Mary McKinnon Funeral Service
Rev. Frank Mansell III
John Knox Presbyterian Church – Indianapolis, Indiana
February 10, 2019
March 5, 1928 – February 3, 2019
John 14: 1-6, 25-27
Probably the hardest thing about life is death. Our head tells us that we will not live forever, but our heart has a hard time accepting that. It is hard to wake up one day and come to realize that the world is not the same as it was the day before. The friend you relied on to tell you what you needed to hear will no longer share in those conversations. The parent who taught you about life through their love will no longer be present. The spouse who walked beside you through thick and thin, for better or worse, will no longer be there for the journey. The world is not the same today as it was yesterday.
That is death’s reality. It is a shock to our system, because as human beings, we are relational. Our identity is formed by the people who are a part of our life: family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and so on. What shocks us about death is that key person, who we related to in significant and meaningful ways, is now gone. Just as our identity is formed through relationships, death alters our personal identity due to the absence of that relationship.
The challenge of the Christian faith is to trust in something we cannot see, cannot touch, and cannot hear. The challenge – and crux – of the Christian faith is to believe that death does not, in fact, have the final word. As you will see at the top of your bulletin today, in the Presbyterian Church we call a funeral service “a service of witness to the resurrection.” We live our lives of faith as witnesses to the one who conquered death so that we all might have eternal life. Death may alter our identity, but our faith in the resurrection grounds our being in the One who created us, who redeems us, and who sustains us.
In our gathering together here today, we are bearing witness. We are bearing witness to God’s grace and presence in the life of Mary McKinnon, one of God’s children, who touched each of us and so many others in immeasurable ways. But we are also bearing witness to the fact that we trust and believe that God will be with us in all times of life, even in times of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.
The last time I saw Mary was the day she died, in the hospital with Patty and Patty’s brother, Doug. It was a brief visit, and we knew she was near the end of her journey on this earth. After we said a prayer together, I said to her what I often say to folks when I leave: “I’ll see you soon.” That may have seemed insensitive for me to say, especially as she was approaching the end of her earthly life.
But perhaps in saying that I am speaking the faith that Jesus shares with his disciples the night before he died. In John’s Gospel, as Jesus spoke to his disciples, he knew they were worried, scared, and uncertain about what the future held if he was not going to be with them. To ease their anxiety, Jesus assures them there is a place waiting for them in his father’s kingdom. “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? I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” That is a great assurance to me, and I hope it is for you, as well. For in our faith in the resurrection, life does not end with the diseases we suffer from, the pain we endure, or the heartbreak we experience. Instead, eternal life is promised by the one who is “the way and the truth and the life.” It is because of that faith that I know I will see and you will see Mary and so many others very, very soon, as we will meet in the many dwelling places that our Lord has prepared for us.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). The light which Jesus spoke of is something we are born with, something we are blessed with, something which identifies us as God’s children. That light exists in each of us, and as Jesus says, is not to be hidden, but is to “shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16).
We are all here today because God’s light shined on us through Mary McKinnon. As we have heard Patty share, Mary had a love for life that influenced everyone she came in touch with. Perhaps that love for life came from the fact that she faced so many health issues in her life, and through them all she valued each day God had given her to be in this world. She gave of her time in so many ways to help others, that her light gave hope and joy to countless people in this world who desperately needed it. She spoke up for the voiceless, cared for those who were lost, and modeled to her family what it meant to be a servant.
And in these last years of her life, she provided joy and laughter to so many all across social media! Through Patty’s Facebook posts called “Mom Stories,” Mary made us laugh with her honest and humor-filled anecdotes which – let’s face it – we all desperately needed. One of the aides at Mary’s nursing home put it best: “Even when Mary was insulting me, she made me laugh.” Mary had a wonderful way of being honest and true to herself, and making us smile and laugh – all at the same time.
But one of the qualities that Patty spoke of about her mom that touched me deeply was Mary’s feisty, fierce nature. That translated into her standing up for anyone who she perceived to be the victim of injustice. That translated into deep, fierce devotion and love for her children and family – she was a true mama bear! That translated into her always being in motion – always living out what she said and believed in her actions. Mary was feisty and fierce in her love for family, friends, and all of God’s children.
I cannot think of a better example of how God loves us. God is fierce in God’s loyalty and devotion to this world. God steadfastly loves us through God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. The evidence of that fierce love for us is the promise we have today of resurrection hope – a hope that we know Mary is living into today. Just as Mary loved us fiercely, so too does God love us fiercely in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
We are each given a light that shines in us. That light can either be kept to ourselves, or shared with the world. There is no doubt what Mary chose to do with the light that God had given to her. Now, the question becomes: what will you do with the light God has shined on you through Mary? My prayer is that we may find it in ourselves to share that light of love. Because you never know how your light will illumine someone else’s dark path, as surely Mary illumined each of our paths.
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart” (Psalm 15).
Thanks be to God. Amen.