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“Surprise! Meet Ezekiel!”

Hope or Depair: Compassion or Punishment Mary Etta Mest Podcast

The word “compassion” appears a multitude of times in the Bible in the King James and the New Revised Standard Version; perhaps the other versions likewise. God’s compassion balances his jealousness for being our God. God was merciful and bountiful with his people but they did not realize how good their life was when they faced God. Bright lights from false gods attracted them. Easy living drew their laziness genes. Then God used the power he had to make life miserable for the Israelites. It is Adam and Eve over and over. Can we believe that it was God’s compassion that led him to punish? Personally, I believe we can persuade people with honey more than punishment but apparently I don’t subscribe to the same behavior methods as God does. Should we question God’s governing style? It seems simple: Face God, obey the rules, live well! Turn away from God, live miserably, separated from God! Think wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, disease, floods, 9/11! Think how full our jails and prisons are! Think! Is God trying to get our attention? Is it the end times? Is there any compassion to be found in these times? Think of our overcrowded prisons; think of the riots! Would you agree that something is wrong? You can finish reading on my blog: https://scripturecomingalive.com/2021/02/03/hope-or-depair-compassion-or-punishment/
  1. Hope or Depair: Compassion or Punishment
  2. How Lowly Are the Shepherds – Episode 6 – Rev. Mary Etta Mest Podcast
  3. Weeds and Wheat – Ep.03 – Rev. Mary Etta Mest Podcast
  4. Is the seed alive? – Rev. Mary Etta Mest Podcast – Ep. 2
  5. “Surprise! Meet Ezekiel!” God gives Ezekiel the Prophet a vision of dry bones coming to life – RMEM Podcast Ep. 1

What is that delicious smell? Oh you came to visit your cousins and your grandma and grandpa and you and your cousins and all the parents are streaming through the door in anticipation. This is so exciting, coming home for grandma’s birthday. Everyone would like to sit around this huge table at once but it is going to take a bit of patience until all of the food is on the table. Grandma is in charge – she is still going strong, as we say. Finally, after greeting all the cousins and aunts and uncles someone gets you all seated and you can hardly resist getting that fork in your hands. 

But wait. You expect a prayer but what is grandma insisting? Oh, someone who can get free from the circle of chairs shall please get her Bible. So inwardly you groan. More delay. More patience. But grandma knows exactly which page she wants and finds it quickly. There it is! She is looking at Psalm 100. She hands the Bible to the person on her right and says, “Please read verse one.” “Make a joyful noise onto the Lord, all ye lands,” we hear. The Bible gets passed to the next person and the next person. We hear “gladness,” then we shall come into his presence with singing! Each person increases the excitement as the Bible moves from hand to hand. Oops! “We are his sheep.” Sheep? We are invited to enter. Good news of course. But directions: we shall enter with thanksgiving and praise. Aha! This is the prayer, bouncing from the middle of the Bible onto our plates, into our minds, and sinking right into our hearts! Clever grandma! 

Surely that is the only thing alive about this worn book. But wait. There is Ezekiel and the Dry Bones. There is a valley full of old, dry bones. Full! Dead! Separated dry bones! No life left in them. Just dried out from the wind blowing over them. How did they get there? These bones are part of a vision which God gave to Ezekiel. The bones symbolize the relationship between God and the people of Israel – his own people. The people descended from Abraham. 

Sometimes this relationship is fine and dandy, sometimes not. These people sometimes turned their backs on the God of Abraham and worshiped glitzy, false gods. Then the relationship was like a deep, deep chasm between God and his people. God is a jealous God – like a mother hen or a mother bear. So God pictures these people as so many separated, dry bones spread over a huge area. 

God shares this vision with Ezekiel. He is a prophet (one of God’s spokespersons) during the Exile – the name of the time when enemies destroy Jerusalem and take many of the people into exile in Babylon – a foreign country, mean king. Why does God let this happen to his beloved people? They are bad. They turned their backs on God. God needs to teach them a lessson. God even uses wicked rulers to do the dirty work. 

Now the thing is, no matter how angry God becomes, he keeps a spark of hope going. God not only shows these dead, separated bones to Ezekiel. God directs Ezekiel in prophesying to the bones so that these bones put on a show. Ezekiel admits that he has no idea if these bones can live again when God poses that question to him. Finally, God tells Ezekiel to command the bones to come to life. 

Thus, with words and God’s power, muscles and skin start moving over the bones. But no life shows. Then, God says to Ezekiel, “Tell the winds to blow from every direction and blow life into these bones.” The winds blow. The bones come together and stand up – enough for a large army. 

You may know the song about the dry bones – how they come together starting with the toes to the feet all the way to the neck bone and, of course, the head bone. Can you just imagine a large space filled with bones rattling while they dance themselves together? And the Holy Spirit brings the breath. Bones alive, I’ll say! 

After this experience, Ezekiel is filled with hope himself and can readily share this hope with the Israelites in exile. God keeps his promise and the Israelites are led back to Jerusalem, their home. There is much real history in this story of Ezekiel but the point of this story is not the historical facts as much as the spiritual understanding: God maintains the spirit of hope and restores us to his fold no matter how far we wander like sheep nibbling as we go. 

So great! Surely the other stories in the Bible are deader than dead. Wrong! I remember hearing that Jesus healed people who had died. Oh, what’s that? They only seemed to be dead. Mmmmm 

There is stinky Lazarus in the tomb for four days already. I would call that dead – would you not? Jesus says, “Come forth, Lazarus.” One of his sisters even tries to prevent Jesus from calling Lazarus forth because the smell would be so great. Guess who walks from the tomb still bound in the burial cloths. Lazarus lives. So there! 

Another time the people try to tell Jesus that a little girl is dead. Too late,” they say. But Jesus says she is only sleeping. She rises! 

Before these other characters, there is the dust which comes alive, not with creepy crawlies. No, a man. Yes, a man! And to top that, a rib from that man becomes a woman! Never ends! Jesus is still pulling people to life. Jesus can release us from our life of dullness or even unkindness to say the least. Jesus can restore us to be the persons we were created to be. My understanding is that we are to help other people be the persons they were created to be. We are each created to bring each other into aliveness. 

How will this aliveness look? People moving around like jumping beans? Without a plan? Without guidance? That would be entertaining but not very useful except to tickle our funny bone. Being alive in Christ is a whole different life. Feeling joyful inside no matter what is happening on the outside! Helping other people to feel alive. 

Christ is alive! He is not hanging on the cross. Jesus Christ is alive with the power to bring aliveness to this dead world. “Rejoice and be glad!” we read in Holy Scripture. Let’s rattle our bones and dance with joy to express our aliveness in Christ. 

Dearest Jesus, even though we cannot see your physical body, we can feel your presence with us, we can feel our bones dancing in rhythm to your dancing. May our hearts and mind overflow with being alive in you. In your name, we pray. Amen

 Podcast Message – 07-01-20

Title: “Surprise! Meet Ezekiel!”

Scripture References:

Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44; Genesis 2:7; Acts 9:40; Luke 23:43: Luke 24 

“Giving Our All At The Back Of The Line”

Sermon – 10-17-21 – Proper 24 – Cycle B
Scripture – Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Sermon Title: “Giving Our All at the Back of the Line”

Does anyone here like to be at the back of any line? Most lines form for things we want or need. Some lines are not so bad. They are for fun things. But if we think of history and awful events that are happening recently and on this very day, there are lines leading to death or torture. Think if we were standing in line in Afghanistan waiting our turn to get on a plane leaving Afghanistan. Think of the lines of the Holocaust.

Jesus says that we should humble ourselves and head for the back of the line. Then, we will be invited to the front of the line or the head of the table.

Thinking of lines brings us to the lines that thread through history and ancestry. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – all three – began our history. The Father had plans for the Son. The Father planned the line of ancestors leading to the Son’s appearance on earth for 33 years. Some of these ancestors were kings – some good, some bad. Some of these ancestors were ordinary people – some good, some seemingly bad.

The line includes a priest that comes and goes. This priest’s name is Melchizedek. He is a high priest. Melchizedek is not a blood relative. He is a figure in scripture which prepares people for the appearance of Jesus as our high priest. Melchizedek first appeared to Abraham to minister to Abraham after Abraham won a battle ordained by God. Reference is made to this High Priest, Melchizedek, throughout scripture, especially with King David.

David is caught between Jesus as one of the persons of God – present from the very beginning of creation, before David – with Jesus who also appears on earth after David. David is in the middle as an heir and as an ancestor at the same time. In this line Jesus becomes the ultimate High Priest. Hebrews 5:5 and 6 have the words of God saying, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” These words are found in Psalm 110 where David is writing, “The Lord said to my Lord . . .” which means “the Father said to Jesus . . .” David is in the middle passing on this Melchizedek thing for history.

When I say “Melchizedek thing” it is the line of a new order. It is different from the line of Aaron which is the line of law from Moses. The law did not change people’s behavior. But Jesus, coming from the line of Melchizedek, does change people’s behavior. Jesus brings forgiveness and love. Changing people’s lives happens through love and attention and positive action.

Let’s think about our lives and our lines. As I am writing this sermon about lines, I get a text from one of our members which says, “I am second in line.” Of course, this is puzzling. So I replied that this could be a text from God since I am writing a sermon on “lines” at the moment. I wondered what God could be telling me. Then the reply came. The wife was telling the husband where she was in the line at the drug store. So my soul was lightened. However, I continue to wonder if God is revealing something profound to me. “Second in line.” Always Vice president, never president. The second child in the family is believed to be effected by that position.

Have you thought about your own tendencies? Are you inclined to always want the front seat? That can’t be true because it is very hard to find church-goers who rush for the front seats. But, do you like certain seats in a restaurant because you think they are better is some way? Do you pay more for sports tickets because you want the best seats? Do I buy more items than I need at the grocery store because I can afford them and because I am afraid they will not be there the next time I go to the store? Do I think about the people after me really needing the items I over-bought?

I am not supposed to be judging other people and their habits because I may have a log in my own eye about my own behavior. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. One time, I did take a seat at the most distant table from the head table at a wedding. Humility on display. Well, in this case, the bride’s mother came to me and informed me that the bride would like for me to sit at the head table beside a beloved grandmother. Do you know why this bride did this? She had been in my confirmation class for two years. Totally quiet. I thought she needed to be dragged to those classes. Would you believe that while she was being humbly quiet, she was being lifted by God through me? God was bringing her to the first place all through those sessions.

When I speak about Aaron’s line of law – the Ten Commandments – in comparison with Melchizedek’s line of ministering in love and compassion, it is not to downplay the law. Can you imagine a lawless society? No need to imagine. We are living in a lawless society. People are forgetting that law is necessary. But we have the law. In order to protect innocent people, we need to enforce the law. How do we do that? Our current methods do not seem to have the effect we want. How do we reach the hearts of lawbreakers to transform them? This is the question of life!

On the other hand, if love and respect and wanting the best for each other were our nature, we would not need the law. We would naturally be living according to the Ten Commandments.

I am impressed with organizations formed of individuals who believe that love and care and action are the way to overcome our increasing disobedience to the law. I have been participating in the four sessions at Immanuel UCC in Shillington, called “Brave Space 4 Connections.” This past Sunday, we were privileged to learn very first-hand about the organization in Berks County called Berks Connections/Pretrial Services (BCPS). The people in this group reach to people who are repeatedly incarcerated because of drug and alcohol addictions. The BCPS people meet the “people who are last” while in prison. They stay by their sides to have these persons who have found themselves at the bottom of the barrel raised to a working, productive, happy life. We met and listened to the stories of three of these people. The last shall be first.

We have these words from Psalm 91: “For God will give the angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” The angels. These BCPS people are angels to the people who have become the last. They bear the weight of life until those of us who have wandered have been lifted by the mercy of Almighty, but loving, God. Do these angels think of themselves as being leaders from the top or servants from the bottom. What are we doing wherever we are on the line? Are we the helping angels or are we the persons who need help to move from the “last” position into the “first” position? We are both. Amen