Tag Archives: Celebration of Life

Celebrating the Life of Cameron Rivera (April 22, 1996 – March 10, 2020)

Caitlin Trussell at Wings Over the Rockies Museum/ Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery (Centennial Airport)

[Sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Jeremiah 29:11  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

Romans 8:35, 37-39  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[sermon begins]

Michelle and I have been talking about today since March when the pandemic shutdown the city. Trying to figure out where and when we could gather to celebrate Cameron’s life in this way was not easy. I know today is one of several times some of you have been together. The first time being the day Cameron died, during the hours long wait for the coroner’s arrival on the scene. Another being the balloon release the week after he died. It’s difficult to not let his tragic death overshadow the light Cameron brought in life and the light he continues to bring as you remember him. When I spoke with Rob and Michelle about today, I heard so many wonderful things about Cameron that make me wish I knew him as you did. We’ve already heard some of those memories today and there are so many more on your hearts and minds. His smile, loyalty, kindness, athleticism, perpetual motion, love of a challenge, and love of the Buffalo Bills all come with many stories. These are gifts that Cameron shared with you all who love him.

As a son, cousin, first grandchild and great-grandchild, friend, best friend, employee and more, Cameron brought a lot of joy. His adulting plans included his flight lessons with the goal of flying for UPS someday. It’s part of the reason we’re gathered here at the airport and will celebrate with a flyover. More immediately, he had plans to be in London in April. After he died, Cameron’s heart ventricles and corneas were able to be donated. One of his corneas ended up gifted to a recipient in London. Rob told me that while Cameron didn’t see London while he was alive, he was able to make it there after he died to see through someone else’s eyes.

Jesus says in the Bible, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Jesus knows that your hearts are troubled.  How could they not be?  The end of Cameron’s 23 years old life is a tragedy. And tragedy brings the question, “Why?!!”  And the attempts to answer that question also come.  Attempts that don’t answer the question of “why” and often leave us hurting each other or hurting ourselves.  We hurt each other and ourselves as we try to figure out what Jeremiah means by God’s plan for us and we wonder if that God had a direct hand in Cameron’s death.  Above and beyond the grief, we say things like, “Well if that’s the plan that God has then I want nothing to do with that God.”

But listen to the promise of Jeremiah once more… “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Not for harm…for hope.

How does this hope take shape in the face of real pain?  First by naming the tragedy for what it is – just like in the reading from the book of Romans that names tragedy as hardship, distress, persecution, famine, peril, nakedness, sword; just like our reason for being here today is Cameron’s death at such a young age.  And also by naming the good and the love and the hope lived in his life too.  Naming the celebration of life and naming the pain.

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. The list becomes a bit like Santa’s naughty and nice tally.  But Jesus doesn’t give as the world gives.  He does NOT tally.

If his death on the 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, it is all about what Jesus does for us.  God’s promises through Jesus.  We hear these promises and still we’re tempted to ask “BUT what about WHAT I’M supposed to do?! Have I done enough to make myself right with God?! Has Cameron?” It’s hard for us to believe that what Jesus accomplished on the cross is the last word for us and for Cameron.

Christians refer to living on “this side of the cross” to mean our life here on earth.  The resurrection-side of the cross is simply too much to fathom in a world in which we can so clearly see real problems. In this way, the truth of the cross is closer to home than the resurrection. It’s a truth we get deep in our gut.

The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain.

The truth of God’s self-sacrificing love.

The truth that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God so loves.

The truth that forgiveness comes from the cross as Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures.

Those are hard truths but we can get at them from our own experiences of love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, pain, suffering, and death.  We can get at them from this side of the cross.

The Bible 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. Another truth of the cross is that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.  Not to say that we rejoice because we suffer but rather, we are reassured of God’s love even in the midst of our suffering.

In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down on a cross and now catches death up into God, drawing Cameron into holy rest where suffering is no more.  Jesus is focused on the goal of bringing people back into relationship with God.  The self-sacrificing love of God, given fully on the cross, draws us back into relationship with God. [1]  Jesus has already opened up whatever we perceive the barrier to be between us and God.

Nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus because the movement is from God to us.

Nothing separates Cameron from the love of God in Christ Jesus because the movement is from God to Cameron.

And because it is God’s movement to us, God’s movement to Cameron, God gives us a future with hope as God also brings Cameron into a future with God.

On his earthly birthday, we celebrate Cameron’s life as we celebrate his new life with God. Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Cameron. And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

______________________________________

[1] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

 

Celebrating the Life of Cindy Brogren (August 21, 1946 – January 19, 2020)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, on January 31, 2020

[Sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Isaiah 25:7-9 And [the Lord of hosts] will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

John 14:1-7  [Jesus said] ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’* 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know* my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

[sermon begins]

Cindy’s warmth and encouragement seemed in endless supply through the years and across her relationships. Especially as a mother, she had a knack for knowing just how to encourage Katie and Anton in many situations. Her support carried all kinds of people through difficult times. This was true from her closest relationships to people she didn’t even know. When I walked into her hospital room on the Sunday afternoon she died, stories were already being told about her way of getting into the mix of people needing help. If fact, the family’s invitation to give in honor of Cindy to Metro Caring, a frontline anti-hunger organization in Denver, aligns with how she moved through the world.  Curt puts it this way, “Cindy had unconditional love; she didn’t judge, she served.”  Such love and support come from not only strength but also from the clarity of one’s own imperfection.  You see, clarity about one’s own imperfection frees grace for someone else’s imperfection. Out of that clarity of faith comes an awareness of just how much God must love us.

Because Cindy’s death was unexpected, the stories about her that reflect who you each knew her to be are so important. Not to idealize perfection but rather to continue loving her in the fullness of herself – loving her in the way she loved 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.  Cindy was one such person through whom a small fraction of the love that God has for us was experienced. In that spirit, remember to offer grace to yourselves and each other in the coming days and weeks as the experience of her loss shifts in and out of focus.

In the Bible story from John 14, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus often said things like this when he knew that the people around him were definitely troubled. He acknowledges the truth of the troubled moment. I don’t know how easy it was for Jesus to offer encouragement to un-trouble ourselves.  I do know that it’s easy for us to get lost in the details of Jesus’ words just like Thomas. Jesus promises to prepare a place and Thomas unravels. In effect he asks, “Way?  What way?  Where?  How will we know?”  It is tempting to think that we have to know and prove the way, be able to explain the way and point ourselves in the right direction on the right way. There’s an additional 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, positioning them in right relationship with God with a list of the good.  In effect, we try to create the way – as if the life and virtues of a person can be mixed into cement of sorts, paving the way between us and God.

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, in 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 Cindy did, it is all about what Jesus does for us.  Because what Jesus does, is promise that there is nothing Cindy could do or not do to make God love Cindy any more or any less.

Listen again to Jesus’ promise to Thomas in his distress, Jesus’ promise to those of us who grieve.  Listen to how many things Jesus is doing, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus makes a promise and Thomas immediately panics.  “Ahhh, what about WHAT I’M supposed to be doing?!”  Jesus replies, “I am the way” – which can be heard as Jesus saying to us, “It is not about you doing anything, it is all about what I do for you.”  It’s like Jesus reminding us that, “There is nothing you can do or not do to make God love you any more or any less.”

The Gospel of John emphasizes the power of God in Jesus. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. 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 our grief with hope – allowing space at the foot of the cross for sadness and loss while also celebrating the goodness of life in the person who died.

Christians will sometimes refer to living on “this side of the cross.”  The resurrection-side of the cross is simply too much to fathom in a world in which we can clearly see real problems.  In this way, the truth of the cross is closer to home than the resurrection. It’s a truth we get deep in our gut. The truth that being human involves real suffering and pain. The truth that God would rather die than raise a hand in violence against the world that God so loves. The truth of God’s self-sacrificing love. The truth that forgiveness comes from the cross as Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The truth about the unflinching love of God in the face of our failures. Those are hard truths, but we can get at them from our own experiences of love, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, pain, suffering, and death.  We can get at them from this side of the cross.

The resurrection side of the cross, the empty tomb of Easter, means that we are not left forever in the shadow of the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that there will come a day when God, as Isaiah writes, “will swallow up death forever…and will wipe away the tears from all faces.” The empty tomb reminds us that Jesus laid his life down in self-sacrificing love, and now catches death up into God, drawing Cindy 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 Cindy.  And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you.  Thanks be to God! And amen.

 

 

 

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.

______________________________________________

**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.