My Salvation Army Funeral

Blessed are the peacemakers.

You never know who will show up at a funeral. Men who normally didn’t attend church listened as I eulogized Scottie, one of the regulars at our daily homeless ministry before he drank himself to death. His buddies were scattered throughout the Salvation Army chapel for the memorial service, along with my clergy colleagues in the community.

Scottie was of infinite value to God and to us, I explained to the group. Suddenly, Sam’s drunken hollering interrupted.

“Scottie was nothing but a worthless piece of … !” 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 that about Scottie?” I asked Sam. His reply was even louder and more belligerent.

“Because he was nothing but a drunken son of a #$%*.”

Our summer intern looked at me horrified, her eyes wide with shock. Sam’s brazenness caught me unprepared as well. How could God’s Spirit turn this demonic distraction into an opportunity to communicate salvation in Jesus? Praying silently for that, I pressed on.

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

That was a life-and-death question for many attendees. Their snickering ceased. The Spirit was on the verge of a breakthrough.

Sam, however, cleverly dodged my question. “I don’t believe in God,” he snarled.

Instantly the answer dropped onto my tongue: “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 others that day at the Salvation Army chapel. What stirred in their hearts was shalom.

Shalom Through Jesus Christ

As explored previously in this column,[i] the Hebrew word shalom is typically translated “peace.” Shalom in Scripture seeks more than our own well-being and God’s blessings for families and friends. Shalom feeds the hungry, visits the lonely and seeks social justice. Shalom makes us priests on Earth in the service of our great high priest, who declared, “Blessed are the shalom-makers, for they shall be called ‘children of God’” (Matt. 5:9).

Heaven’s Messiah is known as “Prince of Shalom” (Is. 9:6). On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that brings us shalom with God (53:5). Such is the gospel of grace and peace with God through Jesus Christ.

How ironic that Jesus was despised and crucified by religious leaders from Jerusalem, purportedly the “city of shalom.” And except for a few fleeting months recorded in the book of Acts, the Christian church that survived the ruins of old Jerusalem has likewise failed to experience and communicate shalom.

Finally, in Earth’s last days, a community of priests will arise under the leadership of our great high priest in heaven’s sanctuary. This will be the long-awaited remnant of God’s saints throughout the ages. They will celebrate shalom and share it throughout the Earth. At last the work of God will be finished and the Great Controversy ended.

Shalom of the Final Remnant

Shalom in this world and the age to come was God’s gift through Jesus for Sam, Scottie and everyone at that Salvation Army funeral. Seventh-day Adventists also need shalom — now more than anytime before in my lifetime of serving this church. Global Adventism is struggling with doctrinal, lifestyle, gender, racial and relational issues that threaten to divide us.

In this crisis hour, let us trust in God, not in the familiar cheap and cheery platitude: No matter what we do, the church is going through! “Once-saved-always-saved” denominational patriotism will not save us. What will ultimately prevail is God’s message and mission for the last days—with or without you, me, or any ordained official or institution.

God will have a final remnant who do more than merely preach God’s commandments. End-time saints will actually keep them, in the spirit of grace and truth through Jesus. “If you love Me,” He says, “you will keep my commandments.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 14:15; 15:12). So if we don’t truly love the Sams and Scotties in our neighborhoods — or fellow church members who believe or dress or eat differently than we do — let’s not pretend to be law-abiding members in good and regular standing.

The end of all things is at hand. God’s New Jerusalem will then descend from heaven, and universal peace on Earth will reign as the Prince of Shalom dwells among His people forever.

 

[i] See “After the Ordination Vote, What Now?” Gleanernow.com, posted Aug. 1, 2015; accessed March 31, 2017.

May 23, 2017 / Perspective
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