Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Preaching Materials for August 9, 2009

R U M O R S # 563
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

August 2, 2009


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

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The Story – a father and son
Rumors – Tamar, Absalom and David
Soft Edges – blessings and curses
Bloopers – people in the pasture
We Get Letters – preaching on peanut butter
Mirabile Dictu! – avoid clichés
Bottom of the Barrel – God is learning
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Nicole Bourassa-Burke of Scarborough, Ontario tells the story of a “homeless man, down on his luck, who went into a church that was known for its rather ‘uppity’ social reputation. Spotting the man’s dirty clothes, the ushers stopped him outside the church door and asked if he needed help.
“I was praying,” said the homeless man, “and God told me to come to this church.” “Well,” said the ushers. “Perhaps you should go back and pray some more. You may get a different answer.”
The next Sunday the man was there again, and again the ushers stopped him at the door.
“Well, did you get a different answer?” they asked him. “Yes, I did,” said the man. “I told God that you don’t want me here, but God said, ‘Keep trying, son. I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and I haven’t made it either.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 9th, which is Proper 14 [19].
* 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
* Psalm 130
* Ephesians 4:25-5:2
* John 6:35, 41-51

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Jim says–
Bible commentaries draw parallels between Jesus and his distant ancestor, King David. I’ve sometimes wondered, though, why preachers ignore the parallels between Jesus and David’s handsome, headstrong son, Absalom.
· Both are of the lineage of David.
· Both had a famous father.
· Both were next in line to the throne: Absalom as the oldest son; Jesus as the only son.
· Both got hung up in a tree: Absalom by his hair, Jesus by his wrists.
· Both died in/on that tree.
· Both had spears stuck in their sides.
· Both were killed to protect national interests.
Absalom tried to usurp his father's throne. Although David requested mercy for his son, loyalist soldiers killed the rebel. Some 20,000 soldiers had lost their lives fighting over this man. To return him safely to the king’s favor would be like Churchill inviting Hitler to join a post-war cabinet.
Granted, Jesus did not rebel against God. But the people who killed him may well have thought that his famous "I am..." assertions (in John) were an attempt to take God’s place. He used the name (Exodus 3) that was so sacred that no mortal was allowed to say it.
I don't argue that today’s texts SHOULD be interpreted this way. But COULD they be?
Does Absalom foreshadow Jesus? Was Jesus killed, like Absalom, by over-zealous defenders of the faith?
And when Jesus died, did a great haunting cry of pain ring through the farthest recesses of heaven: "Oh, my son, my son, Jesus, would that I had died instead of you..."?
Ralph says –
When I read this passage I can’t help but think of my son Lloyd who died by his own hand after years of rebellion and dysfunction.
It wasn’t his fault. His birth mother gave him the legacy of fetal alcohol syndrome. And where did her alcoholism come from? From a legacy of pain and dysfunction from the way we treated First Nations people over many generations.
That experience has led me into conversations with many other parents who have echoed the cry of David for his child.
I’m feeling the pain of that experience more strongly than normal because yesterday I had a phone call from my sister to say that her son had died. From heart failure.
Any parent who experiences the death of their child feels the pain more acutely and deeply because there seems to be something deeply wrong about it. It’s we, the older ones who should die first.
Parents should not have to experience the death of their children. And when they do, especially if that child has been a rebel, they echo David’s cry, “My child, my child, would that I had died instead of you.”

Psalm 130:1-8 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
A woman described her clinical depression as a deep black pit with shiny walls, too smooth for her to climb.
1 From the bottom of a deep black pit, God, I shout at you.
2 The walls rise above my head, shutting out the light.
Can you hear me, God?
I can't get out by my own efforts.
3 I've tried and tried. I climb part way out,
and then I slide back again to the bottom.
Without your help, I'm sunk forever.
4 Don't judge me–forgive me!
Free me from my secret faults.
Give me another chance!
5 I shall down in the depths of the pit and wait for your decision.
6 Like parents staying up until a teenager comes home,
like a puppy poised for its master's footstep,
I wait for your response.
I know I will not be disappointed.
7 Put your hope in the Lord.
You will not be disappointed either.
8 God can free us from our failures,
and save us from our successes.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Whenever there is a “therefore” or a “so then” it’s important to go back and check what’s gone before. In this case, it’s a recounting of the unity of the body of Christ, and how God made that happen.
Otherwise, this passage might just be a list of rules, to which a legitimate question might be “Why?” The theme here is the building up of the body of Christ and what the gathered community must do to make that body live.

John 6:35, 41-51 – This passage suffers a bit from the writer’s tendency toward theological jargon.
It is still ringing changes on the “bread” theme, and reminds us that we are always searching, even though we have more “stuff” than any generation before us. I need to remind myself over and over that my standard of living is higher than that of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. And here in Canada, that would be described as “lower middle-class.”
The bread metaphor reminds us to yearn for that which truly satisfies. I know that whenever I get something new – a new camera or a new car or whatever – I’m delighted by the newness and all the things it can do. But that wears off very soon and then offers no more satisfaction than whatever it replaced.

In “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” you’ll find a story on page 172 titled “King David’s Son” which is based on the passage from 2 Samuel. And right after that on page 174 there’s a story called “Some People Won’t Listen” based on the John passage.
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 lectionary very neatly jumps right from Nathan’s confrontation of David to the battle with Absalom. And in the process it avoids embarrassment by leaving out the story of the rape of Tamar. Dare we say there might have been a bit of sexism involved in that?
Sixteen years ago (Can it really be that long?) I wrote a book for men titled “Man to Man,” and I’ve been feeding you bits from that book as we deal with the story of David. The rift between David and Absalom goes back to that incident with Tamar. Here’s how I told that story.

There was little time for wives and babies. David had his work to do.
Joab sent word asking David to come and help fight the Ammonites. "If you don't come and help, I'll take their city and name it after myself," which sounded to David like a bit of power politics. David knew that Joab was not above making a run for David's job, so David did what he had always done so well. He took charge of the operation himself, beat up on the Ammonite cities in the region, took out everything of value, burned them down, killed most of the people, and came home feeling exhilarated. Very masculine. And almost totally exhausted.
Maybe that's why he made such a botch of handling the whole business with his son Amnon and his daughter Tamar.
"Kids," David grumped. "What can you tell them?"
They weren't kids, of course. They were full-grown adults with their gonads goading them into actions that were sometimes despicable. Amnon, David's eldest son, had the hots for his half-sister Tamar. In fact, he made himself sick thinking about her. So he hatched a scheme to get her alone.
Amnon put on an elaborate show of being deathly ill. Naturally King David came to see his son when he heard he was sick. "Anything I can get for you?" he asked.
"Oh yes, father. Could you ask Tamar to come and make me some food. That would be so good."
David should have seen through the silly plot, but he was thinking of wars and politics and found it much easier to avoid contact with his many children. So he told Tamar to go fix some food for Amnon.
Which of course she did. She had no choice. But Amnon pushed the food aside. "I can't eat with all these people around, Tamar," he whined. "Get them out of here so there's just you and me. Then I can relax and eat."
Tamar had no sooner shut the door than Amnon grabbed her. "Come on, sis! Let's do it! I can tell you really want it."
"No! Don't do it, my brother," Tamar pleaded. "Please. Don't! You'll ruin my whole life if you do this. Please!"
But Amnon was stronger than Tamar. Forcing her down on the floor, he raped her.
Tamar lay there, sobbing. Amnon stood up panting. "Get up and get out of here, slut!" he yelled.
"You're just going to use me, then throw me out?" sobbed Tamar. "Don't you realize what you have done to me. Now you're going to throw me out on the street too. What kind of an animal are you?"
"Get this nympho bitch out of here," Amnon yelled to one of the servants. So the servant threw Tamar out and bolted the door after her.
Tamar went to her brother Absalom. She had nowhere else to go. "Well," said Absalom, "he's your brother after all. So don't worry about it, sis. I've got a room in the back of the house you can stay in."
King David of course heard about it, and he was annoyed. But Amnon was his son, his eldest son, and, well, boys will be boys. It's too bad about Tamar, but that's the way things go. Besides, David had more important things on his mind.
Though Absalom had told Tamar to "forget it," he couldn't. He had Tamar there in house, walking around looking like the ruined woman that she was. It took him two full years of stewing about it to get up the nerve, and then he had his servants go and kill Amnon in revenge for what Amnon had done to Tamar.
None of which helped Tamar. Or Absalom who now became a fugitive, on the run from his father who had just lost his crown prince. All of which had David raging around the palace at those "damn crazy kids!"‑an anger that was fueled by his suppressed knowledge that he could have prevented the violent destruction of Tamar if he had acted with courage and integrity.
General Joab didn't like what was happening to David and to the politics of the palace. It was important for the welfare of the kingdom to get things back on track, to arrange some kind of reconciliation between David and Absalom. Joab wasn't all that concerned about the issues of justice involved. He just wanted political stability, and family feuds in the palace were not helpful.
Joab went to the town of Tekoa, to get the help of a woman who had a nation-wide reputation for her wisdom. Joab hired her to help solve the problem between David and Absalom.
Maybe the woman had heard how Nathan had handled the rape of Bathsheba. At any rate, she went to David and told him an elaborate story about her two sons, how they fought and one of them got killed, and so the relatives wanted revenge and that would leave her with no sons at all.
David got sucked right into the story. "Two wrongs don't make a right," David pronounced. "Revenge requires more revenge and the whole thing never stops. Tell your relatives to cool it. If they hurt that son of yours, they'll have to answer to me for it."
"Right," said the woman. "Now why don't you live by the same reasoning? Bring your son back into the palace. Two wrongs don't make a right, and a third one even less so."
The king was silent for awhile. "It was Joab who sent you, right?"
"You're the king," said the woman, sitting back. "You know everything."
Another silence. Like Nathan, the woman of Tekoa struggled between her courage and her fear, knowing that at that moment, her life was totally in King David's hands.
"You're right. Of course you're right," said David at last.
But it never really worked out. There were hugs and kisses and tears and apologies. Absalom came back to live in Jerusalem, but the damage had been done. David had never really been a father to his sons, so the reconciliation could not recreate a relationship that had never existed. Everyone could see the tension whenever David and Absalom spoke to each other.
Soon Absalom was plotting to take his father's throne. He became very popular with the crowds. Among other things, he was a hunk with an absolutely glorious head of hair. And Absalom would stand around at the city gate shaking hands, greeting people, and explaining how he would run the country so much better than his old man.
Four years later, Absalom made his move. On a visit to nearby Hebron, David's home base, Absalom declared himself king. Now the fat was in the fire.
Soon it became obvious that the weight of political power had shifted. Absalom had gained huge power, and David found himself running for his life. Running from his own son. With thousands of people weeping along the side of the road, David and his soldiers left Jerusalem to Absalom.
Absalom may have gained the power, but David still had the smarts of a political street-fighter. He had never forgotten the tricks he'd learned in all his years of struggle to get power and to keep power. By playing hard on people's loyalties and sympathies, by planting spies and "advisors" around Absalom, and by letting everyone know that he was still God's anointed king, David managed to outflank Absalom.
It ended in one big battle in the forest of Ephraim. It was different than the other wars David had fought. "Those were honorable battles," he thought. "This is a family squabble." He knew there would be no winners in this one, only losers.
As the troops marched by, David spoke to his generals. "Take it easy on Absalom, OK?" he said to them. "After all, he is my son."
A forest is not a good place for a battle. The forest claimed more lives that day than the sword. And the battle quickly turned against Absalom. Absalom was riding through the forest, when his great head of hair got caught in an oak tree, and he found himself hanging there, unable to move. Joab heard about it, rushed over, and killed him. Then he ordered his men to take Absalom's body and throw it into a pit and pile stones over it.
That was it. With Absalom dead the battle was over. Nothing remained but to tell King David. And David reacted as if he was the loser. Perhaps he was.
"Absalom. Oh my son, Absalom," David wailed. "I wish I had died instead of you. Oh, Absalom, my son, my son."


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Blessings and Curses
All last week, we watched the fire grow across the lake. What started as a spot fire way back in the mountains got out of control.
By Saturday night, July 18, it was sending a great anvil-topped plume of smoke up over the hills, spreading far to the north.
While the news media concentrated on the smaller fires further south in West Kelowna that threatened homes and businesses, the Fintry fire grew. It shrouded the entire valley in smoke. In gusty winds, it surged forward at 30 metres a minute; a trained sprinter might outrun the flames, but few of the rest of us could.
A week ago, Joan and I could see the glow of the flames after dark, on the far side of several ridges, reflected on the underside of the pall of smoke. It looked like a localized sunset.
Finally, rain and cooler weather dampened the fire’s ardor.
The fire – or fires – have been the main topic of conversation for days.
We humans have a fascination with fire. We will sit for hours, staring into a campfire, sharing stories. We barbecue over artificial fire and gather in community as we feast on charred sacrifices. We build kilns for pottery and smelters for ore. We weld and braze and solder, cauterize and sterilize, incinerate and bake...
Perhaps we remember, deep in our DNA, the fire was the first of nature’s forces that we tamed. Distant ancestors brought a few glowing embers home, added extra fuel, fanned flames into life, and suddenly had light and warmth.
Perhaps we also realize, at some subconscious level, that blessings and curses are closely related. Fire can keep our homes comfortable; fire can destroy our homes in seconds. We cook with fire; we can be cooked by fire.
And we also know that the absence of fire can mean death, especially in frigid northern winters.
Perhaps we recognize, intuitively, that too much fire and too little fire are equally hazardous to human well-being. Only the right amount, somewhere between the two extremes, is beneficial.
The same principle applies to other factors. The right dosage of medicine brings health; too much or too little brings death. Too much water drowns; too little dehydrates. Too much food causes obesity; too little, starvation. The principle applies even to love – too little results in neglect, too much smothers.
Like Goldilocks, we need to find a middle ground that is “just right.”
The dilemma has always been to determine how much is “just right.” How much gasoline do we really need to ignite in our cars? How much fossil fuel do we need to burn to generate electricity?
Even life on this planet depends on just the right mix of gases in the atmosphere.
Generally, we have tended to assume that if one aspirin is good, two must be better. So we seek more horsepower. More appliances. More money. More control.
Forest fires demonstrate that even good things, taken to an extreme, may not be good for us.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Jo Ann Miller found this on a church’s web page. “The first church was founded and pastured by the Reverend W. L. Harris."
Says Jo Ann, “Reverend Harris must have been a ‘good shepherd’ for the ‘flock.’”
It’s also possible, Jo Ann, that the people in that church reminded the good Reverend of a herd of bovines peacefully grazing or lying around chewing their cud.

Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta, reports a sign on a repair shop door: “We can repair anything. Please knock. The bell doesn’t work.”

From the file: Hymn: Wise Up, O Men of God!”

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! – When you hear someone sigh and say that ‘Life is hard’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’
Sydney J. Harris via Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta

The person who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if that person had refused it.
Dante Alighieri via Kris(tine) Bair

There are those who wake up in the morning and say, 'Good morning, Lord,' and there are those who wake up in the morning and say , 'Good Lord, it's morning.' source unknown via Dorothy Harrowing

We Get Letters – John Robert McFarland writes, “The reference to ‘Dare to be a Daniel’ reminds me of the comment made by Martha Greene when she was preaching to ‘The Academy of Parish Clergy.’ She was accepting the ‘Parish Pastor of the Year Award’.
‘This,’ she said, ‘is like being a lion in a den of Daniels.’”

Noni Dye writes about a quote in last week’s Rumors attributed to Andrew Lang. “I wrote in my study Bible years ago a quote I heard during a lecture: ‘Americans use the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost.’ It was attributed to William Sloane Coffin. It made sense to me at the time, and still does.”

Dick doesn’t admit to a last name but he lives in Illinois.
He had two hours notice to put together a sermon, so inspired to homiletic heights by Rumors, he “preached on peanut butter sandwiches.” Dick didn’t say how he made the connection, but somehow he worked it in with the "What sign do you need?" quote from the gospel.
“I got some very interesting recipes for PB&J sandwiches, made it interactive and proceeded to reason that we have all the elements in place in a PB&J (grape) sandwich for communion”
“’A straight face?’ you ask. ‘Of course!!! The congregation loved it!’”

Kris(tine) Bair of Wilson, Kansas writes: “Surely it's significant that there wasn't one single feminine pronoun in that entire list of ‘glorious insults’!”

This from April Daily:
Q: What is the difference between Bird Flu and Swine Flu?A: For bird flu you need tweetment and for swine flu you need oinkment.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “avoid clichés!”) Paul Wharton describes himself as “As a lover of words.” He and Nicholas McLellan sent this set of “rules of grammar” the same day.
* Avoid alliteration. Always.
* Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
* Avoid clichés like the plague. (They're old hat.)
* Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
* Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
* It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
* Contractions aren't necessary.
* Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
* One should never generalize.
* Don't be redundant; don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
* Be more or less specific.
* Understatement is always best.
* Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
* Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
* The passive voice is to be avoided.
* Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
* Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
* Don't never use no double negatives.


Bottom of the Barrel – The little girl was sitting in her grandfather’s lap as he read her a goodnight story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up and touch his wrinkled cheek. By and by, she was alternately stroking her own cheek and then his again.
Finally, she spoke: “Grandpa, did God make you?”
“Yes,” he said. “God made me, a long time ago.”
“Did God make me, too?” asked the child. “Yes, indeed,” he assured her. “God made you, just a little while ago.” Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “I think God’s getting better at it.”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Reader 1: I think we’re leaving something out here?
Reader 2: You mean, in the story of King David.
1: Yeah! We’re reading about King David having a battle with his son Absalom. But it doesn’t tell us why they were mad at each other.
2: Maybe the story is a bit too racy – too much sex and violence.
1: In the Bible?
2: Yeah. In the Bible. The stuff in there would make the front pages of the supermarket tabloids if it was happening today.
1: Well, can you give me just a thumb-nail summary?
2: OK. King David had a lot of kids because he had a bunch of wives and concubines.
1: Is a concubine one of those machines the farmers use to harvest their grain?
2: That does not even deserve an answer. OK. Here’s what happened. Amnon was one of King David’s sons. He raped his half-sister Tamar which totally destroyed her life. So Tamar’s brother, Absalom, killed Amnon in revenge. So King David was boiling mad at Absalom who ran off into the countryside. While he was out there, he decided it was time he made a run for the old man’s job, so he got together an army to go and attack Jerusalem and in the process kill his own father. Then Absalom would be king.
1: And that’s where we pick up the story. The king is sending his army out to do battle with the army Absalom has gathered.
2: Reading from the Second Samuel, chapter 18.
(SLIGHT PAUSE)1: The king spoke to his generals.
2: "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom."
1: And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The followers of Absalom were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.2: Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. Then the Cushite came; and spoke to King David.
1: "Good tidings for my lord the king! For God has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you."2: "Is it well with the young man Absalom?
1: "May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man. Absalom is dead!" The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept.
2: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
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