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Shalom Makers

September 15, 2019 Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 9:6-7

As a young 24 or 25 year old, I chose the Mennonite Church. I transferred membership from my beloved home congregation, Andover Lutheran, so I could be a Mennonite. Four core beliefs led to this decision: believer’s baptism, a living emphasis on service, a priority given to simple living and the Anabaptist peace witness. Now I haven’t spent a lot of pulpit time talking about peace, although I am a deeply committed pacifist. But over the years, my peace position has also been slowly evolving, becoming much more comprehensive and inclusive. So today, I find my peace position intricately interwoven with my commitment to and beliefs about service – I can no longer separate the two. For many years, in my mind being a person of peace meant being opposed to war, to violence. And so it was less about advocating for something positive and more about advocating for the absence of something – so the absence of war equaled peace. And it didn’t really get beyond words, navel gazing. And this felt incomplete. Many in our Hoffnungsau congregation did alternative service in their 20’s as an active rejection of violence and war. This went beyond words. These individuals were engaged in service in all sorts of different communities across the country. I confess that at times I have almost envied their experiences and the chance they had to put their convictions on the line and really live their beliefs.

But what I’ve come to understand in the last few years is that my understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker was really lacking. That I am regularly given opportunities to live my peace convictions too, I just needed to have maybe a bigger imagination to better understand what this whole topic is really about.

Today I’m going to be pulling on the book, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace by Old Testament scholar, Perry Yoder. Perry was one of my professors at AMBS years ago but I didn’t actually read this book until long after I had left seminary. He makes the case that the meaning of the Hebrew word, “shalom”, used over 200 times in the Old Testament, can basically be boiled down to this – “shalom defines how things should be.” Shalom has three shades of meaning in the Old Testament. It’s most frequently used to mean “well.” In fact, shalom is often translated, “well” rather than “peace”. An example, one of many, is Genesis 29:6 – “Then Jacob asked them, ‘Is he well?’” Or we could also say, “Then Jacob asked them, ‘Does he have shalom?’” The word “okay” would also be a fine translation of shalom much of the time. So in other words, one way to understand shalom is well-being – are you in your physical and emotional state as you should be, are you okay?

The second use of the word shalom has more to do with relationships. Is there peace, wellness in your relationships with others? Is society relating in a just way to her citizens, to all of them? Is there peace and rightness in one nation’s relationship with another nation? When shalom is used in this way, the presence of justice, or lack thereof, largely determines how “okay” or “right” the relationship is. Isaiah 32:16-17 reads, “Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace (shalom); the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” If justice and righteousness, “rightness”, are present in relationships than things are as they should be. There is shalom.

The third and most rare usage of shalom describes a person’s character. Psalm 37:37 reads, “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace.” In this passage and in a handful of others shalom is equated with honesty and integrity. But again, this is a