“He was nothing but a worthless piece of …”

Not a comment normally heard in church, particularly during a funeral. But this was at the Salvation Army, with its doors and its arms always open to unlikely candidates for God’s kingdom.

Men who normally don’t find themselves in church listened as I eulogized Scottie, who had been one of the regulars at our daily homeless ministry. His drinking buddies were scattered throughout the sanctuary. So were various clergy colleagues in the community who also ministered to the homeless, one of them a fellow police chaplain.

I told the group that Scottie was of infinite value to God and to us. Suddenly, Sam’s loud and drunk hollering interrupted.

“He was nothing but a worthless piece of [cat litter].” The comment was so loud it was impossible to ignore. Could it become a teaching moment?

Praying for that, I stepped around the pulpit and walked down the center aisle to where the commentator was slouched.

“Why would you say a thing like that?” I asked Sam, trying to sound kind yet in command of the situation.

His reply was immediate, even louder and more belligerent.

“Because Scottie was nothing but a drunken son of a %*.”

This was getting worse. In the corner of my eye I caught the face of our summer intern pastor. Her eyes were wide with shock. Teachers evidently had not warned her about such ungodly possibilities at a service so sacred as a funeral.

Sam’s brazenness caught me unprepared as well. I needed God’s Spirit to help me turn this distraction into an opportunity to portray salvation in Jesus. Praying silently, I pressed on.

“Would the fact that Scottie had a drinking problem make him any less precious to God—or to us?”

The snickering stopped and everyone sat still. With Sam’s help, I had raised a life and death question for many of them. The Spirit was on the verge of a breakthrough.

But Sam dodged the question by grumbling, “I don’t believe in God.”

Instantly the answer came: “Maybe you don’t believe in God, Sam, but God believes in you.”

Sam was stunned. The grace of God hit home with him and a number of others that day in the sanctuary of the Salvation Army. What was stirring in their hearts was shalom.

Shalom is loosely translated “peace” in the Old Testament, but it means so much more. The Hebrew word has a deeper, richer meaning than peace as we typically envision it. Christians typically think more like Buddhists about peace than the ancient Hebrews saw it in scripture. Most of us view peace superficially and passively—the absence of negativity such as strife, guilt, shame and anger. By contrast, shalom in scripture is positive, energetic and proactive, fulfilling God’s eternal purpose for this planet—and for our churches. I believe it is the end product of the sanctuary, which God’s final remnant will disseminate throughout the earth like the fragrant ointment of Mary’s devotion to Jesus.

From the chapter “Shalom of the Final Remnant” in the book God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain, by Martin Weber (Pacific Press, 2009)