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She Should be in Hell: A Funeral Sermon for Mary Olson. June 17, 2017

June 17, 2017

A handful of folks asked if I could make this sermon available, so here you go:


Text: Mark 9:42-50

Derek and Deirdre; family and friends; sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this morning in the name of God the Father and our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. We are here on this Saturday morning because of the one who is not here. We are here because Mary is not. And where is she? Well, let’s begin with where she should be. Mary Olson should be in hell. I say that for two reasons: First, because Mary made me promise to say that sentence, word for word, during this sermon, and I wasn’t about to ignore one of Mary’s instructions! She was more formidable than I am, and I’m not about to disregard her wishes. And second, well, because while we might find such language uncomfortable, it’s true. Whatever else we may know about Mary, we know that at the center of her life was an unshakeable trust and faith in her Lord, Jesus Christ – the One who died so that we who are sinners might live. Mary knew herself to be a sinner, although I never caught her in the act. I’ve often thought that if the world had more people who are as sinful as Mary was, it would be a much better place. And yet, without a doubt, Mary was right about one thing. She knew that without Jesus, we wouldn’t have a hope in the world. But we are not without Jesus, so we have all the hope in the world – the sure and certain hope that is given to those who have been called and chosen by the grace of God. Called and chosen; that’s Mary.
  2. And so we have before us today these words of Jesus from the Gospel according to Mark, stern words of warning for those who would hope to enter the Kingdom of God. Better to enter the Kingdom maimed or lame than to suffer the eternal consequences of hell and its unquenchable flames. But what appears at first to be the threat of hellfire and brimstone turns out to be nothing less than the sweet strains of the gospel. For we are not without Jesus. Jesus, finally, is the One who willingly takes on suffering, shame, and even death so that we need never fear these things. Jesus is the One who is cut and pierced that we may be made whole. Jesus is the One who descended into hell that we need never fear those fires. Jesus is the sinless One who takes on our sin so that we, by grace alone, will be washed clean. This Jesus is the One Mary knew and loved so well, the One to whom she devoted her life as daughter and wife, mother and grandmother, friend and sister in Christ.
  3. As Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, he makes a special plea for the sake of the little ones in our midst, and goodness did Mary hear and heed this call. Beyond being a loving, devoted mother and grandmother to her own children and grandchildren, she gave of herself and her home as a foster mother to dozens and dozens of babies over the years. She worked faithfully on behalf of infants in need and ministered to those with disabilities. Beyond this, we were each, I think, little ones to Mary; we were all people to whom she devoted special care and love. In conversations throughout these weeks, I’ve heard a number of people note that Mary was a mentor in faith and life. She delighted in hearing and teaching God’s Word – in Bible Study Fellowship and Women’s Bible Study, through Stephen Ministry and email devotions and one-on-one conversations. She knew she’d found her hope, her life, in Jesus, and she wanted us to know his grace and love, too. Mary was always on the lookout for the little ones, and I count myself blessed to be among their number.
  4. So now we gather here today to commend Mary into the eternal arms of God’s unfailing love. We give thanks for her life, and even more for the life that flows from God – life that sustained her as she faced her death and the pain of that journey. The last time I saw Mary was in her home, where we gathered for prayer, Holy Communion, conversation, tears, and some direction from her on how I was to preach this sermon. Before I left, she encouraged me to peruse her collection of books and take some volumes with me; her extensive library lives on in many of our homes. As we talked, I mentioned a book by Lynn Eib entitled When God and Cancer Meet. I think it was the only book Mary didn’t own! I shared the premise of the book, which is that when God and cancer meet, God always wins. Sometimes God wins by taking the cancer out of the person, and sometimes God wins by taking the person out of the cancer. But either way God wins, and God through Christ has won for Mary the victory.
  5. This is what St. Paul wrote of to the Corinthians, proclaiming the truth of grace that transcends our physical wasting away, the death that is merely a prelude to the life of resurrection in the Kingdom of God. Our words from the prophet Isaiah today speak to this truth through verses that gave Mary comfort throughout her life, particularly when Jon died. I don’t know if she did this with you, but whenever I was with Mary she would eventually suggest we sing a hymn or two. So it was that Mary and I sang a setting of Isaiah’s words together as a choir of two on several occasions, and sadly, since she’s not here, you’re stuck with me: “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me; I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.” Yes, through the waters and the rivers, you belong to God. Yes, through the fire and the flames, you belong to God. Yes, even through the valley of the shadow of death, you belong to God, who in Christ is walking with you each step of the way. Shortly after Holy Week, Mary called me and spoke of the great pain she was enduring, but noted how it paled in comparison to the sufferings Jesus endured for us. God journeyed with Mary to the end, which turns out not to be the end at all, but a new beginning to a new beginning that knows no ending because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It turns out we don’t have to fear hell at all, for hell and its forces have been vanquished forever through the blood of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe she should be there, and maybe we should be, too. But by grace Mary belongs to the Kingdom of God. And so do you.
  6. We are gathered this day because Mary isn’t here. And because of this, we mourn and we weep. How could we not? But we do not lose hope, because we know that Mary has been called home to her Savior. We know where she is, safe in the arms of the God who never let her go. And God will not let you go, either. Do not be afraid, God is with you. God has called you each by name. Continue to follow Christ and he will lead you home. He loves you and, like Mary, you are his. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, today and forever. Amen.

From → Odds and Ends

  1. LaNell Mahler Koenig permalink

    Another beautiful sermon Pastor Lyle. Sorry I/we were not there in person. We too had said our goodbyes to Mary and walked away with an armful of her books. Jerry is in Canada fishing and I’m in MN doing my thing. Thanks you for your Grace-filled messages.

  2. Powerful message, Pastor Dave. Thank you!

  3. Robert Burke permalink

    Tho’ I didn’t know Mary personally, I’ve heard many comments about her life at Grace. Given what I’ve heard, your sermon, I’m sure, wrote itself, and you were simply the bearer of the Good News of resurrection.

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