I get all the women of the village together and tell them, “Start cooking. When those men stop praying, they’ll start eating.” I wonder, maybe, if praying is only an excuse to eat? Around here, our religion is in our stomach.
It doesn’t take me long to figure that old Samuel has something up his sleeve besides a sacrifice to God. The men kill Samuel’s young cow on the altar and sprinkle the blood as prescribed. They say all the right words and sing all the right songs and do all the right things. And when they’re finished they’re famished.
So us women bring out the food. We don’t get to do the praying and we don’t get to do the eating. But we do get to do the work.
But old Samuel he won’t let them eat. “Not yet,” he says. “Let me see your boys first.” “What for?” Jesse wants to know.
Samuel gives him a dirty look. “That’s not for you to know. Just bring your boys here, and let me look at them, one at a time.”
So Jesse tells Eliab to step up. He stands there for the longest time while Samuel looks him over – up one side and down the other. Then I’m thinking, “Is Samuel looking for a new priest or prophet? Or what?”
Eliab and Jesse are thinking too. They maybe think Samuel is raising an army. So what do they know! Eliab starts flexing his muscles and Jesse starts bragging about how tough Eliab is, and Samuel says, “So, shut up already.” Samuel waves Eliab off, and Jesse tells Abinadab to stand up.
Same routine. Abinadab is preening himself, trying to look handsome and tough.
“Cut it out, Abinadab,” I think to myself. “I don’t know what old Samuel is looking for, but I know it’s not muscles.” But of course, I can’t say that. A woman’s job is to cook, not to think. Right? Of course, right.
Jesse shows Samuel the seven oldest boys. They all do the same thing – acting tough, showing their muscles. Samuel is looking more and more ticked off. So what is this man looking for?
Then he talks. “God has not chosen any of these men – fine and handsome though they are. God looks to the heart.”
Listen. There are times when a mama’s instinct just clicks in. She understands. She acts. I’m wondering why Samuel is poking around here in Bethlehem looking for – whatever he’s looking for. This is hardly even a town, it’s so small. Jesse’s tribe is the smallest of all the tribes. So what does this prophet want with us?
Right then I know. Samuel is not looking for muscles. Samuel wants a real mensch. He wants quality, passion. Samuel wants somebody with heart. Chutzpah! And brains to go with it. So I blurt it out before Jesse can stop me. “There’s one more son. David. The youngest.”
Samuel sits up real straight. “Bring that youngest son to me. We won’t sit down to eat until I have met your youngest son.”
Jesse is sitting there looked miffed. Jesse doesn’t like David. “He’s such a mama’s boy. He sings songs ‘n twangs on that harp ‘n dreams dreams – he’s so pretty.”
It is true. My David has beautiful eyes. You should see his skin – so bright and clear and ruddy. His older brothers tease him and call him “sissy” and “mummy’s pretty baby.” But I can see things in David they don’t see. God has plans for my boy. Mothers know these things, right? Of course, right.
It doesn’t take long for them to find David. He’s in the wadi, just behind that hill. They bring him in, running, sweating. In his work clothes!
Old Samuel takes one look, then closes his eyes. I knew he was praying. Then slowly, his mouth whispering ancient and holy words, Samuel takes a horn and pours oil on David’s head.
David never blinks. He was expecting this, maybe? He falls to his knees as the oil runs down his cheeks. His eyes meet the eyes of Samuel, and a holy fire passes between them.
Then Samuel just turns on his heel and walks away. David doesn’t say anything either, not even to his mama. Off in the other direction. Back to his sheep.
Jesse is sitting there scratching his head. The older brothers start into the wine and the food. They have no idea. No idea.
I go back to my cooking pots. But I know. I know. God had seen the heart of my David, and called him to a fearful, holy destiny.
No one tells me these things. I am a mother. I know.
And I am afraid. Tonight, in the middle of the night, I will wake up and I will cry. And then I will pray God to be careful with my David.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Seeds and Sowers
It looked like snow outside the other day – except that a warm spring sun was beaming down. But there were white flakes drifting in the air, settling into the fresh growing grass, blowing in the wind...
It was, of course, the cottonwood trees, dispersing even more fluffy seeds than the dollars involved in bank bailouts.
Before the cottonwoods, Chinese elms scattered seeds wildly, profligately. And after the cottonwoods, maples will do the same. As will dandelions, milkweed, and who knows what other plants.
It all seems colossally inefficient. You’d think that if God was smart enough to plan every detail of the universe, as the proponents of intelligent design argue, God would be smart enough to figure out a less wasteful system that would direct seeds to the most productive locations.
I mean, look what happens.
Some of the seeds fall on paved roads, where they cannot possibly establish roots. The cars drive over and crush the seeds; the rain washes them into the sewers; the sun bakes them dry.
Other seed falls on rocky ground, like the gravel beaches along our lake. There’s water there, but no soil. The seeds germinate, but the sprouts quickly wither in the sun, and wash away when storm waves sluice along the shore.
Still other seed falls among thorns and weeds. The other plants have a head-start. They grab more than their share of the rain; they block the sunshine; they choke out the struggling seedlings.
Only a small percentage of the seeds fall on good soil. Each individual seed sends down tiny roots, gathers nutrients, gains strength, and establishes itself as a thriving young tree. And in time, that tree will flower and form seeds – multiplying its original singularity not just thirty or sixty or a hundred times, but millions of times.
It will scatter those seeds just as indiscriminately, as extravagantly, as its parent tree did – on roads and rocks, among weeds and thorns. Most seeds will fail. But once again, a few seeds will fall on fertile soil, and start the process all over again.
What’s that you say? You think you’ve heard this story before?
You have. It’s called the Parable of the Sower, and it’s told in all three of the synoptic Gospels.
But I think that whoever first wrote down the parable, and later added an explanation, might have missed the point. In the gospels, the explanation comes across as self-congratulation for the disciples and other followers. They saw themselves as the “good soil,” in whom the ideas Jesus planted could produce a rich harvest.
No doubt that’s true. But even more, I think, the parable is about how God works. God does not dispense favours, one by one, selecting only the persons in whom they will generate the best returns.
Rather, God works like those cottonwood trees. God scatters possibilities wildly, extravagantly, without regard for race or creed, status or gender. And then waits to see where those seeds will take root.


Good Stuff – This from Jim Spinks.
The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.
One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. “What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? You know what they say about teachers. 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.'”
To emphasize his point he said to another guest; “You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?”
“Well,” said Bonnie, “I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe. I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.
“You want to know what I make?
“I make a difference!”


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Marilyn MacDonald remembers a funeral she conducted for an active member of the Lion’s Club. “There were several rows of pews filled with Lions in their golden vests, one of the deceased's daughters was the organist, and her sister and the rest of the family were seated in the front pew. The 'Chief Lion' and the 'Past Chief Lion' read the scriptures. The sister in the front pew burst out laughing when he read Isaiah 35:9, ‘and no lion shall be there ....!'”

Since we’re a bit short of blooper contributions this week, here are a few delicious insults.
*Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
Ernest Hemingway about William Faulkner* Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it.
Moses Hadas* He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
Abraham Lincoln
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! – Though many people call the minister the Shepherd of the congregation, theologically, they should be called them sheep dogs. We just work for the Good Shepherd by nipping at people's heels and trying to keep them in line!
Eric Stephanson via Stephanie McClellan

The best things in life aren't things at all.
A church sign in Hickory, NC, via Evelyn McLachlan

Mirth is God's medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. Grim care, moroseness, anxiety – all the rust of life – ought to be scoured off by the oil of mirth.
H. W. Beecher via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Albert Durksen of Winnipeg, Manitoba writes: “There was at least one way to read that last Scrabble line – eleven+two=eleven+one – and make sense of it. They are both a dozen, just one is a baker's dozen. I always prefer that one.

David Gilchrist reports that “the war of terrorism took a strange turn today as officials at O'Hare International Airport refused to let a 73 year old grandmother board her plane because she had in her possession two, six inch knitting needles. Apparently authorities were worried that she may knit an Afghan.”

Susan Polizzi of Lowell, Massachusetts writes: I have seen those delivery trucks proclaiming the anagram of Guaranteed Overnight Delivery (GOD) for years and always wondered what company that was and whether it was an attempt at evangelism.
When I lived in Wisconsin years ago there was a car with a vanity license plate that consisted of the tetragramaton (YHWH) and I always wondered if the owners knew what they were implying by that.”

Evelyn McLachlan writes: “Neil Young of Erindale, Ontario tells how they had put a sentence on their church sign. “God is bigger than any religion.” Then a “vandal” removed one word, but was kind and put the letters in a pile below the sign. This individual had removed “any” so the sign now read, “God is bigger than religion.”
Neil left it that way.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “See my new shoes!”)
This from Bernice Whaley
* Dear God, In bible times, did they really talk that fancy? Jennifer
* Dear God, I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying. Elliott
* Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother, but what I really prayed for was a puppy. Joyce
* Dear God, I bet it’s really hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four in our family and we can never do it. Nan
* Dear God, Please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There’s nothing good in there now. Ginny
* Dear God, If you watch in church on Sunday, I’ll show you my new shoes. Mickey
* Dear God, Please let me live for 900 years like the guys in the Bible. Love, Chris
* Dear God, If you give me a genie lamp like Aladdin, I’ll give you anything you want except my money or my chess set. Raphael
* Dear God, We read that Thomas Edison made light, but in Sunday School they said you did it. I bet he stoled your idea. Sincerely, Donna
* Dear God If you let the dinasers not exstinct we wouldn’t have a country. Jonathan
* Dear God, Please send Dennis Clark to a different camp this year. Peter
* Dear God, Maybe Cain and Able would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother and me. Larry


Bottom of the Barrel –
John: There are no absolutes!
Mary: Are you sure?John: Absolutely!


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13
Reader I: Hey! I just heard. Next week we get to do the story of David and Goliath.
Reader II: (WITH NO ENTHUSIASM) You really like that one, don’t you.
I: Oh yeah! The little guy gets the big guy. Bam! A rock on the noggin’. Head cut off. Lots of blood and gore and graphics. Special effects!
II: But that’s next week.
I: This week we hear about how the little guy gets to be the big king. Top dog! King of the Castle. Numero uno! He makes all his older brothers looks like a bunch of slobs.
II: That’s not exactly the way the story is told in the Bible.
I: No? Well, I suppose the story in the Bible has some kind of moral. Some deep meaning.
II: The whole Bible is about people learning to understand God. And this story about the anointing of King David is another story of people trying to find out how God wants them to run their country.
I: Now I remember. Didn’t they have a judges who helped them do the right thing, but the people wanted a king like everybody else.
II: That’s right. And the first king was Saul. But Saul didn’t always do as God told him, so God decided on a replacement.
I: Who’s this guy Samuel?
II: Samuel was a prophet. He was God’s messenger. Samuel and King Saul had an argument about this whole business. Both of them went away mad at each other and that’s where our story begins. So start reading the story from the book of Samuel. It’s the story of how God used Samuel the prophet to pick out a king to replace Saul.
I: Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And God was sorry about the choice of Saul as king over Israel. God spoke to Samuel.
II: "How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons."
I:"How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me."
II: "Take a young cow with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to God.' Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."
I: Samuel did what God commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?"
II: "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to God. Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice."
I: And Samuel sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab.
II: "Surely God's anointed is now before us." Speak to me God, if this is the one.
I:"Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."
II: Here then is Jesse’s son Abinadab.
I: "Neither has God chosen this one."
II: Here then is Jesse’s son Shammah.
I: "Neither has God chosen this one."
II: Here then are seven more of my sons.
I: "God has not chosen any of these." Jesse, are all your sons here?"
II: "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep."
I: "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here."
II: So Jesse sent and brought him in. Now this youngest son was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.
I: "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one."
II: Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of God came mightily upon David from that day forward.

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