St Andrew's was absolutely packed last Thursday as everyone who could came for Vicki's farewell service. A lot of people had to stand, others were in the Annexe, as close to the door as they could manage to at least hear what was going on. The choir were ousted from their changing room to squeeze still more people in. It's a huge tribute to such a wonderful lady that so many wanted to give thanks for her life and support her family. When you give love, you get it back. When you inspire others, they feel connected to you. That certainly was so for Vicki, who gave so much for other people, and now they came to give something back for her.
There were four vicars there - Simon Douglas Lane, Andrew Parry and John Harper as well as myself (not to mention Carolyn our Baptist Pastor). It just goes to show how much and for how long Vicki has been part of our church's life.
It was a very emotional service at times. For me that was especially when members of her family got up to say how they felt about her as their mum and grandma. It also came when we sang I the Lord of Sea and Sky, when I found myself thinking about how Vicki herself had echoed the words of the hymn in her own response to God and to His hurting people - Here I am Lord... Is it I, Lord?... I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart. Vicki all over, isn't it? But it was also an inspiring service as we sought to honour Vicki's great faith. She knew where she was going, didn't she!
Here's the Bible passage that was read at the service. It's from 1 Corinthians chapter 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Thank you Bernie, you have really brought Vicki's younger self alive for us there, haven't you, for those of us who haven't know her as long as you. She usually had a bit of a twinkle in her eye, didn't she? I can see that was as true back then as it is now.
Well, other people have shared a bit about Vicki's family life in the lovely tributes we heard earlier, and Beryl will say a bit about her life in the church and community when she leads our prayers in a few minutes. So I'm going to say a bit about our Bible reading from 1 Corinthians 13. I hope you will agree as we reflect on it together that there is so much of Vicki in there…
For she knew that love isn't in fine sounding words – the tongues of men or of angels. She knew it isn't in grand but empty gestures – giving away all you have and surrendering your body to the flames. It's in kindness. It's in making time for people. It's in being there when they need you. It's in listening to them. It's in having a generous heart and a gentle spirit towards others.
There's a spiritual exercise some people do to see how they are progressing in the Christian life. You take out the word "Love" from this passage and put in your own name. Try it some time – Colin is patient and kind? H'mmm. Colin is never arrogant or boastful or rude? I wish. Colin is not easily angered, he keeps no score of wrongs? Ouch! Colin bears all things? Fallen short miserably again! No-one is perfect – as it says in 1 Corinthians, everything we know is only in part, the best we can see is just a dim reflection, through a glass darkly. Everyone, including Vicki, stands in need of God's mercy and forgiveness.
Yet surely Vicki ticks far more of those boxes than most of us. She is an example to us of how to live the Christian life, as the many people here who have been blessed by her kindness, her prayers, her thoughtfulness, her practical caring, her unfailing support, will testify.
There is another name we can put in there instead of our own, the name of the only person who ever managed to live out this wonderful Bible passage with complete consistency. It's the person Vicki herself loved and followed. Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is never arrogant or boastful or rude. Jesus is not easily angered, he keeps no score of wrongs. Jesus bears all things. He does this because He is love incarnate, God Himself come to walk among us in human form. He is Vicki's life and inspiration.
And it's because God is love and has made this love known in Jesus that the greatest of these is Love. Because for Jesus, Love meant giving Himself to the uttermost for us on the Cross. He died for us, not because we are perfect and deserve His sacrifice, but because we are sinners and we don't. That sacrifice was the only way to bring us forgiveness and make a new start with His love inside us.
But God's love was stronger even than death. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. He was seen alive by many witnesses. Many of them gave their own lives to testify to Jesus' victory over the grave. So it's because of Jesus that Love endures for ever. As our Bible passage says: "these three things remain – faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." It's our destiny to live in God's love forever and ever. And, by His death and resurrection, Jesus is the way God has provided to do just that. This I know was the cornerstone of Vicki's radiant and magnetic faith, the inspiration for all she was and all she did.
Today as you all know is Vicki's 70th birthday. It was to have been a day of joy and celebration for all the family – sadly that was not to be. Yet a part of me pictures Vicky enjoying the best birthday party ever as she has gone to be with the Lord she loved so much. "You prepare a table before me… my cup is running over…" Heaven celebrates the culmination of seventy years well and faithfully lived.
The name Victoria means "One who conquers, who is victorious." I don't know how many of you know that Vicki did in fact defeat cancer once before, many years ago, when survival was far less common than it is now. Unfortunately this time things didn't happen the same way. Yet Vicki has gone to enter into that greater victory that her Lord Jesus has won on her behalf and on ours. Vicki I know would want me to ask you today: make sure that you take your place in His victory, by following in His footsteps, as she did. Then there will be all the greater rejoicing when we meet and celebrate together in Heaven's great party.
"And so these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
A last thought. Vicki's passing has left a great hole in our church. It was so strange to be in church today and look around and not see Vicki. I could picture her so clearly, sitting where she used to sit, talking and sharing with others, immaculately turned out as ever, smiling that lovely smile. But it's not only in that way that we miss her. She did so much to help and support us, to encourage us and befriend us. Who will take on those roles now? Perhaps the best way of all to remember Vicki is to live our own lives by the values she exemplified: to love God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves.
"Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!"
God bless you, Vicki. Colin x