Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Preaching Materials for July 19, 2009

R U M O R S # 560
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

July 12, 2009


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

The story of David wanting to build a temple arouses a need in me to tell you – with a straight face – that I write Rumors only for the glory of God.
Okay, so it really doesn’t do a lot of glorifying. There has to be a second reason.
I enjoy doing this. It’s fun. And I get letters from lots of cool people all over the world.
Even that doesn’t account for all of it. So stand up straight, Ralph. Take a deep breath and admit the real truth.
It’s my ego. There are 7,895 people to which this goes every week. Some of them may even read it. And that generates a kind of inward chortle. Who’da thunk it?
So having admitted the heinous sin of pride and self-gratification, I have a favor to ask in return for the mixture of wisdom and drivel that I sent your way each Sunday. While you are sitting around with nothing much to do all summer, try to think of a friend – or maybe just a casual acquaintance – who wouldn’t object too violently, and persuade said person to subscribe to Rumors.
Then we can nudge that up over the 8 grand mark.
It won’t do you any good, and it certainly won’t glorify God, but it will turn my inner chortle into an audible giggle.


The Story – edifice complex
Rumors – the middle of summer
Soft Edges – indefinable virtues
Good Stuff – proof of God
Bloopers – fiends and friends
We Get Letters – an exaltation of larks
Mirabile Dictu! – safe in church
Bottom of the Barrel – bickering
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – A local priest and pastor stood by the side of the road. Doing their good deed for the day, they were holding up a sign that said, “The End is Near! Turn yourself around now before it’s too late!” They planned to hold up the sign as a warning to each passing car.
“Leave us alone you religious nuts!” yelled the first driver who sped by. From around the curve they heard a big splash.
“Do you think,” said one clergy to the other, “we should just hold up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, July 19th, which is Proper 11 [16]
2 Samuel 7:1-14a or Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 89:20-37 or Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Surprise! We picked the David story again. And this time, the connections to our current situation are even stronger. It’s about separating the call of one’s own ego from the call of God. Like that whole business of the Rumors subscriptions (see above).

Jim says –
For me, this is a story of consolation prizes. You know what I mean – when you grabbed for the brass ring, the top prize, the school record, and you didn’t quite make it. But a kindly teacher or adjudicator said, “Too bad. Nice try. Here, have a popsicle instead.”
Like almost everyone in the Holy Land, David suffered from an edifice complex. He thought that if he built a temple, his name and his fame would be preserved forever. Long after he was gone, people would look at his temple and say, “King David built that!”
Even Nathan agreed that it would be an appropriate memorial for a great leader.
But God didn’t see it that way. God didn’t want to be cooped up in a mausoleum. So God said “Nope! Sorry. Too bad.”
But then God offered the consolation prize: “Instead of the House of God, I will let you have the House of David.”
Subsequent history suggests that the consolation prize was better than the silver trophy. Because both Solomon’s and Herod’s temples were trashed. Only a few stones were left to commemorate their builders. But the House of David can still be traced, first to Jesus, and then through the church, based on Jesus’ life and teaching, to us.
Which makes me wonder about some of the brass rings we dedicate ourselves to grasping. Maybe we should be looking at what God might be offering as consolation prizes, instead.

Ralph says –
If you should approach a publisher with a red-hot manuscript for a book that calls out to be published, one of the things that publisher will ask is how you, personally, would be able to promote the book. If you can convince the publisher that you really know how to bang your own tin drum, the chances of having your manuscript accepted are greatly increased. Having sat on both sides of the desk, as author and as publisher, I know about that stuff.
If you are like me, you will cringe at the idea of flogging your own book. In my natal family I learned very early that you should never brag. You should never pat yourself on the back. If what you do is good enough, others will notice and applaud. But not you. Never.
If your home was more pious than mine, you would have had an option. You could ascribe it all the glory to God. It was none of your doing. It was God’s work.
David was a very talented administrator, a charismatic leader and a skilled general. Everything in the kingdom was working just fine. So now what?
Well, how about building a house for God? “I would do this for the glory of God, you understand. Not for me. Only for God.”
And God’s response? “Yeah, right. Tell me about it, David.”
The thing is, I can understand David in this passage much better than I can understand the prophet Nathan. Or God for that matter.
The whole thing begs the question. How do you separate God’s will and your own ego?

Psalm 89:20-37 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
20 "I have chosen my successor," says God. "I have chosen you.
You will take my place.
21 For years, I have taught you my vision;
now I want you to take it forward into the future.
22 To avoid being controlled by bureaucrats,
to protect yourself against fast-talking promoters and bottom-line economists,
23 you must always ask yourself what I would do.
24 By keeping me in mind, my reputation and yours will both grow.
25 What I have started, you will continue;
through you, my influence will spread.
26 I have been your launching pad –
27 Now it's up to you to carry on.
28 I want to be proud of you.
29 As long as you pursue my vision, you will prosper.
30 But if you wander off my way,
if you lust after competitive advantage and chase after quick profits,
31 if you sell out to other gods and other goals,
32 then you will destroy yourself.
You will lose all credibility;
You will go ethically bankrupt.
33 Even so, I will never turn against you.
34 I have adopted you into my family;
you are a member of my household.
35 I have promised it; I do not lie.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Ephesians 2:11-22 – Ephesians and the story of David ask the question, “Where is God’s dwelling place? Implicit in the way we build and maintain our church buildings is the idea that it is “the house of God.”
At the end of the 14th century, an obscure mystic we call Julian of Norwich had some very radical ideas. Here’s what she wrote:
“God has chosen no other place to live except in our souls. This dwelling that God has chosen in our souls is beautiful and stately. There, God touches us and rejoices in our love far more than sorrowing over our failings. God wants us to live gladly and cheerfully, even though this life sometimes feels like punishment.
“God wants us to look beyond the pain that we feel to the joy we can trust.”
from “The Essence of Julian,” by Ralph Milton, Northstone 2002.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – It’s July. In the northern hemisphere – or at least in the northern part of the northern hemisphere – July is the warmest month of the year and therefore vacation time.
This passage shows us that even Jesus and his friends needed to get away from it all once in awhile. It didn’t work. When Jesus saw people hurting, he couldn’t help but go out to them, even when his emotional gas tank was down to the fumes.
And so my yearly appeal to all my friends who labor in God’s vineyard, is to take that vacation. Don’t take along any catch-up reading. Your mind needs a rest too.
Your body – your mind – are the temples in which God dwells. If you don’t give yourself the needed rest, you will find it hard to be aware of God’s presence in your soul.

“A House for God,” is the children’s version of the story about David and Nathan. It’s on page 158 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B.” The story from the Mark passage is called “The Crowd Follows Jesus,” and is on page 160.
There’s an article about this Bible story project in the Wood Lake Publishing newsletter, “Insight.” You can find it by clicking on this somewhat intimidating web address:
Scroll down a bit and you’ll find it.
If you are travelling to our beautiful Okanagan Valley this summer to attend the General Council of the United Church of Canada, watch for announcements of the official launch of this three-volume set of children’s stories. You will be able to have the set autographed by the artist, Margaret Kyle and myself.
If not, then click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – It’s the middle of summer.
The congregation is sparse because half of them are away doing what all of us would like to do in July – goofing off.
I heard of a well-known theologian who claimed he spent two months one summer and didn’t think about God once. Knowing the man, I find that hard to believe. But it begs the question. Does vacation time for active church leaders – lay and professional – mean taking a vacation from God?
Well, that’s a bit hard to do, at least if we believe that God is with us all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. But maybe we can take a little vacation from the heavy-duty ways we often think about God. Maybe we plug our spiritual arteries with all that profound thinking.
One summer, Bev and I were sitting on a beach under the shade of a huge cottonwood. She had a batch of professional journals (Bev is clergy) and I had a batch of books I hadn’t managed to read during the course of the year. All “serious” stuff.
At one point we realized we had spent several house there, and neither of us had looked at either book or magazine. We’d simply sat and soaked in the warmth of a summer day, and let our minds free-wheel.
We talked over lunch and tried to recall what it was, exactly, that we had been thinking about. Neither of us could remember. But we felt relaxed and refreshed, both physically and spiritually. So who says God wasn’t part of that day-dreaming?
In the church where Bev and I now worship (we’re both now retired) the folks in the pews on a July Sunday are mostly regulars. They are, generally, the “old faithful,” for whom church is a lifetime habit. Many of them are active, hard workers in God’s vineyard.
Maybe this might be a good Sunday to tell them to just relax. All year long you work hard to build a faithful, worshipping community. Maybe we could be like the prophet Nathan and tell them to leave a bit of work for the folks in the future. Let your minds and your bodies free-wheel for awhile. Take a break from trying so hard.
Give God a bit of room to move out of our heads and heal our whole beings. Then we might be able to believe the truth about ourselves, “no matter how beautiful it is.”
Note: Some of you will be asking if I practice what I preach. Well, yes. I wrote the little outburst above for Aha!!! magazine way back in 1994.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Undefinable Virtues
An eleven hour drive, alone, gives ample opportunity to reflect on other drivers’ habits.
And I must say that, with one or two minor exceptions, they were very good. No one did anything stupid.
Don’t confuse stupid with illegal. In truth, almost every driver was doing something illegal – minor speeding. Not wearing seatbelts. Rolling though stop signs. Failing to signal lane changes…
But the closest thing I saw to “stupid” were a few drivers who plodded along just under the speed limit while a kilometre-long line of cars formed behind them waiting for a chance to pass.
But generally, everyone applied common sense and courtesy. Which occasionally means breaking the rules. Because the rules are simply an attempt to codify common sense and courtesy.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to enforce common sense. Governments can legislate rules of the road, safety standards, training procedures… But legislation will never prevent someone from dozing off at the wheel.
As I’ve heard said, you can prohibit someone from doing wrong, but you can’t make them do good. You can create laws against murder, fraud, extortion, theft, assault, lying… But can’t force anyone to be kind, thoughtful, loyal, generous…
Generosity, for example, has to be voluntary. If I’m forced to give a certain percentage of my income away, if I have no choice, I’m more likely to feel resentful than compassionate.
Idealistic people often claim that all religions and cultures value the same things – honesty, truth, altruism, compassion… I’m not sure they’re right. I suspect that some societies placed their highest value on ruthlessness, revenge, deceit, and duplicity. The ancient Vikings might have been such a society– Norse legends suggest that not even their gods played fair. Wall Street might be another.
It did occur to me that our society is built on trust. Of course we lock our doors at night and hold onto our credit cards – that’s just common sense. But we trust that the vegetables in the grocery store haven’t been poisoned; that the post office will deliver our mail intact; that a neighbour won’t plunder our carrot patch at night…
But a society built on distrust would quickly degenerate into a seething cauldron of every-man-for-himself paranoid individualists. There could be no family, no friends, no partners.
I see that demonstrated on the highway. When I pass a huge semi-trailer unit, I have to trust that he will not swerve into my lane and crush me like a cockroach. When I enter a two-lane bridge with steel girders on both sides, at 100 km/hr, I have to trust that the person approaching me equally fast will stay on her side of the yellow line. Because as we pass in opposite directions, only inches separate us.
Maybe our highways give us a clue. Common sense and courtesy can’t be defined; violations of them can be. Perhaps the values that are truly universal are those that can’t be enforced or precisely defined.
If, as those idealists claim, all religions espouse the same basic values, they will be the values that defy definition. Any attempt to quantify love, kindness, compassion, loyalty, inevitably becomes either a maximum or a minimum – an extreme rather than the imprecise but practical middle ground we take for granted.


Good Stuff – This is from Wayne Seybert of Longmont, Colorado. It’s been around before and is a bit improbable, but makes a good point.
The teacher wanted to explain evolution to a class of six-year-olds.
Teacher: Tommy do you see the tree outside?
Tommy: Yes.
Teacher: Tommy, do you see the grass outside?
Tommy: Yes.
Teacher: Go outside and look up and see if you can see the sky.
Tommy: Okay. (He returned a few minutes later) Yes, I saw the sky.
Teacher: Did you see God up there?
Tommy: No.
Teacher: That's my point. We can't see God because God isn't there. God just doesn't exist.
Little girl: Teacher! May I ask Tommy some questions?
Teacher: Yes you may.
Little girl: Tommy, do you see the tree outside?
Tommy: Yes.
Little girl: Tommy do you see the grass outside?
Tommy: Yessssss!
Little girl: Did you see the sky?
Tommy: Yessssss!
Little girl: Tommy, do you see the teacher?
Tommy: Yes.
Little girl: Do you see her brain?
Tommy: No.
Little girl: Then according to what we were taught today in school, she possibly may not even have one!


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Warwick Hambleton of Huntly New Zealand writes: “Our church was abuzz this morning about a certain petrol company that had announced, with all seriousness, and with regret, that it had had to put up its prices "in order to remain competitive."

April Dailey of Ford City, Pennsylvania writes: “The Lord's Prayer is a never ending source of kid's ‘bloopers.’ The one I heard most recently was from third-grader, Jacob –‘Thy Kingdom dumb.’ Then he said ‘Oops, My mom always reminds me that's not right.’”
Says April, “These things are further proof of God’s sense of humor!!”

An anonymous person in Kingston, Ontario, saw this hymn text in the bulletin.
For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
fiends on earth, and friends above. . .

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! – You cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
Ralph Waldo Emerson via Mary in Oman
Make it simple. But not too simple."
Albert Einstein via Stephani Keer

Many a train of thought never reaches its station.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – Bill Watt notes a rather serious omission on my part. I had quoted the catechism as saying our chief end is to “enjoy God forever.” Bill points out that the catechism says our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Thanks Bill.

Kris Bair of Wilson, Kansas enjoyed the compound nouns we had in Rumors a couple of weeks ago. He remembers a book called, “An Exaltation of Larks,” or “The Venereal Game,” by James Lipton. It includes:
* a murder of crows
* a skulk of foxes
* a crash of rhinoceroses
* a parliament of owls (O, would that it were so!)
* a herd of harlots
* a superfluity of nuns
* a converting of preachers
* a pontificality of prelates
* a sneer of butlers
* a flush of plumbers
* a rash of dermatologists
* an odium of politicians.

And Roy Anderson of Somerset, England offers this list.
* a castle of rooks
* a nest of crows
* a crop of scissors
* a gallery of washing
* a clink of bottles
* a boredom of televisions
* a firm of handles
* a plate of learners
* a deception of photos
* a shadow of memories


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “safe in church”)
How to live a long time without ever having an accident:
1. Do not ride in an auto – they cause 20 percent of all fatal accidents.
2. Do not stay at home – 17 percent of all accidents happen there.
3. Do not walk in the street – 15 percent of all accidents happen to pedestrians.
4. Do not travel by air, rail, or water – 16 percent of all accidents result from these activities.
5. Only .001 percent of all accidents happen in church.
Note: Recent statistics also show that more people die in hospitals than anywhere else, but only a tiny percentage of deaths happen in church – the look on the faces of pew-sitters notwithstanding.


Bottom of the Barrel – There were three monks who belonged to an order which has a vow of silence. The monks were so tired of not speaking, that they wrote a note to the abbot requesting special permission to speak. (Their vow allowed for such permission to be sought.) The abbot agreed to let them each speak one sentence after breakfast, but not all on the same day: the oldest would speak first, then after a year the second one could speak, then after another year the youngest could speak. And so on.
So the next morning after breakfast, the abbot nodded to the oldest monk, who spoke his sentence: “I like porridge.”
A year passed, and it was now the turn of the second monk to speak. After they had cleared away the breakfast plates, he said, “I hate porridge.”
Another year passed, and at last it was the turn of the youngest to speak. The others were wondering what he was going to say. As breakfast finished, they all looked at him.
Said he, “I’m getting awfully tired of this constant bickering over porridge!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Please feel free to adapt this to your own needs.

Reader One: Have you ever imagined what you would do if you won a million bucks in the lottery?
Reader Two: Sure. But I’ll never win the lottery.
One: Why?
Two: Because I never buy a lottery ticket. Actually, I guess I do win because I keep the money I would have spent on a ticket.
One: If I had a million bucks I’d use it to build us a big new church. I’d do it for the glory of God.
Two: Sure. And they’d name the church after you. St. (add person’s name) Church.
One: (defensively) Well, what’s wrong with that?
Two: Because if you did it for God, why would you name the church after yourself?
One: Well….ah…
Two: You’re a bit like King David. He had the money. He wanted to build a temple – for God, you understand – and it would be named King David’s Temple.
One: And that’s a sneaky way to lead us into today’s Bible story.
Two: I know. But it worked. Our scripture story is from the 2nd Chapter of the book of Samuel.
One: Now when King David was settled in his house, and God had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king spoke to the prophet Nathan:
Two: See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.
One: And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for God is with you." But that same night the word of God came to Nathan:Two: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says God.
One: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"Two: And so God commanded me to say this to King David.
One: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.
Two: And this is what God declares to you, King David.
One: I will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.
Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to:
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