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 description of a person as he or she should be in regards to morality.
This is the code of conduct all our Old Testament leaders are expected to uphold. Consistently, from Adam and Eve through to the prophets, we see God calling people to live and act according to how things should be under God’s rule, in God’s Kingdom. He calls people to be shalom-makers. Nowhere is this more evident than among the prophets. The most numerous and popular of the prophets in the Old Testament were called false prophets. These were the messengers who told the people what they wanted to hear. Who reinforced the status quo. Who turned a blind eye towards injustice and oppression. Who, in the words of Jeremiah 6:13-14, “were greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practiced deceit. They dressed the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they said, where there was no peace.” No shalom. In contrast, we have our passage, from Isaiah, one of the truest and greatest prophets in the Old Testament. He never uses the word “shalom” in this passage from chapter 9, but it is the very description of shalom, of everything being just as it should be, of God’s vision achieved [when all nations stream to God’s holy mountain and learn to walk in the ways of God, when all people beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; when nations will no longer lift up sword against nations and neither learn about war anymore].
Jesus followed in the way of these Hebrew scriptures. He followed the teachings of Moses and Elijah, the prophets. Jesus walked in the way of shalom. And we see this in every aspect of his life. He healed people, seeking out those on the margins, the blind, the lame, the poor and he worked to make them well, to give them shalom. He taught about right relationships and he attacked the structures of society that promoted injustice. He preached about morality through any number of his parables and decried hypocrisy in all shapes and forms – in all ways and in all places, he lived out the example of shalom. This was just fundamental to everything Jesus said and did. And his death on the cross was the ultimate act of shalom, dying that we might live, through his sacrifice making things as they should be for our sake.
Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace. To be a peacemaker, or a shalom maker then is to work at making things as they should be. That means lifting people up and working to make them well in every sense of the word. That means lifting up relationships and making them safe places where justice and righteousness dwell. That means lifting up and holding people accountable to a high moral code, advocating for honesty and integrity in our leaders and in ourselves.
Towards the end of the book, Yoder includes a couple of chapters outlining what happened when the Israelites went from a clan system in which judges held the locus of authority to a kingship hierarchy with King Saul as the first monarch. If you remember, God was pretty upset about his people’s insistence on a king. God was their King. And in I Samuel 8, He warned them about all that would happen under a human kingship system. And of course, this is God, he knew what he was talking about and it all came to be. Certainly, the rule of the judges was not perfect, but Israel’s judges were pretty good overall about taking their cues from God and thus what existed was more of a political and economic system of shalom. This all changed when kings came on the scene and things shifted very quickly to a stratified society and wealth economics.
These cultural characteristics of wealth economics are what the Old Testament prophets were attacking and the expectation was that a king would come who would restore God’s Kingdom, a Messiah who would save the people and bring shalom. A Prince of Peace who would reign on David’s throne, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Jesus, our Prince of Peace, was after shalom economics. Over and over again, you see Jesus and his ministry reflected in these cultural hallmarks of shalom. And then we get to Acts, and the birth of the early church. The early church, the church most closely in touch with Jesus, who still held Jesus’ life in their collective memory, who relied on the Holy Spirit to lead and give them life, who claimed Jesus as their head. How did that early church structure itself? Shalom, through and through.
Where are we at today? How is the church doing? Are we operating out of shalom economics or wealth? Maybe a better question would be, what is the church doing about it? Jesus came to establish this shalom Kingdom not in the hereafter but in the here and now. We are called to be shalom-makers and I think that’s exactly what most of us want to be. We want to be about the work of shalom. But the work of shalom means addressing an entrenched social order in which the golden calf of wealth has been given the seat of honor. So what do we do? As best I can tell, we witness, we testify through our words and through our actions that we are faithful followers of Christ, that we take the Bible seriously, that we want with all our hearts to see God’s Kingdom, God’s social order, God’s reign of shalom active and alive in our world. And this begins in our own communities, in our own back yards.
This church, from all I know, has always been a people committed to service, to reaching out and offering others a helping hand up. Our vision statement is simply putting to words what we’ve always been called to be and do here at Hoffnungsau, to be Christ’s hopeful view. This is a shalom statement, a faithful desire to live out the way things should be. And so we pack school kits, we help out at the MCC resource center, we make New Year’s cookies and noodles, we send our youth to Virginia to help people who have a hard time helping themselves and so much more. And now we are heading into a season with so very many more opportunities to be shalom-makers, to be Christ’s church and I want to just list all the different opportunities presenting themselves just from our church’s end of things, over these next few months – opportunities to heed God’s call to try and enact God’s reign in the here and now, serving and praying our way towards life as it should be. Listen to this list… Next Sunday we are inviting families in need to come join us for worship and for lunch at the pumpkin patch. We don’t know if no one will come or if 60 will come. This makes it a little difficult to figure out how much food to bring. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s just a pesky detail. My family’s going to bring a big pan of brownies and a bunch of egg salad sandwiches. If we have lots of guests, then Jonathan (my teenage son) will limit himself to only half a sandwich so at least 5 other people can have lunch too! We will make it work in the hopes that our table will grow in the best way possible, inviting people to come as they are, receiving them as our cherished guests. Three different groups within Buhler are now mobilizing for action. You’ve heard Mrs. Kennedy share today about ideas sparking to meet both ongoing needs centered around poverty as well as being able to be more responsive when crisis situations arise. The first Sunday in October, David Case, the executive director of the Omega Project in McPherson, will be here during the Sunday School hour and will also give the morning’s message. He will bring with him several people who have struggled with addiction and have worked through this Omega program. They will share their testimony with us and help us gain a better understanding of how, as a church or as individuals we can support a newly emerging Omega Project in Buhler intended to serve this whole general area where our church has been planted. The Buhler Ministerial is also at work trying to organize a community effort to put two new roofs onto houses where the homes’ residents simply are not able to address these needs on their own. There will probably be a couple of workdays we can sign up for or we can always offer financial support. Cleo Koop has alerted us to a couple of MDS opportunities in Eureka, Kansas – one this Saturday and the other on October 5. This Saturday, if you’re not heading to Eureka, everyone who is able, can come here to the church to work at making sausage together in preparation for our mission supper. Our mission supper, all on its own is our most foundational community outreach event. But each year we pair this outreach with the desire to raise funds for some worthy service endeavor. This year all funds will be donated to Mobility Worldwide, based most locally out of Moundridge, but serving around our world. On Sunday, October 13, Kirby Goering, from Moundridge, will be doing a Mission Moment, bringing us up to date on the PET project. On October 6, the deacons will be hosting a meal that is not a hamburger fry. We’re going to do pulled pork this year and brats and s’mores and as in years past. We want to invite our friends and neighbors to come out and just enjoy an evening together, sharing a meal and playing games outside. The beginning of November we will take our turn with the meat canner. If you haven’t done this before, I invite you to come. It’s fun! The spirit there is awesome! And that meat we can, it saves lives.
Early Thursday morning I learned about more needs surfacing in our middle schools and high schools. That will be a developing conversation that we might be working to respond to in November. This Advent season, we will again do a food drive collecting an assortment of breakfast and snack foods for area schools just like we did for Lent. Schools have already been circulating requests for more food because the need is that great. So that’s our plan for the next few months. Needs range from local to global. Everyone can participate in whatever way they feel called – giving of self, giving time, giving money, giving prayers or just showing up and being present in a whole variety of ways.
We don’t have to wait for a war before we’re given the opportunity to put our pacifism, our commitment to peace in action. The work of shalom is here before us every single day. And God knows He needs all of us enlisting in this Kingdom work, proclaiming the good news that our Prince of Peace has come and now reigns on David’s throne, here in this life, in this world, in this country, in our homes and in our backyards. May God’s shalom be upon us all. Amen.