University Congregational Church
Aug. 28, 2016
“Living in Shalom”
Remember the Folgers commercial when the tall, handsome son comes home on Christmas morning? His younger attractive sister meets him at the door and they quietly go into the kitchen to make coffee and catch up. As the pot of coffee brews, they talk about him living in Africa and he gives his sister a small gift. Mom and Dad – asleep upstairs in their bed – begin stirring and smell the coffee brewing. It is a homey, familial scene. Even those who don’t like the taste of coffee can feel the warm glow of love of this family on Christmas.
In a world of broken families and unmet emotional needs, this commercial creates alluring images of a perfect family celebrating together.
Think of all the car commercials of a rugged, handsome man driving a well-equipped SUV or sports car and doing perfect figure 8’s or traversing an impossible mountain road. We can all imagine ourselves in that shiny new car, wildly testing its agility and power. The 20 year old in all of us fantasizes about the power and speed of a rugged, but unnaturally clean vehicle that can safely let us experience heart-stopping drives all in the comfort and safety of the air conditioning.
In a world of used and mechanically failing cars, our imaginations are stirred by these scenes of youth, vitality, speed, safety, and exhilaration.
Each of these advertising or other images – and that soaring, beautiful, creative power of imagination – takes its cue from a very ancient image. Their work is just a tiny peak at God’s own image of universal harmony. And every human heart yearns for that experience of “everything is right, perfect & just”.
Augustine called it life’s summum bonum or “supreme good”. John Calvin said that God plants in every human a senses divinitatus, a “sense of divinity”. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our inconsolable secret is that we are full of yearnings, sometimes shy and passionate, that point us beyond the things of earth to the ultimate reality of God.”
In every age and in every place, people know deep in their souls, that they are created for something better than they currently experience.
Charismatic speakers like Martin Luther King, Jr. know how to tap into that vision of a better life. King led us – guided us – helped us – believe in a better way. He knew how to connect people to their longing for God’s massive project of renewal and harmony.
When we close our worship each week, we sing about this hope and vision of a better way. It is summed up in one word: shalom.
The Hebrew word shalom has translated into English as “peace”. Other translations use these words:
• Wealth * welfare * completeness
• Peace-offering * to be whole * to be perfect
• To be victorious * at rest or ease * security
• To prosper * perfection * tranquility & harmony
So shalom does not simply mean what the English word peace means. In fact, the English word is essentially a negative word. We tend to use the word peace as the absence of something. We are at peace when there is no war, conflict or violence. When we say we have a peaceful home, we mean that there is no noise or busyness. When we talk about a peaceful mind, we are saying we are not troubled or worried. We even talk about people who die as “being at peace”.
But the Hebrew word shalom goes far beyond these ideas of peace. Shalom captures the Hebrew vision of human society as a place of completeness. It is a dream of what the world could someday be. This is a cosmic principle and an ethical obligation.
Our first traditional word is from Mark 5. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
To understand this story, you have to consider 1st century Judaism and religious law. There were very serious regulations concerning hemorrhaging. The purity laws made not only the woman herself unclean, but whatever and whoever she touched also became unclean. The result was embarrassment, isolation and religious stigma.
When Jesus healed her, he pronounced that she could “go in peace”. This is shalom. She was healed of her malady; but most importantly, she was able to re-enter society. She could be with her family for the first time in 12 years. She could sit with them at the table and even pass the food. She could go into the city and purchase things. She could meet with other women. She could go to her synagogue without sitting outside the gates. She didn’t have to be a social pariah. She didn’t have to be an outcast. This is what shalom meant for her.
Timothy Keller defines Biblical shalom as “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” He states, “God created us to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent.”
Imagine that each of you held a length of string, yarn, or thread. If we put them all on the communion table, they would just be threads lying on top of each other. They would come apart easily if we picked them up loosely. If, instead, I asked you to come to the table and weave your piece of thread into others, we might be able to create a small piece of fabric. Threads become a fabric when we weave them together, under, around, and through each other. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God’s design for the billions of entities in our world is that we are in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, webbed, interdependent relationship with one another. This is the definition of shalom.
Shalom is not the absence of something, like we talk about peace. Shalom is actually peace with its boots on. It is a description of how God’s people are to act and how we are to live.
When we live in shalom, everyone has access to food and water.
When we live in shalom, there is a more equal distribution of wealth. (Deut. 15:4-11)
When we live in shalom, we are not hard-hearted to others. We do not judge or find fault.
When we live in shalom, we share and give freely. (Acts. 4:32-35)
When we live in shalom, we have intimate and committed relationships with God and one another. (Numbers 6:22-26)
When we live in shalom, our goodness comes from God, not ourselves. (Phil. 3:9)
Earlier this month, a news story caught my eye. A 91-year-old man in hospice care in Michigan was busy in his hospital bed knitting winter caps for the homeless.
Moorie Boogart has been loom knitting the haps for more than 15 years. He stopped counting after making 8,000 of them.
He’s slowing down a bit now, saying it takes him about two days to make a hat. He calls learning to knit one of the best things that has ever happened to him and adds that the only time he’s not knitting is when he’s sleeping. He says, “It just makes me feel good.”
That is a man living in the peace of shalom.
I saw a mother and her children post on Facebook recently that they had put together some “blessing bags” to hand out to people in need standing on the street corners. They went to a dollar store and purchased: gallon sized Ziploc bags to hold some helpful items, like a bottle of water and granola bar, bandaids, baby wipes, a wash cloth or hand sanitizers, some toiletries, trail mix, tuna & cracker pack, fruit cup, gum, and a pack of quarters.
That is a family living in the peace of shalom.
I heard from a friend last Sunday. She has struggled with the Sunday evening blues lately – the stress of another week of grueling work schedule is just too much to handle. She was so happy last Sunday. She packed up a few healthy snacks, a blanket and a good book. Instead of sitting inside and watching TV, she got out to a park and laid down on her blanket and read an inspiring book. She did a bit of yoga and she breathed deeply. It restored her soul.
That is a woman living in the peace of shalom.
Adams, Kevin. “Preaching Toward Shalom; A Wonderful Life”. Sept., 2012.
Davies, John. “John 14 – Shalom for Beginners”. July 5, 2013.
Keller, Timothy. “The Beauty of Biblical Justice”. October, 2010.
Ravitzky, Avierzer Dr. “Shalom; Along with Truth & Justice, Peace is Among the Most Hallowed Jewish Values”. April 1, 2003.