"And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than the known way.'" (Minnie Haskins)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mercy Ministries Conference Reflections #1: Shalom

After a long hard week of sitting by my fragile grandmother in a hospital, I sat surrounded by church leaders and lay members all eager to learn and reflect at the 2012 PCA Mercy Ministries Conference. Thurmond Williams, a pastor of an inner city church in Baltimore, kicked off the night with a talk entitled “In the City’s Shalom is Your Shalom.” The title came from the familiar passage of Jeremiah 29:7.

“Also seek the welfare (Shalom) of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare (Shalom) you will find your welfare(Shalom).” Jeremiah 29:7

The text for the talk though was based on Isaiah 58, as he challenged our familiarity with the Jeremiah verse and the word Shalom. In the world of mercy ministries and community develop, Shalom is a stable vocabulary word tossed around in books, lectures, and sermons, but do we really know what it means or are we just using it because it’s something everyone else uses?

So what is the definition of Shalom?
I thought the answer was easy – peace, but then was quickly humbled as Thurmond explained that the Hebrew word Shalomis much more comprehensive than our English word for peace. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines peace as a state of tranquility or quiet, as freedom from disquieting thoughts or emotions, or as harmony in relationships. The Hebrew word Shalom goes beyond this definition. It is a complete peace – in Hebrew it actually means ‘nothing missing, nothing broken.’ And according to Strong’s Concordance Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, and the absence of agitation or discord.

Wow. When we sit around talking about the Shalom of community, we must not keep our talks merely to bringing peace – as we know it today – to a neighborhood. That is only one piece of the puzzle. Let’s talk about a community that is described as “nothing missing, nothing broken” and thus what it would look like to bring a foretaste of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And He who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also He said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."” Revelations 21:1-5

Why should I care about the Shalom of the community in which I live?

Isaiah 58 reveals God’s people to be worshiping God according to how they had been instructed – instructions that had been designed to help them draw near to God. Their treatment towards others – especially those on the bottom of society –exposed though that they were worshiping with their lips but not their hearts. It revealed that they did not know the God they worshiped (Jeremiah 22:15-16).

Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the LORD.” Jeremiah 22:15-16

If I desire to worship God, I ought to be reflecting God and being transformed into His image. Our Lord loves justice (Isaiah 61:8). Do I love and seek justice? It is not a choice. It is a command. What does God require of His people? But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). How we respond to the poor and the oppressed disclose what we think and feel about God. If we truly love God, it will be expressed in how our actions towards others.

“Neutrality and silence [on issues of injustices] always helps the oppressor and NOT the victim… worship of God is NOT complicity with a system that treats others as less than the image of God!”Diane Langberg

How can we say the love of God exists within us when we close our hearts to the oppressed? As we see who we really are and what Christ has did for us, then we will love God and love our neighbor (Isaiah 6, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Colossians 3:12-17). We are not saved by what we do, but what we do reveals whether we know and love God.