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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 

“Who Wins The Faithfulness Sweepstakes”

Sermon – 06-27-21 – Proper 8 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
Sermon Title: “Who Wins the Faithfulness Sweepstakes?”

What are sweepstakes? I don’t know what possessed me to choose this title last Sunday evening when I wanted a title for Janice to type into the bulletin. I can’t remember any experience I have with sweepstakes. I typed “sweepstakes” into my usual search engine on-line wanting to know the meaning of the word sweepstakes. Well! I did not find the meaning of sweepstakes. I did find loads of sweepstakes with which I could empty my bank account. Addiction waiting to happen!

So I glanced at my desk to find how buried my old printed dictionary was. For some reason it was right on the top of a pile. I found the word sweepstakes. That dictionary was so old that the only meaning for sweepstakes was horse racing. Yet on-line there are endless sweepstake opportunities. The one that caught my eye was a Clorox sweepstakes. I could enter that contest to honor someone who cares for other people. I thought of the person in my life who would deserve that sweepstakes. Some winners would get $250.00. Fewer winners would get $25,000.00. What a temptation!

One of the virtues I learned from my parents and did not discard in my adulthood is not to gamble with money. I do gamble with time as some of you have learned. It is a destructive habit when I am wasting someone else’s time as I gamble that I have enough time not to be late to meet someone or to meet a deadline to submit something. Could there be a sweepstakes where the winner receives a windfall of extra time? Count me in!

Since our theme today is “faithfulness,” how does the virtue of faithfulness mesh with the idea of sweepstakes and who wins? I would like to present the idea of how faithfulness and sweepstakes oppose each other, rather than mesh or “fit with” each other.

Faithfulness does not have deadlines; sweepstakes have a deadline.
Faithfulness can accumulate and build on itself, money that is spent on sweepstakes is gone to the winners, most often not ourselves.

But can faithfulness be a gamble? Have you ever prayed and prayed about a situation and it seemed as God had closed the door and turned his back? You had invested hope and slowly your hope dwindles while desperation increases. Sometimes we ask frivolous requests. Sometimes we pray and pray for something we think we need and when God gets tired of our whining, God grants our request and we find it was not really a good thing.

What is faithfulness anyway? Is it the man on the roof in a flood who believes God himself is going to appear and tuck the man under God’s arms and fly away to safe ground? So the man rejects all offers of help by people in his faithfulness to the idea that waiting for God is the right thing to do.

Faithfulness. Following rules laid down by God to the best of our ability is faithfulness. God’s basic rules for us are not punishment, they are structures for a life that works well. Resisting earthly get-rich-quick activities is faithfulness. Get-rich-quick temptations are like the fruit of the tree of good and evil that Adam and Eve could not resist. Sweepstakes.

When we invest in prayer and follow the rules as best we are able, and it seems that God is resisting us, are we looking hard enough at our lives? In our reading from Lamentations, Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations, is caught in the ugly exile of the Israelites – God’s people – as they are carried off to Babylon. God made Jeremiah the major prophet in this time. He was charged with getting the Israelites to turn from their sinning to face God and live for God and worship God. It was a sad, sad time. Jeremiah became severely depressed. The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s lamenting.

Yet see what he writes: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning,” “Great is your faithfulness,” he says to God. Then Jeremiah continues, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

David in the Psalm writes centuries before Jeremiah, yet he has the same way of thinking. “God’s wrath is short; God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

David expresses his thanks to God for restoring David’s health. Later, we read the long harsh time of God through Jeremiah bringing healing to the people of God and God arranges for his people to find their way home to Jerusalem even though it is to a destroyed Jerusalem. But here again God assigns leaders to reconstruct buildings and to reconstruct righteous living and a restored relationship between God and his people. New in the morning!

Remember how it feels to be estranged from someone – family member or fellow worker or even God – and then somehow healing happens in the relationship. That is the joy in the morning! David writes, “You [God] have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackc;loth and clothed me with joy.”

Then we get to Mark in the 1st Century after Christ’s birth on earth. We have the description of two healings superimposed on each other: the little girl and the adult woman. Both the father of the little girl and the woman came to Jesus in faith. They believed Jesus could heal. Jesus did heal, unintentionally with the woman and intentionally with the little girl.

Looking now at Paul who was not one of the twelve disciples, you may recall his dramatic entry into the realm of Christianity on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. Paul is a deep thinker. Is there healing in this passage from the second letter to the people who lived in Corinth? Yes, there is healing: healing of imbalance between the rich and the poor. It could be a balance of money. It could be a balance of power between people with a voice and people who have no voice. It could be a balance of sadness and joy. Most importantly, it is a balance between the richness of life in Christ and the desperation of life without Christ. The striking reality is that we do not lose our richness of life in Christ when we share it. Instead, our richness of life in Christ becomes more abundant when we share it. In this way everyone wins. Amen