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!