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Friday, January 17, 2014

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant (A Promoted to Glory Sermon)

This is the sermon I gave this morning at the funeral service of one of our soldiers (Salvation Army church members).  

Before the service, as prelude music this arrangement of the song Joy in the Salvation Army was played (it's number 8 in the playlist).

The scripture texts were Psalm 23, Isaiah 49: 1 - 7, and 1 Corinthians 15: 50 - 58.
Congregational songs were: What a Friend We Have in Jesus and Greater Things

It is the tradition and custom of The Salvation Army to speak of the death of its soldiers (lay

members) and officers (clergy) as a “Promotion to Glory.”  Though we recognize and validate the grief and sense of loss felt by friends and family member who remain, underlying our funeral services is a sense of joy and celebration.  There is honor here, joy even, because one of our comrades has put down her sword, ceased her warfare and gone to receive her reward – to receive her “promotion to glory” in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and of the Holy Spirit.

I haven’t been here in Newton very long, a little more than a year and half so far.  I didn’t have time to get to know Donna very well before her death.  By the time that we arrived at this appointment her mental faculties had already begun to rapidly deteriorate.  She loved to play the piano, and for the first few weeks that we were here she accompanied our congregational singing.  But she knew that her abilities were fading.  She came to me and asked to be relieved of that duty as she felt that she wouldn’t be able to perform adequately any longer.

It was difficult for those who cared about her to watch her decline, to see her slipping away.  And it frustrated her as well – to know that there things she couldn’t remember, people she knew but couldn’t place. 

She’d been a faithful servant of God throughout her life, in many different roles, and in a variety of works – but at the end, all of that seemed to be slipping away with her memory and her mind.  Like the servant of the prophet Isaiah’s second servant song, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…” (Isaiah 49: 4)

Life is difficult and filled with struggle.  And sometimes the all the good we do seems to get swallowed up by that struggle, forgotten like the names and faces in Donna’s memory. The servant of Isaiah’s song was chosen and equipped by God for a good work – to serve the Lord, and to bring glory to God.  But in the end the servant felt like a failure.  His sword was blunted, his arrows spent. 

But the servant, discouraged as he was, never gave up his faith: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity, yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”  And Donna’s faith, also, never diminished, even as her life was fading away.  She trusted in the grace and goodness of God.

Death has no victory over her.  Death has no sting.  Thanks be to God.  He has given Donna and he has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Her life and labor were not in vain (1 Cor. 15: 50 - 58).  She has been welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven and she has heard the master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Summoned home, the call has sounded,
Bidding a soldier her warfare cease;
And the song of angels resounded,
Welcomes a warrior to eternal peace.
Praise the Lord! from earthly struggles
A comrade has found release.
Death has lost its sting, the grave its victory;
Conflicts and dangers are over;
See her honored in the throne of glory,
Crowned by the hand of Jehovah!

Strife and sorrow over,
The Lord’s true faithful soldier
Has been called to go from the ranks below,
To the conq’ring host above.

Once the sword, but now the scepter,
Once the fight, now the rest and fame,
Broken every earthly fetter,
Now the glory for the cross and shame;
Once the loss of all for Jesus,
But now the eternal gain.
Trials and sorrow here have found their meaning
Mysteries their explanation;
Safe, forever in the sunlight gleaming
Of His eternal salvation.

-Promoted to Glory – Herbert Booth 1890

The service concluded with an arrangement of Herbert Booth's (son of Salvation Army founders, William and Catherine Booth)  Promoted to Glory.  This arrangement ends with a Salvation Army benediction, "Praise God, I'm saved! Praise God, I'm saved. All's well.  All's well.  He sets me free!"  

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