Thursday, December 31, 2009

Praching Materials for January 10, 2010

R U M O R S # 583
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 3, 2010


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

Now’s the time to live up to that New Year’s resolution you should have made to put this “blog” address on your “favorites” list.
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 – graduation day
Rumors – nativity controversy
Soft Edges – keep our ancestors alive
Bloopers – the joke is easy
We Get Letters – (see Rumors above)
Mirabile Dictu! – bladder urge
Bottom of the Barrel – the Goldberg brothers
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Grandma and grandpa were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The local reporter came and asked them all kinds of ridiculous questions, such as, “Do you participate in sports?”
“Nope!” said Grandma. “My parents won’t let me.”
“Your parents?”
“Yep. Mother Nature and Father Time.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 10th, which is “The Baptism of Our Lord Sunday,” and for which the suggested readings are:
* Isaiah 43:1-7
* Psalm 29
* Acts 8:14-17
* Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Jim says –
The image that comes to mind, for me, is a university graduation. This particular reading from Luke could imply that Jesus alone went into the river with John. But the other gospels make clear that large numbers of people flocked to the Jordan – to see and hear John, to experience his immersion as a sign of repentance and new beginnings.
So I visualize lines of people inching forward. When they get to the podium – or the river – the presider says some mumbo-jumbo over them, perhaps places a hood on their shoulders or a mortarboard on their heads, hands them a rolled certificate... And the assembly line grinds on.
For Jesus, of course, there was no diploma or scarlet hood. Rather, God’s spirit settled upon him. He had graduated from his preparatory years. Now he could go out and practice the profession God had in mind for him.
Luke makes that connection with his next verse: “Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his work...”
But a graduation is also for friends and relatives. I would wonder who else observed Jesus graduation ceremony, there at the river. Were his parents there? His siblings? Every graduate is special, of course. But who else sat in the bleachers to cheer him on? Whose hearts swelled with pride as John dipped Jesus under the water? Who else sensed light shining on their special one, like a dove lighting on his shoulders?
The concept of a graduation ceremony gives me a different perspective from which to view this turning point in Jesus’ life.

Ralph says –
Although the details differ considerably, this story of Jesus’ baptism occurs in all four gospels, which means it must have been very important to the early Christian community. Baptism, as an act of entry into the Christian community, has been a central symbol of the Christian church ever since. And it still is, at least for all the major denominations.
“The church and the theatre are children of the same womb,” says Tom Driver. Baptism is a bit of theatre. God does not need water – sprinkled, poured or dipped in – to enter our hearts and become the creative force in our lives. God didn’t need it for Jesus and the early church. God doesn’t need it now. But we need it because there are some things words simply can’t do.
The act of baptism is a way of dramatizing a truth, a reality. The dramatization helps those involved and those who are watching, understand a deeper realty that is beyond the power of words. “A visible and outward sign of an inner spiritual realty,” is a way of saying this without using naughty words like “drama” and “theatre.”
But if we thought of this sacrament as theatre we would find many small and big ways of underlining its significance in the faith community. This is already happening in many places, including the congregation where I worship. There’s oil, there’s a candle, there’s a certificate.
Baptism may again have the power it had for the early Christian community.

Isaiah 43:1-7 – The prophet is using some broad metaphors here. Those who take the reading literally tend to wind up drowned or fried. What the reading underlines, for me at least, is the power of God that makes it possible to do things you never thought possible.
For me that includes gathering the 8,147 souls from the four corners of the globe (see vs. 5 & 6) to read this thing called Rumors. It’s both gratifying and frightening.

Psalm 29 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Celebrating Baptism
A river in flood is an awesome sight.
1 Don't try to cross the river alone, my child.
2 Let your father carry you.
3 The waves are higher than your head;
the torrent will sweep you away.
4,5 It rolls the rocks in their beds;
it bites earth from its banks;
even mighty trees topple and fall.
6 But you will be safe in your father's arms.
He will hold your head above water;
7 His feet will stand firm against the flood.
8 Trust him.
Wrap your arms around his neck, where he can murmur comfort in your ear.
9 Then you will know the torrent cannot touch you.
11 Your father is much stronger than you are.
Trust him to carry you to safety.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Acts 8:14-17 – This passage is a bit puzzling because most of us (I think) see baptism as a symbol of the entry of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Adult baptism at least.
But as I sit here thinking of this, I realize that many Christians would insist that a powerful experience, a moment of deep emotion, a “born again” experience, is the time when the Spirit genuinely enters our lives.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C,” page 40, for a story called “Throw Your Money in the River,” which expands the reading in Acts to tell the entire story. And on page 43 you’ll find a story based on the reading from Luke, and it’s called “Jesus is Baptized.”
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s 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.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – This periodical is not a vehicle for theological or biblical discussion, but I think I need to respond to all the letters I’ve received about the Nativity story I ran in Rumors just before Christmas. The thing that generated all the letters was a story in which Mary was raped by a Roman soldier.
A few of the responses were wildly appreciative. A few others were angrily critical. Most were somewhere in-between and they were kind and thoughtful.
It doesn't concern me when people disagree with what I write in Rumors. If you agreed with everything I say, then I probably haven’t said very much.
I write my stories in the Jewish tradition of the Aggada, where, when you can't explain something, you tell a story. The story won't explain it either, but it will lead you to something more important. And that is a sense of God's presence in your unknowing. You will be refreshed by that mystery. Because a mystery is not a puzzle to be solved, but a well to which you can go over and over, to find refreshment.
Perhaps I should have explained that story ahead of time, but then that might have destroyed the story. Good stories can never be explained.
Maybe I should have said this. Such stories are never an attempt to re-write history. Or to deny scripture. They are an attempt to shine a light on the story from a different angle.
Among the mysteries where I have found refreshment over and over again is the mystery of God's continual choice of the lowest, the meanest, the most despised, the rejected, to live the truth. That happens over and over again in the Hebrew tradition, and Jesus continued that tradition in his choice of disciples. And I feel the tradition continues now, because how else can I explain my call as a Christian writer?
So to understand that mystery – that miracle – I had Mary in my story, raped by a Roman soldier. That would have put her below the bottom of the social ladder. I did that to underline that mystery – a God who continually goes to the most despised and rejected – to find the people who can – who will – respond to the call.
The story was not an attempt to re-write Luke's gospel though many understood it that way, which I regret. And it was certainly not an attempt to show that God could not – did not – work miracles.
I've received a lot of letters about that story – more than about anything else I've written recently. By far the greatest number have come from women (though a few men have said this too) who had been sexually abused in a number of ways. They were deeply grateful to read a story about someone who had been so violated – "soiled" was a word one woman used – that they might be chosen by God to birth a miracle. I don't think they were trying to re-write the story. They wanted to broaden it to include people like them.
That may not be an adequate response to all your concerns. It has certainly generated a lot of thought and generated a lot of feelings, all of which is good.
And deep thanks to all of you who have written. It has been for me a powerful and affirming experience.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Keeping Our Ancestors Alive
When my wife Joan was about four years old, her father made her a doll crib. She treasured it. When Joan grew up and left home, her parents gave the crib to a young niece. But she always knew the crib was Joan’s.
Last year that niece telephoned Joan. “I thought we had lost your old crib,” she said, “but I found it. Do you want it back?”
The old crib had been repainted, several times. Its joints were breaking apart. But it was still the beloved old crib.
Over the summer, Joan stripped many layers of paint. She sanded the bare wood smooth again. She repainted it its original white. She made a new mattress for it, sewed two new sheets and a pillow with lace trim, even stitched a tiny quilt.
We took the refurbished crib to Edmonton as a Christmas present for five-year-old Katherine.
“Your great-grandfather made this crib,” Joan explained.
Katherine was, I regret to say, unimpressed. Katherine preferred her kiddy rock-star guitar, or the Barbie-doll that sang a single mindless tune into a karaoke microphone.
After all, neither the crib nor the doll lying in it did anything. They didn’t make sounds, they didn’t dance, they didn’t offer interactive beeps – they just, well, lay there…
I admit that I was disappointed. Somehow, I expected Katherine to feel thrilled at receiving something that had already survived three generations.
But history, I realize, means little to a generation raised on instant everything.
And my generation has not succeeding in bringing the past alive, I regret.
We tend to think that we must teach the past as academic data and dates. Facts – the Taylors came from Scotland, the Andersons from Sweden, the Rentz family from Ohio, the Frackeltons from Northern Ireland…. Assorted dates – 1800, 1827, 1907, 1910, 1930….
But it’s stories that make the past come to life. Stories about the carpenter who had to make his own tools. The merchant who opened the bank’s very first account. The missionary who had given up hopes of getting married…
We need to tell these stories until they become so familiar they form a background to every daily activity, a running counterpoint to life’s familiar themes.
We might learn something from what we often consider more primitive societies. In a sense, they don’t just know about their ancestors – they are their ancestors. Biblical people, for example, didn’t just learn about Abraham and Jacob and Moses, about Sarah and Rachel and Esther. They made no distinction between themselves and their ancestors.
This integration of past and present is not always benign. Neighbours will get along without violence for generations – in Bosnia or Northern Ireland or Africa – until circumstances re-ignite their forebears’ feuds..
Because the feuds were kept alive by the stories they told.
That’s not good. But neither is it good to ignore our past, to live in a world that knows nothing but the present.
When we have no past, we cannot learn from it.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – from the file
* Child care provided with reservations.
* Mark your calendars not to attend the church retreat.
* My joke is easy and my burden is light.

And this one. It’s been here in Rumors before (well, so has a lot of other stuff) but it needs to be repeated in view of today’s scripture. It was the lector who said solemnly, “Today we will hear the story of how Jesus was baptized by Jordan in the John.”

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! – Religion should arise from the experience of all things."
Albert Einstein via Stephani Keer

Take hope from the human heart and we become a beast of prey.
Marie Louise de la Ramce

Minds are like parachutes – not much good unless they are open.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan


We Get Letters – see “Rumors” above for news about some particularly energetic feedback.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “bladder urge!”) What with the New Year and a new decade, and my own celebration of three-quarters of a century, age is a bit on my mind. Those of you who have not yet reached this exalted status known as “old age” have this to look forward to.
* Everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.
* The gleam in your eye is from the sun hitting your bifocals.
* You feel like the morning after the night before, and you haven’t been anywhere.
* Your “little black book” contains only names ending in MD.
* You get winded playing cards.
* Your children begin to look middle-aged.
* You join a health club and don’t go.
* A dripping faucet causes an uncomfortable bladder urge.
* You know all the answers but nobody asks the questions.
* You look forward to a dull evening.
* You need your glasses to find your glasses.
* You turn out the lights for economic reasons.
* You sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going.
* You knees buckle but your belt won’t.
* Your back goes out more than you do.
* You have too much room in your house and not enough in your medicine chest.
* You sink your teeth into a good steak and they stay there.
* You wonder why more people aren’t using big print.


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Clayton McWhirter of Gibbons Alberta:
The four Goldberg brothers, Lowell, Norman, Hiram, and Max, invented and developed the first automobile air-conditioner. On July 17, 1946, the temperature in Detroit was 40C.
The four brothers walked into old man Henry Ford's office and sweet-talked his secretary into telling him that four gentlemen were there with the most exciting innovation in the auto industry since the electric starter.
Henry was curious and invited them into his office. They refused and instead asked that he come out to the parking lot to their car.
They persuaded him to get into the car, which was about 130 degrees, turned on the air conditioner, and cooled the car off immediately.
The old man got very excited and invited them back to the office, where he offered them $3 million for the patent.
The brothers refused, saying they would settle for $2 million, but they wanted the recognition by having a label, 'The Goldberg Air-Conditioner,' on the dashboard of each car in which it was installed.
Now old man Ford was more than just a little anti-Semitic, and there was no way he was going to put the Goldberg's name on two million Fords.
They haggled back and forth for about two hours, and finally agreed on $4 million and that just their first names would be shown.
And so to this day, all Ford air conditioners show Lo, Norm, Hi, and Max on the controls.
So, now you know...


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Reader 1: Today in our scripture we have the story of how Jesus was baptized.
Reader 2: Yes, and it must have been an important story for the early church because all four Gospels tell it.
1: Exactly the same story?
2: No, the details are different. But the main story is there. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John.
1: Did John dip his hand into the water and dribble it on Jesus’ forehead? Did he pour the water from a jug? Did he dunk Jesus right under the water? Here in our church we ____________________.
2:In biblical times, there was only one kind of baptism and that was by full immersion.
1: So let’s read the story. It’s from the gospel of Luke, the third chapter.
2: Just a sec. We need a bit of context. Israel was not a free country. It was ruled by Rome through a puppet governor named Herod. And there was rumor going around the entire Jewish community – a rumor about a savior, a messiah – someone who would come and kick out the hated Romans and restore their freedom. Israel would again be ruled by a kind and loving king like King David. So when the prophet John began to preach and to baptize people, the rumor went around that maybe John was the Messiah they were hoping for.
1: OK, let’s try again. This is from the third chapter of Luke’s gospel.
2: The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John. Could he be the Messiah? Here’s what John said to them.
1:"I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I am coming. I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
2: Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven.
1: "You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased."

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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