Monday, January 07, 2008

Our Utmost for Shalom

Our Utmost for Shalom
A New Year Resolution for 2008
Text: Matthew 22:34-40

Dr Alex Tang
Sunday sermon
6 January 2008
Holy Light Church (English), Johor Bahru

Sermon Statement

Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is love; love for God, for our neighbours and for ourselves. Love leads to shalom which is the fulfilment of love. S.H.A.L.O.M. is how a church practices love –Story, Heart, Action, Learning, Oneness and Maturity.


34But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. 35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt.22:34-40)
The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

Happy New Year. We are also in the season of Epiphany. The season of Epiphany, from the Greek epihaneia meaning “manifestation,” begins on January 6 and continues for nine Sundays, then concludes with the Sunday of The Transfiguration. It commemorates the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles, represented by the visit of the Magi from the East. The season goes on to encompass his baptism, followed by the first miracle at Canaan. As Advent celebrates Christ’s humanity, Epiphany commemorates his divinity.

The making of New Year's resolutions dates back to the early Babylonians in about 2000 BC. The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth.

Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to revaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to celebrate the New Year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus. The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic representation of the New Year was brought to early America by the Germans.

The posted a list of Popular New Year's Resolutions (accessed 4 January 2008). The list include
• Lose Weight
• Pay Off Debt
• Save Money
• Get a Better Job
• Get Fit
• Eat Right
• Get a Better Education
• Drink Less Alcohol
• Quit Smoking Now
• Reduce Stress Overall
• Reduce Stress at Work
• Take a Trip
• Volunteer to Help Others
• Holiday and New Year Health-e-Cards

The website also offers 3 ways to keep the resolutions:
(1) Be committed.
(2) Be prepared for setbacks.
(3) Track your progress.

What are some of your New Year resolution for this year, 2008? What happened to last year’s resolutions? Did you manage to keep any of them? Making New Year resolutions are good. It allows a new start. The beginning of the year is a good time to start afresh. We leave last year behind. It is like having another chance to have another go. That is why making New Year resolutions and keeping them is important. In this sermon, we shall try to make some New Year resolutions together as a church.

Exposition of the Text
The Pharisees and Sadducees often see Jesus as a threat to the religious establishment. One group, the Pharisees who are very religious see Jesus as a threat to the basis of their divinely based religion. The Sadducees were opposed to Jesus because of political reasons. They are afraid that Jesus will set himself up as the messiah and thus incur the wrath of the Romans while diminishing their political influence. In the gospels, there are many instances of the Pharisees and Sadducees attempting to trap Jesus into saying something that will incriminate himself.

Earlier, the Sadducees had tried to trap Jesus by posing a question of a woman married to seven men consequently. This is legitimate by Mosaic Law. The brother is to marry his brother’s widow. However, whose wife will she be after the resurrection? The Sadducee do not believe in the resurrection, rejects all the extra-Torah teaching of the Pharisees and accept only what the Torah teachers. Jesus silenced them by explain a text from Exodus 3:6 by emphasis the tense of the Patriarch. "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." The present tense indicates that there is an afterlife and that in this afterlife, we shall be like angels; without families.

After the failure of the Sadducee, the Pharisee sent in their champion, a lawyer. The question seems to be simple one. Which of the commandments is the greater one? The Pharisees after searching scripture found 613 commandments. The trap is simple. The Pharisees recognises that there is a hierarchy in the commandments. Thus murder is worst that boiling a lamb in its mother’s milk (Deut.14:21). Whichever one Jesus chose, someone will ask why not this other one.

Instead Jesus answered by quoting the Schema (Deu. 6:5) which is about loving God.
5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Then he adds about loving your neighbours
(Lev. 19:18, 34).
LEV 19:18 " `Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
And then he concluded by stating that these two statements contains all that the Law and the prophets teaches.

Leon Morris, formerly principal of Riley College, Melbourne, Australia comments about this passage, ‘Wholehearted love for God means coming in some measure to see other people as God sees them, and all people as the objects of God’s love. Therefore anyone who truly loves God with all his being must and will love others, and this is expressed in the commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” a commandment that is repeated in the Pentateuch.’

We can summarise it as thus

Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and
with all your soul and
with all your mind.’
Love your neighbor
as yourself.

Shalom as the Fulfilment of Love

Shalom is translated as, “(1) to be in a covenant of peace, be at peace, (Qal) to be at peace,peaceful one (participle), (Pual) one in covenant of peace (participle), (Hiphil) to make peace with, to cause to be at peace,(Hophal) to live in peace; and
(2)to be complete, be sound, (Qal) to be complete, be finished, be ended, to be sound, be uninjured, (Piel) to complete, finish, to make safe, to make whole or good, restore, make compensation, to make good, pay, to requite, recompense, reward, (Pual) to be performed, to be repaid, be requited, (Hiphil) to complete, perform, to make an end of.

• Jesus made shalom through the cross (Col.1:20; Eph.2:15-16).
• When Jesus healed and forgave people, he dismissed them by saying, “Go in shalom.”
• We are to “seek and pursue it.”(Ps.34:14b as quoted in 1 Pet. 3:11 ).
• We are to be at peace, pursue it, send it, and keep it (Rom.12;18; 1 Thess.5:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Rom.14:19; 1 Cor. 16:11).
• Shalom is an active fruit of the spirit (Gal.5:22) and a mark of the realm of God. It is about the matrix of peace, harmony, and wholeness and is both a gift and task for the very goal of our teaching and learning life together.
• shalom in Christian community is an inclusive concept, signifying a place, a dwelling and a life where we can be different together.(Eph.2:14-22)

Joldersma, in unpacking Wolterstorff’s idea of shalom writes,

“Shalom means people living in right relationships with God, themselves, each other, and nature- and in taking delight in such relationships. Shalom involves finding meaning in our experiences and celebrating the actualizing of creation’s potentials. Shalom involves recognizing in ourselves that place where Gods’ goodness finds its answer in our gratitude. Shalom is an ethical community where all the members have a full and secure place in the community. As such, it embraces a “non-abandonment” view of the creation that involves redeeming it.” (Wolterstorff, 2004, xii)

Luke uses the word shalom (eirene) to describe the early struggling Christian church . Expanding on this, Norma Everist from Wartburg Theological seminary in Duduque, Iowa writes,

“Shalom looks both backward and forward. It recalls the paradisiacal Garden of Eden, and anticipates the coming of the reign of God. Shalom is personal, and may apply to God self or to an individual human being. Shalom is communal, meaning the right relationship between friends, neighbours, a community, nation, or even all the inhabited world (oikoumene). The heart of the meaning is close to life itself.

Shalom is linked with truth and justice in the Hebrew Bible, especially by Jeremiah. Forgiveness, righteousness, justification, reconciliation, pardon, restoration, good news, and salvation-words which point to harmony in any relationship- are all part of the semantic domain of shalom. In Paul’s theology in the New Testament Bible, justification by faith gives shalom with God through Jesus Christ.”

Shalom is the all inclusive term that means loving God, loving ourselves and loving our neighbours. This is what Paul taught in 1 Cor. 13. The greatest of these is love.
Loving God ---- loving others and self --- shalom

Expressing Shalom in the Church
What are some of the ways we can express our love that leads to shalom? How do we as a church learn to love God, love ourselves and love our neighbours?
We may do that by incorporating certain components in our church community life.

They are:
• Story telling- telling the meta-narrative of God’s great plan of redemption and also our own stories and see how our own stories fit into God’s meta-narrative. Hence the importance of testimony telling and sharing of experiences. Sharing love.
• Heart matters; a call for emotional maturity- acknowledging, embracing, mastering, and detachment from our emotions or feelings. The will include experiential encounters with God (orthokardia). Emotions are important part of our makeup and our spirituality. We are called to love God with our heart, soul and mind. Experiencing love.
• Action: Incarnational living - narrowing the gap between what we believe and and how we live, thus living an incarnational lifestyle (orthopraxis). An incarnational lifestyle is a lifestyle of love, as Jesus lived out his human life as a sign of his love for us. Acting in love.
• Learning: transformational living- age appropriate learning of the knowledge of God through the Word, creation, and from others (orthodoxis). Knowing God means receiving the revelation of God. God has reveal himself to us through his Son, the Bible and nature. Thinking love.
• Oneness in community– development of committed relationships within and without the church. Relationships are very important. Living love.
• Maturity in Christ. This is our ongoing spiritual growth. Growing in love.

The acronym for this is S.H.A.L.O.M.

In addition, these components of shalom includes
(1) the restoration of the Imago Dei (the Image of God)- the love for God and ourselves
Maturity, Heart and Learning
(2) The Missio Dei (the mission of God)-the love for others
Oneness, Story telling and Action

Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is love; love for God, for our neighbours and for ourselves. Love leads to shalom which is the fulfilment of love. S.H.A.L.O.M. is how a church practices love –Story, Heart, Action, Learning, Oneness and Maturity.

Our New Year resolution for 2008 is
This year we shall love our God, our neighbours and ourselves more.

soli deo gloria

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