Alma Howe Funeral
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Philippians 4:11b-13; 19-20
June 18, 2014
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice)
WOV 699 "Blessed Assurance"
TLH 436 "The Lord's My Shepherd"
TLH 660 "I'm But A Stranger Here"
TLH 200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
Solos: Amazing Grace & Abide With Me
TEXT: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
In Christ Jesus, dear family and friends of Alma Howe:
Several months ago, I came across a little snippet that someone posted on the internet. Allow me to share it with you: "You are allowed to terminate toxic relationships. You are allowed to walk away from people who hurt you. You are allowed to be angry, and selfish, and unforgiving. You don't owe anyone an explanation for taking care of yourself."
When I read this, I tried to imagine what kind of person it would take to write something like this. The whole tone is set in the third sentence. This describes a person who is angry, selfish, and unforgiving. If this person is in a toxic relationship, then they're probably the reason it's toxic. Maybe somebody hurt them when they tried to knock that chip off their shoulder. And maybe that person is in bad shape because they're carrying around a load of anger, rage, revenge, and self-pity. So many times a person's life is in strife because they blame everybody else for the misery that they have caused themselves. They are bitter because that's the way they want to be. And these are the kind of people you just sort of want to avoid whenever you can.
Now it may sound odd for me to have begun Alma's funeral sermon with this illustration. I did it because this describes a person who is in every way the exact opposite of Alma. I used this illustration because we all know people who are like this; and unfortunately such people catch our attention to the point where we are tempted to overlook those people in our lives who are truly a blessing to us.
Today I have chosen as Alma's funeral text some of the words the Apostle Paul uses as he closes his letter to the congregation at Philippi. And believe me, there was a lot going on in Paul's life at this time.
Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison, and that was no walk in the park either. Prisoners were malnourished, beaten, flogged, and otherwise abused. And in addition to this, Paul had the threat of impending death hanging heavy over him. If we look at verses 20-21 from Philippians chapter 1, here is what Paul says at the outset of his letter: "...I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
I think that in Alma's 96+ years that God gave her on this earth, she has experienced pretty much the full gamut of the ups and downs that life can give. I don't think that she ever was what one would consider wealthy, at least in the terms of dollars and cents. The depression years and the war years were anything but easy. And Alma had to work hard too.
One by one, Alma experienced the death of those people she loved and cherished. She outlived two husbands. She saw the death of her parents. Two sisters and two brothers also preceded her in death, along with one niece. There were many sad days for a variety of reasons.
But Alma met all her hardships and troubles with the attitude of the Apostle Paul. In our text today he writes in verse 11, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." And that certainly describes Alma.
The time I was able to be with Alma was very short indeed. But in that short time, I can honestly say that I never saw her without a smile on her face. That was the way she naturally was. That, and her very distinctive laugh, and her positive attitude was an infectious combination. If I was feeling a bit down for some reason, a visit with Alma was always a good way to lift my spirits. Even in her last remaining weeks, she maintained an incredible spirit.
A visit to Alma's apartment at Seward Manor was always a pleasant experience, even though she kept the thermostat about ten degrees warmer than what was comfortable for me. We would sit at her table and visit. She would show me photographs, and also the collection of angels that she had. And if I wanted to see her really light up, all I had to do was mention her family. She loved each and every one, and she would pray for them all by name, I believe she did it every day.
Alma was always up for a good visit with anybody. I used to chuckle because she had both a regular phone and a cell phone. And I'd see her with a phone in each hand sometimes. I guess that's the price of being popular.
Alma was a very avid reader too. She always had a book in progress. She especially enjoyed some of the more homespun and Christian novels. Her copies of Portals of Prayer and Meditations were dog-eared and well read. And she always liked reading Sunday sermons too, because she was able to pick up on anything she missed.
Yes, Alma was one very incredible lady. It's not my intent to eulogize at length about her, but I wanted you to have a clear picture of Alma in your mind as I talk about what it was that made her that way.
If we look at Galatians chapter 5 verses 22-23, the Apostle Paul gives us a good reason: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control." As far as I am concerned, those adjectives fit Alma to a tee.
These weren't attributes that Alma had to force herself to do, or that weren't genuine. No, these things just came naturally to her. When the love of Jesus is in a person's heart, those things are a natural result of it.
I'm going to share with you the details of my last visit with Alma, which was Monday evening, June 9th. I pulled up a chair and sat by her bed. I took a hold of her hand, and said her name. She opened her eyes and looked at me and managed what looked to be a smile. I talked to her a bit, and then I asked her if she wanted to take Communion. She didn't say anything, so I told her to think about it and we would have a devotion first, which was on the 23rd Psalm. I asked her about Communion again, and she was indicating the best she could that she wanted it.
Today, I'm going to make this sermon a bit inter-active. I'd like you to take the hymnal in the pew rack in front of you, and open it to page 16, that's in the very front of the hymnal. I'd like you to read the very first paragraph in bold print along with me: "O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserved thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them, and sincerely repent of them, and I pray thee of thy boundless mercy, and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being."
As I spoke those words, I could see her moving her mouth with me. The words of that confession were words she had known her entire life. And then I spoke my part.
"Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto you; and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
After the words of institution, I broke off a very small piece of the Communion wafer, and dipped it in the wine. I then put it just inside her mouth. She got it on to her tongue, and swallowed it. I said the blessing. And then Alma did something that I didn't expect. She opened her eyes wide, and put her hand to my cheek. She said in a loud clear voice, "God is gracious." We followed that with the Lord's prayer and I think that's when her nephew Bob came in. I finished with the benediction. And from what I understand, those were the last words she spoke. I'll never forget that.
It's almost ironic, isn't it? Here's someone as sweet and nice and pleasant as Alma, and on her death bed she's saying that she's a poor miserable sinner who has offended God by her sins and iniquities. She's crying out to God for Jesus' sake to be gracious and merciful to a poor sinful being like her.
That was Alma being honest with herself. She knew that the pleasantness and positive attitude and doing nice things wasn't enough to take her to heaven. We'd almost like to think she had earned and deserved heaven, and that God would never shut those doors on someone as nice as her.
But heaven isn't attained on the good works we do. Heaven isn't closed by the bad stuff we've done either. The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. As members of the human race, we are indeed poor miserable sinners who deserve God's wrath and punishment. We might deserve it, but that's not what we get.
That's because God deals with us out of grace, and not wrath. God's grace is the undeserved love he shows to you and me through Jesus our Saviour.
Through God's grace, we experience one of the greatest things ever, and that is forgiveness. Our sins are not only forgiven, but removed from us, as far as the east is from the west. God says that he will not remember them any more, or keep throwing them back in our face.
Yes, Alma is in heaven right now. Jesus has promised her a mansion in paradise on the other side of this life. This promise is something that isn't earned or based upon merit, but something that is given by grace through faith alone.
Alma knew her Saviour Jesus. For Alma, her Christian faith wasn't just some nice sounding religion. Christianity wasn't about a religion, but a relationship with Jesus.
I have often said that a Christian funeral serves two main purposes. First, it is a testimony of the person's faith and what that means. And second, it is a comfort for those who mourn as we are reminded of God's promises, which have now been fulfilled for Alma.
Alma's testimony of her faith should serve as an example for all of us. She was active in her church, which gave her both strength for this life and the blessed hope for the life to come. That hope is for each and every person, for you and for me. The same reward of grace awaits us too, for all of us who come to Jesus confessing our sin, and receiving the forgiveness he so freely offers. And I know for a fact that Alma would be overjoyed if all of her family and friends on earth would one day join her in heaven.
This world is full of selfish and bitter people. We seem to meet up with them all the time. Alma certainly knew what the Apostle Paul did when he wrote to the Philippians. "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content...I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And my God will supply every need...according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Alma Emma (nee' Wagenknecht) was born on April 13, 1918 in Shelton, Nebraska, the third youngest child of Herman and Augusta (nee' Reier) Wagenknecht. She entered into God's family through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism at Zion Lutheran Church in rural Shelton shortly thereafter.
As a child, Alma moved with her family to Saline County, Nebraska in the rural Friend area. She attended a one-room country school where she received her 8th grade certificate.
She was united in marriage to Orie W. Collier on December 4, 1939 in Lincoln, NE. Shortly after they married, they worked together at a defense plant in Indianapolis, IN. Orie and Alma then moved to Beemer, Nebraska for a few years where Orie operated the local barbershop. Wanting to be closer to their family, the couple returned to Seward County, where Orie was, as Alma describes: "The best barber in Beaver Crossing, because he was the only one." Orie passed away in 1981.
Several years later, Alma became friends with Dale Howe of Seward, whom she met at a dance. On February 14, 1984 Dale and Alma were married in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. Dale passed away in 1989.
Alma relocated from Beaver Crossing to rural Seward, where she lived at Copper's Twin Oaks Mobile Home Park. Then as the years progressed, she moved into an apartment at Seward Manor in 2008. Finally in 2013, after suffering two strokes, she moved to the Ridgewood (Sundermann) East Nursing Home in Seward.
Alma led a very active and full life. She loved being with people and she was always ready for a visit. In her younger years, she joined with her sisters and mother at her sister Gertie's farm where she helped prepare massive amounts of food, which was served in shifts to the threshers. She enjoyed dancing, playing cards, playing bingo, sewing, and collecting angels. She also loved having her nieces and nephews visit her, often for a week at a time.
Alma was employed by Sunrise Country Home in rural Milford for over 20 years. She loved being a care giver for the residents, frequently giving them rides to various appointments in Lincoln and Omaha. And after her retirement, for 19 years she divided her time between Seward in the summertime and Mission, Texas in the wintertime.
She truly loved her Lord and sought to serve him in every area of her life. She was a very active and devoted member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Goehner for many years. When it became difficult for her to make the trip to Goehner, she transferred her membership to Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church in Seward, where she remained a faithful and active member until her death. She was indeed a tremendous blessing to her church family both in Goehner and Seward, and she will be dearly missed by her brothers and sisters in Christ.
Alma had been suffering from deteriorating health since her two strokes, making it necessary for her to have continual skilled nursing care. In the early morning hours on June 11, 2014, in her room at Ridgewood West, the Lord Jesus took Alma to her eternal mansion in heaven at the age of 96 years, 1 month, and 29 days.
Left to mourn her passing are: her sister Gertrude "Gertie" Horner of Seward, NE; a sister-in-law Peggy Wagenknecht of Mt. Ayr, IA; and a brother-in-law, Richard Villwock. Since Alma was not able to have children of her own, her nieces and nephews were her children. Mourning her passing along with their respective families are: Deloris (Dee) Mehrens of Lincoln, NE; Robert "Bob" Hansen of Seward, NE; Ginger Gibson of Gonzales, TX; Robert "Bob" Wagenknecht of Atascosa, TX; Dr. Kathleen McCarroll of Royal Oak, MI; Barbara Hale of Orlando, FL, and Theresa Weis of Montgomery, TX. Added to this list are various other family members and a whole host of friends. She was preceded in death by her parents; husbands Orie Collier and Dale Howe; brothers Walter (Hazel) Wagenknecht and Wilber Wagenknecht; sisters Elsie (Floyd) Miller and Ruth Villwock and one niece, Sue Miller.
BLESSED BE HER MEMORY.