Friday, December 11, 2009

Preaching Materials for December 20th, 2009

R U M O R S # 580
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 13, 2009



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

The Story – treasuring in your heart
Rumors – the lowest and least
Soft Edges – planting messiahs
Bloopers – the poverty secretary
We Get Letters – translating Canuck
Mirabile Dictu! – we might as well dance
Bottom of the Barrel – my friends will be wondering
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 52:7-10 and Luke 2:1-21
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Art Hebbeler of Laurel, Maryland sends this delightful story. Clergy should keep it handy for their prenuptial meetings.
During the wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the priest with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m to promise to ‘love, honor, and obey’ and ‘forsaking all others, be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He slipped the priest the cash and walked away. The wedding day arrived. When it came time for the groom’s vows, the priest looked the young man in the eye and said,” Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?” The groom gulped and looked around and then said in a tiny voice, “I do.” After the ceremony, the groom pulled the priest aside and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.” The priest slipped the $100 back into the man’s hand and whispered, “The bride’s father made me a much better offer.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 20th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
* Micah 5:2-5a
* Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7
* Hebrews 10:5-10
* Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

For the brave souls who decided to go with us in our little detour around the Revised Common lectionary, the readings we suggest for this Sunday are Isaiah 52:7-10 and Luke 2:8-21. However, we’re also suggesting that we do Luke 2:1-7 even though we read that last Sunday. So many of the folks will not have been in church the previous Sunday, and it makes the story more complete. For them it will be “the” Christmas service. So that’s what we’ve done in the Reader’s Theatre version below.

Note: There will be no special issue of Rumors for Christmas Day. My suggestion would be a simple service of carols and lessons.

Isaiah 52:7-10 and Luke 2:1-21
Ralph says:
It’s not often you can summarize a scripture passage in a single word, but for the Isaiah passage this week it’s easy. “Yippee!” Or “hoorah!” or whatever your favorite celebratory outburst may be. If words don’t come easily, a quick, lively dance will work. Let’s avoid the temptation of pick the passage apart and miss the celebration.
For the Luke passage, verse 19 gives us the appropriate response to the passage. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Notice that she pondered them in her heart. Not her head. And she treasured them. The way you would treasure a precious gift from someone you love.
Last Sunday Bev and I trotted off to Vernon to see a Christmas drama written by son-in-law Don, an amazingly talented and dedicated man. Jake and Zoë had minor parts to play, their father being careful not to make them the stars every time. But to Bev and me, yes of course, they were the stars.
The play was a variation on this story from Luke. This Sunday will see the children act out that ancient story in our own church. And as we delight in the children lisping their way through the drama, we will again “treasure” the story, and “ponder it in our hearts.”
Because the story isn’t really about something that happened 2,000 years ago. It’s about God, right now, breaking into our dull consciousness with a flash of beauty and power to which the only response is Isaiah’s response. In a word, “Yahoo!”

Jim says –
A woman in our congregation is putting together a multimedia presentation – art, dance, photography – to illustrate the re-telling of Luke’s nativity story. She challenged me to come up with a visual for the moment of Jesus’ birth.
I thought about that picture of a tiny hand reaching out of the womb during a Caesarian section and gripping the surgeon’s gloved finger.
I thought about pictures from NASA, taken by the Hubble telescope in space, showing galaxies bursting, supernova exploding, the curtains of the universe torn asunder...
Those images would fit with John’s gospel, which raises the birth of Christ from a human to a cosmic event.
But as I thought about it, I realized that perspective depends on hindsight. It’s only as we look back that we see Bethlehem’s cosmic implications. At the time, it was a mother’s scream of pain, a baby’s wail of distress at this new and unfamiliar environment. It was a single candle burning inside a darkened stable.
I remember going deep into a potash mine in Saskatchewan, once. A kilometre underground, our guide turned out all the lights. I have never felt such darkness. My eyes tried to get used to it, and couldn’t.
Then the guide flicked a cigarette lighter. And that tiny flame was enough to illuminate the entire underground cavern. We breathed a sigh of relief. We could see again.
I think that’s my image to accompany the birth of the Messiah. To quote John’s gospel again, “the light shines in the darkness...” And we can see...

The Magnificat – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
My body grows round with wonder;
my soul swells with thanksgiving.
For God has been so good to me;
God did not say, "She's just a girl."
Once I was a slip of a girl,
but now I am woman,
one who can bring forth new life.
In all generations, I am blessed.
How could anyone miss it--
this new life in me is divine.
It is holy.
God grants new life to all who have not lost a child's wonder;
they will be born again, and again, and again.
God watches over them;
God's fierce love fills predators with sudden fear.
The miracle of birth levels our human differences:
tough men become tenderly gentle,
learned professors blurt out baby talk,
even politicians fall silent in awe.
But the small and helpless are wrapped warmly in soft blankets;
they are held lovingly in caring arms;
they drink their fill with eyes closed.
The rich, for all their wealth and status, can go suck lemons.
That is how God deals with all of God's faithful people,
all who do not put their faith in themselves.
So God has always done,
so God will always do,
from Sarah's miracle, to mine.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

To help the adults understand the gospel reading, I would use “Jesus is Born” from the “Lectionary Story Bible, Year C, page 31. I would read it to the children, of course, and I would never tell the adults it was as much for their benefit as for the kids.
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 – There have been some interesting and impassioned e-mails concerning the story in Rumors a couple of weeks ago about the birth of the Messiah. In my story, I had Mary being raped by a Roman soldier. Some found that idea offensive. Most found it somewhat liberating.
Stories should never be explained, but this time I will break my own rule.
One of the patterns you can find in the Hebrew scriptures is of God constantly reaching down to find the lowest and the least to carry forward the continuing revelation.
Abraham and Sarah – from a tiny, wandering bunch of desert dwellers. Joseph, the youngest son despised by his brothers. Moses, a murderer on the run. David, the youngest son of the smallest tribe.
For the supreme revelation, God reached down to the lowest of the low. Women, especially unmarried women, had little social value except as child-bearers. But to go even lower than that – a woman raped by a hated Roman would hardly be worthy of stoning to death.
I’m certainly not the first writer who’s put that into the story. I did it to underline in big bold letters the idea of God reaching way, way, way down to find the lowest of the low to be the bearer of the supreme gift. And to underline this, the baby is born in the stink and smell of a cow barn.
Some letter writers felt this tarnishes the image of Mary. And they were right. Unfortunately, we’ve developed an image of Mary from Christmas cards and crèches and even the children’s Christmas pageant we see each year. We see Mary with a beautiful blue dress and pure, white shawl singing “Away in a Manger” to a cuddly, clean baby in a bed of immaculate straw.
A friend once told me she refused to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” because the second verse has the words, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” “No,” said my friend. “Mary was about 16 years old. There was no anesthetic. Not even another woman to help. Jesus was born in screaming, bloody pain.”
I grew up in a farming community. The folks around us were good farmers, but there wasn’t a stable like the ones in the cards and crèches in any of the barns. And I once visited a stable in a cave near Beirut. My guide, a professor of New Testament, told me, “This is what that stable probably looked like and smelled like.”
It smelled of rotting manure and urine. There were rats and cockroaches scurrying around. The animals were thin and mangy.
We keep trying to avoid the message in this story. God reaches down. To the bottom. To the very bottom to find the bearer of the Good News.
And then, as if to underline it all, the story tells us it was the shepherds who were the first to be told and the first to come and visit.
Shepherds? Yes, people from the bottom of the social ladder. I wonder if Matthew added the Three Kings story because he was just like us – he couldn’t handle what Luke was telling us. When God reaches down to the bottom of the barrel, it is to the bottom. The very bottom. The fingernail-scratching bottom.
We don’t like that story, so we keep trying to clean it up. But that’s the story Luke tells us, whether we like it or not.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Planting Messiahs
The first deep frost of the winter hit us this week. The ground is hard, the lawn crunchy.
And yet – as theme speaker Darryl Auten pointed out at last fall’s Banff Men’s Conference – this is the time when nature plants the seeds that will be next year’s blooms.
We humans save our seeds for planting in the spring. We wait until the danger of frost damage has passed, until the warmth of the sun begins to penetrate deep into the soil, before we trust our precious seeds to the ground. Traditionally, we didn’t plant until the Victoria Day holiday in May; as the climate warms, we’re more likely to plant in April.
But nature plants its seeds in the fall and nurtures them through the winter.
By November, our sunflowers have shed all their seeds. Some have simply fallen to the ground. Others have passed through the digestive tracts of birds and squirrels. Either way, those seeds will lie there, dormant, deep frozen, trampled on, until they germinate in spring.
Dozens of sunflowers will come up next year. But how many thousands of seeds did nature scatter to achieve that goal?
One of Jesus’ parables describes a farmer sowing seeds. He scattered seed on rocks, among thorns, on a pathway... Only a small portion fell on good ground and returned a crop.
By any conventional standards, that farmer would be a failure.
But it’s a perfect reflection of the way God – embodied in nature – scatters seeds. Wildly. Extravagantly. Profligately.
In nature, it seems to me, God never plants just one seed and expects it to mature. Millions of sperm race to reach an egg – granted, usually a single egg, but not the only egg that ovary will ever release. Millions of salmon eggs fertilize a stream. Millions of maple keys litter the streets.
God never gambles everything on one throw of the dice.
Except, it would seem, at Christmas.
Traditional teachings insist that God gambled everything on a single baby. God invested everything into one helpless infant, born to homeless parents, in an oppressed nation, at a time when that child had barely a 50 per cent chance of surviving its first five years, let alone becoming an adult.
It seems uncharacteristic of the ways God usually operates.
Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that the baby born in Bethlehem, who later became Jesus of Nazareth, is our ultimate revelation of God.
But I wonder, sometimes, if the apparent contradiction of method is ours, not God’s.
Maybe we assume that because we who call ourselves Christians profess only one Messiah, God must have made only one try at creating that Messiah.
Maybe God planted millions of potential Messiahs. Maybe every child has the potential to be a Messiah – leading by example, showing by her/his life what God is like and what God expects of us.
And one of those seeds took root in the right soil, and grew tall and strong and straight, and became the tree we still look up to.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Vince Gilbert of Welwyn Garden City, UK, was typing the minutes of a meeting, when he realized he referred to the “District Property Secretary” as the “District Poverty Secretary”.
Says Vince, “Perhaps the function of Property is to distract us from our Poverty?

From the file:
* Helpers are needed! Please sign up on the information sheep.
* Diana and David request your presents at their wedding.
* Hymn of Response: Crown Him With Many Cows.

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! –Peace is not something you wish for. It’s something you make, something you do, something you are. Something you give away.
Robert Fulghum via Velia Watts

Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul and heart of another person. In those transparent moments we know other people's joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own:
Fritz Williams via Jim Taylor

Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much. G. K. Chesterton via Don Sandin


We Get Letters – Evelyn McLachlan is concerned that some non-Canadians might not understand my Canuck dialect in the last issue. A note from Jim Arnold in North Missouri confirms that.
OK. Translation.
When the Canadian mint began producing one-dollar coins, they had pictures of loons (water fowl) on them. So quite naturally, we began calling them “loonies.” (It had nothing to do with the term “loony” as in being disconnected from reality.) Then, when the two dollar coin came along, it was, by logical extension, a “townie.” Or should that be spelled “twonie?” “Toonie?”
Jim also wanted to know what a “tuque” was. First of all, it is pronounced “took” which rhymes with – well, what in the world does it rhyme with? Maybe “kook” as in someone who is a few cards short of a deck.
In Canada, it’s spelled as above, and it means a cylindrical knitted hat, often with a tassel on the top. In some other places it is spelled “toque” and refers to a chef’s hat. I have no idea how that is pronounced.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “we might as well dance!”)
An 83 year old reflects on life:
* I’m reading more and dusting less. I’m sitting in the yard and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time working. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
* I’m not “saving” anything. We use our good china and crystal for every special event such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, or the first Amaryllis blossom.
* I wear my good blazer to the market. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $49.49 for one tiny bag of groceries.
* I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties, but wearing it for clerks in the hardware store and tellers at the bank.
* “Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.
I’m not sure what others would’ve done had they known they wouldn’t be here for the tomorrow that we all take for granted. I think they would have called family members and a few close friends. They might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles.
I like to think they would have gone out for a Chinese dinner or for whatever their favorite food is. It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write “one of these days.” Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my husband and parents often enough how much I truly love them. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.
And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God.
I don’t believe in miracles. I rely on them. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Evelyn McLachlan.
An elderly woman in her nineties had a visitor from her church come to see her at the nursing home. “How are you?” the visitor asked. “Oh,” said the elderly woman, “I’m just worried sick!” “You look like you’re in good health. They take good care of you here, don’t they?” “Oh, yes, they take good care of me here.” “Do you have any pain?” the visitor asked. “No, I can’t say I do,” the elderly woman replied. “Then what has you worried sick?” the visitor asked. The elderly woman leaned in and explained, “All of my closest friends have already died and gone to heaven. I’m sure they are all wondering where I went!”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 52:7-10 and Luke 2:1-21
Reader 1: Do you watch sports on TV?
Reader 2: Yeah. Sometimes. I watch football. And baseball. And golf. That’s quite a bit.
1: Have you noticed how tongue-tied the sports commentators get when they want to talk about a really great athlete. When they get through words like “wonderful, great, outstanding,” and a few others, they don’t have anything left. They start repeating themselves.
2: OK, but why are we talking about that? We’re here to read the scripture.
1: Because the writer of Isaiah doesn’t use any of those trite words. Why don’t you read it, and you’ll see what I mean.
2: OK. The reading is from the 52nd chapter of Isaiah.
2: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted the people, and has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared a holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
1: You see what I mean? You could condense that whole passage into one word, like “Yippee!” or “Wow!” or whatever word you might use.
2: Was Isaiah predicting the coming of Jesus?
1: No. He was a prophet, and prophets were not about predicting the future. Prophets looked around and helped people see God’s hand in what was happening around them. And when the people of the early church read that passage of Isaiah, they felt it perfectly described what had happened in the coming of Jesus.
2: We have a Christmas passage to read, don’t we.
1: We sure do. For many of us, it is an old, old story which we know by heart. So let’s listen to it, and just let it soak into our hearts.
2: Here is a reading from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.
1: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
2: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
1: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
2: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. And the angel spoke to them.
1: "Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
2: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.
1: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!"
2:When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
1: So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
2: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
1: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
2: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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