Funeral, Sermons

8/19/22 Sermon: A Legacy of Care and Service

Friday, August 19, 2022
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Funeral of Colleen Dubsky 
Obituary • APHA Tribute
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 22:09; sermon starts around 24:49)
image source

Readings:

Many years ago, when I was in college, I spent a couple of my summers working out at Camp Carol Joy Holling, near Ashland, NE. I had a friend at school named Nicole who had talked me into applying for a job there. I just worked as a regular old counselor – and then later as a “creative arts specialist” – but the job that Nicole got to do was totally fascinating to me. She worked as one of the camp’s small handful of wranglers. It was her job to help care for the camp’s horses. She spent time getting to know them and taught the campers to understand and appreciate them; she taught kids – and counselors! – the basics of riding, and she got to lead these amazing, long trail rides all over camp. 

I’d had very little experience with horses, but I loved animals and I was really interested to learn more. So one week, I asked Nicole if I could spend whatever time I could spare kind of job-shadowing her – helping her with horse-chores and getting some hands-on experience working with horses. In retrospect, it probably should have been more of a red flag to me from the minute I found out that her day started at 4am

But I was bound and determined to help out and learn. So I made the effort and dragged my butt out of my tipi before the crack of dawn and I stumbled my way down to the stables, still half-asleep. I helped muck out some of the stalls, and then Nicole had me go grab a bale of alfalfa and start tossing sections of it over the fence for the horses to eat. 

Now, I am not the most coordinated person at the best of times. And four in the morning, half-awake, lugging bales of alfalfa over the muddy ground is definitely not the best time for me. One wrong step as I walked along the fenceline, and down I went. I somehow managed to fall both into and under the barbed wire fence, and to this day I still have scars on my legs and on my hands from where I tried to catch myself. 

Nicole made the work look fun and easy – but I ended my very brief stint as a wrangler covered head to toe in blood, mud, and alfalfa.

It is a lot of hard work to take care of horses – to raise them and feed them and train them, to care for their health and well-being. It takes an immense amount of care and dedication and responsibility to do this kind of work. And Colleen had these qualities in spades. She had a lifelong passion for horses, especially American Paint Horses, that she came by honestly through her folks. And, knowing how much it takes to do this kind of work, it doesn’t surprise me at all to hear people describe Colleen with words like “generous,” “persevering,” “loyal,” “helpful,” and “someone who poured her heart and soul” into everything she did.

Colleen also helped pass on this beautiful legacy to the next generation – and to the one after that! Colleen’s kids and grandkids learned to ride and show horses. She modeled for them the dedication and passion and persevering spirit that it takes to succeed. And I feel like I can hear her pride and her love both for Paint horses and for her family echoing in the ways that those who loved her speak about her. For Colleen, raising and showing these horses was more than just her passion. It was a way of connecting with her family – both the generation before her and the generations that came after her – handing down the wisdom and values she grew up with, and bringing the family together around this shared love.

I also think there’s something really beautiful about this kind of bond that Colleen and her family share with these particular animals. According to Google – correct me if I’m wrong here – Paint horses typically live around 30 years. That is a long time to be in relationship with any living creature. And it’s a bond that takes time and patience and perseverance to develop. I mean, I have cats instead of horses, but even there, it takes persistence and commitment to build a relationship of trust with an animal. They don’t understand when you tell them they’re getting poked with a sharp thing so they won’t get sick, or when you tell them you have to go out of town for a week, but you’re coming back! Unless I really don’t know anything about horses, I’m pretty sure they don’t understand English.

But what they do understand is when someone consistently shows up. They learn to trust someone who daily feeds and waters them, who tenderly cares for them when they are sick, who protects them and invests in their well-being – someone who gets up every day before the crack of dawn to make sure their needs are met. It’s a relationship built on love that is faithfully shown over time, love that is more than just words.

And it’s a relationship that especially stands out to me, because I think it powerfully reflects the relationship that God has with us. We often don’t understand the ways that God speaks to us, or the ways that God might be acting in our lives. We don’t understand the reasons why when it seems like our prayers go unanswered. Especially on days like these, when we are grieving the death of someone we loved dearly, it seems incomprehensible to us how God could allow such a thing to happen.

But the words of the psalmists that we read today remind us of God’s long history of faithfulness toward God’s people. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” “For in the day of trouble God will give me shelter, hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary, and raise me high upon a rock.” “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” “The Lord watches over you… The Lord will preserve you from all evil and will keep your life. The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore.” Although we may not understand when God speaks to us, we can trust God to hold us in love and give us all we need. After all, this is also a relationship that spans many, many generations.

And the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord. Death is not the end with God. For us, the separation of death is deeply, lastingly painful. But through Christ, God made flesh, death no longer gets the last word. God chose to be born among us as a human, lived a human life with all its joys and sorrows, suffered death, and rose triumphant. And with this victory over the grave, God destroyed the power of death for all and forever. We have been freed to live in hope, to wait for the day when we and all our loved ones will be raised to eternal life.

And as I reflect on the life of Jesus Christ and all that he has done for us, I can’t help but think how perfectly fitting it is that Colleen be raised to eternal life by a Savior who was born in a stable.

We have hope that outshines death – hope in God’s enduring faithfulness, and hope in the saving and redeeming acts of Jesus. And while we wait for the fulfillment of this hope, God also brings us comfort. Even in the hard days of grief that lie ahead, God’s presence and peace will be with us every step of the way. Jesus himself in this reading from Matthew invites us to lean on him; he says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Our beloved sister in Christ, Colleen, has now gone to her eternal rest. But she leaves behind her a legacy of loving care and service to others that reflects the immense love that our Creator has for each one of us. And that love lives on. It binds us together. And it gives us the strength to persevere until that day when our hope is fulfilled – until that day when, together, we will all see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

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