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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 

“Are Our Yearnings Justified?”

Sermon – 08-01-21 – Proper 13 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
Sermon Title: “Are Our Yearnings Justified?”

One of my yearnings is to have time stand still for three weeks: one week to clear and clean our house; one week to remove the jungle-like weeds in our yard; one week to sleep all day. This is not a yearning for vacation, it is a yearning for everything in the world to just stop in a peaceful state-of-being for three weeks!

What is your strongest yearning? Maybe to have a new kitchen or bathroom; maybe to have a grandchild; maybe to have restored health for yourself or someone you love; maybe to have no debts.

Millions of people try to sleep at night on empty stomachs. Their yearning for food is truly justified. Many people are yearning for shelter from the elements and I am complaining about the condition of my house and yard – not the structure but the easily corrected dirt and clutter. My yearning is really not justified. It is okay if it is a vague goal but not one that is vital immediately. I need to be thankful and learn how I can help the “others.”

The Israelites who were led by God on a 40-year wandering that was much longer than necessary, were hungry. Their yearning was certainly justified. God created a unique way to give food to these people – thousands and thousands of people in this trek. Then the people were not satisfied with just this strange bread-like substance; they also begged for meat. What did God do? God sent quails in the evening and the manna in the morning.

Now if God sent a quail to me I would indeed need to be very hungry to make myself kill and butcher the quail. I am very spoiled. My yearning for meat moves to restaurant hamburgers. I am very spoiled. I have never been desperate for food or shelter in my whole life. But, I did learn a secret about thanking God for the provision that God provides.

Somewhere along the line, I had Sunday School teachers and parents and pastors who witnessed to the idea that God should receive a return on his provisions to us. So no matter how minimal were the provisions from God, we will benefit from giving from the top. The return to God can be helping someone else who needs help. The return to God can be small or big, but it should be our first-fruits and it should be a significant portion of the whole.

First-fruits mean that our return gifts for God’s work should come first in our spending. There are many forms of these “returns;” many ways that we can ‘give back” to God. Worship is God’s main demand for us. Along with worship comes this return of a portion of our income and gifts. God yearns to receive our worship. Is God’s yearning justified? Should God expect us to stop our work or stop our fun to take a breath and be in calmness mixed with joyous singing about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whether God should or not does not matter. God expects us to do this and we benefit from it if we bring the right attitude to the place where we find God speaking to us.

Picture this! God’s yearnings and our yearnings can be somewhat like a ping-pong game. We bounce our yearnings to God, he bounces his yearnings to us. God knows our yearnings. Even though God knows them, God expects us to come in prayer and speak our yearnings to him. It strikes me that our yearnings and God’s yearnings may be closer than we might expect. God wants our respect; we want God to respect us. Also, we yearn for God’s love and the love of other humans while God yearns for our love and not only for himself but for the hurting world of people and nature.

The Apostle Paul writes in the scripture passage Ray read today from Paul’s letter to the people in Ephesus, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

God designed the church body to have various abilities and passions and knowledge. Have you ever thought that God intended each of us to be together at this very time to complement each other? I am using the meaning of complement to be able to work together, each of us doing something different, bringing our own personalities, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to form this assembly for one Sunday in worship, or for many Sundays of worship, making decisions and doing the necessary actions to keep the body together. When we bring our personalities together we form a whole body, worshiping God in the way that pleases us and pleases God.

The secret is love. Love is like glue. Glue is often invisible, especially when it dries. It is then that this magic ingredient really does the job. Until glue dries it is not much good. When we first think about love holding a congregation together, it feels a bit funny, especially for those of us who were raised in families where love was more-or-less hidden. Some of you grew up in families where the word love and the demonstration of love were first nature. Let’s hear about a congregation in which love is the strengthening and binding and uplifting secret.

Last Sunday, Rick and Yvonne accepted the privilege to be with St. John’s United Church of Christ in Pricetown. Pastor Paul Jones is retiring and it was a special service in honor of his retirement. Our Conference Minister, Rev. Bill Worley, later wrote about a conversation he had with a member of this congregation on this day. She says, “Our church was going down the toilet before Pastor Paul arrived. Seriously. We were considering closing. But he showed up and loved us when we didn’t love ourselves much or even each other.”

Pastor Bill continues, “And that made all the difference. Those of us who have been called to ministry can get twisted around an axle trying to do everything that we believe will grow a church, or change the world, or make a missionary movement with attention grabbing impact. But at the end of the day, our high calling, and the only one that really changes anything for God and for good is our capacity to bear with one another in love, and our unity and the bond of peace. This is the truth I come back to on those days when I unnecessarily complicate my life with all the things that keep me from seeing the simplicity of God’s invitation to love and grace. I hope for just a moment today that you and I will give ourselves space for that simplicity.” End of quote.

For our congregation of Zion United Church of Womelsdorf, we are blessed with the love of Christ which binds us together. Now we could be a clump of glued people wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years hungering for bread and meat and thirsting for water. That is not very appealing. What we are invited to do is to follow Jesus. He is our Moses. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Let us walk where Jesus leads us, experiencing love from Jesus, our love for Jesus, and our love for each other. Let us worship this triune God with all of our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength and let us love each other as much as Jesus loves us!