Finding Shalom

Not Being Smart

[God answered Solomon's prayer saying] I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart

God must not like our prayers because he keeps giving us the opposite of what we ask for. We ask for patience and we receive more frustrations. We ask for peace in our household and we receive more conflict. We ask for enough wealth to be secure and we find ourselves jobless and dependent upon the kindness of strangers. I get the feeling that God’s intention is to throw us fully into life, like a baby being thrown into the deep end of the pool. We pray, “Lord give us a firm foundation of truth,” by which we mean that He should make us smart enough to always be right. God responds, “Hey it’s time for your swimming lesson. Keep your head up and remember to breathe.”

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Pentecost 15

Question Authority?

We all have complicated a relationship with those who have authority over us. Some of us immediately comply to whatever our boss orders. Others of us have learned to walk the fine line between healthy insubordination and being fired. Some of us take whatever medicine we are prescribed, without question, because we assume physicians to be authorities on our medical conditions. Others of us, double-check every pill on the web. Some people believe whatever their pastor says about the Bible, others have their own interpretation. Jesus gets asked the authority question. In Matthew 21:21, the temple authorities ask him how he came to be an authority on religious practice.

Jesus’ response is illuminating. He pointed to John the Baptist, an un-credentialed peasant prophet. Until his death, John had been speaking out against the religious authorities and politicians of his day. Many people came to believe John to be a better expert on spiritual things than the priests and scholars of Jerusalem. They came out to the wilderness to hear John teach. They applauded John when he denounced Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife. When John was beheaded for questioning the authority of the government (or was it for taking a knee during the National Anthem?) the priests and Pharisees thought that he got what he deserved. Jesus had good reason to be wary of those in authority over him.

How do we know if an authority figure is worthy of our compliance?

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Pentecost 21

Passover in September?

Because it follows the Exodus story, the Lectionary tells us about Passover just after Labor Day. This seems strange, because this Jewish feast always falls in early spring, often near our Easter. What God tells Moses to do here is a ritual. Many of us flee from ritual. When people do a passover meal, they sometimes call it a “Seder,” which means an order of service or a ritual. God speaks through Moses, saying, do this and you shall live. God is serious about this and Moses must have been persuasive. How else would he get people to splash blood upon the door posts of their house? In some ways, doing ritual is our downpayment on spiritual change. We pray to be made different people. But nothing changes until we make some outward sign of commitment. So a couple wants to change and become more serious about their relationship. He buys her an engagement ring. They set a date. These are ritual things. Let’s sat you want to lose weight. You can wish and hope. Most people find that going down and actually plunking money down as a deposit on having a coach or a weight loss program and clearing your calendar so that you actually are committed to go running at 6am… I’m not endorsing any of this, I’m just saying that these are the kind of things one does. In the Bible, ritual is tied to real sacrifice. This is something you commit yourself to doing, even when it is easier to stay in bed. This is something you do even when it is expensive (Passover lamb wasn’t cheap for the people in Egypt).
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Pentecost 18

It's not What you know, but Who you know

Most of us have experienced about 1% of Exodus 1:8. We go to work and the person who supervises us changes. Suddenly we have a new boss who doesn’t know how loyal, trustworthy, and super we’ve been. They patronize us. They fail us. They give the good tasks to their friends and don’t give us the review that we need to be promoted. A bad boss is a pain. Some of you have lost a good neighbor and had the house next door bought by people who live like animals. A bad neighbor is a hassle. A bad king or pharaoh or president, however, is a humanitarian disaster. Think of the Hindenburg Zeppelin — “Oh, the humanity!”

Read Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

This is how a tragedy begins. Someone has your fate in their hands who doesn’t know you. It can be a new boss, a new neighbor, a new king. They remove the kindness you had come to expect from life. If they are your boss, there may be financial consequences. If they are your neighbor, you might lose sleep, step in dog poo as you get your morning paper, and begin to be concerned for your children’s safety. None of this compares to the problems that arise when the person who rules your land has forgotten the principles of Shalom.

Shalom is the peace, healing, and prosperity that God wishes to bring to every person on this planet. Shalom, often simply translated as peace, appears throughout the Bible. It is often paired with Justice, which is God’s commitment that every person be treated fairly. Human laws can be good or bad, but the divine purpose of human authority is to insure that every person is treated fairly, that no people group or race is disparaged, and that no one is denied life or liberty without due process.

Sunday, August 27, 2017
Pentecost 16

Aversion and Politics

Lately I have been struggling to understand the negative emotion, “aversion.” It is never helpful or right to react with our gut to the appearance or behavior of another person. Their choices may be wrong and their use of power unjust. But we must seek first to understand. We must mitigate evil when we can, but not to descend to name calling or shaming. Some of my Facebook friends express an aversion to Democrats, others towards leaders in the Republican party. The partisan affliction that divides our nation has taken up residence in our guts.

R U Happy 2 Day?

I have been thinking a lot about inner peace and happiness lately. Psalm 128 says that everyone who “fears the Lord” will be happy. In the context of the rest of the passage, I think the Hebrew word Shalom is more helpful here. It’s more permanent than happiness. It means real peace, as well as some other aspects of true happiness that we should focus on. But first, what about fearing God?

I thought fearing God was a no brainer until I considered the alternatives. There are those who are caught in addiction. The only way out is to walk a twelve step program which includes these two steps; 1) Admitted to ourselves that we are powerless over our addiction, and 2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. There are flaws in our character — dare I say sins? — that bind us to unhappiness. The only way out is to fear God and walk a path that is dependent upon our higher power.

The Hebrew word Shalom involves both inner and outer peace (see Psalm 128:6). Charity and justice are the pursuit of Shalom’s happiness through public service. Too often, however, the busy-ness of life forces us to lower our expectations. We seek for wholeness and settle for managed pain. We seek for God and settle for Likes on our Facebook page. We give up on real Shalom and attempt to grab fleeting happiness. God calls us back to the meaty things of life: compassion, mercy, justice, and being as generous as we can be to those in need.

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Pentecost 12

God's calling - My path

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming.

As individuals on life’s journey we each have a unique calling or vocation (Latin word “vocare”). We soberly respond to God’s plan for our lives by doing things which make little sense without our faith in a transcendent component to life: some enter the military, others a monastery, many choose a career whose monetary rewards won’t match their sacrifice, most of us will still choose at to stand before an altar and promise lifelong fidelity to one partner. The fact that an increasing number of people are marrying multiple times doesn’t diminish the religious component of monogamy. Even young adults who are not religious will speak of seeking their “soul-mate.” The important thing to remember about vocare is not its various forms, but the one on one relationship with God that it implies. God intervenes in our life. He says, “I designed you for this.” We feel nudged.

Our faith provides our life with meaning, by stating that God has established both our beginning and our end, within his great loving plan. We as individuals have dignity. Spirituality is an unfolding process of discovering that the journey in between has both beauty and purpose. It all happens for a reason.

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Pentecost 11

The Importance of Rules (and breaking them)

Jesus breaks the rules. He comes from God like John the Baptist does, but he doesn't sit out in the wilderness eating locust and wearing wild animal skins. He is in the tradition of Isaiah and Moses, yet he doesn’t write long books or tote stone tablets with rules to learn. There are three rules that I have learned from watching Jesus:
1) Always be compassionate.
2) Awareness beats ignorance
3) The ends never justify the means (or always trust the process).

We use many rules each day to stay healthy. We brush our teeth religiously, schedule routine medical appointments, trim toenails, spray sunscreen, and perhaps, floss. Each of these has an embedded mental mantra. Just as we say to ourselves thirty days hath September, so we repeat trite rules to form virtuous habits. Yet, there is something in me that rebels against rules. To have physical health and spiritual shalom I need to intentionally embed a limited number of phrases into my subconscious. I need to make it a rule to keep certain rules.

The point of always be compassionate, is that shalom will lie, not in the place where others say that it is, but in the place our heart, that is fully invested in the rule, finds to be compassionate. So, the father in Jesus story about prodigals, is thought to be violating the rule of compassion towards the vegan village and the older brother when he kills the fatted calf for his lost son. But shalom favors this extravagant gesture of grace. Only when we have the first rule firmly embedded in our mind can we see this.

Sunday, July 9, 2017
Pentecost 9

What do I do to please God?

Abraham, being an exemplar of faith, is quick to obey when he hears God calling him to sacrifice his son on a distant mountain (Genesis 22:1-19). This involves having the kid carry wood up to the summit, so that the old man can build an altar. The boy must then stand still, while ancient Abraham binds him to that altar. Then the boy will die and Abraham will go home to face Sarah. That is the plan. There isn’t a social service agency in the country that wouldn’t convict Abraham of child abuse for even considering it.
Traditionally, Christians have seen this story as an Old Testament precursor to Jesus’ death on the cross. The temple mountain in Jerusalem, where Jesus was bound and sacrificed, is thought to be the same mountain where Abraham brought his sacrifice. The question, “What do you do to please God?” hangs over both stories.
The shalom response to this question, however, is found at the end of the Old Testament in a minor prophet named Micah. He asks the question, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Then considering everything his faith has taught him about finding shalom in each of the three circles of life, Micah rejects the traditional answers that link religion with sacrifice. He writes: 
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Sunday, July 2, 2017
Pentecost 8

The Church's stand on Healthcare

We simply want healthcare that is:

Universal — this means that every resident of the United States should be covered to a basic standard without exception.
Equitable — this means that coverage should extend equally to all medical conditions. The cost of a preexisting conditions should not be born by the victim. The reproductive process should be insured irregardless of gender, personal choices about sexuality, or the religious beliefs of others.
Affordable — the final cost of healthcare to the individual should be based on income. It shouldn’t be dependent upon where one lives or the type of work one does.

Future Goals

One of the effects of the church growth movement and our current loss of membership is to bring to the fore experts who emphasize goal setting. I like the wisdom offered by Robert M. Persig, “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.” As we look for shalom, we’ll keep coming back to this basic concept that inner peace can’t be located elsewhere. It’s not in a future goal, like a paid off mortgage. It’s not over on a Hawaiian beach or up in heaven. Have you ever hiked a wooded path with a friend and just talked and found the conversation to be satisfying? Shalom is in that moment.

Spreading Shalom

What was Jesus’ first word to his friends when he came to them the evening of Easter? It was Shalom. This is a word that means more than just peace. Wholeness, healing, living a life that has integrity and consistency. Shalom speaks of God’s providence. It means that we are fruitful in our work and loving in our relationships. It means that we have our material needs met, and that we can care for the needs of others. Further, it means that we have this for eternity.

Jesus showed the disciples his hands and side, so that they would know it was him. He had risen from the dead and he wants us to know that there is shalom on the other side. The disciples and women had carried him into the dark, cold, gave on Friday. They saw him alive on Sunday. He showed them that there was a new pattern; life-death-and life again. He said one word, shalom.

Then he gave his disciples and his friends the command that they carry shalom out into the world. He sent them into world that only knew this pattern; life-suffering-death. He gave them good news. There is a new pattern; life-suffering-shalom-suffering-death-shalom. Shalom is the word. It blesses us. It blesses others. When we encounter people suffering in this world, we bring them shalom.

Jesus then gave to his disciples one additional meaning for shalom. Shalom is forgiveness. Shalom is the promise of healing in our relationships. Shalom is the promise of peace between the broken factions of our world. Shalom embraces the ISIS terrorist and the sister who stole money from you. Shalom embraces the boss who abuses his office and the child who is sent to school without lunch money. These are Jesus’ words:

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Easter 2
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