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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 

“As I Have Loved You: Even the Gentiles”

Sermon – 05-15-22 – Easter 5 – Cycle C
Scriptures – Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Sermon Title: “As I Have Loved You: Even the Gentiles”

Do you know we are Gentiles? Unless we have some Jewish blood in our veins, we are Gentiles. As I read the Bible, I tend to identify with the Jews because after all they are the main characters! Jesus is a Jew. But, if there can be anything like a universal Jew, that is what Jesus is.

The apostles and other new Christians do not understand this universality of their risen Christ.
Some of have closed minds. “Isn’t Jesus only for the Jews?‘ they question. Even if some people stretch their close-minded thinking just a bit, they say, “Well, maybe. . .” The “maybe” meant that the Gentiles would need to follow all the rules of the Jews, including the surgical procedure called circumcision.

Well, God straightens this argument in certainty one fine day. He uses Peter. Peter is in a city called Joppa. You may remember, that last week, Peter heals Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. He continues in Joppa staying at the house of Simon the tanner. At a particular moment, he is praying and resting on the flat roof of the house. He has a vision. A sheet comes down from heaven full of all kinds of animals. As you may know, one of the many Jewish rules is, and was, that not all animals are “clean” enough to eat. Jewish people know better than to eat pork for example. A voice from heaven says, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

Of course, Peter knows better than to eat indiscriminately. The voice rebukes Peter saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Three times this scene is repeated. Finally, the sheet, with its animals of all kinds, is lifted and does not appear again.

Don’t expect this to be the end of the story. Three men appear at the gate of the house and ask for a person called Simon Peter. These three men have been sent to implore Simon Peter to come with them. How far, we wonder. Far enough to reach the house of an important man in Caesarea. Cornelius!

This Cornelius and his family are not Jewish. Therefore, they are called Gentiles. Even so, Cornelius is respected by the Jewish community. This family worships God, gives alms generously, and prays constantly. This does not mean that they think of Jesus as one of the persons of God. But, they have a strong relationship with God as a single being. Strangely, Cornelius is visited by an angel who calls his name, “Cornelius.” Cornelius says in fear, “What is it, Lord?”

The angel assures Cornelius that his prayers are being heard but God has more in store for Cornelius. Cornelius shall send messengers to this Simon Peter in Joppa staying with Simon the tanner. So two slaves and a soldier are the three people who arrive at the gate of Simon the tanner. Peter follows them, accompanied by a few believers from Joppa as witnesses. I am telling the story from Acts 10. The scripture we heard Joel read today is Acts 11 when Peter is reporting the event to his colleagues in Jerusalem. This is a very significant report.

We continue with this event. When Peter and the three messengers and Peter’s companions arrive at the home of Cornelius, they introduce themselves to each other. Cornelius has gathered friends and relatives in anticipation of Peter’s arrival. Cornelius wants to hear what God is giving Simon Peter to say. So Peter speaks, telling the story of Jesus’ life on earth and why Jesus was sent to earth.
While Peter is preaching, he witnesses the Holy Spirit fall upon all who are hearing the word. The Jewish people with Peter witness the Holy Spirit’s presence in this place, falling on these Gentiles. There was speaking in tongues; there was loud praising of God. Peter claims the Holy Spirit as he declares that these people be baptized. And so they are baptized in the name of Jesus!

And it is this very Jesus who had said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The apostles learn to love the Gentiles. But, how possible is it for us to love each other as Jesus loves us. Maybe if we are willing to give our life so someone else can live, it will qualify to love as Jesus loves.

You may remember that part of the whole commandment idea from the Old Testament and which Jesus uses in the New Testament is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The question is how much do we love ourselves? How do we accomplish loving ourselves?

I propose starting with accepting how much Jesus loves us. It is like a circle. It is God who arranged for Garrett to sing on this very day with this very scripture. He was going to sing on another Sunday, but today it happened. Jesus loves me, this I know. We can read it in the Bible. Sunday School teachers and parents can tell us that Jesus loves us. But the real way we know that Jesus loves us is when he saves us.

You ask, saves us how? In some congregations, we would invite people to come to the altar to be saved. That is wonderful. Sometimes it happens to us gradually, sometimes suddenly. But I am thinking of being saved over and over every time someone forgives us when we hurt them; over and over when I forgive myself for hurting someone; over and over when God gathers us in his arms and transforms us, little by little or suddenly.

This past week God gave a wonderful gift to me. I even got Continuing Education credits for spending three hours listening to people who were severely addicted to something and how they were rescued and gained or regained a relationship with God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Some troubled people simply call their rescuer their Higher Power. For us, it is Jesus loving us, rooting for us, pushing and pulling us. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Let’s open the door, let’s step outside the door. Let’s find the people who need to know that Jesus loves them. In our own families we have people who are struggling with addiction. I learned that each of us has some kind of addiction. It is not something to hide. We need support. Do you know that we can provide Narcan free for you in the hope that you will catch your loved one in time?

Jesus loves all people – down and out, up and serving. People need us just as Cornelius needed Peter. Can we feel down deep that Jesus loves us and that he expects us to love everyone, not just people like ourselves? Even though Jesus was/is a Jew, he has barely any rules. Just love God, love ourselves, love others!