Happenings

The spirit of shalom

May 2004    

The Rev Dr Douglas E. Wingeier, who had lectured at Trinity Theological College, visited Singapore recently, and preached a sermon at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church on Feb 22, 2004. Below is a summary of the sermon.

WHEN Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem on his last fateful week, he exclaimed, “If you had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

The factions, rivalries, antagonisms, scheming, exploitation, injustice, hostility, torture, killings, expropriation of lands and abuse of human rights prevailed, just as they do now, and in Micah’s time in the 8th century BC.

The setting in Micah 6:1-8 is a court case, one in which the hills and mountains have been called to serve as jury, in suit brought by God against Israel for breaking the covenant. Israel has complained that God is responsible for all the disasters that are happening to them, but God’s point is that if calamity comes as a result of their unfaithfulness to the covenant, it is not God who is unjust. It is the people who have brought misfortune on themselves by their waywardness.

The prosecutor reminds them of all of Yahweh’s saving acts in the covenant as their first-born were passed over, and the Hebrew tribes were led into freedom, with leaders sent from God – Moses, Aaron and Miriam – to guide them through. Even Balaam’s curse had turned into a blessing in saving them from the scheme of King Balak of Moab.

And God had stopped the Jordan River for the Israelites to cross to dry ground where they had celebrated the first Passover in the land of promise.

In His prophecy, God was calling on the people to remember God’s activity in their past history, by identifying with the stories, internalising them and living out the promise and the commitment they contain, “letting them shape our identity as to who we are and who we are called to be”.

Against such an argument, Israel pleads: “What can we do to make things right? What does it take to please God?” The answer is that it is more than sacrifices, even human sacrifices, clearly repugnant to God who knew that the people knew better.

If placating God with offerings or ritual acts is unacceptable, Micah tells them that God is more interested in the way they live their lives and treat their neighbours than in temple sacrifices. He wants MISHPAT (justice, fairness), HESED (loving-kindness, steadfast love), and HALAK (the humble walk with God, a committed relationship with God). Justice means to work for fairness and equality for all, especially the weak and powerless. Steadfast love means grace, compassion, care and respect for all persons. Walking with God means honouring God in our hearts and putting God first in our lives. It means living the way God wants us to live.

All of these qualities are caught up in the Hebrew concept of SHALOM – the biblical vision of one community embracing all, creating, living in peace. Ancient Israel’s vision is expressed in Isaiah 2:2-4 in which all peoples “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks … and shall not learn war any more”. The spirit of shalom is a spirit of wholeness, health and security for all creation.

It is characterised in the Bible by qualities of blessing, salvation, righteousness, justice, and individual and communal well-being. It is well expressed in the words of Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?”

I recently went on a visit to Haiti with a group called Ministry of Money, which conducts “pilgrimages of reverse mission” – not to evangelise or serve but to listen and learn through living with the poor. Among the things we did there was to stay in the homes of peasants in the mountains, and to give shaves and body massages to persons dying of tuberculosis and Aids in the Home for the Destitute and Dying run by the Mother Teresa Sisters of Mercy.

As I bent over the bony, shrivelled bodies of dying men, I felt very much as though I were “walking humbly with my God.”

QUOTE:

MIRACLE OF TOUCH
‘I remember one man to whom I ministered. As I poured the cooling lotion on his feverish skin and worked it in gently with my hands, I felt the tenseness of his body lessen, his drawn, tortured face relax, a faint smile break through his pain, and his bloodshot eyes close peacefully. Because of the language barrier, I could not communicate with him in words, but through the miracle of touch, the Spirit seemed to bring to him a sense of peace — shalom. The next day when I returned, his bed was empty. Shalom is possible!’

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