Tag Archives: Celebration of Life

Celebrating the Life of Billie Grace [Romans 6:3-5, Ephesians 2:4-10, John 11:25-26]

Caitlin Trussell with Bethany Lutheran Church on August 24, 2019

When I sat down with Dan a few weeks ago, it was clear how much Billie is loved.  Loved by Dan, sure.  And also loved by all of you – her family, her friends, her percussion students, her church people…you get the idea. More than an idea, you’ve experienced this to be true about her.  Billie also loved as much as she was loved. She just loved people.  She was a people person.  Curious and interested, she could talk to anyone because people knew they could talk to her and she would listen. Listening is a rare gift, indeed.  So needed in the world and so missed when we lose a good listener in our lives.

Perhaps her gift of percussion was part and parcel of her gift of listening.  Producing a beat comes from listening at a deeper level and allows other musicians to weave their gifts around and through it while keeping a bead on them too.  Similarly, she did this with her percussion students over many years – teaching, listening, counseling, and supporting them.  And similarly, she did this as a wife and as a mother – listening and loving to each one of you.

Listening is very much a part of the Bible verses that I read from the 11th chapter of the gospel of John. These are just a few verses from the long story of Lazarus who lived in the town of Bethany.  Lazarus is a dear friend of Jesus who gets sick while Jesus is out of town healing and teaching elsewhere.  Lazarus’ sisters send word to Jesus that he is very sick.  Before Jesus gets back to town, Lazarus dies.  The verses we get in the reading today are part of a longer conversation between Jesus and Lazarus’ sister Martha in which she accuses him of not showing up in time to save Lazarus.  Jesus listened and then replied, “I AM the resurrection and the life,” reversing what we tend to think about death and life. Martha confesses to Jesus in the following verses when she says, “Yes Lord, I believe.”

In one form or another, we all live a confession of what we believe.  We believe things strongly and we don’t live them perfectly.  Billie was no different.  This is why hearing the good news of Jesus time and again is a needed reminder.  The reminder that by her baptism Billie was buried into Jesus’ death so that she too might walk with him in newness of life.  In baptism her journey was sealed by the Holy Spirit forever and God has a hold of her whether she is on this side of death or the other side of death.  This promise did not unfrustrate her in the face of her ailing body.  This promise DID give her a peace that passes all understanding as she chose the comfort of hospice in her last days.

There’s a temptation at funerals to try to look back and prove our worthiness before God.  To think that a list of virtues shows the worth of the person who died, positioning them in right relationship with God.  In effect, we try to pave the way between us and God with a list of virtues that make us worthy. But if Jesus’ death on a cross means anything, it means that God is neither in the sin accounting business nor the proof of worthiness business.  Earlier in the Gospel of John, John 3:17, we hear the promise that God did NOT send Jesus into the world to condemn the world but to save it. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, or what Billie did, it is all about what Jesus does for us.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrected life promises us that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.

Jesus says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” The Gospel of John emphasizes the power of God in Jesus with many “I AM” statements. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. Jesus whose life reveals God’s love and care for all people regardless of class, gender, or race.  Jesus who came not to condemn the world but to save the world that God so loves.  Jesus whose ministry of God’s unconditional love led to his execution on a cross. Jesus’ death on the cross means a lot of things. One thing the cross means is that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer which means that the cross meets us our grief with hope – the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God.  How much more can be given?  And how might God go about getting our attention?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms, through people.

In a very real way, God did this through Billie. When I pray out loud with people, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people.  Billie was one such person through whom you experienced a small fraction of the love that God has for all of us.

In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down and now catches death up into God, drawing Billie into holy rest with the company of all the saints in light perpetual.  Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Billie.  And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you.  Thanks be to God!

For Sara, A Celebration of Life

Caitlin Trussell with Sara’s family and friends on February 24, 2019

I am Pastor Caitlin Trussell and I bring you greetings from the sinner/saints of Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver.  Much closer to home, I’ve been friends with Sara’s sister Susan for almost 20 years, after our sons met in preschool.  My heart and prayers have been with Sara and you all through her diagnosis and death.  The invitation to close the remarks today is an honor.

There’s a verse that I hang onto in the Christian Bible that helps me in difficult times.  It goes like this, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.”** Notice that this Bible verse doesn’t say love is perfect and it doesn’t say love isn’t messy. It says that God’s love is made complete in the love we share with each other. When I pray out loud with people, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people.  And today, I thank God that you all had Sara to love and to love you – not perfectly revealing God’s love, but completing it nonetheless.  Sara was one such person through whom you experienced a small fraction of the love that God has for us.

And also, in a very real way, God did this through Jesus, who gave his life on a cross. There’s many things that the cross means but I’m going to spare you and highlight just one thing the cross means. It means God knows suffering and grief. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer and grieve. Because grief is often a messy mix of our love and our unfinished business, the cross also gives us hope that grief will be transformed by the love God shared with you through Sara.

Grief is transformed in part through the love you share with each other here today. Because with Sara’s death, the fabric of relationship is torn.  And it’s as if each one of you is given a needle and thread, so that with every story you tell, every laugh with remembered stories, every tear with remembered grief, every silence shared that cannot be filled with words, you are stitching your relationships together in new ways that continue to reveal Sara’s shape, making God’s love complete in loving each other.

With the remarks concluded, you’re invited to continue sharing time, food, and stories.

And now hear this blessing:

May God bless you and keep you,

May God’s face shine on you with grace and mercy,

May God look upon you with consolation and (+) give you peace.

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**1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete  in us.

For Les Woodward – A Celebration of Life

Caitlin Trussell on September 14, 2018

You know the kind of laugh that makes you laugh along with it? Even if you missed the joke?! Laughter is contagious. Les’ laugh particularly so.  It’s one of the main things many of you talk about when describing him. Last week at the hospital, soon after Les died, Marianne was telling a story about Les and she said, “Oh, the pen…” She went over to her purse, grabbed the pen, and held it up to push its top. She looked around at all of us, asking if it was too soon, and was immediately assured it wasn’t.  She clicked the pen and out came Les’ laugh.

His laugh was talked about over and over again in a video made by his law firm. In the same video he was quoted answering a question about his greatest accomplishment.  He was most proud of his many decades of marriage with Marianne. They were partners who loved each other’s company, who made each other’s lives of service possible, and often fell asleep laughing at the end of the day. Les’ joy and their joy together is why Marianne chose the readings from the Bible books of Galatians and Psalms.

Listening to Les himself over the last few years and also to his family over the last few weeks included story after story about Les’ joy of life and his service to others even through some significant health challenges – asthma since he was three years old, losing a clavicle bone to cancer in his teen years, and a couple more cancer surgeries as an adult.  The stories also share a common theme about time. As much as Les laughed, he was utterly serious about time.

Being present in the time he had with each person and most especially in the time spent with his family – never missing dinner even if his work continued later at the kitchen table. He also shared the gift of over 40 years of time with the hundreds of acolytes in this church; youth who lit candles, carried Bibles, and lifted the cross in worship.  He called the youth acolytes every Saturday night to remind them of their worship commitment the next day no matter where he was in the world.  Perhaps this focus on time was in part because Les was not expected to live past his 50s.  Every day was truly a gift.

There’s a temptation at funerals to try to look back and prove our worthiness before God.  To think that we have to prove our own goodness or the worthiness of the person who died, and position ourselves in right relationship with God with a list of the good.  But if Jesus’ death on a cross means anything, it means that God is not in the sin accounting business. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, or what Les did, it is all about what Jesus does for us.

In the gospel reading, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  After all, how much more can be given?  And really, how might God go about getting our attention?  God, at some point, needs to grab us in ways that we might have some shot at understanding.  God needs to speak in human terms, through people.

In a very real way, God did this through Les. Les lived his life in service to everyone around him, laying his life down day after day in service to others.  When I pray out loud with people, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people.  Les was one such person through whom we experienced a small fraction of the love that God has for us.

And also, in a very real way, God did this through Jesus, who literally laid his life down on a cross in self-sacrifice.  The Gospel of John emphasizes the power of God in Jesus. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. Jesus whose life reveals God’s love and care for all people regardless of class, gender, or race.  Jesus whose ministry of God’s unconditional love led to his execution on a cross.

Jesus’ death on the cross means a lot of things.  (If I listed them all, Les might wonder if I was taking your time seriously.)  So here’s just one thing the cross means, it means God knows suffering and grief. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer and grieve.

In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down on a cross and now catches death up into God, drawing Les into holy rest.  Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Les. And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you.  Thanks be to God!

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Scripture selections by Les’ family:

John 15:12-13  ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Galatians 5:22-23 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Psalm 16:7-8, 11

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me. 
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.