Saturday, December 26, 2009

Preaching Materials for January 3rd, 2010

R U M O R S # 582
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 27th, 2009


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

Best wishes for a joyful, creative New Year, full of just the right balance of challenges and possibilities. Or at least a year with more smiles than frowns.
Blessings in 2010 from Jim and Ralph


The Story – imagine nothing
Rumors – New Year’s resolutions
Soft Edges – unholy Christmas carols
Bloopers – holy weed
We Get Letters – crawl on your knees
Mirabile Dictu! – repentagon
Bottom of the Barrel – name the shepherds
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 1:(1-9), 10-18
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Margaret Wood.
'Dear Lord,' the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. 'Without you, we are but dust...' At that moment a youngster in the front row asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice, 'Mom, what is butt dust?'

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 3rd, which is the Second Sunday after Christmas Day.
* Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
* Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
* Ephesians 1:3-14
* John 1:(1-9), 10-18

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – John 1:(1-9), 10-18
Jim is up to his eyebrows in grandchildren this Christmas season, so his normal blurb isn’t available.

Ralph says –
I’ve not wanted to be a scientist since Santa brought me a “Junior Scientist” kit when I was about 10. I managed to thoroughly stink up the house. The less than encouraging comments from my three older sisters convinced me that my career objectives should involve clean-up work in a fish cannery or the handling of stinky garbage. As it turned out, I didn’t manage those either.
But I do enjoy popular science. I watch “Nova” on PBS and I subscribe to “Discover” magazine. And every once in awhile, in a piece on quantum physics or relativity I hear them saying that in the undiscovered beyond there is a reality – something totally “other” that we don’t have the minds to conceive.
I remember some sage declaring that when the mathematicians and physicists have climbed the tallest scientific mountain – when they have reached the end of their discovering – they will find God. I also remember a conversation with Madeleine L’Engle who told me she found more good theology in quantum physics than in the seminaries.
In the “Lectionary Story Bible” version of this story (Year A, page 37) I ask the children to imagine there is nothing. “No stars. No animals. No people. No you. Just nothing.” Children can probably do that more easily than adults. But it would be fun to challenge adults to do just that, in order to get a sense of what John was talking about in verse one. John’s verse one statement, as far as I can figure, has not yet been challenged by science because science has not yet reached that “beginning.” Almost, but not yet.
And if they do, will any human be able to conceive, much less describe, what they find?

Psalm 147:12-20 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Ralph Milton and I discussed our images of God one day. We concluded that most of the time God feels more like a mother than a father.
12 Thank God that God does things differently.
13 By the wisdom of this world, an unborn child has no value.
It has no name; it is not yet a person.
Yet while it is still in the womb, it somersaults with joy.
14 Its mother's eyes shine with hope;
her breasts swell with the milk of life.
15 To the mother, the unborn child within matters more than any international agreement;
she wraps it in her own body.
16 God carries us in her womb.
With her own lifeblood, God feeds us.
Like mother preparing a nursery for her newborn,
God readies the earth to receive us.
17 Winter gives way to spring;
frozen hearts thaw;
tightly buttoned spirits burst into fragile new leaf.
18 That is God's way:
out of darkness comes light;
out of ice, water;
out of pain and struggle, new life.
19 That is how God gives birth.
20 Others may not recognize this mystery.
But to us God has revealed the miracle.
Our cry of weakness is a cry of triumph;
our thirst invites us to lie close to the heart of God and drink our fill.
God does things differently. Thank God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

Jeremiah 31:7-14 – I’ve been reading a fairly heavy tome titled “Christianity and Ethnicity in Canada.” In the course of their findings, the various authors tell us the mainline churches are sliding in numbers and they haven’t seen the bottom yet.
Increasingly, we are the faithful remnant Jeremiah is speaking to. We need to get used to that idea, and we need to grasp the hope that beyond our denominational deaths are the arms of a warm and kindly parent.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – there’s a lot of heavy theological language in this passage, but the underlying theme that comes through to me is of a God who cuts through everything else to offer us hope.

For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 37 for a children’s version of the John passage.
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 – Before I retired, I was on a zillion mailing lists. Many of those lists were aimed at “business people.”
I’d get a bundle of advertising every day, and almost always there was something promoting another seminar, or another computer program, or some new gimmick to help me plan my time effectively so that I could “maximize” my efficiency and churn out more and better work more effectively and more profitably.
On a few occasions, the ads pressed my guilt buttons enough to have me sign up. I made diligent notes and came home full of good intentions. But they never lasted. All I was left with was a sense of frustration and failure.
Every New Year I would clean up my office, organize my calendar, straighten out my files and make firm resolutions that I would be more responsive to the needs of others. Three days later, things would be as chaotic as ever, and I would feel guilty and frustrated.
I had no problem making good resolutions. I just couldn’t keep them.
I knew all the theories – all the rhetoric about self-discipline. I just didn’t have any. And if I tried harder to develop some, all I accomplished was an enhanced sense of guilt and failure.
The only reason my life had some semblance of sanity was because I had surrounded myself with good, kind, generous and organized people who helped me. I usually managed to get things out more or less on time because of the gentle nagging of kind souls at Wood Lake Productions. I couldn’t have done it by myself. It was an example of God’s grace coming to me through other people.
I got to the point where I decided to never make any New Year’s resolutions I knew I wouldn’t keep. So I made a resolution to be more conscious and grateful for the wonderful grace I received. I was as dysfunctional as ever about many aspects of my life and work, but I knew that God’s angels – angels with names like Bev and Cynthia and Lois and Bonnie – cared about me and would help me make something beautiful out of my madly chaotic life.
Now that I am retired, there is less chaos simply because I have fewer responsibilities. But I’ve managed ten years of Rumors without missing a single issue because of angels with names like Bev, Jim, Kari and others.
I’ll still put things away in a spot where I know I’ll be able to find them, and then spend hours looking for them. I file precious documents in the bowels of my computer or in my “filing system” (read “piling system) and never see them again.
I’ve undertaken to provide graphics for the projection of all the hymns and much of the liturgy in our church, but it’s Karen, our minister’s prompt e-mail with the order of service attached, that arrives at the beginning of every week and wakes me up and gets me working.
So as I said last week, life is good. Things are normal. My work habits are not as good as they should be but as good as they can be, and I am blessed by the care of angels around me who help me do what I am called to do.
That’s the sense of gratitude and blessing that I carry into this newborn year.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Unholy Christmas Carols
At our congregation, during the Sundays preceding Christmas, we usually take 15 minutes or so to sing Christmas carols before the more serious part of the service starts.
Last Sunday, the sing-along leader included “Jingle Bells.”
“Why not?” she explained to the choir. “Christmas is about joy. Why can’t we sing some traditional songs that give us joy, even if they don’t mention God or Jesus?”
Why not indeed?
Granted, a certain number of the secular Christmas songs focus on the commercial side of Christmas -- such as Eartha Kitt’s sultry “Santa Baby.”
But so did some historic songs. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” may have contained hidden religious symbolism, but it also celebrated a certain lust for luxuries far beyond the means of most singers.
Other secular songs deal mainly with the winter season. “Walkin’ in our Winter Wonderland” and “Let it Snow” have more to do with hormonal urges than with glad tidings of peace and goodwill.
And many of the Santa songs are simply morality messages set to music -- substituting a red-suited judge who keeps annotated lists for an almighty overseer who “knows if you’ve been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake...”
But “Silver Bells” is a beautiful melody that belongs in any Christmas sing-along. “Scarlet Ribbons,” popularized by Harry Belafonte so long ago, describes a father’s aching love for his daughter. “White Christmas” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas” speak of the yearning we all experience for friends and family.
Now, I happen to love the religious Christmas carols. I get joy from belting out “Adeste Fidelis” -- in Latin, of course -- or launching into four-part harmony on the chorus of “Angels We Have Heard on High”.
But “Joy to the World” doesn’t sound particularly joyful when sung half-heartedly by people afraid of opening their mouths.
Don’t people sing for fun anymore? I see people walking around with earphones plugged into their ears, playing canned music off an iPod or a Walkman. Sometimes they hum along tunelessly; more often, they let paid performers make music for them.
Singing has become a lost art.
No wonder people are afraid to open their mouths in church.
I’d much rather have people singing vigorously than restraining themselves because they fear sounding less than perfect.
Back when Sunday schools still had large enrolments, I recall trying to get 40 children to sing “Away in a Manger.” It sounded pathetic.
“Okay,” I asked, “what would you like to sing?”
“Rudolph!” someone called.
Without piano, without leadership, without books, they launched into “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” enthusiastically enough to rattle the windows.
I don’t consider that sacrilegious. I suspect that if Jesus himself were part of that children’s group, he’d rather sing “Rudolph” lustily than limp through “We Three Kings.”
We don’t offer praise by sounding dispirited and disheartened. If “Jingle Bells” moves us to sing whole-heartedly, and the “Huron Carol” or “Bleak Midwinter” do not, then by all means let’s include some secular carols in our sing-alongs.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Tobi White of Lincoln, Nebraska writes: “We often project the liturgy and hymn words on screens in our Sanctuary. It has somehow fallen to the pastors (myself, included) to put these powerpoint presentations together. And no matter how I try, I inevitably make some typo. I think it might become a game for the congregation to identify the 'mistakes of the week.'
“This Christmas Eve, as we were singing 'Silent Night,' with candles lit and the powerpoint guiding our words, we came upon the second verse: ‘Heav'nly hosts sign Alleluia!’"
Tobi, I have a friend who is pastor of a church for the deaf. He would tell you that this time you got it right.

from the file:
* Today's Sermon: “How Much Can a Man Drink?” With hymns from a full choir.
* Lent is the period when we prepare for Holy Weed and Easter.
* We pray that our people will jumble themselves.

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! – Mary wrapped the first Christmas present.
a sign on a church via Jeanne Moore of Clio, Michigan

I left a trail of footprints deep in the snow. I swore one day I would retrace them. But when I turned around, I found that the wind had erased them.
source unknown via Lettie Fisher

If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Lila Watson via Michelle Creedy


We Get Letters – This is the season when we’re all singing Silent Night. Lettie Fisher in Oklahoma reminds us that that for the first verse to make sense, we should sing, “All is calm. All is bright round yon virgin.” “No pause or the taking of a breath between bright and 'round.”

David Winfield of Christchurch, New Zealand writes: The two opera singers were performing in a Christmas presentation and providing a duo for the very beautiful 'O Holy Night'. Unfortunately at one point when the soprano was singing the line "Fall on your knees ..." the tenor entered singing another verse that featured the words "Christ is the Lord ...". Realizing his mistake during the first word he corrected himself with the result that his lyric now became "Crawl on your knees ..."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “repentagon!”) Some definitions that are absolutely essential to the health and well-being of lay and clergy and those in-between who are called “lagy” and pronounced “lay-zhee”.
* How do you get holy water? You boil the hell out of it.
* What do Eskimos get from sitting on the ice too long? Polaroids.
* What do prisoners use to call each other? Cell phones.
* What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t work? A stick.
* What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck.
* Why do bagpipers walk when they play? They’re trying to get away from the noise.
* What is a zebra? 26 sizes larger than an “A” bra.
* What do you get when you cross a pit bull with a collie? A dog that runs for help ... after it bites your leg off.
* What do you call a five-sided church? A repentagon.


Bottom of the Barrel – Evelyn McLachlan sends this holiday groaner.
Q: On Christmas night, how many angels appeared to the shepherds, and what were their names?
A: There were two angels, and their names were 'Lo' and 'Behold.' Doesn't the Bible say, "Lo and Behold, the angels, appeared to the shepherds"?


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 1:(1-9), 10-18
Reader 1: I have a friend who says she finds more good theology in quantum physics than she does in anything else.
Reader 2: She may be stretching things a little, but there is some quantum physics in the Bible.
1: Your kidding me. They didn’t do anything more than decent arithmetic in Bible days.
2: Now you’re stretching things a bit. There are many different kinds of things in the Bible. Some of it is sophisticated. Some of it is primitive. But today’s reading is from the Gospel of John, and the first part of it sounds like some pretty high-level science.
1: That needs a bit of explaining.
2: The folks doing high level physics and astronomy talk about the Big Bang, the moment of the unimaginably huge explosion that started the universe expanding, and eventually, billions and billions of years later, resulted in our world. Among many other things.
1: So where is that in the Bible?
2: It’s not in the Bible. But astronomers have no idea what was there before the big bang. What was it that exploded? Why was there something there instead of nothing? What caused that explosion? And why?
1: And the Bible answers those questions?
2: Well, it addresses those questions. Whether it really answers the questions if for God to decide.
1: So let’s read it.
2: Right. We are reading from the beginning of John’s Gospel and he uses some pretty complicated language. So I would urge everyone to read this passage about a dozen times at home to really get the gist of what he is saying. For this reading, we are using an adaptation of the Inclusive Bible.
1: In the beginning was the Word, the Word was in God’s presence. And the Word was God.
2: The Word was present to God from the beginning.
1: Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being that has come into being.
2: In the Word was life, and that light is our human light.
1: A light that shines in the darkness.
2: A light that the darkness has never overtaken.
1: Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe. He himself was not the Light; he came only to testify about the Light – the true Light that illumines all humanity.
2: The Word was coming into the world –
1: The Word was in the world, and though the world was made through that Word, the world did not recognize it.
2: Though the Word came to its own realm, the Word’s own people did not accept it.
1: Yet any who did accept the Word, who believed in that Name, were empowered to become children of God.
2: These children were born, not of natural descent, nor the urge of the flesh, nor human will – these children were born of God.
1: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We saw the glory. The favor and position a parent gives an only child – filled with grace and truth.
2: This is what John said.
1: This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me. For this One existed before I did.’
2: Of this One’s fullness we’ve all had a share. We’ve been given gift on top of gift.
1: You see, the law was given through Moses. But the Gift and the Truth came through Jesus Christ.
2: No one has ever seen God. But it was the only child – the child always at the parent’s side, who has revealed God to us.

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:
* Don't put anything else in that e-mail
To Unsubscribe:
* Send an e-mail to:
* 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.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

No comments: