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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Retirement Remarks for My Parents


My parents, Majors Loren and Janice Carter, are retiring after 92 years of combined service as Salvation Army officers. They asked me to speak at their retirement service - no pressure, right?!

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Now I have the chance to get my revenge for all the times my father used me as a sermon illustration... I'd like to welcome you to the roast of Majors Loren and Janice Carter.

It’s more than a job, more than a career; being a Salvation Army officer is a calling. There are other jobs and careers with fewer frustrations and higher levels of compensation. There are few tangible, visible, real rewards from a life of service as a Salvation Army Officer. We discharge our duties without the expectation of earthly recompense. We do not amass personal fortunes (not, that is, if we are doing it correctly.) We do not have monuments erected to our memory. We do not build buildings emblazoned with our names. We serve, and toil in relative obscurity. Few will ever notice or regard the multiplied hours we’ve spent as chauffeurs for young people and church janitors. Few will ever notice or thank us for the time we’ve spent cleaning toilets and preparing budgets.

There is, as the song says, “joy, joy, joy in the Salvation Army” (say it with me: “try and find it.”)  There is Joy perhaps, but there is little in the way of tangible, visible, real reward. What can we point to to say, “I did this”? In a hundred years, what evidence will remain that we were here? Our work is largely invisible and interior. Unseen. It can, at times, feel discouraging. It can be disheartening to look back over a lifetime of service only to ask, “What have I accomplished? What have I done?” We might even wonder, “Has it all been worthwhile? Have I achieved anything in all those years? Have I had an impact at all?”

But unseen, interior, and invisible is not immaterial, and is not insubstantial.

Every young person taught to play a horn, every hungry family fed, every family given a Christmas gift, every senior citizen comforted in a care facility, every prisoner visited in jail, every sermon that is preached (even the ones ignored by the officer’s eye-rolling-teenaged-son), every life that is touched has an infinite, unseen, rippling effect. The future is set and reset, and unsettled again with every act of service, even the unregarded, unrewarded ones. Holes in the very time/space fabric of the universe are repaired as great kingdom of God on the march is proclaimed and put into practice and vigorous action by faithful Salvation Army officers.

Serving as both corps officers and officers at divisional headquarters in seven different commands across the Midwestern states of the United States of America- through 92 years of combined service, Majors Janice and Loren Carter have been good and faithful servants; they have been “Undaunted” “Light Bringers.” And we can know that-even if there are few tangible, visible, real rewards for their service-countless lives have been blessed by their faithfulness. And those already countless lives have each one, spread that blessing to innumerable others. They are a great, uncountable crowd of witnesses.

We can, with God say to Majors Loren and Janice today: “well done good and faithful servants.” I realize that it may be somewhat premature to quote from that particular chapter and verse, as we often reserve it for Promotion to Glory (funeral) services; I hope they’ll forgive me and trust that I’m not just getting anxious. It’s my niece K. who has been referring to Loren and Janice’s retirement as their funeral… But they have been faithful in their service, even in the small things, faithful even with small rewards; they have been faithful and their reward will be great.

Our founder and first General said, “Making heaven on earth is our business.” It’s what we are called to do, and for 92 combined years my parents have done just that. At camp, in nursing homes, in 15 passenger vans, at disaster sites and pot-luck dinners (and sometimes those are indistinguishable), on street-corners, in quiet hallways and noisy gymnasiums - they have been faithfully making little bits of heaven in the here and now world. They have been proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the desperate, the lonely, the poor, and the afflicted. They have lifted the fallen, healed the injured, and comforted the disturbed. They have grieved with those in mourning; they have celebrated with the joyful. They have consecrated marriages and solemnized funerals.

They may not be renowned musicians but they taught me the joy of music, how to read music, and how to play a horn. They are not leaders of great grass-roots social justice movements, but it was Loren and Janice who lit the fire of a burning social conscience within me. They are no great theologians with divinity degrees, but they taught me of God’s unbounded love, and there is nothing greater than that. If only one life had been affected by their ministry, as the Jewish people say during the Passover celebration, Dayenu “It would have been enough.” If only one person had been changed for the better, "Dayenu" - it would have been enough.

But I am not the sole recipient of their devoted ministry; they have ministered to thousands and thousands of individuals and each of those thousands has gone on to touch a multiplied many more – a great multitude that no one can count, from many nations and languages. And that great crowd of witnesses to their ministry can stand before the throne of God, singing out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

I know that you will stand with me today, and with God our Savior to say to Majors Loren and Janice Carter: “Well done good and faithful servants.”  Thank you for all that you have done for the Kingdom of God.



2 comments:

  1. Excellent tribute! Thanks for sharing and allowing us to hear of the faithfulness of God through the lives of your parents. I admire them even though I have never met them. Blessings!

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  2. Excellent retirement words, and an amazing tribute to your parents. Good luck to them as they journey into the next steps in their lives. Love that Emma and Dune are an active part of their retirement as bearers of the flag. Fantastic, inspiring words Major Jeff.

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