A Celebration of Life on October 6, 2017
Boogie Bob Olson [March 5, 1945-September 14, 2017]
Pastor Caitlin Trussell at Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver
[Sermon begins after 3 Bible readings]
Mark 2:1-12 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Proverbs 3:1-3, 5 My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; 2 for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. 3 Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.
Many of you here today have stories with Boogie that go back a long time. Through some of you, I’ve heard bits and pieces. The way he lit up a room and made life brighter, bringing music and humor to lighten life. The way he could modify any piece of music. The way he listened to you and surprise you later because he’d remember what you told him. The way he loved pinball, sneaking out of the house as a teenager and still playing years later. And the way his mischievous streak would surprise people like his brother-in-law who thought he was showing up for a party and ended up moving a piano. Through these details, there is much about Boogie that came through as well. These are the intangibles – the things that thread together over time. His generosity, his puns, and his willingness to lend a hand.
Boogie and I met a couple months ago, after his cancer diagnosis. We shared communion at his bedside. He told me about his baptism as an adult here in this congregation. He talked a lot about his kids – Jerry, Brenda, and Christy – his pride, gratitude, and love for them. He talked about past broken relationships with fitting humility and regret. I asked him if there was anything he was worried about or needed to talk about and he said, “No, I’m not worried about anything; It’s just so sad. I’m going to miss so much.”
He also told me that over the last three years he has read the Bible three times. When I asked him why, he said that he though he didn’t know enough and wanted to know more. He read the Bible straight through its 66 books as printed. He also read it through chronologically – bouncing around in the Bible. While he was at it, he read different translations. By a happy accident, Boogie chose Psalm 23 and Proverbs 3 for the service today because he’d written them down to test his memory shortly before he died.
In the last few months of his life, it was Boogie who needed the hands of other people. Often ready to help, he now needed help. And you rose to the occasion. While this was tough for Boogie, he talked with me about how grateful he was that his children and his friends did what they could, when they could, to make life a little easier even as it quickly became more difficult.
The Bible story about the four friends lowering their paralyzed friend down to Jesus speaks into the grief in this time to celebrate Boogie’s life and to mourn his death. What a scene! These friends are true problem solvers. Their paralyzed friend needs help so they pack him up and head toward Jesus. It’s Flight for Life, first century style. There were so many people that they couldn’t get in the house. They head up to the roof and tear it open to lower their friend down to Jesus. Determination spiked with deep love for their friend.
As you all shared story after story with me about Boogie, this Bible story just shouted to be told. I can imagine Boogie up on that roof. Figuring out the mat, the ropes, the hole in the roof, and Jesus’ location. Working with the other friends to figure out how to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus’ attention and adding mischief along the way.
On the flip-side, I can also see Boogie as the friend on the mat. The one who desperately needs care from other people and also needs the attention Jesus. In my conversation with Boogie, he was acutely aware of his imperfections – the way he’s hurt people important to him and the limits of how far his humanity could get him. This is where his testimony is so powerful. As beloved as he was in life and appreciated for his generosity and charm, the Christian faith also reminds us of the limits of our humanity and God’s efforts to get our attention through those limitations.
How might God go about getting our attention? What are the means by which that may have been possible? God, at some point, needs to grab our focus in ways that we have some shot at understanding. God needs to speak in human terms – much like the friends risking their own lives and limbs to lower their friend to Jesus.
Think about it this way: What are our first thoughts when we hear of someone who dives into a raging river to save someone from drowning, saves that person but succumbs and dies in the flood waters themselves? What kinds of things do we say to honor the soldier who returns again and again to the firefight to save fallen friends? 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? Jesus was tried, crucified, dead and buried.
Jesus death on the cross changes everything because Jesus is God and God 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’ self-sacrificing death on the cross means that God does not respond in violence against us. Jesus’ death on the cross also means that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.
The crosses in our lives can separate us from each other and from God. But God says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too…I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.” God’s last word meets us our grief with hope – the hope that forgiveness and reconciliation with each other are possible; the hope that redemption is real, and the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God. God has already opened up whatever we perceive the barriers to be between us and God.
In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down and now catches death up into God, drawing Boogie into holy rest. Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Boogie. And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you. Thanks be to God.
 Craig Koester, Luther Seminary: Gospel of John class: John’s Theology of the Cross. December 1, 2010. I am sincerely grateful for Dr. Koester’s faithful witness as a master of holding aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and work in formative tension. His work is beautiful, articulate, and draws me more deeply into faith and love of Jesus.