Funeral for Vicki Angstman – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
As I was thinking about and preparing this message, I typed the words “Change is” into my Google search engine. In various places on the internet, those two words are finished off in lots of different ways. A few examples:
Change is inevitable. Change is good. Change is hard. Change is scary.
Over the years and decades, there were many noticeable changes in Vicki’s life. For everyone, in all circumstances – as we walk the pathway of our existence in this ever-changing world – change for us personally is indeed inevitable.
Some of those changes for Vicki were brought about by her own decisions, or through her own efforts. When she agreed to marry Roger Angstman and establish a new Christian home with him, that was a good and joyful change.
When that home was augmented over the years by the pitter-patter of four sets of little boy feet, with each new addition, it was yet another good and happy change for her and for her family.
In middle age, when she and Roger were becoming empty-nesters, and at a stage in life when most people are getting ready for a calmer and less busy existence, Vicki went back to school and studied to become a teacher.
And she did then serve for many years, and with great delight, as a first-grade teacher in the Zimmerman school district. This was an exciting and rewarding change.
This change may initially have been scary; but before long it was obvious to everyone – to Vicki, and to her students who greatly benefitted from her love of teaching – that this, too, had been a good change.
Vicki’s desire to be helpful to others, and her eager willingness to use her creative gifts and abilities for the benefit of others, were brought to bear in a very focused way in her career as a teacher. But these were brought to bear in other important ways, and in other places, as well.
As Vicki’s new pastor – yet another recent change in her life – I was just beginning to get acquainted with her when we lost her. But my predecessor has told me how active and helpful she was in this congregation in earlier years, and what a positive impact she had on so many: through her dedicated work as a Sunday School teacher, and as a volunteer in so many other areas of the life of the church.
But most of that changed, with the changes that began to occur a few years ago in regard to Vicki’s personal health and strength. Such changes are inevitable, given the passing of time and the aging process through which we all must go. But they are hard changes.
She became increasingly unable to do so much of what she used to do and had to step back from a lot of things that had been important to her. As these changes became more significant, she was no longer able to maintain her own home. She lost much of her independence.
The worst and hardest change of all – as I’m sure Vicki would say – was the change that happened when her firstborn son passed away, not that long ago. No parent ever gets over such a change in a family.
Her previous loss of her husband, with all of the changes that this brought, was certainly not easy for her to go through. But everyone knows that there is a 50-50 chance that you will outlive your spouse.
You always assume, however, that your children will all outlive you, and that someday they will bury you. That seems natural. Burying a child is never natural.
These and similar changes were difficult for Vicki to accept. They would be difficult for any of us to accept.
But she did try to accept them, and to make the best of the situation she was now in, because of one particular thing – one very important thing – that had not changed, when almost everything else had.
Through the Prophet Malachi, God himself had spoken these words of admonition and invitation to his people:
“‘For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
The unchanging foundation in Vicki’s life – the unchanging rock, and the firm anchor which sustained her in these trials – was the certainty of God’s grace and love toward her, and of God’s abiding presence with her, that the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners brought to her and instilled within her.
The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” And the saving message of Jesus’ redeeming love – for the humanity whose sins he carried to the cross – likewise is always the same saving message.
The Book of Revelation calls it “the everlasting gospel.” And in his First Epistle, St. Peter penned these words to his fellow Christians:
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers and its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever.’”
I’ve already mentioned the things that Vicki gave to others as a member of this church. But before she gave anything here, she came here to receive: to receive from God, for Christ’s sake, the cleansing and forgiveness that she always knew she needed, as a member of a fallen and broken human race.
To borrow some words from Malachi, she always returned to the Lord: in humble repentance, and with faith in his certain promises. And the Lord always returned to her, and bestowed upon her over and over again all the gifts of his grace that ornamented her life and conversation.
Vicki received from the Lord, who does not change, his pardon and peace, in the absolution that was spoken over her, and in the sacrament of the body and blood of God’s Son that was offered to her. She partook of this sacred Supper often – as recently as the Sunday before she died – because she was confident that her Savior, though hidden, truly joined himself to her here: so that in her weakness she could know and receive his strength.
As God’s Word and Spirit continually came to her, her living hope for an eternity in God’s presence was continually renewed. And her yearning for a special change yet to come – a supremely good change – was continually fed and nurtured.
Today’s lesson from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians speaks of this wonderful future change, which the general resurrection on the last day will usher in:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
As Vicki’s faith looked beyond the horizons of this world, and of life in this world, she did indeed believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, according to God’s revealed plan for the restoration of all things in his Son.
And unlike the many painful and difficult changes that Vicki endured in recent years, this change would be most welcome to her – even as it will be most welcome to all who confess the faith that she confessed, and who know the Savior from sin and death whom she knew.
She knew that Jesus had promised to his disciples – and therefore also to her – that he, as the resurrected and ascended Lord, was going to prepare a place for them, and for her; and that someday he would come again, to take his people to himself forever.
When Vicki departed from this world last week, she did so as an adopted child of God, destined for the mansions of her Father in heaven. She did so as a subject of Christ’s kingdom, whose citizenship was in heaven, from which she also eagerly awaited her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Vicki lived and died in this hope. And as she has now passed into the nearer presence of Christ, and is with the Lord, she is tasting and experiencing the beginning of the fulfillment of this hope.
Vicki’s passing has now brought about significant changes for us, too. It is a sad change for her children, grandchildren, and other relatives, not to have her as an active part of their family anymore. It is a sad change for her fellow members at Bethany not to have her beside them, in the pew or at the communion rail, on Sunday mornings.
But just as Vicki faced changes – including unwelcome and difficult changes – through her heartfelt reliance on what does not change; so too are we encouraged today to find solace and comfort in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our divine-human Savior. In the midst of all the changes and uncertainties that we may face – both now and in the future – he does not change, either in his holiness or in his mercy.
His wise admonition, to one and all, to turn away from all that would separate us from God; and his gracious invitation, to one and all, to trust in him for forgiveness, life, and salvation, are the same admonition and the same invitation that he has been issuing to humanity for two millennia.
Yet his words are as relevant and as powerful today as they have ever been. His life-giving love has as much healing power – for you, and for everyone who looks to him in faith – as it has ever had.
We close with these words from the hymnist Thomas Chisholm:
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Amen.