In Houston, where flooding has displaced 42,400 people as of Friday, a man who owns a giant mattress warehouse took in refugees from the storm. He let them stay in his store and sleep on his new furniture. He sent out his delivery trucks and helped carry over 200 people out of the water to safety. He has a National Guard company on break sleeping on his beds. Mattress Mack. I was watching a news clip of this and there was a woman and her little dog, sitting on a $9,000 couch. I don’t know if he has “help people suddenly homeless from hurricanes” insurance. But I know what I saw.
I saw another video clip about a program for holding babies who are drug addicted at birth. When a mother is doing drugs while pregnant, her baby can be born already addicted. They’ve studied how these children suffer withdrawal from the time they are born and what can be done to help them. Do you know what helps them heal faster, reduces symptoms of withdrawal, and allows them to give the babies less medication? Cuddling. Having someone sit and cuddle these impoverished, addicted-at-birth babies. Physical contact and affection.
In Matthew 5, verse 9, in the midst of Jesus longest and, arguably,’ most central teaching, He declares “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Here it is in context:
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I watched this video of men and women holding these tiny, helpless, suffering babies and I started weeping. And it struck me: this makes me cry because I’m seeing what love looks like. A tiny glimpse. The babies can’t pay these people back. The drug-addicted moms won’t be. They’re just loving for love’s sake, loving someone suffering, loving someone who can’t repay them. I John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Children of God. People who resemble God, who are made in God’s image and act like Jesus, who love like God. God’s own children. God’s image in the world, love with God’s Spirit, incarnate in the world.
I cry when I see this video because these babies are so helpless, such innocent victims, but even more I cry because that’s what God’s love looks like. That’s a snapshot.
The biblical word for “peace” is Shalom, a Hebrew word, and it’s one of the coolest words in Scripture. Strong’s concordance defines Shalom as “completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It means reconciliation and right relationship in all dimensions. Shalom means living in right relationship with one another. Shalom means being in true relationship with God.
John Driver defines Shalom this way: “It meant well-being, or health, or salvation in its fullest sense, material as well as spiritual. It described the situation of well-being which resulted from authentically whole (healed) relationships among people, as well as between persons and God. According to the Old Testament prophets, shalom reigned in Israel when there was social justice, when the cause of the poor and the weak was vindicated, when there was equal opportunity for all, in short, when the people enjoyed salvation according to the intention of God expressed in his covenant.”
Lisa Sharon Harper writes, “At its heart the biblical concept of shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships.”
The shalom makers are blessed, for they will be called children of God.
Mattress Mack, letting wet, cold, suddenly-homeless people be warm and dry and safe on his fancy, expensive furniture, is being a shalom maker. Adult volunteers holding drug-addicted babies are bringing shalom.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not the mere absence of tension but the presence of Justice.” To be a shalom maker requires more than not fighting or arguing. Again, Shalom means wholeness, completeness, well-being, living in right relationship, and biblically, that requires justice. The biblical view of justice is God’s justice, of course, in which all the victims of oppression and persecution and racism and discrimination are upheld, in which God’s people stand by those who are suffering. Shalom and justice are intertwined, because to be a shalom maker is to address the conditions that prevent others from living in shalom.
Here are a few verses on God’s justice
“I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.” Ps. 140:12
Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov 29:7
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9
For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. Psalm 11:7
My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10
3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3–4
Isaiah 1:11, 17 “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats.” 17Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”
Isaiah 56:1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.”
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.
And when Jesus describes this in Matthew 25, he makes it even more personal.
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
When, Lord? ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
That’s a handful of passages. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning the poor. You can’t understand what God means by justice unless you understand “the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.”
In Leviticus 25, God commands a year of Jubilee among the people of Israel: 8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.
That means if you screwed up financially or suffered a drought and lost your land, your family’s land, you would get it back in the fiftieth year. If you lost everything, your family would not have to suffer poverty generation after generation. That was the point. God’s justice in the Year of Jubilee required that if you lost your property, you got it back, if you had to hire yourself out as a laborer, in the fiftieth year you and your children returned to being landowners, providing for yourselves.
A couple points on this: fifty years is still a long time. God isn’t being a helicopter parent who swoops in and rescues his children from the consequences of their own actions. But what the Year of Jubilee sets out to prevent is generational poverty, generation after generation born into poverty, with little to no chance of changing their circumstances. What we see in our barrio, which is kids at 12 who can’t read, little girls pregnant at 14, and what’s the outlook for the baby of an illiterate 14-year-old?
Justice, God’s justice, is that child, who didn’t make poor life choices or invest unwisely, will be cared for and loved and have advocates among God’s people. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”
My wife, who is the teaching coach at NCAI, also runs a preschool out of our carport, to give the little ones in our barrio a little better chance to learn to read, to know their numbers, to hear that Jesus Christ loves them and died for their sins, to give them a better chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
Right relationship with God and with one another requires God’s justice. The work of God’s Kingdom is bound up with justice for those who are poor and abused. To bring shalom is to work for God’s justice. I John 3:16-18 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
This can look a million different ways: if you have fancy couches, share them with hurricane victims; if you have two arms, hold a recovering baby. Love some preschool kids from a home where no one is yet literate.
We talk about grace a lot here. I talk about grace a lot here. And we should. In my opinion, we should talk about grace first and last, because without God’s grace, there’s no hope. If God didn’t love his enemies, [pointing] his enemies, then we would be without hope in this world and absolutely doomed in the next. But God does love his enemies, Jesus dies for his enemies—you and me–and we can’t repeat this too often: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Grace leads to a desire for justice. As we live and grow in grace, we come to understand shalom in our lives. We learn, day by day, what it is to live in right relationship with God. We grow in our love for others. We start to grasp how to do to others as we would have them do to us. And as we hang out with God, we start to see others more as God sees them.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the shalom makers.” Who is the shalom maker? Jesus is. Listen to the description of Jesus making shalom possible in Ephesians 2.
Eph 2:11-18 11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.4 For he is our peace; he is our shalom; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making shalom, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed shalom to you who were far off and shalom to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
One way to read the Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount, is as a description of Jesus, so that when we talk about “being like Jesus,” we have very concrete directions of how to do it. To be peacemakers in the world, to be shalom makers, is to walk and act as Jesus did. As Jesus does.
Our question is how do we bring shalom in our circle, in the place we live and work and go to school and hang out, in our circle of friends and acquaintances and co-workers and enemies, honestly.
We’ve chosen to live in a poorer barrio here so that we can be neighbors and seek to build relationships there. That isn’t the “right” way to do this, it’s the way God has led us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We are the children of God. We are the shalom makers, beginning with our own lives and then reaching out the lives around us.