By Christy Lee, Children's Director
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
This week’s devotional was inspired by a southern belle, a conversation with a mentor of mine in my earlier days of ministry, and the current lack of available toilet paper and hand sanitizer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bear with me:
Years ago when I was a student in seminary living in a house with several other female seminarians, one of my roommates, who happened to be a proud Virginian, proudly displayed a sign in our living room that said “shalom y’all”. I loved this quicky chalkboard sign; it greeted our guests with the classic, southern hospitality that I eventually came to know and love and also with the warm embrace of Chrisitian love. I did not know this then, but the idea of “shalom” would become one of the most important principles that I would come to cherish in my ministry and in my everyday life.
In Jewish culture, people often say “shalom” to one another as a greeting, much like how we say “hello” to one another in America. Unlike our “hello” however, there are greater depths of meaning under this Jewish word. The word “shalom” is often translated as “peace”. But to translate this beautiful word simply as “peace” does not completely capture its essence.
One of the deeper meanings of this word means “wholeness through mutual flourishing”. My mentor Rev. Joe Kim, gave me a great depiction of this as he described a tapestry. Shalom is kind of like a big, beautiful rug. Individually, each thread is just a thread, no matter how beautiful the color or fabric. The impact that a single thread can make on its own is very minimal and forgettable. However, when many different threads are crafted together, weaving in and out of one another, they become something much more beautiful than they could be individually: they become art.
In such a way, God created us to be a people of shalom. In Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth and placed Adam and Eve to tend his creation, man was designated to be keepers of this shalom. As image bearers of God, we were created to work together to reflect God’s character upon creation and to one another. This is what it meant to give God glory! We were “threads” created to live a life woven together to reflect the beauty of God to all of creation. When man sinned, however, all of this unravelled. Evil entered into the hearts of man and we became selfish and greedy. Instead of living for the flourishing of God’s people and kingdom, sin changed us to exploit one another and creation. The outworking of this is so painfully inscribed in Scipture and the rest of history: wars, famine, broken families, poverty, global warming, genocide, slavery, racism, and so much more. Instead of being the keepers of shalom, mankind became so absorbed with their own upward mobility and own flourishment that we forgot what we were created for.
The irony of this was so clearly depicted during this recent pandemic. In the earlier days of the pandemic (and actually probably still on most days), toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizers became rarities in America. This was largely because people started panic buying these products as the shelter in place was formally announced. Some people started even hoarding these products, buying as much as they could in hopes of driving up costs and turning a profit. Here’s the irony though: if everyone buys more of these cleaning supplies and necessities than they need to protect themselves and make themselves feel more safe from the virus, they are actually probably spreading COVID-19! Think about it: we can only “flatten the curve” if everyone is practicing safe sanitary practices like cleaning their hands, homes, and bottoms. Making sure these supplies are available to everyone is so important to make sure that we all can flourish!
And so it is with life. As Christians living in a western society, it is so tempting to be engulfed by a culture that tells us to be the best that we can be at all cost; living for the flourishing of others is countercultural. As a result, it can be so tempting to be absorbed with our own success, health, wealth, or happiness, while serving others is often an afterthought or something we do when it is convenient for us to do so. It is not that God doesn’t care about individuals; he does! However, we must remember that we are “threads” who are a part of something grander. We are called to love and serve one another. When we do this, we all thrive and reflect the glory of God. This goes beyond the walls of our church as well. The greater Church is called to bring healing to the land of God by sacrificially loving and serving our neighbors, Christians and non Christians. This is why God tells the people of Israel to live to seek the welfare of the city where he has sent them in to exile in the book of Jeremiah.
Dear Church, my challenge for us this week is twofold. Think, pray, and put into action these two questions:
How can we seek the welfare of our brothers and sisters of CPC?
How can we seek the welfare of Fremont, especially during this pandemic?
Let us be agents of Shalom as citizens of heaven, bringing the peace and wholeness of Christ to a world that so desperately needs healing.