R U M O R S # 575
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
November 11, 2009
THE CALL OF SAMUEL
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there. And if you need back issues, that’s where to find ‘em.
The Story – a fractured story
Rumors – scriptural illiteracy
Soft Edges –
Good Stuff – the difference between heaven and hell
Bloopers – when God is scared
We Get Letters – an apology
Mirabile Dictu! – round is a shape
Bottom of the Barrel – the spirit is willing
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – selected portions from 1 Samuel
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – The garment buyer of a large department store was in Korea on a buying mission.
All interested sellers and manufacturers had gathered and gave a banquet at which the buyer was the honored guest. He was asked to give a speech which, of course, had to be translated.
In the course of the speech he told a long complicated funny story with some complex puns. After which he alone laughed and then he waited for the translation.
The translator spoke two sentences and the audience erupted in gales of laughter with clapping, foot stomping, and even cheering.
The buyer was gratified but puzzled. Finally, after a bit of arm twisting, someone told him what the translator had said. “Fat man with big chequebook told funny story. Do what you think appropriate.”
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, November 15th which is Proper 28 (33).
* 1 Samuel 1:4-20 or Daniel 12:1-3
* 1 Samuel 2:1-10 or Psalm 16
* Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
* Mark 13:1-8
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – 1 Samuel 1:4-20. Plus 1 Samuel 3:1-18.
Ralph says –
Talk about disconnected lections! Our Hebrew scripture reading gives us the opening scene of the story of Hannah and Samuel. The tender little scene of Hannah bringing a robe to her child (1 Samuel 2:18-20) happens on Christmas, Year C. We hear the story of God calling the boy Samuel in the middle of the night (1 Samuel 3:1-10) on Proper 4, and it is scheduled for Epiphany 2 in year B, which is three years from now!
It takes a lot of gall and a fair bit of arrogance, but we offer a fix.
While doing a little channel surfing recently, I saw a sequence of four middle-aged faces, all of them saying they did not “feel fulfilled.”
Until fairly recently in human history – and it’s still true in many places – a woman had only one significant role, and that was to provide children. Especially boy children. Along the way she usually had to work a grinding 18 hour day, but that was just a fringe benefit. They had no idea that sterility was usually a male problem. Think of Henry VIII.
It’s almost heart-breaking to hear Hannah praying desperately to God for a son. Her husband, Elkanah, was a loving, understanding kind of guy, but Hannah had no standing in the community and the other wives teased her mercilessly. Her calling in life was to produce a boy baby.
Hannah did produce the boy Samuel, and if we read the next part of the legend, we hear the evocative story of a child being called by God.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell urged, “Follow your bliss.” That, he said, was a continuing theme in all world’s mythology. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible.
How do we hear God’s call? How do we follow? How do we find a sense of fulfillment?
Jim says –
Amazing – the two streams of the lectionary manage to give us two connected readings about the boy Samuel, his mother Hannah, and his mentor Eli. And yet it still manages to leave out half of the story!
That wouldn’t be so bad if the lectionary at least picked up young Samuel’s encounter with God in the middle of the night for the following Sunday. But it doesn’t!
Okay, I obviously want to tell this story. And equally obviously, I’m going to ignore the lectionary’s prescriptions.
So I would tell the story of Hannah. I would read Hannah’s song, and point out that Mary’s Magnificat, in Luke, borrows heavily from Hannah.
But then I would move the story to Hannah’s son, Samuel. I would talk about the pain she must have felt, giving up her firstborn, her only child, to the Temple. This was the first-fruits tradition, established from Mosaic times – the first, the best, was given to God; then you could keep some for yourself.
But the core of the story is Samuel hearing his name in the middle of the night. A group of us older guys got together a couple of weeks ago. Almost all of us had heard our names called, when we were children. But we were told we were imagining things. We were told to go back to play.
I would bet that a sizeable portion of every congregation has heard their name called. And been told it was a delusion. So I would explore the ways in which we adults destroy children’s spirituality by insisting that we know better than they do. I would wonder what might have happened if some of our elders had been as sensitive to God’s possibilities as old Eli was.
1 Samuel 2:1-10 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 I’m the queen of the castle, and you’re the dirty rascals!
2 At last things have gone right for me.And I owe it all to God.
3 You, bigmouth, button your lip! You make lots of noise, but so does a drum – because it’s empty inside.God sees your hollow core.
4 How much sound can you makewhen the rains come downand your taut skins sag like an old woman’s breasts?Even an old woman will be more vital than you!
5 Lots of things have happened while you were on coffee break:the blind see; the lame leap; the prisoners of their own bodies are set free!The fertile become sterile; but the barren bear new life!
6 Heaven and hell are overturned; even this is within God’s power.
7,8 The lost are remembered;the abandoned are brought back;they receive a respected place in society.
9 God’s faithful ones will warm their hands at God’s hearth,while the wicked wail in the darkness outside the door.They trusted in their own strength, instead of trusting God.
10 Once I was down, but now I am up.Once I groveled, but now I exult.For God sees through sham and deception;
God recognizes true value.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25 – “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds (v 16).” That seems to be the core of this passage. And that seems to happen when we allow ourselves to soak – to marinate – in the stories, the songs, the ideas, the poems that are our Christian heritage, so that everything we do reflects the love of Christ.
Of course, none of us does that perfectly. Some of us are so encrusted with market-place values that, at best, just a little of that Spirit gets in through the cracks. Then some serious cracking and peeling – some conscious recognition and conscious practice – is necessary to allow the gospel to soak into our psyche.
Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus describes some cataclysmic events in this reading. And it is quite possible that Mark is looking back to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE and telling us this is what Jesus foretold. It was cataclysmic and life-shattering for the Jews who were expelled by the Romans and found themselves scattered all over the known world.
Many life events are like that. There are signs the marriage or the job is in trouble. Without an intervention, a break-up is certain. The pain will be great, but if there is to be a new beginning, the pain is necessary.
The “Lectionary Story Bible” breaks up the story of Hannah, Samuel and Eli the way the lectionary does. The first installment, “Hannah Prays for a Baby,” is found in Year B page 226. The second part of the story is called, “God Calls Samuel,” and is on page 131, Year B.
A story based on the gospel reading, “People Are More Important,” is found on page 228.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible.” If you don’t have the full set, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at www.woodlakebooks.com, 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 – If you subscribe to “Christian Century,” check out an article by Kristin Swenson who teaches religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s called “Biblically Challenged,” and subtitled, “overcoming scriptural illiteracy.”
If you don’t subscribe, you may have a friend who does. My friend is Doug Hodgkinson, to whom thanks for sending this on to me.
Swenson begins with a sad litany of references to surveys of many kinds in various parts of the world showing how most people still have a KJV Bible on a shelf somewhere, but very, very few have the faintest idea what is in it.
Unfortunately, that includes church people, including the ones who sit regularly in our pews. Every parish minister can name some exceptions, but they are exactly that. Exceptions.
After a survey of many attempts to confront the problem in our churches, Swenson says that finally the various leaders tell us to “just tell the stories. Over time, people will learn such basics as who Sarah was and the difference between Gospels and epistles—not necessarily as discrete and disconnected facts but in the holistic context of engagement with the richly layered texts. "Told well and faithfully, the stories have such power," Adams-Riley says. "Trust the stories, trust the God who is in the stories." Share the texts and your own engagement with them, openly acknowledging how they resist tidy, once-and-for-all treatments.”
I have to admit it feels good to have our instincts affirmed by a credentialed writer in a respected periodical. This won’t result in any significant changes in Rumors. Because the article tells me we’re on the right tract.
However, as I write the “Reader’s Theatre,” the introduction to the scripture that the readers give will more clearly focus on the needs of the vast majority of pew warmers who know very little about the Bible. That focus has not been as clear as it could have been.
Last August, Bev and I had the opportunity to lead worship in our own congregation for several Sundays. In addition to the “Reader’s Theatre,” Bev read a children’s version of the lection from “The Lectionary Story Bible.” Ostensibly for the children, but in every single case we had people come and tell us how much they appreciated “getting a leg up,” as one of them phrased it, to an understanding of the lection when it was read the second time.
We also led worship on the 25th of last month, and the response to the re-telling of the Job story was almost embarrassingly positive.
I am convinced that most church-goers would like to know more about the Bible. They are embarrassed by how little they now know. That embarrassment will keep them away from Bible study groups. That doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. But if we can develop an interesting, open way to help them learn in the course of our preaching, many of them will be leaning forward in their pews to soak it up.
It’s not the whole solution. Not by a long shot. But it is a step in the right direction.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Straitjacket for God
At the end of a presentation on world hunger, the program leader invited comments from the audience.
The first person to respond said, “It’s like Jesus said, if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can feed himself for a lifetime.”
The discussion leader agreed that this was one of Jesus’ most important parables.
But it didn’t come from Jesus at all. It came from Confucius, around 500 B.C.
Perhaps it’s natural that people tend to attribute quotations to the Bible, since it is the largest single source of our common quotations, followed by Shakespeare. Still, I was dismayed that the facilitator, who should have known better, agreed that it came from the Bible. I wish people could be more accurate.
But I find it interesting that the saying becomes more believable if it comes from the Bible than if it comes from ancient China.
About 15 years ago, I coined my own saying: “Liberals believe what the Bible says if it’s supported by science or life; conservatives believe science and life only if it’s supported by the Bible.”
At the time, I thought it was a joke. I no longer think so.
I look around – especially at the U.S. – and I see conservatives accepting quantum physics, nanotechnology, gene splicing, and gas-guzzling SUVs, because none of them contradict the Bible. But they reject evolution, because it disagrees with the biblical story of Creation.
For the same reason, they whole-heartedly welcome psychiatry, capitalism, calculus, and Viagra. But they reject abortion and homosexuality, because of a few biblical verses.
Please note – the point is not whether abortion and alternate sexual orientations are right or wrong. The point is the basis on which people reach that conclusion. Abortion may well be the murder of an unborn child. But would conservatives still oppose abortion if the Bible endorsed it? I doubt it.
I’m reminded that when a few radical voices began advocating the abolition of slavery in the late 1700s, the most strident opposition came from those who insisted that abolishing slavery was contrary to God’s will.
And how did they know God’s will? The Bible told them so.
A minister friend’s daughter rejected his faith years ago. Recently, she went to a worship service with him. As they came out, she admitted that she had enjoyed the singing, appreciated the sermon... “The only problem,” she said, “was that everything was about the Bible. Don’t you people ever read anything else?”
I have sometimes suggested that in the new challenges facing our world – from climate change to nuclear weapons to toxic chemicals that never existed before – God may have to communicate with us in unprecedented ways. Probably not through the church. More likely through people who don’t wear a Christian badge on their sleeves, like Al Gore, David Suzuki, or Percy Schmeiser.
And I’ve been assured that God cannot act in ways that are not already defined by the Bible.
Amazing – a book has become a straitjacket limiting the Almighty.
Good Stuff – This from Sally Gill. It’s been around before, but quite some time back. And it’s a good enough parable to bear repeating.
A pilgrim from earth was having a conversation with God one day. The pilgrim said, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.
God led the pilgrim to two doors. The pilgrim looked in the first door. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the pilgrim’s mouth water.
But the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The pilgrim shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.
“That is Hell,” said God.
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the pilgrim’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
“I don't understand,” said the pilgrim.
“It’s simple,” said God. “In this room, they have learned to feed each other.”
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Jean McCord says her church “has a great food and clothing bank called My Sister’s Pantry. However, a recent report said we were involved in ‘my sister’s panty’ (no caps, even). Luckily someone caught it at the first draft.”
Russell Pastuch of Ottawa, Ontario noticed an interesting litany in the worship service:
One: God's Sacred Presence is in the midst of this gathered community.
All: And God's Scared Presence is outside in the bustle of neighbourhoods and the beauty of creation.
Well Russell, if God is a bit scared in the bustle of our neighbourhoods, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Especially in the Ottawa neighbourhood known as “Capitol Hill.”
From the file:
* The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
* The “Over 60s Choir” will be disbanded for the summer with the thanks of the entire church.
* The music for today's service was all composed by George Friedrich Handel in celebration of the 300th anniversary of his birth.
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 shaw.ca (change the “at to the symbol and remove the spaces.)
Wish I’d Said That! –When you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir via Cliff Boldt
An artist is consumed, not by the past or present work, but by the empty space ahead.
Lily Tomlin via Stephani Keer
Tourists travels thousand miles to get a picture of themselves standing beside their car.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan
We Get Letters – Lenore Reeves and Mary Lautensleger wrote to report a number of errors in last week’s Rumors around All Saints’ Day and the Proper numbering.
My apologies to all of you who were confused or inconvenienced by my errors. I wish I could promise to mend my ways and not make anymore dumb mistakes. But that isn’t likely to happen. In fact, it will probably get worse.
Wrong! No “probably” about it. It will get worse.
If you are involved in worship leadership, I would strongly recommend that you have at least one other source against which you can check my stuff.
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Round is a shape!”)
Alexis Anderson gives us this advice from the family doctor we wish we all had.
Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true? A: Your hearts only good for so many beats, and that’s it. Don't waste it on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer. It’s like saying you extend the life of a car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.
Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables? A: Understand the concept of logistical efficiency. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vegetable product.
Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake? A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine. That means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer is also made of grain which has lots of good fiber. Bottoms up!
Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio? A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.
Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program? A: I can't think of single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No pain...good! Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you? A: You are not paying attention! Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they are permeated by it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?!?
Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle? A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.
Q: Is chocolate bad for me? A: Are you crazy?!? Hell-ooo!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It’s the best feel-good food around!
Q: Is swimming good for your figure? A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain the whale to me.
Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle? A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!
Bottom of the Barrel – This groaner is from Art Hebbeler of Laurel, Maryland. He doesn’t know the source, which is just as well.
A new preacher wanted to rent a house in the country but the only one available was rumored to be haunted. That didn’t bother the preacher since he didn’t believe in such things. He went ahead and rented the place.
Soon the ghost made its appearance. The preacher told his friends about the ghost, but they didn’t believe him. They told him the only way they would believe was if he took a picture of the ghost.
The preacher went home and called for the ghost. When it appeared, the preacher explained the situation and asked the ghost if it would mind having its picture taken. The ghost agreed.
When the picture was developed, the ghost wasn’t visible. Feeling disappointed, the preacher called again for the ghost. When it appeared, the preacher showed it the picture and wanted to know why the ghost wasn’t in it.
The ghost thought a minute and replied, “Well, I guess the spirit was willing, but the flash was weak.”
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – 1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 1 Samuel 3:1-18. Selected verses.
(Important note: It’s important for the congregation to understand when you are reading from the scripture, and when you are having a conversation between the two of you. A significant pause, and a change of posture should do it.)
Reader 1: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Reader 2: What are you talking about? I am grown up.
1: No you’re not. You’re just an overgrown kid in grown-up clothes. Some people don’t grow up until they’re into their 80s. Some never manage it.
2: I am legally an adult. I have a driver’s license, I am of legal drinking age. I can vote. And I have arthritis in my knees. And gray hair. And a pot belly. (NOTE: CHANGE THESE TO SUIT YOURSELF)
1: I didn’t ask if you were an adult. I was talking about when you grow up. When you become what you always dreamed of becoming. When you become the person you sometimes dream of becoming when you are lying in bed and you are just falling asleep.
2: (SQUIRMS A LITTLE BUT DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING.)
2: I always thought of myself as someone who really cared about other people.
1: That’s your call!
2: What is?
1: That little voice inside your head that keeps telling you that God’s dream for you is to care for other people.
2: That’s in our scripture for today.
1: I wondered when we were going to get around to that.
2: It’s a story that comes from the Hebrew scriptures about a woman named Hannah, and how she dreamed of having a child – it’s about the child she had and God’s call to him in the middle of the night. He became the prophet Samuel, one of the greatest prophets in the Hebrew Scripture.
1: Then let’s read it.
2: We need to tell the story that leads up to the scripture reading. It’s about Hannah who wants so badly to have a baby. She has a very gentle and kind husband named Elkanah who tells her, “It’s OK, Hannah. I love you even if you don’t have any babies.”
So Hannah goes to the temple to pray for a baby. And here we pick up the story in the scripture. From the book of First Samuel.
1: Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to God and wept bitterly. She made this vow.
2: O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on my misery but will give me a male child, then I will dedicate him to you until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head."1: Now Eli, the priest was sitting nearby. As she continued praying Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk. He said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine."2: No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before God. Please don’t see me as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time."1: "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made.SLIGHT PAUSE
2: That’s the first part of the story in the First book of Samuel. Hannah goes back to her home, and sure enough, she gets pregnant and gives birth to Samuel.
Store that name in your head, because Samuel becomes a very prominent figure in the Bible story.
1: Hannah has her baby Samuel. And I find this hard to believe – the story says that as soon as little Sam was weaned, she took him to the temple as she had promised, and left him there with old Eli to look after him.
2: Yeah, I find that hard too. Would old Eli know how to change a poopy diaper?
1: Hannah gets to see her boy once a year, when they make their annual pilgrimage to the temple. And the Bible adds a tender little note that she would make a little robe for her child each year and bring it to him.
2: But now we get to the main part of the story. Samuel has grown – he’s probably a young teenager, and he’s pretty well learned how to behave in the temple. Eli is getting old and crotchety, and his eyesight is beginning to go. We pick up the story in the Bible, this time from the third chapter of the book of Samuel.
1: At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room where the ark of God was. And God called to the boy.
1: "Here I am!"
2: Samuel ran to Eli.
1: "Here I am, for you called me."
2: "I did not call; lie down again." So Samuel went and laid down. But God called again. "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli.
1: "Here I am, for you called me."
2: "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now, young Samuel did not yet know God, and the word of God had not yet been revealed to him. God called Samuel again, a third time. And again, Samuel got up and went to Eli.
1: "Here I am, for you called me."
2: Then Eli knew that it was God calling the boy. And so Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if God calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now God came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!"
1: "Speak God, for your servant is listening."
2: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
1: As Samuel grew up, God was with him and let none of God’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
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