God’s Peace in Delaware County Jail

Guest: Sam Gedert

Ezekiel 37:1-14

As I said earlier, Advent is about anticipating the birth of the baby Jesus and also about anticipating the return of Christ the King. This year, we are going to lean a little harder on the second one and try to avoid sinking into unhelpful sentimentalism. We are remembering in this Advent season that the coming of Jesus means that the world is actually different. And that in all the ways possible, we are called by God to make the world different, to make the world more of what God intends it to be.

The word in the Old Testament for the way God intends the world to be is the Hebrew word “shalom.” This little word has huge meanings that can’t be fully captured by just one English word. Shalom means peace, which is why I mention it this week, this second week of Advent, this week of peace. But shalom also means prosperity, and reconciliation, and flourishing, and wholeness. God’s intention for the world, the way the world was originally created and the way God will one day recreate it, is shalom, wholeness, all things as they should be, all things in line with God.

Each week during Advent, as we think about the work of Christmas, we are going to talk about a different ministry or mission that we’re involved with. This morning Sam and I are going to talk about our ministry at Delaware County Jail. But before we do, I want to read you a story from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. 

Before I read this, you should know that Ezekiel is, like, Revelation’s little brother. It’s WEIRD. It’s full of visions and Ezekiel does crazy prophetic acts to try to get the people’s attention. The Jewish Mishnah says that the first chapter of Ezekiel should not be taught to anyone who isn’t already fully trained in the Jewish religion, that’s how weird it is. And this week’s story is every bit as weird as anything else we find in this book.

Ezekiel was a priest, from the southern kingdom of Judah. Remember the nation of ancient Israel split in civil war into north called Israel and south called Judah. Israel gets wiped out by the nation of Assyria, and then about 130 years later Judah is also in trouble, being threatened by the kingdom of Babylon. After a failed rebellion, many leaders are captured in 597 BCE and held hostage in the city of Babylon. Ezekiel was one of those. Ten years later Babylon comes back and completely destroys the city of Jerusalem and the holy temple. Ezekiel’s prophecies span this whole time. Before Jerusalem is destroyed he is still very stridently warning the people to repent and stop their greed, violence and religious hypocrisy. But as soon as the city is destroyed, his prophecies switch to being ones of consolation and restoration. I just want to point out that there are never any prophecies of “ha ha you got what you deserved” AFTER the destruction. As soon as the consequences have taken place, it’s all about hope and healing. Anyway, this morning’s story is one of the hope and healing ones, although, like I said. It’s weird. So let’s read it.

This is Ezekiel chapter 37 verses 1 through 14.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

This the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Told you it was weird. There is so much that we could say about this passage, but since we are also celebrating Communion this morning, I want to simply let this be the background for our conversation about jail ministry. So Sam, come join me.

First of all, I already know, but why don’t you tell everyone else what you think of this story …

<Listen to the podcast or watch the video for Sam and Beth’s conversation>

Friends, what we are talking about this morning is the perfect set-up for Communion because when we celebrate Communion, we remember. And to remember literally means to put something back together, to put a body back together, to re-member it. Through this sacred ritual, we are put back together, reconnected to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Which is why our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years that this is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all ages, races, and sexes — people in every type of body — come from the four corners of the earth to Christ’s table where all are welcome. 

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