Thursday, August 13, 2009

Preaching Materials for August 23rd

R U M O R S # 565
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

August 16, 2009



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

The Story – commitment
Rumors – sadness on the sidelines
Soft Edges – of weeds and sin
Bloopers – the incredible peach
We Get Letters – eating chocolate
Mirabile Dictu! – winning big
Bottom of the Barrel – hit the delete button
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Bob Buchanan: A minister in a little church had been having trouble with the collections. One Sunday he announced, "Now, before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Farmer Condill's henhouse please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. The Lord doesn't want money from a thief!" The collection plate was passed around, and for the first time in months everybody gave.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, August 23rd, which is Year B, the Season after Pentecost, Proper 16 [21]
1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 84 or Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69

Jim says –
Today’s lectionary menu is like choosing between five variations on tofu! Solomon makes a tedious speech; Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians) dishes out ringing rhetoric that’s painfully short on practical applications; Jesus finishes off his extended metaphor on the bread of life...
I would go with a mixture of Judges and John.
Joshua confronts the Israelites with a choice – “Choose this day whom you will serve.” The story reminds me of the formula recited when people get arrested: “Anything that you say may be used against you.” The NRSV puts it: “You are witnesses against yourselves.”
In today’s world, it says that everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, reveals the choices we have made. For good or ill. For God or mammon.
The John story illustrates that choice. A number of Jesus’ disciples find his teachings unacceptable. They go back to their former lives.
The television series “Jesus of Nazareth” portrayed this discussion happening around a campfire. With the firelight flickering softly on their faces, Jesus asks Peter, “Are you also going to leave?”
And Peter replies, “Where can we go?” He might have added, “We’ve already burned our boats. We can’t go back – we’ve made our choice.”
I would explore whether we, in our modern churches, have really made an irrevocable choice. Or are we keeping our options open, just in case things don’t work out the way we expected?

Ralph says –
I find myself agreeing with Jim. There isn’t much story in these lections. And by “story” I mean a theme, an idea, a narrative, a revelation that speaks to both mind and heart.
Unless it’s the ultimatum that’s at the core of both passages. “Put up or shut up!” “Do or Die” “Are you with us or against us?” There’s no shades of gray here.
The only thing most of us know about Joshua is that he “fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come tumblin’ down.” I remember standing on the site of the old city of Jericho listening to a lecture by an Israeli archeologist who told us there was no evidence at all of a battle in Jericho, nor of the Hebrew conquest of Israel. She told us the Hebrew tribes were one of many tribes in the area, and their ways and religion gradually displaced those of the other tribes resident there.
Which, for me, is a stronger story. It’s not hard pledging loyalty to the winner who can beat up on everyone else. But if you are one small tribe among many, and you are asked for a total commitment of all you are and all you have to a God who may turn out to be a loser, you swallow painfully, think deeply, and pray hard.
And that is far closer to the reality we face right now. Hard, quantifiable, measurable evidence does not come down in favor of the gospel of love given to us by Jesus Christ. Any experienced gambler would bet on somebody else.
Nevertheless, in the light of all that, we say to people, “choose!”

Psalm 84 (or Psalm 34:15-22) – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
We rarely think of the psalms as love poems – but how else can you describe this feeling?
1 I love you, God.
2 My heart races when I am in your presence;
my blood pulses with joy when I think of you.
3 Nothing is ever turned away from you.
You encourage even starlings to nest under your eaves
and worms to tunnel in your earth.
4 Each creature has its part to play in your universal symphony.
5 Whatever strength we have, we get from you.
Refreshed and renewed, we rise to face each new day,
and find that every road leads back to you.
6 In apartment blocks and office towers that rise
like filing cabinets filled with despair,
you comfort us;
When narrow minds turn into cold shoulders,
you nurture us.
7 When we cannot cope, you carry us.
9 You see us, you know us, you look into our eyes.
You lift us up when our bones melt with weariness;
8 You hear our prayers.
You stand beside us, even when we cannot recognize you.
So we call on you, O God of Gods.
Creator of the universe, hear the plea of your creation.
10 Let me stay with you.
I would rather be dirt swept before your broom
than a polished brass plaque in anyone else's boardroom.
An hour in your company
is more stimulating than a day at Disneyland.
11 You are like the sun that burns away the morning fog;
You are as clear and clean as the air after a spring shower;
Deceit and deception have no part in your personality.
12 You are the kind of God I want to be with.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Ephesians 6:10-20 – Warfare and armor has fallen out of favor as a metaphor of faithful action. But it’s interesting to note that all the armor mentioned in this passage is defensive, except for the sword. I wonder if the metaphor of sports equipment – helmets, knee pads, etc. might work here, and the sword being the instrument that must hurt before it can heal.

John 6:56-69 – The metaphor of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is badly off-putting for many people. Maybe Jesus meant it to be exactly that. Perhaps he was trying to weed out the people who are half-hearted in their commitment – the people who are not willing to work their way through their own protectiveness and insecurity to share in the deep intimacy of his life and his dying.
And perhaps we should stop chipping the sharp edges off the gospel to make it more acceptable to people – the sharp edges that hurt and wound before they heal and make whole.
Jesus knew that some would believe, and that many (perhaps most) wouldn’t. After all the rhetoric, all the historical reference, even after all of the signs, it comes down to this. Some hear the word of life, and others miss the good news because they are too busy arguing about words to listen to the Word.
They miss the invitation to eat and live.

The Joshua reading also occurs in year A, so a story children’s based on that passage can be found in the “Lectionary Story Bible,” page 232, Year A. A story based on the 1 King readings may be found in Year B on page 179, and on the Ephesians passage on page 182.
I’ve heard positive reports from a number of worship leaders who have read the appropriate story from the Lectionary Story Bible as the “Scripture for Children,” before they have the normal time with the children. That way the adults hear the scripture twice and are much more likely to understand it.
The Lectionary Story Bible has 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 – About 10 kilometers from where I live, the United Church of Canada is holding its 40th General Council. Because I was on a photography course at the university where the meeting is being held, I found myself walking through the area where they were enjoying bag lunches in the Okanagan sunshine.
I knew many of them, and it was fun connecting with them – noticing how much weight they had gained and/or hair they had lost (not that any of that has happened to me, of course). Then I had to move on to my class, but I did so with a feeling of sadness and grief – plus a bit of envy that they were making the decisions instead of me and my colleagues.
The envy didn’t last long. It was quickly replaced by a sense of relief that I didn’t need to wrestle with the decisions. But the sadness and grief is still there.
Sadness and grief because the church as a national institution is a few years older than I am, and it shows. The delegates are very aware that some drastic steps must be taken. The church simply cannot go on limping painfully through life pretending it is still a vigorous 40-year-old. The spiritual and financial resources are not there.
One of the delegates said to me, “There should be a ‘Do not resuscitate’ sign on the door of the national headquarters in Toronto.” That’s an overstatement, I’m sure, but it fed the visceral sadness I feel for a denomination that has nurtured me all my adult life.
It’s a malady that infects all the main-line churches in North America, and the United Church of Canada may be suffering more than most because it has positioned itself firmly at the liberal end of the theological spectrum. For that it is both reviled and admired.
All the delegates to the General Council agree that something must be done, and that “something” is drastic. They disagree about what that “something” is.
There is still energy in many congregations and a surprising number have a dynamic ministry. Not all. Probably not even most. But some.
And if there is a new United Church that is waiting to rise from the ashes of the old one, it is those glowing congregational coals that we need to blow on.
But it will take energy, faith and courage. Like that small tribe of Hebrews who were ready to bet their lives on the promise of a desert God – like those faithful disciples who left everything behind to follow a local preacher named Jesus even when all the sensible ones had gone back home – the new life and the new church will grow in the faith of those who are willing to commit everything to what does not seem, at least not at first, a viable cause.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Of Weeds and Sin
If Okanagan Centre has a symbolic plant, it must be the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima.
Although it’s endemic in our small corner of the world, I rarely see it elsewhere.
Apparently, it comes originally from China – also known as the Copal Tree or Varnish Tree – brought to Philadelphia in 1784 by a gardener named William Hamilton.
The spread of the Tree of Heaven since then is rivalled only by starlings. Around 1890, Eugene Schieffelin released 60 pairs of European starlings in New York's Central Park. He wanted to introduce into North America all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. His attempts to import bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks failed. But Schieffelin's starlings have become, by one description, “one of the most spectacular environmental disruptions ever perpetrated by an individual.”
But back to the Tree of Heaven. Urban areas like the tree, because it grows fast and resists pollution. A Tree of Heaven formed the central metaphor of the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
When we first arrived here, 16 years ago, I looked out from our deck and saw several magnificent specimens down among the houses below us, their domed crowns covered with reddish-ochre or pale yellow blossoms.
I wanted one. I planted a shoot at one end of our property. Too late, I learned that most botanists consider Ailanthus altissima a weed.
Not only does it scatter seeds by the thousands, it sends out sucker roots. They exude an organic herbicide that inhibits competing native plants.
And what roots! Cleaning up the corner of my yard, I ripped out roots 20 feet long.
Ever since biblical times, people have equated weeds with sin. Jesus told parables about weeds choking healthy plants, about sorting weeds from wheat at harvest time. Subsequent moralists have urged that sin, like weeds, must be totally rooted out, eradicated, stomped on, sprayed with Roundup – anything to eliminate them and to replace them with beneficial things.
That analogy breaks down when we remember that our beneficial plants were once weeds, too. Wheat and barley were wild grasses; cucumbers and tomatoes, wild vines. Even today, if you give a zucchini a chance, it will overrun your garden.
I used to think of weeds as unwanted plants. But that’s too subjective – after all, I wanted this particular tree. And some weeds can be stunningly beautiful. The wild blossoms that grace alpine meadows are, technically, all weeds.
So I suggest an alternate definition. A weed is a plant that doesn’t know its place.
Fortunately, that analogy fits for sin, too. There’s little wrong with most sins, if they stay in their place. There’s not much risk in gambling a few pennies on a card game, having an occasional drink with friends (unless you’re already addicted to alcohol, of course), or flirting mildly with an associate. The problem comes when the gambling, the drinking, the flirting gets out of control.
It’s only when something starts taking over your garden – or your life – that it requires ripping out by the roots.

Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – from the file
* May all your days know God’s surprising grace, Christ’s incredible peach, and the Spirit’s unquenchable joy.
* A Catholic school bulletin giving the sports results: “St Teresa beats Holy Child.”
* A Ministerial Association received a request from the hospital asking for a volunteer to attend a meeting to discuss “improving the quality of patients.”

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! – Some classic insults, courtesy of Jim Taylor.

A modest little person, with much to be modest about.
Winston ChurchillI have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.
Clarence Darrow
He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.
Groucho Marx

And Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado heard this from several speakers at a Festival of Homiletics:
"A whole lot more folks love the Bible than know what's in it!"


We Get Letters – Karen Bursey writes: A bit of wisdom from the internet by that great author – Anon. One of the great things about being a woman is that sometimes eating Chocolate can solve your problems.
Ps: please note the capitalization – needed for all important nouns!

Barry Kreider of Akron, Pennsylvania writes: Bev Ares exercise ditty reminded me of the one my grandfather used. "I get up every morning and the first thing I do is take a walk around the block three times. Then I kick the block back under the bed and go down to breakfast."

Dave Woehrer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin writes: After reading the "philosophy of ambiguity" queries, I forwarded them to Heidi Willison of Milwaukee, and she came up with these:
* Semi-boneless ham–-make up your mind–which is it?
* Why do you need a hot water heater if the water is already hot?
* Is it OK to drive in a parkway?
* Is it OK to park in a driveway?

Cindy Lou Ray responds to last week’s question, “Why do they put Braille on the drive-through bank machines?”
Cindy Lou writes: Well, don't know how many times I've seen that, but it's simple. You don't have to drive to use one. Some of them also have the ability to have their screens read with speech, so if you have ear buds, you can use them. If you walk up to an ATM Machine in a drive through, plug in the headset, follow the instructions, you can read the numbers to receive the menus.

Fran Ota of Toronto, Ontario responds to the joke about lifting potato bags. She heard of this one while in Australia a few years ago.
How to Reduce Your Hips
Lift both arms to shoulder height. Lift the left leg to touch your left hand. Put the left leg back down. Now lift the right leg to touch your right hand. Put the right leg back down. Now do this with both legs at the same time. You will feel the difference almost immediately.
Fran, in Australia, that is a perfectly reasonable exercise. As every grade three Canadian student knows, all the people in Australia and New Zealand are upside down.

Dick Cridlebaugh (which he says is Kreidelbach in German) wants to know, “is it OK to give congregation members your info [to Rumors] so they can subscribe???”
Is it OK? Oh, Dick, I have been known to pay, bribe, threaten, cajole and do anything to get people to get other people to subscribe to Rumors. Most clergy refuse to do that because then people would know why their sermons are so weird.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Winning Big!”)
Some dandy book titles waiting for an author with the right name:
* “Transportation in the Middle Ages” by Orson Cart
* “Split Personalities” by Jacqueline Hyde
* “Home Maintenance” by Duane Pipe
* “Irish Winter Tales” by Pete Moss
* “Increase Your Brain Power” by Sarah Bellum
* “Looking into the Wishing Well” by Eileen Dover
* “How to Write a Mystery Novel” by Page Turner
* “The Great English Breakfast” by Chris P. Bacon
* “I Got Away with Murder” by Scott Free
* “Winning Big” by Jack Potts
* “Vacation Spots in the Tropics” by Sandy Beech
* “Dealing with Debt” by Owen Munny
* “I Always Enjoy the Darkness” by Gladys Knight
* “Doorway to the Haunted Castle” by Hugo First
* “The Long Road” by Myles Walker


Bottom of the Barrel – Dave Towers is a grown man and should know better. But then he lives in Edmonton where they have 50 weeks of winter and two weeks of road construction. That’s why most of the adults get a little strange. It’s only the Edmonton children who are completely sane.
Dave sends the following, which I am running – even though my common sense tells me I should have been hitting the “delete” button hard and often.
Penguin rituals
Did you ever wonder why there are no dead penguins on the ice in Antarctica? Where do they go?
Wonder no more!!!
It is a known fact that the penguin is a very ritualistic bird which lives an extremely ordered and complex life.
The penguin is very committed to its family and will mate for life, as well as maintaining a form of compassionate contact with its offspring throughout its life.
If a penguin is found dead on the ice surface, other members of the family and social circle dig holes in the ice, using their vestigial wings and beaks, until the hole is deep enough for the dead bird to be buried.
The male penguins then gather in a circle around the fresh grave and sing: "Freeze a jolly good fellow." Then they kick 'em in the ice hole.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69
Note: This Reader’s Theatre really needs three people – one for the roles of Joshua and Jesus, a second for the folks listening to Josh plus the disciples, and a third as a narrator. Especially since we’re trying to sew together two readings.

Reader 1: Why are we doing two scripture readings this time?
Reader 2: Because we follow something called the Lectionary.
1: What or who is a lectionary? Sounds like some obscure person who works in the government or something. A lectionary functionary.
2: Well, it’s not a person. It’s a schedule of readings from the Bible. It’s a selection of Bible passages designed to make sure that we don’t leave out any important parts.
3: So that’s kind of laid on. We have to read what they tell us every week.
2: There’s no “have to” about it. It’s not a requirement. We’re allowed to read whatever we decide to read, but we follow the lectionary suggestions because it helps us get a good overview of the Bible. The lectionary usually suggests four readings for each Sunday but we usually use only one or two. (NOTE: PLEASE EDIT THIS TO SUIT YOUR PRACTISE.)
1: And these two readings are suggested by the lectionary?
2: That’s right. And they have a common theme.
1: What’s that?
2: Loyalty. Committment. faithfulness, devotion, allegiance, constancy, reliability, fidelity, dependability, steadfastness.
3: All that? Wow? That’s laying it on pretty heavily.
2: Which is why it’s important to listen carefully. So. Here is a reading from the 24th chapter of the book of Joshua.

2: Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua spoke to all the people:
3: "Thus says the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Now therefore revere God. Serve God in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the false gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt.
Now if you are unwilling to serve God, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the one true God."
2: Then the people answered Joshua:
1: Far be it from us that we should forsake the true God to serve other gods. For it is our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. God protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and God drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
2: And now we have a reading from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.
This is Jesus speaking to his disciples – his followers.
1: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living God sent me, and I live because of God, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
2: Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they found it hard to believe.
3: "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
2: But Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about it.
1: "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.
2: For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
1: "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by God."
2: Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus spoke to the twelve – the ones who were closest to him.
1: "Do you also wish to go away?"
2: Simon Peter answered him.
3: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

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