Saturday, January 9, 2010

Preaching Materials for January 17, 2010

R U M O R S # 584
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 10th, 2010



"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
IMPORTANT: I really appreciate your notes, and Rumors is the richer for them. To protect me from viruses, please be sure that you put something on the "subject" line that lets me know that you are legit. For instance, the word "Rumors" works. And please give us your name and where you’re from. Folks like to know. Please don’t expect me to remember. My “forgetter” works more efficiently with each passing year.

The Story – a mother knows
Rumors – whips and wine
Soft Edges – going to church
Bloopers – a wart torn country
Mirabile Dictu! – fringe benefits
Bottom of the Barrel – baby cheeses
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 2:1-11
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – It seems that in one particular town there were two people of the same name. Well almost. Rev. Smith and Mr. Smith.
As it happened Mr. Smith took a trip to India. Coincidentally, Rev. Smith suffered a heart attack and died. Because of an unfortunate mix-up in e-mail addresses, Rev. Smith’s spouse received the following note with other condolences.
“Arrived safely. Unprepared for extreme heat.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 17th, which is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.
* Isaiah 62:1-5
* Psalm 36:5-10
* 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
* John 2:1-11

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – John 2:1-11
Jim says –
I want to explore the nature of intoxication. It must be something we enjoy – or we wouldn’t pursue it so much. Granted, we all know that alcohol dulls the senses. But it’s not just alcohol that intoxicates. We also fall in love (sometimes over and over again). We ride snowmobiles at dizzying speeds, or go bungee jumping, or white water rafting.... We love that adrenalin rush, that feeling of shaking off the fetters of inhibition, the exhilaration of launching ourselves into a new adventure.
Under the spell of intoxication, everything seems clearer. Skies seem bluer, brighter. Roses smell sweeter. Cares drop away. Our lives take on a clarity of purpose we could not have imagined otherwise.
It’s that kind of intoxication that Gordon Light evokes in his song “Cana Wine.” ( if you want to pursue it.) And it’s that kind of intoxication that Paul promises in Corinthians. Look at his list of gifts that come with the Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues....
We in the mainline denominations are terrified of intoxication. That’s why – officially at least – we oppose alcohol abuse. And why we’re suspicious of pentecostal experiences. We’re afraid of losing control, of setting aside our critical faculties.
We don’t dare abandon ourselves to spirits, or to the Spirit.
But Jesus – unless we choose to ignore John’s testimony – created 120-plus gallons of wine for the guests. You better bet some of them got intoxicated. They lost control.
Just like the disciples did, at Pentecost.

Ralph says
One of the things I love about John’s gospel is that the writer has Jesus, for his first miracle, keep the party going. And the story right after that has Jesus angrily wading right into a place where ordinary folks are getting ripped off and physically wrecks the place.
Later in that gospel there are those interminably long, mind-numbing theological discourses. It’s hard to believe that a wine-making, table-turning man would ever talk that way.
I spent six weeks in Israel some years ago studying biblical archeology and John’s gospel. As an exercise, I stripped all the theological discourse out of the gospel to see what was left, and discovered to my surprise, a short but complete story of an energetic and loveable Jesus.
The Cana wine story is delightful for a number of other reasons. When Jesus snaps at his mom for suggesting he can do something about the wine shortage, she ignores him totally and tells the servants to “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows. And of course Jesus comes through in spades.
Another delightful thing is that there are at least three locations in Israel that claim to be the biblical Cana and have absolutely the exact water jugs Jesus used to make the wine.
Which reminds me of the story of two churches in Europe – France, I think – that both claimed to have the desiccated head of John the Baptizer. When this was called to the attention of the priest in one of the churches, the reply was, “Well, theirs is the head of John the Baptizer as a young man.”

Isaiah 62:1-5 – I had a long conversation a few days ago with a young man who is serving a parish in another denomination. The problems he talked about are exactly the same kind of problem we have in my own denomination. In fact, all the main-line denominations in Canada are suffering from a loss of member participation, and the consequent loss of money. At the same gathering, I talked with an older clergy and we laughed together about the good old days when the church had things like money. Nowadays the conversations are largely about how to cut back with the least damage possible. Not healthy at all.
I don’t know if this is the situation outside of Canada, though I rather suspect it may be. But perhaps this passage can come to us as a word of hope. We are in the valley of the shadow, covered with bones (to mix a couple of references) but God knows where it is all leading even if we don’t.

Psalm 36:5-10 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
5 Your door is always open, God.
You stand at your door, and welcome all who come to it.
6 Entry to your home is not limited to your friends,
your associates, your social class.
You extend your welcome to everyone and everything:
Beggars and outcasts, oppressors and victims,
People who have handicaps and drifters
who huddle under bridges and in culverts.
From the rats cowering in their sewers
to the birds soaring among the clouds–
You make them all welcome in your home.
7 All of creation is your household, God.
All can live together in harmony under your roof.
8 In your kitchens they are fed;
In your living room, they are entertained and uplifted.
9 For you are life itself.
10 Continue to give us life, O Lord.
Show us how to live in harmony in your home.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 – This passage of Paul’s letter implies a big question. Can you be a Christian all by yourself? Paul’s answer is a firm “no.” Everyone of us is incomplete. Not a single one of us has all the gifts needed to live a Christian life.
It also implies a huge affirmation. Everyone of us has gifts to offer, and we are needed by the community. No exceptions. And we need the community, not only to discover our gifts, but to help us realize there are some things we just can’t and shouldn’t do. Much as we might like to.

You’ll find a children’s version of the Corinthian passage in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C,” page 45, called “Many Different Kinds of People.” There’s also a story based on the gospel passage called “The Wonderful Wedding Party,” on page 47.
If you don’t own this helpful 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 – Whips and wine
This is not a re-telling of John’s Gospel. I let my imagination loose and soon I had a story that featured Mary of Magdala who isn’t in the first part of John and isn’t connected the wedding in Cana or the cleansing of the temple.
It’s a story. Enjoy it and see if it talks to you.

I had a song going through my head...
"Cana wine, Cana wine,
working on my heart and mind..."
And you know how it is. Once you get a song like that in your head, you keep humming it over and over. And I felt just great, because it really was such a wonderful wedding there in Cana. Such a celebration. We laughed. We cried. We danced.
I drank a bit too much, I guess. O, I wasn't out of control or anything, but I woke up the next day with a headache, a bad headache actually, but that song kept running through the headache. Sick and happy at the same time.
Now as we walked toward Jerusalem, I kept singing the song...
"....flowing free, filling me,
till I lose all sense of time..."
"Mary!" Jesus spoke almost sharply. We had stopped to rest by a spring in a wadi. "We have to walk more quickly or we won't reach Jerusalem before Passover."
"And I'm slowing you down?" I asked.
"Yes. No. Not really. I'm sorry, Mary." Jesus was smiling but I could tell he was worried. I knew his moods. I could sense his fears. He was a strong man, but a man nevertheless, and sometimes afraid.
"Mary, when you were so sick, in Magdala, when we first met. And I was able to help you get rid of that sickness, those demons that were destroying you remember how at first you were angry at me?"
"Yes. It's always scary to change. I guess I'd grown comfortable with my own sickness. That was my identity. When you took that away, I had to change, and I don't think I wanted to."
Jesus looked very sober. Then he grinned. "Let's get going. Sing the song a bit faster, Mary. It'll speed us up a little."
It wasn't till we were near Jerusalem that Jesus began talking about the temple and the money changers. "They charge a whole day’s wages just to change foreign coins into temple money. That's way too much. It's not fair to the poor people. And the price for those animals for sacrifice? An animal costs ten times as much in the temple as it does in the marketplace. And Mary, God doesn't even want those burnt offerings. God wants our hearts, not burnt meat."
Jesus walked in silence for awhile. There was a fire building in his eyes. The muscles in his jaw pulsed under his beard.
"And the Gentiles. That's all they can see of the temple. All they get is the yelling and shouting and the money changing and the stink. And that's where they're supposed to pray. They can't get any further inside the temple. Can you imagine trying to pray in a place like that?"
I'd never been to Jerusalem. This was my first visit and till this moment, I'd been excited and happy.
"What are you going to do, Jesus?"
"I shouldn't do anything. If I'm smart, I'll keep my mouth shut."
"You're not much good at being smart when you're upset, Jesus." That comment got me an annoyed look, then a grudging smile.
Jesus didn't tell me what he planned to do in the temple. I don't think he knew himself. But the more he thought about the temple, the more he got upset.
We stopped at Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, to stay with our friends, the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. It was a pleasant evening, catching up on old friends, gentle arguments, new ideas. They wanted to know all about the wedding in Cana. I told them how we seemed to run out of wine, then suddenly there were six huge jars full of the best wine we ever tasted.
"Hey, wasn't that a party?" Lazarus said. He suspected Jesus had something to do with the wine, but Jesus just smiled and wouldn't say a thing.
The next morning, Jesus was up and gone before I was awake.
"He went to the temple," said Martha.
"But we were going to go together!" I was angry.
"I think he needed to go alone," said Martha. "He seemed to have something very heavy on his mind."
"He's upset about the money changers, Martha. I'm just afraid he's going to do something crazy that'll get him into trouble."
Which is exactly what happened. He came rushing in at noon that day. His cloak was torn. He had an ugly bruise on his cheek. And as I went to him, I smelled the acrid sweat of tension.
"We have to go right away, Mary," he said.
"But I haven't been to the temple yet. I haven't even been into Jerusalem."
"I'm sorry. All right." he snapped.
And so we left and walked together in a tense, unhappy silence. But then, the hard walking – the coolness of the evening seemed to dissipate the fear and anger and frustration of the day. Leaning against a rock that night, Jesus told me what he had done, how he had gone into the temple intent on simply explaining why things needed to change.
"I tried to tell them how evil it was to do this in the temple. But nobody would listen. I lost my temper," Jesus said sadly. "I just lost it and I started turning over tables and lashing out at people and yelling at them. I even made a whip and started beating at them."
I sighed. "And they'll be no more grateful to you than I was, when you purged the evil from my life."
The sun had set. The shadows closed around us. The evening star was bright and clear against the gathering darkness.
"It's better to make wine," I said.
"It's better to make wine than whips. Good wine softens the soul. A whip hardens the heart."
Jesus looked long and deeply at the evening star. "Amen, Mary," he finally said, and closed his eyes into an exhausted sleep.
There were more stars now. Have you noticed that in the night, there is more darkness in the sky than there is light? But it's the light we see. It's the light that shines into our soul.
And so I sang my song into myself and to the stars...
"....a new life's rising in me too,
like an overflowing stream,
and it comes from the taste of Cana wine..."*
*Common Cup Company,
from Turnings, Music Resources for Lent and Easter,
United Church Publishing House, Toronto.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Going to Church
“Why do you go to church?” a correspondent asked.
I’ve wondered that myself. As regular readers have long deduced, I don’t believe any church is perfect. Nor do I consider all the teachings of any church absolute, authoritative.
To tell the truth, I probably go to church mostly out of habit. My father was a minister; I didn't have much choice about going as a child. As a teenager, I got drafted to teach Sunday school; as an adult, I got put onto boards and committees; in later life, the church hired me as a journalist...
In other words, I've been involved with church all my life. I would find it hard to imagine life without some connection to it.
But even as I write that, I realize it's not an adequate answer.
I have friends there, of course. But I have had friends in other organizations too – Scouts, Rotary, charitable organizations...
Perhaps we’re friends because we share the habit of church-going.
Or maybe there's more – we share a common conviction that religious beliefs matter, even if we don't agree on what those beliefs are, or should be.
Other social contacts seem to take for granted that the purpose of life is to make money, to stay healthy, to enjoy oneself, or serve others, to get an adrenalin rush...
Church, when it goes well, reminds me that I am part of a larger scheme of things.
That doesn’t necessarily imply a supernatural being who pulls the strings of the universe. I don’t believe that God – by whatever name -– deliberately causes a landslide to wipe out a village in the Philippines or an earthquake to crumble a city in Pakistan. Nor do I believe that God meddles in life so that one football team wins, or that one person's cancer is cured and another's isn't. I certainly don't believe in an almighty watchmaker who determined, eons ago, which mosquito will get slapped when it lands on my arm.
But I do believe that there is some kind of purpose and meaning to life. If everything happens by random chance – more precisely, if cause and effect unfold predictably after an unpredictable singularity –- why should I bother being kind, thoughtful, sensitive...?
Isn’t it all inevitable, anyway?
How that purpose, that meaning, comes into being, doesn’t matter to me. What matters is trying to live in harmony with it.
I've been fortunate in having ministers who were secure enough in their own faith that they could push me to explore mine, without feeling threatened by where that exploration might take me.
If I got a minister who was less open, I might have to look for another church. Or I might have to learn to turn my mind off while enjoying my friendships.
But I think I would still have to connect to a church –- some church, somewhere –- to keep reminding me that I am not all there is.
There is more.
Even if I don’t understand what it is.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Alissa Bender of Calgary Alberta writes: “This typo almost made it into our bulletin. The corrected sentence is a tragic enough reality to face that maybe it was a bit of a relief to have a chance to have a chuckle about the blooper. We were told that an offering would be received for the work of "rebuilding health services in the wart-torn country of Congo".

From the file:
* I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirty and you gave me drink.
* We are an autonomous body, operating under the hardship of Jesus Christ.

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! – The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.
H. L. Mencken via Eduard Hiebert

Religious belief can be very close to madness. It has brought human beings to acts of criminal folly, as well as to the highest achievements of goodness, creativity and generosity.
Diarmaid MacCulloch

What lies behind us and what lies before us are inconsequential compared to what lies within us.
source unknown via Don Sandin


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “fringe benefits!”) This from “figmo” who either doesn’t want to admit sending stuff like this to me, or thinks I remember his/her name. Thanks, whoever you are.
Subject: How to Stay Safe
1.. Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents.
2. Do not stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home.
3. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians.
4. Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation.
5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in Hospitals. So, above all else, avoid hospitals.
However, you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given time is at church!
And Bible study is safe, too. The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less. So, attend church, and read your Bible. It could save your life.
You can go to church and just sit there being safe, which lots of people do. But if you move around a bit and get talking to some of the folks, you’ll find a whole batch of really neat fringe benefits.


Bottom of the Barrel – George Brigham of Retford, Nottinghamshire, England writes: “A colleague was leading an all-age service on Christmas Day. During part of the service an idea adapted from Pictionary was used. The minister whispered various elements of the Christmas story in the ears of obliging children. The recipient of the message was asked to draw on a whiteboard at the front.
“The congregation were then invited to guess who, or what was drawn. Part way through, the minister whispered in a 10-year-old's ear. Out front he proudly drew some wedge shaped objects, but no one could guess where they fitted in the story.
"’What have you drawn?’" the minister finally asked the child.
“The child was surprised that the minister couldn’t remember. ‘Baby cheeses, of course.’"


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 2:1-11
(NOTE: It would be good if Reader 1 were female.)
Reader 1: Today, the story is about the time Jesus turned the water into wine. And this puzzles me, because I can remember when most churches were dead against alcohol. Ever. Under any circumstances.
Reader 2: It wasn’t long ago when alcoholic drinks of any kind were outlawed in many parts of the world. And it was the churches that were most against it.
1: So how did they reconcile that, and this story. Here right near the beginning of John’s gospel. Jesus’ very first miracle was to keep the party going.
2: Social change. Who knows how it happens? So I really can’t answer your question.
1: When we were looking at this scripture earlier, you were giggling about Mary, Jesus mother. What did you find so funny?
2: Well, she’s the typical mother, isn’t she? They run out of wine and she goes to Jesus with the problem. Jesus snaps at her and basically tells her to cool it. He’s not ready to do his magic act. She ignores him and tells the stewards just to do what Jesus tells them. You can almost feel her giving Jesus a good stern motherly look. And of course, he does what his mama tells him. He makes the wine. Not just wine, but the best wine ever, even though most of the folks at the wedding reception were already too sloshed to know the difference.
1: So let’s read the story. It’s from the second chapter of John’s gospel.
2: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus spoke to him.
1: "They have no wine."2: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come."1: “Hey, servants! Do whatever Jesus tells you."2: Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.
1: Each one of those jars would hold twenty or thirty gallons. So Jesus spoke to the servants.2: "Fill the jars with water." 1: Which is what they did. They filled them up to the brim.2: "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward."
1: So they took the wine to the steward who tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.
2: Then the steward called to the bridegroom.1: "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."2: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

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.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks! I like your thoughts on intoxication and "running on empty". This story also reminds me of what one of my Catholic friends tells me about her childhood. She told all of her friends that when they pray they should always pray to Mary. Because Mary is the Mother of God and he has to do what she says!