Thursday, January 14, 2010

Preaching Materials for January 24th 2010

R U M O R S #585
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

January 17, 2010



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

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The Story – getting into trouble
Rumors – it takes work
Soft Edges – pioneer with words
Bloopers – bile study
Mirabile Dictu! – pieces of broccoli
Bottom of the Barrel – pedestrians and Catholics
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 4:14-21 (extended to vs. 30)
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This story, which if it isn’t true at least is recognizable to most clergy. It’s about the preacher who walked into a church school class while it was in progress.
“Let me ask you a question,” said the preacher. “Who broke down the walls of Jericho?”
A red-haired, freckle-faced boy shot his hand up. “I didn’t do it, honest reverend!”
The teacher came to the boy’s defense. “This lad is honest and I believe him. I really don’t think he did it.”
The minister left the room feeling not too well. In the hall was the chair of the worship committee. The minister told the whole story. “The teacher was right,” said the chairperson. “I’ve known both the teacher and the boy for years and neither of them would do such a thing.”
Now the minister felt really unwell.
That night at the board meeting, the whole sad story got told. “Don’t get upset, reverend,” said the chair of the board. “No sense in making a fuss about it. We’ll just pay for the damage to the wall and charge it to maintenance.”
The minister went home and threw up.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, January 24th, which is the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C.
* Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
* Psalm 19
* 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
* Luke 4:14-21 (extended to vs. 30)

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Luke 4:14-21 (extended to vs. 30). We’ve extended this to verse 30 to get the whole story which the lectionary has divided into two parts. This frees us up to focus on the call of Jeremiah next week.

Jim says –
It’s fitting, I suppose, that a lectionary reading should contain a lectionary reading. Scholars have told me that Jewish synagogues had their own lectionary. Apparently they can date this reading’s place in the cycle – but not the year, unfortunately -- when Jesus picked up the scroll to read from Isaiah.
But he only read part of it.
Why stop part way through, and start ad-libbing?
I’m guessing that Jesus was open to inspiration. As he read, he heard Isaiah articulating his own raison d’etre, his own mission statement.
Some 700 years earlier, Isaiah had put into words the convictions that Jesus himself had come to, out there in the desert, after the uplifting experience of his baptism by John, in the Jordan.
Isaiah never learned to sugar coat his message, to avoid offending people with power. Neither did Jesus. It was not a politically astute move to insult his fan club.
Just when they were basking in the borrowed glory of a “native son”
making good, Jesus tells them, “Leggo my coat-tails! What makes you think I was talking about you? I’m not your poster-child...”
So they turned on him.

Ralph says –
Jesus had a peculiar knack of getting himself into trouble. He read that passage from Isaiah, and could have said something innocuous, like, “I’ve got some thoughts arising from this passage that I’d like to share with you.”
No, he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “I’m the guy Isaiah was talking about.” Even that is acceptable until he goes on to tell the folks that it’s foreign widows and lepers that will receive God’s gifts, not the good and proper folks there in the synagogue.
Think of a similar scenario. A young person in your church – a young person with assorted hardware in his or her face, is the lector that Sunday, and reads one of the passages about the return of the Messiah. Then this young person looks out at the congregation and with a perfectly straight face says, “I’m it, folks. I’m the Messiah these guys were talking about. And you know something else? God cares more about the HIV positive drunk lying on the street and the malaria infected African pauper, than about you.”
In our congregation at least, people would mutter about getting a shirt with very long sleeves and a well-padded cell in which this young person could proclaim the rest of her/his message. But we wouldn’t do that, of course. We’d just freeze the kid out. In Jesus’ time, they were not as sophisticated and tried to toss him off a cliff.
So let’s not get too hard on the Synagogue leaders in Nazareth. Their response was perfectly understandable, and probably the same as yours and mine would be. And it’s also possible Jesus was a little naïve to expect the leaders of the Nazareth Synagogue to welcome him with open arms.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 – So often with the Lectionary it’s feast or famine. But it’s easy to see why the Lectionary folks chose this passage to pair with the Luke passage. In both cases we have a proclamation that says, “From here on, everything is going to be different.”
But the passages are not really parallel. It’s the gathered people who told Ezra to read from the scroll. Not only that, but Ezra was a scribe. He had status. And so the response was, to say the least, a little different.
In situations like this it depends more on who is doing the saying, and to whom, than on what is said.

Psalm 19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
(Note: The Lectionary calls for the entire psalm but Jim has chosen to paraphrase verses 7-14.)
A good compass has only one virtue – it always points north. A compass that could point in many directions, depending on how it was read, a compass that had to be re-interpreted in each new context, would be useless.
So too with human laws and legal systems.
7 Good laws reduce tensions; like a compass, they give direction to the confused.
Consider God's laws – their clarity cuts through petty legalism.
8 God's principles are straightforward--they have no fine print clauses;
God's instructions are never tainted by conflict of interest;
you cannot find a flaw in them.
9 They do not depend on partial understanding of the truth;
they are always true, always consistent, always dependable.
By sticking to them, our consciences stay clean;
we never feel soiled by circumstances.
10 Clear directions are preferable to wealth or power;
they are as exhilarating as a spring morning.
11 They point us along the proper path;
they guide us towards our goal.
12 For we cannot be objective about ourselves;
But God's standards are not swayed by fads or fashions;
like a lens, they let us see ourselves as we are.
13 Save me from thinking myself self-sufficient.
Keep me from sinking into the quicksand of egotism.
Only then can I consider myself clean;
Then I can stand straight, slipping off the stresses of success.
14 I don't want to live in isolation.
I dedicate the work of my hands, the words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my mind, to you.
You give me my strength and my hope.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a – This passage has been preached to death, but one point is almost never made. The “unseemly” (KJV) parts of the body are given special honor. Perhaps that’s why certain persons who might be delicately described as “the unseemly parts” of our community get chosen for the most significant offices in the church.

As I said above, there’s a batch of good stuff for this Sunday, and that’s evident in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C.” It has stories based on three of the lections. “Going Home,” based on Nehemiah is on page 48, “Each Person Is Important,” based on 1 Corinthians is on page 51, and “Jesus Learns About His Job,” on page 54.
If you’ve not yet acquired this useful 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 – My family must think of me as a bookish person, because books are what I almost always get at Christmas.
I’d prefer something utterly frivolous, like a Porsche, but it’s books I get. My kids obviously think the back porch is more in my old man’s league. And books are cheaper, I suppose, although the gap is closing.
Among the books this Christmas was Diarmaid MacCulloch’s massive “A History of Christianity.” I’ve not yet worked up the courage to start it but Bev says the Introduction is quite readable, which is good news because the thing runs to 1160 pages. Do I really want to know that much Christian history?
I’m currently working on another book I received – Karen Armstrong’s “The Case for God.” She’s usually quite readable, thought provoking and well-researched. And in her introduction, there is a paragraph that deserves quoting in full.
“Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart. It is no use magisterially weighing up the teachings of religion to judge their truth or falsehood before embarking on a religious way of life. You will discover their truth – or lack of it – only if you translate those doctrines into ritual or ethical action. Like any skill, religion requires perseverance, hard work, and discipline. Some people will be better at it than others, some appallingly inept, and some will miss the point entirely. But those who do not apply themselves will get nowhere at all. Religious people find it hard to explain how their rituals and practices work, just as a skater may not be fully conscious of the physical laws that enable her to glide over the ice on a thin blade.”
A couple of paragraphs later, Armstrong says: “People who acquired this “knack” [of living their religion] discovered a transcendent dimension of life that was not simply an external reality ‘out there’ but was identical with the deepest level of their being.”
Armstrong, for those who may not be familiar with her work, is a former Roman Catholic nun who has developed into a student and journalist of religion, and is probably the best in her field, at least in the English language. Among other things, she has been honored by the Islamic community for her sensitive, accurate and balanced writing about that faith community.
For her to tell us that it really isn’t a matter of how much you know about your faith – of how hard you study and what learned papers you have written – it’s how hard you work at living your faith – for Karen Armstrong to say that is highly significant.
The faith we hold only becomes real when we work hard at living it. Dilettantes – no matter how informed and well-connected they may be – will simply never really get the hang of it.
We work hard at removing the small and large barriers that discourage people from coming to church. I wonder if that’s the right approach. Maybe we should make it really tough. “You want to be part of our community? Then you’d better mean it because you are going to have to work at it.”
No, that’s not where I would plunk down. But it’s worth thinking about.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Pioneer With Words
I must have been dozing, last October. I missed hearing that Fred Kaan had died.
Fred who, you’re wondering?
Fred Kaan. A small man, with a leprechaun beard, twinkling eyes, and an impish sense of humour. Also perhaps the greatest hymn writer of our time.
As pastor of a local Congregational church in Britain, in the 1960s, he gagged at some of the words in traditional hymns. The hymns didn’t express his theology. Nor, he believed, the theology of his parishioners. But they had nothing else.
So Fred started writing his own words, to go with the old tunes. After a while, the parish put Fred’s new words together in a little book called Pilgrim Praise. And the little book began circulating. First in his own denomination. Then internationally.
Some of those booklets reached North America. Where Fred’s words captured a young musician named Ron Klusmeier. Ron was starting to write church music that used modern harmonies and rhythms.
And a revolution began.
I got to know Fred, at first, through Ron’s enthusiasm for him. Later, I had the privilege of spending several hours in a private interview with Fred.
Fred’s genius was his ability to put into words what people hadn’t yet realized they were thinking.
It’s not the first time the music has been the core of a revolution. Probably the most prolific hymn writers in the Protestant tradition were John and Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts. Watts alone wrote more than 750 hymns, many still sung today.
Gerald Hobbs, former professor of music at Vancouver School of Theology, paints their change with broad strokes. Until then, he says, it was the institutional church that had a relationship with God. The evangelical revival gave ordinary people a personal relationship with God.
Today, we take that notion for granted. Back then, it was radical.
Fred Kaan did the same for our time. Says Hobbs, “No contemporary hymn writer has participated as centrally as Fred Kaan in the events shaping Christian churches in the last four decades....”
Carlton Young, editor of the United Methodist Hymnal, wrote, “Fred's hymns invariably have social justice at their centre. They are cries, laments, and prophecies born in the Church's struggle to be faithful to the gospel....”
Fred Kaan’s hymns didn’t sing of a distant and judgemental God out there somewhere, who expects to be praised with fancy titles. His God is present with us, part of us, within us and surrounding us like the air we breathe.
Others picked up the torch. In Canada, Walter Farquharson, Linnea Good, Sylvia Dunstan, Herbert O’Driscoll, Ian MacDonald and Gordon Light; in the U.S., James Manley, Brian Wren, Ruth Duck, and Jim Strathdee; in New Zealand, Shirley Erena Murray – all drew inspiration from Fred Kaan.
Someone said, “If you want to know what people believe, don’t listen to what they say. Listen to what they sing.”
Lectures and sermons are all very well. But what people hear coming from someone else’s mouth won’t shape their beliefs as much as the words they hear coming from their own mouths.
That’s why it matters what we sing.
Farewell, Fred. Long may your spirit sing.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – from the file
* The Honeymooners are now having bile studies each Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m.
* The visiting monster today is Rev. Jack Baines.
* Boars of Trustees meet after church today.

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! – Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation – even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind.
Leonardo da Vinci via Velia Watts

People will love and remember you, not for what you do but for how you make them feel about themselves
source unknown via Margaret Wood

Biscuits and sermons are improved by shortening
source unknown


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “pieces of broccoli!”)
* Laws Pertaining to Dessert
For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert.
But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof.
And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

* Laws When at Table
And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke.
Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk, and lick it off, you will be sent away.
When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck: for you will be sent away.
When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister has done the same to you.
Eat your food only; do not eat that which is not food; neither seize the table between your jaws, nor use the raiment of the table to wipe your lips. I say again to you, do not touch it, but leave it as it is.
And though your stick of carrot does indeed resemble a marker, draw not with it upon the table, even in pretend, for we do not do that, that is why. And though the pieces of broccoli are very like small trees, do not stand them upright to make a forest, because we do not do that, that is why.
The list goes on an on, but you get the idea. Write your own.


Bottom of the Barrel – George was in New York, and had just been to mass at the biggest church he’d ever seen. He was patiently waiting and watching the traffic cop on a busy street crossing.
The cop stopped the flow of traffic and shouted, “Okay, pedestrians!” Then he’d signal the cars to proceed. The policeman had done this several times, and George still stood on the sidewalk. After the cop had shouted “pedestrians!” for the tenth time, George went over to him and said, “Isn’t it about time you let us Catholics across?”


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 4:14-21 (extended to vs. 30)Reader 1: Today we have the story of Jesus standing up in the Synagogue in Nazareth, and getting himself into a pile of trouble.
Reader 2: Things seem to be going well for him at first. The folks kind of nodded and said, “Well, this is Joseph’s boy. We knew him well. He speaks nicely.” But then everything turns sour.
1: Well, Jesus didn’t go to business school to learn how to say nice things that nobody can get mad at. He seemed to have a knack for sticking his foot in his own mouth.
2: That’s true, but I’m still not sure what it was that got the folks in the Nazareth Synagogue riled up enough to want to kill him.
1: It’s because Jesus told them, we are Jews, and we think we are God’s chosen people. But guess what. God chooses others sometimes too. And he gives a couple of examples. That’s when they tried to toss him off the edge of a cliff.
2: So let’s read this story. It’s from Luke’s gospel.
1: Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.2: He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.1: When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:2: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."1: Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.2: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
1: All the people in the synagogue spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"
2: "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' Truly I tell you, prophets are not accepted in their own hometowns. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."
1: When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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