Thursday, November 26, 2009

Preaching Materials for December 6th, 2009

R U M O R S # 578
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

November 29, 2009


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

Several folks have written wondering if it’s possible to get the Reader’s Theatre further in advance. I wish I could promise that, but my mind is as organized as my daughter’s bedroom when she was a teenager. I usually manage to get Rumors done by Wednesday or Thursday, and that’s when I post it to the blog. So it’s not much help, but you can usually get it a day or two early if you check there.
So please put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
If you check it a day or two early, there’s a good chance you’ll find Rumors there.

The Story – about the yearning
Rumors – the God who sang the song through you
Soft Edges – learning the moves
Bloopers – about the duplicity
We Get Letters – this time you blew it
Mirabile Dictu! – hydrogin
Bottom of the Barrel – no Baptists
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 11:1-9 and Luke 1:39-56
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Preaching on the text of Ananias and Sapphira to a large congregation, the minister pounded her fist on the pulpit and roared, “God doesn’t strike people dead for lying like used to happen. Why, if God had continued to do that, where would I be?”
When the congregation stopped snickering, she roared back, “I’ll tell you where I’d be. Right here preaching to an empty church!”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 6th, which is the second Sunday of Advent. If you are using the Revised Common Lectionary, the readings are:
* Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
* Luke 1:68-79
* Philippians 1:3-11
* Luke 3:1-6

If you are using the “Milton-Taylor Heretical Advent Story Lectionary”
you’ll be focusing on these three:
* Isaiah 11:1-9 “. . .a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. . .”
* Luke 1:39-45, 56 “. . .Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. . .’
* Luke 1:46-55 “My soul magnifies the Lord. . .” also known as the “Magnificat.”
The Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise – is often used in place of the psalm. Note Jim’s paraphrase below.

The Story – Isaiah 11:1-9 and Luke 1:39-45, 56
Ralph says –
It’s about yearning, I think. On the sign outside a local church I see the phrase: “It’s about love.” Which is true, but love without justice is hollow and sentimental. So which comes first? It’s a bit of a chicken-egg question.
Jacques Brel, in a song I have loved over the years, sings: “If we only have love we can melt all the guns/and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.” And he lists all the things we can do “if we only have love.” Clearly he is saying that love comes first but that love finds its fulfillment in justice. If our love doesn’t lead to action it’s sentimental mush.
Isaiah seems to feel that it’s God’s love that will initiate a realm of justice and kindness and honor. Mary, as she sings her ancient song, agrees. Everything starts with God’s action – in this case with “the lowliness of God’s servant.”
Years ago, Bev and I went to a Marriage Encounter where we were taught that “love is a choice.” If you choose to love, you will do loving things, and that will lead you into the experience of love. You don’t fall in love, you act your way into it.
Which is a pretty good, action oriented, Protestant work-ethic philosophy. That’s what my parents lived and taught, and I guess that’s what I’ve lived and taught all my life too. It certainly isn’t the only way, I’m sure.
Why is it that now in the sunset of my life, I’m only beginning to learn what I need to learn?

Luke 1:47-55 – – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Mary's – and perhaps every woman's – song of pregnancy.
47 My body bulges with new life;
the joy of it shines in my face.
48 For so long I have longed for this child.
Year after year, I felt I failed;
I was the most miserable of women.
But now everyone smiles at me; they congratulate me;
I'm so happy!
49 Now I know that prayers can be answered;
50 now I know that the deepest longings of the heart can take flesh.
51 I will be the best mother there ever was!
You don't have to be rich or famous to nurture new life;
you don't need big houses or expensive nannies –
you need love.
52 The most important person in the world lives inside me;
my unborn child matters more than prime ministers or presidents.
53 I feed my child with my own life blood;
I will nurse it with the milk of my own body.
No one else in all the world, no matter how rich or powerful, enjoys that privilege.
54 I care for my child the way I know God cares for me.
55 As the child lives in my womb, so I live in the womb of God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

If you are using the Revised Common Lectionary, you will find an appropriate children’s version in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C,” page 22, which is based on Luke 1 and Luke 3. It attempts to tell a bit of the story of John the Baptizer.
If you are going with our suggestions, you can find a children’s version of the Isaiah story in Year A, page 13, titled “Making Ploughs out of Swords.” A children’s version of the Luke passage, based on verses 1:39-55, is found on page 28 and called, “Mary, Elizabeth, and Their Babies.”
If you don’t already own this three-volume resource, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – The story of Mary and Elizabeth
"...the God who sang the song through you."

Mary's feet hurt. She'd forgotten how far it was from Nazareth to the hilltop home of her cousin Elizabeth.
Mary had started out early that morning, trying hard to hide her morning sickness. A desperate and fearful child she was – all of 14 years old, making up stories and excuses so she could go to visit her cousin.
Why Elizabeth? Mary wasn't sure. Except that Mary knew Elizabeth had always loved her even when she had felt less than lovable. And now, when Mary was in terrible trouble, she hoped – she knew Elizabeth would love her still.
Except that Elizabeth was married to a priest, and priests were sworn to enforce the very law that would surely have her executed. Death by stoning was the punishment for girls who got pregnant before marriage.
Now Elizabeth's house was just up the hill. And there was Elizabeth, big as life and pregnant.
"Elizabeth!" Mary called, joy and fear mingling in her voice.
The two women ran toward each other, embraced and cried and laughed.
"Let me look at you, Mary," said Elizabeth, cupping her cousin's face in her hands. With her wise old eyes, Elizabeth looked deep into the young and tragic eyes of her cousin and saw the pain there.
"Mary, what's wrong?"
The dam burst. The flood of tears, held back by courage and by fear, burst and spilled into the arms of the older woman, who held the young one close until the flood had passed.
"I'm pregnant, Elizabeth," Mary whispered.
"Oh God help us," said Elizabeth, not as a curse but a prayer. "God help us!"
"It's so hard to explain..." Mary began.
"Then don't explain, Mary," Elizabeth said, touching Mary gently on the lips. "Just know that regardless of what may have happened, I love you and God loves you. Now let's just sit down here, in the shade, and talk.
And talk they did. Until the sun had set and they pulled their cloaks around themselves against the cold, they talked as only women who know pain and joy know how to talk.
"Mary," said Elizabeth, "I could feel my baby kicking inside me when I heard you call. That baby was glad to see you Mary. Glad to see you, and the baby you are carrying. Mary, a child to come is God's promise of hope."
"I know that, Elizabeth. There is one part of me that is full of joy, and strong, and hopeful. There's another part of me that is angry and terrified and cowardly. Sometimes I feel as if I'm two people."
"Mary, do you remember an old song I used to sing for you – the one that was sung so many years ago by Hannah, one of our foremothers, when she waited those long years for a baby? During all the long, long years I waited for God to send me a baby, that song helped me feel strength and patience, even when I was afraid and angry."
Quietly, then with more and more strength, Mary began to sing the old, old song.

All that I am
grows and expands,
and rejoices with God
who will save me.
Small as I am,
I grow and expand,
to the future and God
who has blessed me.
God's love offers life,
God's strength is the love
that brings justice and peace
to all nations.
God's love offers life,
To the poor and the meek
Who are raised from the ground
where they suffer.
All that I am
grows and expands,
with God who brings life,
hope and justice."
Elizabeth looked at the slip of a girl called Mary. So thin, so weak, so vulnerable. And yet, deep in those dark, youthful eyes, Elizabeth saw great strength, courage and faith.
"I don't know how, Mary, because I know all the laws and all the customs of our people are lined up to destroy you. But somehow I believe God is with you. The child in my womb, the child in yours, are God's gifts of hope, Mary. Can you believe that, Mary? Even when everything seems to be painful and wrong, can you believe in the God who sang that song through you?"


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Learning the Moves
Our family has found its routines upset by Joan’s chemotherapy recently. So I’ve been diving back into my archives, and finding columns that are worth repeating. Here’s one of them.

Joan bought me a CD of hit songs from the 1950s. If you’re anywhere near my age, you may remember Perry Como singing “I used to be a dance hall dandy, I knew all there was to know. I knew this-a-way, from that-a-way, Now I don’t know what’s goin’ on…” I never thought of Perry Como as a theologian. But in those long-ago lyrics, I hear an explanation for the current ills of many churches.
Sociologist Reg Bibby believes that the downturn in church attendance may have bottomed out. The continuing decline among younger people seems to have slowed. There may even be a slight upturn in attendance. (That’s in Canada; the U.S. has not experienced the same precipitous slump.)
Reg attributes this turnaround to a renewed interest in religion. Reg is a smart man. But I think he may have missed the point.
Church (and religion) is a social phenomenon, like cocktail parties, bingo, and bridge. If you don’t feel comfortable in that milieu, you won’t take part.
I recall taking Joan to a baseball game on a beautiful balmy summer night, long before we were married. Lights made the field glow emerald against the surrounding dark. I remember the crack of bat on ball, the thunk of ball in oiled glove, the raucous rulings of the umpire, dust rising behind the spikes of a runner racing to steal second…
Joan was bored. She didn’t understand baseball.
The tables were turned on me, when I watched an outdoor chess game. The player I thought was losing, because he had fewer pieces left on the board, made a move. The bystanders burst into spontaneous applause. Checkmate!
I didn’t have a clue what he had just done.
If you don’t understand the moves, it’s all gibberish. Whether it’s baseball or chess.
Or church.
On those occasions when non-churchgoers find themselves trapped in a worship service – mostly at weddings and funerals, but also at Christmas and Easter – I watch them fumble with bulletin and hymnbook. They don’t know what page to turn to. They don’t know when to stand, when to sit.
Regular churchgoers have some sense of what to expect. But for a stranger, the language, the symbols, the actions might as well be gibberish. Why these colors? Why these gestures? Why sing dirges accompanied by asthmatic organs? Why, in fact, read from a Bible, instead of from, say, Buckminster Fuller, Mark Twain, or Deepak Chopra?
Once upon a time, everyone was familiar with the chess moves of the church. They didn’t necessarily care much, but they knew what was going on.
But today, church is an unfamiliar environment. Most people, I suspect, find themselves more comfortable with the conventions of the casino or the curling rink. Church makes them feel awkward.
Like Perry Como, they “don’t know what’s goin’ on.”
So they stay away.
And they will continue to stay away from churches that expect them to learn a foreign culture before they can feel comfortable.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Sometimes advertising is more honest than it intends to be. Vern Ratzlaff of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan saw this line in a newspaper ad. “Save regularly at our bank; you'll never reget it.”

Janice Minardi of Madison Wisconsin writes “At first I thought perhaps it was intentional. I loved ‘a child of sorrow and aquatinted with grief.’ It is too good to correct.”
Janice, I looked at your e-mail half a dozen times before I got it. I’m one of those people who sees the shape of a word and infers the meaning from the context, and so my mind skipped right over “aquatinted.” Now I’m wondering what color “aquatinted” might be.

Pat Bush enjoyed this note in a newsletter. "I am re-sending this email individually because a large number of the emails I sent out as a mass mailing have bounced back with 'delivery failed' notices. If you already received this message, I apologize for the duplicity."

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton at (change the “at to the symbol and remove the spaces.)

Wish I’d Said That! – To get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.
Mark Twain via Mary from Oman

Evelyn McLachlan sent these a little late for American Thanksgiving and way late for the Canadian celebration. But it doesn’t matter.
“Last Thanksgiving, I had my chance to do the traditional thing of shooting my own turkey. Man, you should have seen the people scatter in the meat department.”
“When everyone at the table takes turns saying what they are thankful for, say, ‘I'm thankful I didn't get caught,’ and refuse to say anything more.”


We Get Letters – Alice Warnes writes: “Ralph! This time you blew it!
I was appalled at your depiction of Baby Jesus being the bastard offspring of a Roman soldier. I feel you stepped over a line.
Christmas is hard enough for us older folks who struggle with our personal truths suddenly becoming "myths". I look at our beautiful Nativity Scene on our mantle (you know, the one from Costco) and I get a pang as I suddenly ask myself, did any of this happen? And wishing folks a "Merry Christmas" is so yesterday. But I can go along with "Happy Holidays".
However, Mary – being raped by a soldier – adds a particularly vulgar dimension that we don't need. I can't be the only one to be revolted by this. I suspect you may even be hearing from the Pope. At least you should.
I can't wait for the next issue of Rumors. You really stepped in it this time.

Russell Pastuch of Ottawa, Ontario writes: “I figured the Messiah had a backbone, what with being born to a Roman ‘solider’.”
But I got lost a few sentences later when you announced ‘A child, just ‘barley’ a woman.’ Does this have anything to do with the martini later on? Perhaps a barley sandwich – a good brewskie?”

Lynton Wade of Caroline Springs, Victoria, Australia writes: “The artificial insemination line reminded me of the two cows chatting about the prevalence of Mad Cow’s Disease. One was completely agitated about it, the other quite relaxed, ‘I’m not worried about it,’ said the relaxed cow. ‘I’m a tractor’.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Hydrogin!”)
This list is reported to have been compiled of things students wrote on exams. It may have started there, but it is largely made of contributions as it has circulated around the net.
* H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water.
* To collect fumes from sulphur, hold a deacon over a flame in a test tube.
* When you smell an odorless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide.
* Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is water and gin.
* A super-saturated solution is one that holds more than it can hold.
* Liter: A nest of young puppies.
* Magnet: Something you find crawling all over a dead cat.
* Momentum: What you give a person when they are going away.
* Vacuum: A large, empty space where the pope lives.
* Artificial insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull.
* The pistol of the flower is its only protection against insects.
* A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is.
* To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose.
* For a nosebleed: put the nose much lower than the heart until it stops.
* For head colds: use an agonizer to spray the nose until it drops in your throat.
* Germinate: To become a naturalized German.
* The tides are a fight between the earth and moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight.
* Blood flows down one leg and up the other.

Bottom of the Barrel – (Note: Change the denomination and location to suit yourself.)
Three atheists were teasing a Baptist minister.
“I think I will move to Nevada,” said one. “Only 25% of the people are Baptist.”
“No, I’m going to Colorado,” said the second. “Only 10% of the people are Baptist.”
“Better yet is Canada,” said the third. “Only 5% there are Baptist”
“I have the best suggestion of all,” said the minister smiling. “Why don’t you all go to Hell. There are NO Baptists there!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 11:1-9 and Luke 1:39-56
Reader 1: Do you like poetry?
Reader 2: Sure I do. Would you like me to recite my favorite poem?
1: OK.
2: “Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.” (LAUGHS)
1: No, no. I mean real poetry. Poetry that get’s right down inside you. That works way deep down inside the belly, or the brain.
2: Yeah, I know. I was just pulling your leg. I think you are talking about the passage from Isaiah. I almost ache when I hear that.
1: I’m wondering if Isaiah’s time was a bit like ours. We have wars all over – starvation and AIDS in Africa, political conflict all over – homeless people freezing on our streets.
2: And Isaiah closes his eyes and tries to imagine what will happen when God comes and takes charge of his hurting world. It’s an aching, hurting dream.
1: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2: The spirit of God shall rest on this person, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the God. And this is the blessing that will rest on the person God sends:
1: Delight in the fear of God
2: Judgment, not by what is seen or heard.
1: The poor shall be judged with righteousness.
2: Equity for the meek of the earth;
1: And the wicked shall be killed.
2: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
1: The calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
2: The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
1: The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
2: They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
1: That is so beautiful. Can’t you just imagine the people of the early church. They were thinking of who Jesus was and what he was trying to do, and when they read this passage, they said “Wow! That writer must have been talking about Jesus.”
2: Were they right?
1: It doesn’t matter. That kind of yearning for peace and justice and beauty and joy and wholeness – that’s what Jesus was about.
2: We have another passage to read. This one is about Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
1: Nowadays we’re not bothered by a woman being pregnant before she was married, but in those days that was a terrible thing. The punishment for that could be death by stoning. I wonder if that’s why Mary ran off to visit Elizabeth.
2: Could be. But before we read that story, I just want to point out that the song Mary sings was probably a really old song. There’s one very much like it sung by Hanna many years ago when she realized she was pregnant. Hannah gave birth to Samuel the prophet.
1: We are reading from the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.
2: In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah. She greeted Elizabeth.
1: When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of the Messiah comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed are you Mary, because you believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you by God."
2: My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
And my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
Upon your lowly servant
And from this day forward
All generations shall call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty have done great things for me,
And holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
For those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm:
You have scattered the proud in their conceit;
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones
And raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
And you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
Mindful of your mercy –
The promise you made to our ancestors –
To Sarah and Abraham
And their descendants forever.*
1: And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home in Nazareth.

* this rendering of the Magnificat is taken from “The Inclusive Bible.”
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 ralphmilton at (change the “at” to the “at” sign – you know the “a” with the circle around it. I’m trying to slow down the spammers.) Then 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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* Don’t put anything else in that e-mail* If you are changing e-mail addresses, and your old address will no longer be in service, you do not need to unsubscribe. The sending computer will try a few times, and then give up..~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*Please Write – If you respond, react, think about, freak-out, or otherwise have things happen in your head as a result of reading the above, please send a note to: ralphmilton at
Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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