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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 

“Neighbors in Need”

Sermon – 10-02-22 – Proper 22 – Cycle C
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Sermon Title: “Neighbors In Need”

Today is world communion. If the communion table were set around the world on the equator, first, it would be a very warm table; second, it would not be big enough. Big enough for what? For all the people in the world to have a space at the table. But, surely, Jesus would want each person to have a place at the table but then again it is wishful thinking that everyone in the world would want to be at this communion table. The good thing is there would be no head place and foot place to cause a problem. You know how Jesus said, “Don’t sit at the head of the table but sit at the foot of the table in humility.” Another speech was “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Surely, there would not be favored places at the table, would there?

Let’s picture this ring of people being “have” persons alternating with “not have” persons around this huge table which means that each “have” person would be sitting between two “not have” persons. If I am a “have” person, sitting between two “have not” people, what would I say? I might say to myself, “I am glad that communion is a short event because I feel very uneasy in this position.” Then Jesus says, “I am presiding over this holy communion experience. Before we get to the part of eating the bread and drinking the cup, we are going to get to know our neighbors!” “Ouch,” I think.

Even though I am rather small, I would like to shrink to be smaller. I furtively remove my jewelry and place it in my pocket not because I am afraid that it will be stolen but because I feel guilty owning it. “How is your day going?” I say to the person on my right. The reply comes quickly. “I am here, sitting in the presence of Jesus with you, my friend. That makes it a good day.” That reply startles me and my complacency quickly leaves me. I ask another question. “Was it challenging for you to get here?” This new friend replies, “Somewhat. It was a 50-mile walk. We came through parched land. We are tired and hungry and thirsty for clean water.” “My,” I find myself saying, “How can I help you?” Do I know what I am saying? On second thought, how will I ever begin to help even this one person?

“Why did you come to this table if it was so hard to get here?” I ask. My friend’s face breaks into a joyous smile. But, of course, I received this invitation in my heart. So did my wife and a few other people in our village. Never once did we think of not arriving at this table. The vision was always in front of us as we trudged along.

Obviously, I cannot be talking about my life with this person. The life that usually seems modest will seem like I am royalty compared to this person. So I continue to be nosy about my friend’s life to make conversation. After all, Jesus is watching us to make sure we are complying with his command for us to be talking with each other. You may have noticed that language is no barrier here. God has arranged for us to understand each other while we sit at this table.

I learn that my new friend lives in a dirt-floor hut with eleven other people. They walk ten miles for not-quite-clean water for drinking, washing the dishes they need to share, bathing, washing clothes. I cautiously ask about food. They had a good season says the person, but what he describes as their daily diet would have me malnourished in no time.

My new friend tells me of the joys in his life. “Joys,” I exclaim. “How can you have joys with so many challenges?” But yes, one child learns to read while another child is healed. One day a truck came to the village with good milk and even fresh beans from a place where irrigation was installed by a team of agriculture engineers. Joy for sure!

But, as I listen, my friend is explaining how that team came close to his village and is now installing irrigation pipes and pumps so that even they can grow crops and have fresh water. The pipes and pumps will bring water from underground but also from distant mountains. How could these villagers afford to do this? They can’t. That is what “Neighbors In Need” offerings do.

Of course, it seems that I always knew about this special offering called “Neighbors in Need.” It is not just a United Church of Christ offering. Those of us who are the “haves” dig deep to be part of the movement to rescue people from being “have nots.” You may be saying, “But I don’t have medical care.” Or you may be saying, I need to choose between paying the electric bill or buying groceries.” If this is you and you have not already connected with agencies that can help you here in the United States, we need to help you to find the agencies. Some of the “Neighbors In Need” funding happens here at home. Government agencies are sometimes staffed with very helpful people.

Eventually, the people at this Equator Communion Table are brought to silence while Jesus serves his body and then his blood which was shed for the forgiveness of the sins of all people who ask. Jesus assures us that gathering at the Equator was not an accident. Equal and Equator: the meeting of the north and the south; our conversations: the meeting of the east and the west. We shall no longer be “haves” and “have nots.” In the way of Jesus, justice shall prevail.

From our gospel lesson, I take this message. We shall all be servants, no matter our level of finances. Many wealthy “haves” are extravagant givers. Many poor “have nots’ are generous givers. Being a servant is about attitude. Are we willing to go out of our way to help our neighbor who lives next door or at the other end of the county or in a foreign country? A neighbor is anyone in need.

Let us put our trust in the Lord and do good. Let us commit our way to the Lord. Let us invite and make it possible for everyone to dwell in the land and find safe pastures. Let us put our trust in the Lord and see what God will do. From Psalm 37. Amen