Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Preaching materials for March 14th, 2010

R U M O R S # 592
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

March 7, 2010


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

The Story – the dad who did everything wrong
Rumors – acting like God
Soft Edges –
Bloopers – leaving the “h” out of ashes
Mirabile Dictu! – butt dust
Bottom of the Barrel – did you get the letter?
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
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 Alan Craig who claims it was sent to him by a friend.
Three women die together in an accident and go to Heaven.
When they get there, St. Peter says, "We have only one rule here in Heaven: Don't step on the ducks!"
So the three women enter Heaven and, sure enough, there are ducks all over the place; it is almost impossible not to step on a duck.
Although they try their best to avoid them, the first woman accidentally steps on one.
Along comes St. Peter with the ugliest man she ever saw. St. Peter chains them together and says, "Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this ugly man!"
The next day, the second woman accidentally steps on a duck and along comes St. Peter, who doesn't miss a thing. With him is another extremely ugly man. St. Peter chains them together with the same admonishment he gave the first woman.
The third woman observed all this and, not wanting to be chained to an ugly man for all eternity is very, very careful where she steps. She manages to go months without stepping on any ducks, One day, St. Peter comes up to her with the most handsome man she has ever laid eyes on – very tall, long eyelashes, muscular. St. Peter chains them together without saying a word.
The happy woman says, "I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all of eternity?"
"I don't know about you,” says the man. “But I stepped on a duck."


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 14th, which is the fourth Sunday of Lent.
* Joshua 5:9-12
* Psalm 32
* 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
* Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Jim says –
There’s an enormous temptation to talk _about_ this famous parable, rather than to tell the story itself. It seems to me, at least, that this story is the foundation of what Marcus Borg calls “the emerging paradigm,” the conviction that God is a God of love not of judgement. If the loving father represents a loving God, he doesn’t even judge the elder brother, but sorrows at the brother’s anger.
But that would turn the sermon into a lecture on systematic theology.
The story deserves to be told, and understood, as a story.
So I would tell it again, supplementing it as necessary with some exegesis of the biblical customs that the father violated so flagrantly in rushing to greet the son who had disgraced his family’s reputation.
Every story should resonate in a personal context. I would focus on the welcome given to the prodigal by the father. As a child who grew up in a foreign culture, as an only child, I have a great need to be welcomed into community, to be accepted for what I am, without conditions, without reservations. That’s where the biblical story reaches out, grabs me by my lapels, and says, “Listen up, buddy! This is about you!”

Ralph says –
So I should have something new and different to say about the Parable of the Prodigal? It’s been written about, sung about, painted about, argued about since about 15 minutes after Jesus told the story.
So again I go back to a classic piece of writing by Henri Nouwen, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” which isn’t about the parable but about Rembrandt’s painting, “The Prodigal Son.”
Nouwen is writing for men. Males. (Which of course means that more women than men have read the book.) And the thing that pops into my memory from reading the book several years ago is this. Nouwen says that each man is called to move through all three characters in the story – the wayward, the older brother, and the father.
Which would be a lot easier for me to handle if it were not clear that in his telling of the story, Jesus intended that in the character of the dad we see God. And all kinds of alarm bells go off in my head when I’m tempted to think of myself as God.
The ultimate arrogance!
But that’s exactly where Nouwen wants us to go, especially old buzzards like me with a skin six sizes too big hanging loose all over our bodies. Because if we stop protesting long enough to think about it, Nouwen wants us to do some radical rethinking of what we think God is like and what we, as older men are called to be. (Maybe older women too, but that’s not for me to figure out.)
And therein would be at least a book or two on the subject by someone with a lot more smarts than I have. I think it would have to do with taking responsibilities for our actions many of which are god-like, in the sense that we have to make god-like judgments about what is good and what is bad, what is ugly and what is beautiful, what will cause pain and what will bring joy. We’ve been doing this all our lives, but now in our dotage, we dimly see that this is what we are doing.
More importantly, we are called to reach out in love and acceptance to those who have messed up their lives by stepping over all the lines and those who have messed up their lives by never stepping over any.
We humans act as God’s surrogate in the little corner of life that’s given to us. But it’s mostly in our “declining” years that we have the courage to accept that, and perhaps even to celebrate our calling.

* Joshua 5:9-12 – Winners get to write the history. European adventurers came to the Americas and displaced the aboriginal peoples. The Israelites came to Canaan and displaced the tribes already there. Both the Europeans and the Israelites shaped the story to justify their own actions.
For the Israelites, entry into Canaan was a release from the desert, from homelessness, from the shame of slavery. They saw their past as punishment for sin.
The Canaanite tribes may have wondered what sin they were being punished for.

Psalm 32 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 A great load of guilt hangs around my neck
like a millstone strung on fine steel wire.
If someone would free me from my burden, I would be so happy.
2 That would be almost as good as never having slipped,
as good as not having failed in the first place.
3 Can you imagine what it's like never being able to stand up straight?
I have become a wasted cripple, my body bowed by tensions.
4 My bones are brittle as twigs scorched by the summer sun;
When I try to sleep, a gigantic pillow suffocates me.
5 But you gave me a second chance.
I confessed; I didn't try to hide anything.
I poured out my soul to you, and you forgave me.
You cut the string and freed me.
6 Without my millstone of guilt, I feel light as a feather.
I can float; I can rise above a torrent of troubles.
7 God, I can trust you completely, because you trusted me.
Wrapped in your arms, I feel safe as a baby, murmuring to its mother.
8 And God replies: "I will teach you my ways.
I will share my wisdom with you.
I will watch over you, and keep you safe.
9 I do not expect you to obey blindly, without understanding.
You are intelligent creatures, not sheep.
You do not need reins to guide you;
you can learn the right road."
10 The millstones of sin still burden many,
but those who trust God have been set free.
11 They shout with relief for they have been saved;
Their hearts have been scrubbed clean;
they can stand straight again.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – In this passage, Paul rings some of the great themes of the Christian scriptures. The preacher faces a choice. You can’t deal adequately with these and the prodigal parable in the same sermon. I would leave out one or the other, and as you’ve already seen, I’ve plunked down on the story. I don’t claim any great insight or wisdom on this. It’s simply that stories always speak to me more strongly, especially this one.

We might tend to assume that people in the congregation know the familiar prodigal parable. This would have been true once, but no longer. For that reason, I suggest you read the prodigal story from “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C,” to the children while they are still in church. Then later in the service, when the scripture is read, the adults will hear the story more fully. It’s on page 100, and it’s called, “A Loving Father.”
There’s also a paraphrase of Psalm 32 on page 99 called “I’m Happy Again.”
If you don’t already own the full set for each of the three years in the Lectionary cycle, 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 – In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya says to his wife, Golda, "Golda, do you love me?"
She's too busy for such frivolities. All this housework to do and he's getting mushy. "Go lie down," she says. "You'll feel better after awhile."
But he persists. "The first time I met you was on our wedding day." Tevya tells Golda how frightened he was, but his own mother and father had said to him that over the years they would grow to love each other. "So now I ask you. Do you love me?"
Golda begins to think out loud. "For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. If that isn't love, what is?"
Tevya brightens. "Then you love me?"
"I suppose I do," she acknowledges.
Together they sing. "It doesn't change a thing. But after 25 years, it's nice to know."
Fiddler on the Roof is about Tevya and Golda, who are the "older brothers" in the prodigal parable, and about their daughters who are all "younger sons" in one way or another. All of them move outside the norms and conventions and, during a period of history when everything was in flux, keep pushing at the edges of the tradition Tevya and Golda value so deeply, a tradition that "tells us who we are and what God expects us to do."
But Tevya and Golda are also God in the parable. Because in the end, against their own instincts, against the conventions of the community and the power of the tradition, they finally act on their love.
I've fought with the parable of the prodigal for years. During our time in the Philippines, I taught drama at Silliman University for awhile. One of my students asked if he could produce his version of the Prodigal story. It seemed safe enough, so I said, "Sure."
When I went to see a rehearsal I was both surprised and amused. The half-hour play spent 5 minutes on the altercation between youngest son and father, 5 minutes on the homecoming, and the loudest, most spectacular 20 minutes on the "far country."
The spectacular sins get far more ink. And yes, I am frankly jealous of the attention the glitterati receive, not because they work harder or are more capable, but simply because they are more spectacular. The media make no distinction between a hero and a star. This was profoundly illustrated in the contrast between Princess Di and Mother Theresa when they died some years ago.
I wonder how Jesus told the Prodigal story originally. Did the older brother get a better showing? Did the lip-smacking treatment of the younger son creep in as the parable was retold in the early church? Who did Jesus identify with in the story? All three main characters, probably, because it’s really a universal parable. Whenever I’ve been in a group discussing this, all of us, women and men, have related to the various characters in different ways, and often very personally.
As I mentioned earlier, we are called to enter into the lives of all three characters. Especially into the person of the parent. Not a rule enforcing judgmental parent, but one who races toward that no-good child. A parent who shocks all the neighbors but doesn’t give a hoot. A parent who has only one thought about that child and that is joy at the homecoming. A parent who has only one thing to give and that is unconditional love.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Getting It Wrong
I’ll start with a correction. Nathan PichĂ©’s memorial bench on the waterfront of Okanagan Lake is not illegal, as I suggested in last week’s column.
Steve Schaffrick, Director of Parks and Recreation for the District of Lake Country (DLC), corrected me in an e-mail. “The cost of the bench was picked up by friends of the family,” he explained, “but we bought and installed the bench, so the DLC owns it. This is significantly different from the private docks and structures that we removed from the Greenspace, as those were private [and] not approved by the DLC.”
I was wrong. I should have called Steve before rushing to meet my deadline, but I didn’t.
Obviously, therefore, my speculation about the origins of the bench was also unfounded and ill-advised.
I don’t like being wrong. I don’t know anyone who does.
But as I examined my own reactions, I started wondering why it’s so hard for most of us – including me – to admit when we might have been wrong.
Because, in fact, getting it wrong is how we learn to get it right.
I know, that assertion runs contrary to common sense. We think we learn by getting it right. “Practice makes perfect,” we say.
We forget how many times a child has to fall before he learns to walk. How many times a child struggles with recalcitrant shoelaces before she learns to tie a bow. How many times a violinist must rehearse a concerto to get all those notes just right...
We learn from our mistakes. That’s not an invitation to make mistakes. Certainly not for a neurosurgeon slicing into your brain. Or an engineer, building a bridge you’ll drive across.
Naturally, we all want to make as few mistakes as possible. But the two greatest mistakes we can make are
– to pretend we never make mistakes;
– to refuse to learn from the mistakes we do make.
As we age, we develop routines that help us avoid embarrassment and humiliation. Not because we’re smarter. But because when we stick with the tried and true, our slips are less frequent, less exposed.
Thus, repetition teaches us how to drive a car or operate a debit card.
Familiar patterns may even keep some relationships on the rails.
But entrenched mental habits can be deadly. Even when contrary evidence piles up, we tend to cling tenaciously to long-held convictions. We refuse to consider the possibility of being wrong.
Indeed, the more a contrary viewpoint achieves prominence, the more some people insist that no one else can sift the truth from a fog of propaganda and conspiracy.
We act like parents, watching troops march past, assuring each other, “The whole army’s out of step but our John!”
And when convictions are built on theology, ideology, politics, or ancient grievances, we’re even less likely to admit we might have been wrong. We cannot – or will not – see the issue any other way.
In that context, recognizing that one was wrong would be a major step forward.
But nobody ever promised it would be easy.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – April Dailey of Ford City, Pennsylvania says she recently heard of priest preparing the ashes for Ash Weds. The priest prayed aloud:
"Bless, O Father these ashes..." But he left out the all important “H”.
April, I am sure you and many other clergy have been tempted to offer such a prayer over your congregation. Without the “h.”

Leslie Latham of Randolph, New York says they caught this one before it was printed. Pity.
"The Cooperative Extinction will be meeting on Monday, 9-3.

Jean Gregson of Langley, British Columbia spotted this on a website.
“Music is a valued ministry and a vital part of whorship at our church.”

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! – Argument is set by the answers, but conversation by the questions.
Martin Marty via Jim Taylor

Procrastination is attitude's natural assassin. There is nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.
William James via Jim Spinks

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


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Butt Dust!”)
Margaret Wood sends along this collection of childhood wisdom and insight. Some have been around before, but they’re worth chuckling over again.

* Brittany had an ear ache and wanted a pain killer. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a child-proof cap and she'd have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: 'How does it know it's me?'

* Young Douglas stepped onto the bathroom scale and asked: 'How much do I cost?'

* Little Clinton was in his bedroom looking worried When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, 'I don't know what'll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in it?'

* Mark was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: 'Why is he whispering in her mouth?'

* Tammy was with her mother when they met an elderly, rather wrinkled woman her Mom knew. Tammy looked at her for a while and then asked, 'Why doesn't your skin fit your face?'

* James was listening to a Bible story. His dad read: 'The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.' Concerned, James asked: 'What happened to the flea?'

* 'Dear Lord,' the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. 'Without you, we are but dust.'
He would have continued but at that moment a child asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice, 'Mom, what is butt dust?'


Bottom of the Barrel – Alan Clark, and his accomplice, George Brigham, Retford, Nottinghamshire, England, should hang their heads over this one.
One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the rascally behaviour that was going on.
So God called St. Michael and sent him to Earth for a time.
When Michael returned, he told God, 'Yes, it is bad on Earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.
God thought for a moment and said, 'Maybe I had better send a second Archangel down to get another opinion.'
So God sent St. Gabriel to Earth for a time. When Gabriel returned he went to God and said, 'Yes, it's true. The Earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.'
God was not pleased and decided to e-mail the 5% who were good, to encourage them and give them a little something to help them keep going.
Do you know what the e-mail said? I was just wondering, because I didn't get one either.


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre –
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 –
Reader 1: I love this story. I’ve heard it so often I can almost recite it from memory, but I learn something new out of it every time.
Reader 2: But as so often happens, the authorities were mad at Jesus for what he was saying and doing, and so he makes up a story to tell them, a parable, and that makes them even madder.
1: Jesus was swimming up-stream. Then and now. And if you take what he says seriously, you’ll be swimming up-stream too.
2: Is it true that Jesus was meaning to represent God in the character of the father?
1: Yes, for sure. And isn’t it interesting that the father in the story doesn’t act the way a parent should have acted, then or now. And most of us, if we are really honest about it, would identify most with the elder brother who gets into a jealous snit about how his younger brother is welcomed home.
2: So let’s read it. I’ll be the narrator, and you can be the various characters in the story.
1: And listen up, folks. This story is about you!
2: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling about it.
1: "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
2: So Jesus told them this parable:
"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them spoke to his father.
1: 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.'
2: So the father divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But then he came to himself.
1: 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'
2: So the younger son set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
1: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
2: But the father interrupted and called to his slaves.
1: 'Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
2: Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
1: 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
2: Then the elder brother became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But elder brother answered his father.
1: 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
2: Then the father spoke gently to his eldest child.
1: 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

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