Friday, September 11, 2009

Preaching Materials for September 20, 2009

R U M O R S # 567
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 13, 2009



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

WARNING: The spammers are getting more clever and more desperate. Lately they have been taking the Rumors e-mail address and using it to send notes of various sorts to people. Some of you have responded to those notes. The note gets to me, but if I simply hit the “reply” button, both of us would be on some spammer’s hot list.
Please don’t respond to anything that has an address other than Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing even slightly different. If you have a spam filter (and you should) add the spam address to your “blocked” list, but please make sure that the Rumors address itself is on the “approved” list.
It really is a time when we need to be “wise as serpents” (Matt.10:16). For instance, in today’s mail I received notes pretending to be from the IRS, a major bank, and a major courier, all asking me to respond urgently with some information.


The Story – eschatology and diapers
Rumors – the gift that seems to be no gift
Soft Edges – uncomfortable reflection
Bloopers – a marred couple
Mirabile Dictu! – buffalo wings
Bottom of the Barrel – a plea for prayer
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 9:30-37
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 Evelyn McLachlan.
A plane hit a patch of severe turbulence and the passengers were holding on tight as it rocked and reeled through the night. A little old lady turned to a minister who was sitting behind her and said, "You're one of God’s people. Can't you do something about this?"
"Sorry,” replied the minister. “I can't. I'm in sales, not management."

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, September 20, which is Proper 20 [25]
* Proverbs 31:10-31 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
* Psalm 1 or Psalm 54
* James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a
* Mark 9:30-37
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Mark 9:30-37Ralph says –
There isn’t a really a story in any of the readings, but the gospel is closest. Jesus’ predictions about his death and resurrection don’t seem to have a direct connection with the beautiful metaphor of a child as the model of the spirit-filled life. Having said that, I know Jim or someone else will quickly point it out to me.
The child metaphor has so many layers of meaning. My mind goes immediately to Cheryl Perry, the minister in charge of Christian Education in our congregation. She was on the front steps of the chancel last Sunday doing the time with the children. Her own two children were there with the other tots. The youngest has not yet realized that her mom has several roles to play. When mom couldn’t do some particular mom thing that was wanted (the exchange was whispered) there was a wail. But dad (always ready in the front pew) quickly intervened, she snuggled down into his lap, and all was soon well again.
Simplify. Children’s needs and wants are usually simple. There are lots of exceptions, of course, but most often the adult can respond with “yes,” or “no” or “wait.” One night last week, snuggling down in bed beside Bev, I found myself feeling like a child and wailing, “I just want to feel well again.” The need is simple and clear but filling that need is ridiculously complex. Even so it was helpful to identify a single goal, and then to break the business of getting there down to its component parts.
Well now, there’s the connection in this passage – between Jesus’ predictions of his own death and resurrection, and becoming like a child. The child within us – the child within Jesus – wants warmth and peace and justice for all. That’s the clear and simple goal. Getting there is ridiculously complex.
Getting there involves pain and death.

Jim says –
I’d love to have my grandson present for this service, to use as a living object lesson. (He’ll be 1000 km away, unfortunately.) At nearly three, hyperactive, and physically as strong as a four-year old, he tends to leave a trail of destruction in his wake. He has no more concept of his responsibility than a dog does when its wagging tail sweeps a coffee table bare.
He should have a tornado named after him.
Whenever he visits us, we have to Stephen-proof the house – and we always fail. So I spend part of each day repairing the hinges on a box lid that he flung open too vigorously, gluing the legs back onto a petrified-wood elephant, restoring computer programs that somehow got uninstalled...
I would want to turn my grandson loose in the sanctuary. Some worshippers would be amused by his antics; some – I expect – would get increasingly frustrated.
And then I would gather him up in my arms, give him a hug, and say, “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name, welcomes me.” With the obvious corollary – “If you cannot welcome such a child, you haven’t welcomed me, either.”
Because we are called to more than just to love the already lovable. We are also called to love the difficult ones, the troublemakers, the misfits, the down-and-out, the slow learners, the disabled and incapacitated...

Proverbs 31:10-31 – Just reading this had me worn out. If that’s the job description for “a capable wife,” it’s no wonder such a person is hard to find. And who would want to be married to such a whirling dervish?
It’s even worse than some of the clergy job descriptions I’ve seen. Somebody is dreaming in Technicolor.
Yes, I know this capable wife get’s to own property (v.16) which was no small thing in an age where women were often considered to be chattels.
People like this capable wife – male or female – burn out quickly. I knew a guy like that whose date book was encyclopedic, and who told me he and his wife had sex every second Thursday at 2 pm.
Such people may be admired, but they miss the whole point of life.

Psalm 1 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 Happy are those who have an inner integrity.
2 They are not pushed around by opinion polls;
They listen to advice from all sides,
but they choose their own course.
They consult constantly with God.
3 A spring of deep wisdom bubbles up within them;
It never dries up.
4 Most of us are more like dandelion fluff;
we change our direction with every puff of wind.
5 It is no wonder our words are not heard.
Without that wellspring of wisdom,
we are no more than dust,
waiting to return to dust.
6 Fads and fashions will pass away,
but ways of wisdom will go on forever.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a – This is a good antidote to the Proverbs passage. It raises the question of wisdom. Approaching life with wisdom is perhaps another instance where Jesus’ metaphor of the child might be useful. Among the child-like attributes is the ability to deal with one thing at a time. Not ability. Need.
Children enjoy one event at a time. Or are totally devastated by one tragedy at a time.

You’ll find a children’s version of Psalm 1 in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 195. It’s called “You Will Be Happy.” And the Gospel story, based on the Mark passage is called, “Jesus and the Child” and may be found on page 196.
If you don’t already own this three-volume set, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – I have several friends who live with constant pain. Their struggle is no longer to get rid of pain or to suppress it – neither of which is possible – but to “manage” pain. One of those friends recently travelled several hundred miles to visit a particular doctor in a “pain management clinic.”
I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like have a pain that is always, always, always there. But of course I’ve failed completely. The closest I’ve come is the occasional headaches I used to have that sometimes lasted several days. I’d lie in bed with an ice-pack on my head just wanting it to stop. I knew it would stop. It always did.
The friends I’m thinking of have had their pain for years. And they know it isn’t going to go away.
It’s in that context that yesterday was such a delightful gift. The major side-effect from the medication I am taking to prevent a recurrence of the “epileptic focal seizure” that the neurologist says I have, is night-time headaches. And a general sense of “blah.”
Yesterday dawned bright and clear and that sense of “blah” was gone. I’d still had the night-time headache (which I know how to deal with), but I woke up feeling normal.
What a gift it is to feel normal! And I still feel normal today. Of course I’m hoping this will continue forever. Of course I know it won’t. But I will savor this simple gift while it is with me. Like the child I saw trudging off to school yesterday. In the middle of his walk, he danced two or three steps of a jig.
Most of us have the simple gift of normalcy most of the time and we think nothing of it. My friends with the chronic pain just ache to have that sense of normal again.
I will have lunch with Jim today and the two of us will offer a prayer of thanks and hoist a glass of ale for the gift of feeling simply normal. And we will pray for those who have long forgotten what that feels like – and ask God to give them courage, patience, strength – whatever it is they need to bear the load they have been given.
In the meantime, I rejoice in the great and simple gift of feeling normal – a gift that seems to be no gift at all.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Uncomfortable Reflection
I’m another year older. I look in the mirror, and I don’t look very different. But when I look at myself through my grandchildren’s eyes, I don’t particularly like what I see.
You see, long ago I stopped believing that God is an eagle-eyed heavenly accountant who watches everything we do and keeps meticulous records of good or bad – in “thought, word, and deed,” to cite a historic confession – and then punishes us accordingly.
Writer Gene Lohnes noted – shortly before dying of liver cancer – “If you have a heart attack, people assume you must have worked too hard. If you get cancer, they wonder what you did to deserve this.”
As I grew up, I came to believe in a less judgmental God who loves us unconditionally, who suffers with us, who works in us and through us. Most of our troubles are a consequence of our own actions, not divine punishment.
Our grandchildren spent ten days with us. At two-and-a-half, our grandson is discovering rebellion. I think psychologists call the process “individuation” – which he expresses with a vociferous “No” to almost any guidance from his elders.
Which is irritating but tolerable, unless his independent spirit endangers his life.
We go for a walk on a quiet rural road. We hear a car coming. We tell him to stay at the side, with us. He breaks loose and runs across the road in front of the car.
Or he’s warned repeatedly not to try climbing over the railing on our deck. He does it anyway.
He’s instructed many times not to fiddle with the door lock. I come back from walking the dogs and find he’s locked me out. I’m furious.
Later, he reaches again for the door lock. “Grandpa mad,” he says, and takes his hand away.
In such situations, our single-mom daughter usually has her hands full with her older child, a dog, two cats, and a pot boiling over on the stove. Grandpa finds himself playing the heavy.
So I skewer him with a glare as he reaches for Joan’s jewelry box. I grab a screwdriver before he sticks it into the wall plug. I warn him about dire consequences if he hits his sister with a fire truck.
I’m sure he sees me as a spoil-sport grandfather who watches constantly for infractions of unintelligible rules, and who punishes him heartlessly when he breaks them.
I act, in other words, like the kind of God that I no longer believe in.
Perhaps that kind of God is necessary, in the early development of individuals, and of societies. But I don’t want to be that kind of grandfather. And I don’t think God does, either.
I would hope that as my grandson grows, he won’t be trapped with images of God as a wrathful overseer. I hope he and I can develop a more mature relationship.
Likewise, I dream that churches could replace their emphasis on the “fear of God” with the “love of God.”
We don’t have to be rebellious children forever.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Tammy Rider of Rochester, Minnesota says she read a note from a pastor who was delighted to meet "a young man whom I baptized and whose parents I marred." Tammy says she’s done quite a number of weddings herself and hopes she hasn’t marred the couples too badly.

From the file:
* The senior pastor will be away for two weeks. The staff members during his absence will be pinned to the church bulletin board.
* Visitors are asked to sing their names at the church entrance.
* The pitch-in dinner will be hell in the perish hall.

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! – Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Mark Twain via Mary from Oman

The one who hesitates is probably right.
source unknown

The primary task of the philosophy of religions is to discern the questions to which religion has the answers."
Father Abraham, via Stephani Keer


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “buffalo wings!”)
These one-liners courtesy of Sharyl Peterson of Grand Junction, Colorado.
* I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don't know what to feed it.* I had amnesia once. Or twice.* I went to San Francisco. I found someone's heart. Now what? * Protons have mass? I didn't even know they were Catholic.* All I ask is a chance to prove that money can't make me happy.* If the world were a logical place, men would be the ones who ride horses sidesaddle.* They told me I was gullible and I believed them.* Experience is the thing you have left when everything else is gone* One nice thing about egotists – they don't talk about other people.* I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.* Show me a man with both feet firmly on the ground, and I'll show you a man who can't get his pants off.* Is it just me – or do buffalo wings taste like chicken?


Bottom of the Barrel – Prayer in school is mainly an issue in the US, but then Americans are probably the most religious of any people in the developed world. It’s probably banned in most other developed nations, but people rarely talk about it.
This item came from Jim Spinks in Ontario and my first instinct was not to run it because of that, but then his note about teachers really needing to pray and needing our prayers, hit home.
After being interviewed by the school administration, the prospective teacher said: “Let me see if I've got this right. 'You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love for learning. 'You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride. 'You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook, and apply for a job. 'You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behavior, and make sure that they all pass the final exams. 'You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Spanish or any other language, by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card. 'You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps. 'You want me to do all this and then you tell me. . . I can’t pray?’


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Mark 9:30-37
Reader 1: I think we should get rid of all our cars and busses and planes.
Reader 2: OK, I’ll bite. Why?
1: I was checking out the passage we’re going to read from Mark, and I noticed that Jesus had a travelling school. When people were going from one place to another, the time wasn’t wasted. They talked to each other. And they learned. For instance, Jesus had a little travelling university and his disciples were studying Eschatology 101.
2: Eschatology? Where did you learn a word like that?
1: Doesn’t it have a great sound to it? If somebody asks you what kind of work you do, you could say, (PRETENTIOUSLY) “I am an Eschatologist.”
2: OK, but what does it mean?
1: It’s the study of last things. The end of the world. Resurrection of the dead. Really useful stuff.
2: That’s what Jesus is talking about, alright. I don’t know how useful that is. But what is really useful is the way Jesus uses a small child as a metaphor, as a way of helping the disciples understand what a life of faith means. That’s something we need every day. It doesn’t have a fancy, technical name, but it is crucially important to our understanding of who we are in relation to God.
1: Maybe we should stop yakking and read the passage.
2: Good idea. It’s a reading from the 9th chapter of the gospel of Mark.
1: Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples.
2: "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again."1: But the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them.
2: "What were you arguing about on the way?"1: But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. So Jesus sat down, called the twelve disciples, and spoke to them.
2: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."1: Then Jesus found a little child and took it up in his arms.
2: "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

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