“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” – Hebrews 13:8
I have to start today by saying one of the great joys in being called by God to serve as Pastor for a small church is that you are blessed in that you get to know the folks in the congregation quite well. They become your close friends and, almost literally, your family too if you are in a rural area like this.
So I have a heavy heart today too as we gather together to remember Vi and to receive the comfort of the Words of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Vi was a wonderfully loving person who blessed me, my family and the congregation of this church in so many ways I can’t even begin to list all of them. So I too grieve her loss today with you too and my sympathy & prayers go out to all of you. She was a wonderful disciple of Christ, friend, wife, sister, Mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother and many many more things too. Again, I have to apologize here too, because, if you read her obituary, you can see that through Vi’s life God blessed a whole bunch of people in her family, this community, and this congregation by the various things she accomplished in this world.
Vi was a very hard worker and very practically minded, but she was also very kind and compassionate in what I would call the “biblical” way. That is to say, she didn’t sentimentalize things but always tried to say and do what the Lord & her parents had taught her was right; faith active in love. And I would certainly be committing a great error if I didn’t mention the deep love she had for her friends here at Bethany, her family, and for Les. I have to talk a bit about Les at this point although I know we gather here with the Lord for Vi’s homecoming because, at least for me, it’s almost impossible in my mind to separate the two. So hard in fact, that I made a lot of typos in writing in this sermon because it’s always been “Les & Vi” ever since I met them. It’s that hard for me to think of either one without the other!
Now, the wiser among you would correct me and say it’s “Vi and Les” because, as the old saying goes: “Behind every good man is an even better woman!” And, as good a guy as Les was, I really wouldn’t quibble with you much on that point. But to be honest, their marriage was a loving partnership through which they blessed each other, their family, and this church. Unfortunately, due to the illnesses both were battling against the last couple years, they couldn’t make it to church as often as they wanted to so they graciously allowed me to share Christ with them in their home. During these visits, I would see Les taking care of Vi when she needed His support in her illness and then, when the time came, Vi supporting Les in his health struggles. And all the while too, they continued to support their family and their family supported them. Honestly, when I saw the love that God gave through them, I said often to myself: this is truly as close in this world to how God intended marriage & family to be as you will see.
Now we do live in a fallen, sinful world so of course Vi and Les had their moments of weakness as we all do. But, the praise for them I just spoke is genuine because God worked in them a goodness through faith that is worth remembering & something that, as we say, is one of God’s great comforts in sorrow.
But, sadly, the truth is in this old creation, we are still under the curse of the law and that means that everything changes; even the best of things. Now, as we will hear in a moment, God changes things here on earth and in our lives because He always has our greater, eternal future in mind. But He still gives us temporal blessings here in this old world too. The best of these blessings is, of course, His love for us poured out through His Son Jesus Christ but, after that, it’s the love God pours out through the people – the family & friends – He places in our lives. Obviously, Vi’s love touched us all here greatly. So, while we did know Vi had just gotten done fighting a major illness, it came as quite a shock to me and many of the rest of you how quickly her health changed in the last month. For all of us, it was hard to lose Les, but it seemed, because Vi was still here, it was like we still had a bit of him with us too. I know their loving presence gave stability to their family, this community, & congregation. Now change has come on us quickly & that’s unsettling for us. We ask: what is life going to be like without them?
The “Good News” for you & I today is that Christ Our Lord knows this and has come to us here today in our sorrow to meet that fear with His unchanging Words of promise that creates hope in us. Yes, this old world is changing every day but God does not. Heb. 13:8 tells us that: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” His grace, love, & mercy for us always remains the same. Jesus Christ has promised that He will return again, and despite how we or the world have changed for good or ill, remained faithful or unfaithful, the Lord’s promises remain true forever. He will always fulfill them because God is not a man like us who lies, forgets or forsakes those to whom He has given His Word.
Yes, it is true that even death will come to all of us in this old & ever changing world. But when that happens, and it will happen because everything in this sinful age someday dies & is destroyed, then our unchanging Savior will gather His elect, His baptized children of faith, and bring us into His new creation, into His age of grace, into His eternal Kingdom where His love & our life will never end.
For now, we can’t deny we are saddened by Vi’s death. But as Paul writes in 1 Thes, 4:13, we are not “uninformed about those who have fallen asleep, so we do not grieve as those without hope”. Yes, we will all miss Vi because we loved her & she loved us. But we can take comfort in the fact that Christ has remembered the baptismal promise He made to Vi & has brought her to His eternal home forever to be with Him, her beloved Les, & the entire congregation of the Saints. She is in heaven now where she won’t have the pain, sorrow, or tears of this world anymore because that was the joyous future Her unchanging Lord had planned for her from before time begin & that He promised to her in baptism.
As we just heard in the Word of the Lord from Romans 6: the death that matters, the death to sin, already happened in baptism so from that moment forward the life of Christ, His resurrection life, has begun. What this means is that Vi is enjoying the blessed fullness of eternal life with Christ right now. It also means that, when the good work that God is doing through you here in this old world is done, someday you too will be reunited with her because that same unchanging Baptismal promise is for you.
Yes, you heard me right: Christ has come today not just to fulfill His promises to Vi but to bring eternal life to you too. Now is your day of salvation – not tomorrow, not some distant time in the future when you get your act together – but today, right here & now. Our Lord has come just for you to bring you real comfort in your grief. He sends His own Holy Spirit to you in your mourning to give you a true & unchanging hope by speaking to you His Gospel promise. God says to you: “Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake so I claim you forever as my own child – not even death will separate you from my love.”
In the hearing of that promise from God my friends, you too have been given the gift of faith in Christ that will endure forever. So what this means is this is that you are not saying a final good-bye to Vi – you will see her again at the great reunion with Our Lord that He promises will last for all eternity. Now may these unchanging Words of God’s Grace give you His peace until that glorious day comes – for you! Amen!