Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Sentness – Shalom Spirituality

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’”

Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.

So, I like this bit of Mark’s Gospel for a couple of reasons related to this theme of “Shalom Spirituality.” For one thing, I think understanding Jesus’ response to the scribe who questions him is how we get to/how we experience what I would call “shalom spirituality.” (You gotta put God first and love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.) And when you do, you’re more likely to see and to trust and to live like “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”

I like that, because I want to know how to achieve this “shalom spirituality” in my life. And I think it’s something Jesus wants for all of us, too. I think “Shalom Spirituality” is living your life, recognizing that you’re never far from the kingdom of God. Even more, I think “Shalom Spirituality” is living your life in celebration of – and in response to – the truth of that fact, that you are never far from the kingdom of God.

And the authors of this Sentness book do a good job of reminding us that shalom means something bigger than we usually think – if we think anything – about the word. We’ve all heard the word before, right? But most of us limit it to meaning “peace” or maybe we consider it to be some sort of greeting or welcome – like something you say when you meet someone or like something printed on a mat outside someone’s front door, maybe.

But like so many other words or phrases or themes in Scripture, these limited understandings suck the life and power and depth of meaning from what “shalom” can really mean for us. “Shalom” means a “universal kind of flourishing,” “a whole, holy kind of wholeness,” “an all-encompassing delight and joy.” The Sentness authors describe it as a way of being that inspires joyful wonder…that opens doors…that welcomes, most fully, in the name of God. As they say in the book, “shalom” is the way things ought to be.

I think about the promises of Scripture when I think of “shalom”…when the wisdom of the prophets point to how the fullness of God’s redemption will look when it comes to pass. “Shalom” is heaven – here on earth. And “shalom” is heaven – in the world that is to come for us all.

I think "shalom" is like that promise from Isaiah, where he said, "they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

I think "shalom" is like Amos' God-given command to "let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

I think "shalom" happens when we achieve what is good, according to God's words to the prophet Micah, when we do what the Lord requires, by doing justice, by loving kindness, by walking humbly with God.

I think "shalom" looks like the future we read about in Revelation, where there will be no mourning or crying or pain any longer; when death will be no more when God will wipe every tear from our eyes, except, I'm guessing, the tears of joy that come with this kind of "shalom."

And I think Jesus points to this “shalom” stuff when he reminds the disciples – and us – that he came so that God’s joy, the joy of our creator, would live within us; and so that our joy might be complete…full…overflowing… more joy than we think we can handle, even.

So I wonder what that kind of “shalom” looks like for you…for me…for us as people on the planet. My guess is we’re still waiting for it. My hunch is it seems beyond us most days…out of our reach…impossible…intangible…unlikely, at best. Like, we’re going to have to wait for Jesus to help us get our hands on some of that kind of “shalom.”

But I don’t it has to be that way – or that that’s what God intends to be true for us – as God’s children in the world. I think we are made to experience and to share this sort of “shalom” often and abundantly and that we can do that when we realize, like that scribe in Mark’s Gospel for today, that there are moments when we – you and I – are not far from the kingdom of God, ourselves.

So, I wonder, can you think of “shalom moments” from your life’s experience? Moments when all seemed right with the world? Moments when, in your little corner of the kingdom, there was peace, wholeness, fulfillment, and real joy?

I can think of a few. Some are easy right? Like the moment at the end of my wedding ceremony where Christa and I held hands, looked out at the gathering of our closest family and friends and listened to a friend sing the final verse of Pete Seeger’s “The Water is Wide.” (Holy Shalom, Batman!) Like the moment I first held each of my boys in the hospital delivery room and could tell, just by looking at them, that they were full of Havel genes. (Not that there was any doubt.)

We’ve all had  moments like that, I hope…when all the right people are gathered ‘round…when all seems right with the world.  Maybe it was your last Christmas dinner, a family reunion, a party with your closest friends – the ones who might as well be family – and you all know it. Or maybe it’s more simple than that, when whoever matters most is home for supper on a regular old Tuesday night.

I felt God’s kind of “shalom” the last time our group of Mission Trippers partied in Fondwa, Haiti – I mean really partied – sharing food and drinks; dancing and clapping and climbing banana trees, for crying out loud. Two worlds coming together like that – literally without even words to express the fullness of it all – that’s “shalom” if you ask me.

I felt another kind of “shalom” this past New Year’s Eve at the funeral for my friend’s wife. We cried hard, heavy, holy tears for Shay, who had died, and for her husband and young son in the morning during worship and as we gathered at the cemetery to say goodbye one last time. And there were more and different kinds of tears later that night, when the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped and the party danced and jumped to one of Shay’s favorite songs.

And, as sad and scary as the last few weeks after Janis Janelsins’ stroke and hospitalization have been, I’ve sensed a very real spirit of “shalom” around here as we’ve prayed and worried, prayed some more and wondered, prayed again and worked to make things happen at Cross of Grace without Janis and Anne – and for Janis and Anne – who are at the center of so much of the ministry we share.

Yeah, I think there’s “shalom” even at times of sadness, and struggle like these.

Because, for my money, “shalom spirituality” is about being “not far from the kingdom of God.” And God’s kingdom is as near to us when we’re struggling as it is when we’re celebrating. We – like so many others – just need some help remembering that a lot of the time.

See, this “Shalom Spirituality” stuff means being about the kind of living Jesus describes – where we’re loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and where we’re loving and caring for our neighbors at least as much as we love and care for ourselves. And I think we do that, first, by worshipping the God of our creation as often as we can; by humbling ourselves in the presence of our maker as often as we’re able; by centering ourselves – at least daily – through prayer and meditation and listening to and studying God’s word.

Because when we do these things, our eyes and ears and hearts and minds are more open to notice and to go after and to receive the kingdom so that we can share it often…and abundantly…and without reservation…with the people in our lives who are looking, too, but who can’t seem to find it; those people who are living in the midst of, but don’t see it; those people who – just like us – are already part of the very kingdom that God so wants us all to recognize as shalom: which is nothing more or less than the love of God… the joy of our maker…the hope of the world… it is heaven in our midst and, by the grace of God, we are never far from it.

Amen

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