Mary Elizabeth Fiissel Funeral Sermon - Psalm 27 April 27th 2021 / A Life Built on the Rock
Funeral Sermon for Mary Elizabeth Fiissel - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Tuesday April 27th 2021: Season of Easter / Psalm 27:1, 4-5, 7-8, 13-14 "A Life Built on the Rock"
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in His temple.
For He will hide me in His shelter
in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will lift me high upon a rock.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek My face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends, dear family of Mary Fiisel. Jesus teaches us the Golden Rule saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” He continues by saying, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” First in Christ Jesus Mary found this narrow way and second she took to heart the Golden Rule as she diligently care for you her family and for those around her even when it was hard, even when it was a real challenge to do so, even when it required personal sacrifice, even when some in our world today choose the wide and easy way running from their responsibilities and the needs of others.
Whenever you gather for a funeral to remember one like Mary, who was a true leader in your family, even if it’s a small gathering like we have today due the circumstances of our lives in these times of pandemic — or for those of you who will read these words, or hear and see them at a later date — we are all given an opportunity at a funeral to do as the Book of Hebrews encourages us to do, to “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith:” that same text continues to remind us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. [And that we as Christians are reminded not to] be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” and not by the things of this world. And we know that when it comes to any person set before you, you can always learn from them: In some cases you learn how not to live in other cases you can learn how best to live. On a day like today you confidently look to Mary … but think and remember who Mary looked to with even greater confidence.
Mary looked with confidence to Christ Jesus, the one who taught her, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” she looked to Jesus who “is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and her heart was strengthened by His grace. When was Mary looking to Jesus, how was she doing it? The chief way was in regular Sunday attendance, weekly she would hear God’s Word, hear of Christ Jesus, hear the preaching, and receive the Lord’s Supper. And in this way any water that got in the boat of her life and threatened to sink her ship was bailed out bit by bit, week by week. In this she grew in faith and in grace and also in her strength to care for you all. This is a thing discounted by the world we live in today, it seems kind of old fashioned, many are busy living their best lives now, or find themselves trapped in other obligations or by their personal desires. Mary made it part of her life of faith. Having looked to Christ and having learned from Him Mary often put aside these cares of the World to care for others. The sacrifice of Christ Jesus became for Mary a pattern and an encouragement to her life of sacrifice. You then are the beneficiaries of this truth taught by Christ and learned by Mary. Like a river flowing from its source to its destination this grace comes to you. And the source of any river is a place higher than the place where it ends.
This brings us to a thought and prayer and prophetic word of God found in Psalm 27 which we heard read this morning, where King David in the Old Testament says that the LORD who is his personal light and salvation, who is the stronghold of his life, “will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; [how the LORD] will conceal me under the cover of His tent; [how the LORD] will lift me high upon a rock,” and how knowing all this, and trusting this, removes fear from a persons heart.
High and lifted up, upon a rock … but which rock? Any old rock or is there a specific rock that this Psalm is pointing to? In a different Psalm in Psalm 18 David writes, “The LORD is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge,” so not any old rock but rather the Rock of Ages, the Rock cleft for me as the hymn says, Jesus the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity who is Himself God. And this Jesus, your Rock, says while speaking of His crucifixion which was about to come, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” Jesus our Fortress and Deliverer, our Rock would Himself be lifted up in His crucifixion on Good Friday and in this same Jesus all Christians are hidden away as Saint Paul would later write while talking of Jesus’ crucifixion.
St. Paul wrote for his day as did king David did for his day but they likewise spoke directly to Mary in her life as she read God’s Word as she studied her Portals of Prayer Devotions and they also speak to you and me today, so listen to what Saint Paul teaches us when he says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” So in Psalm 27 King David pointed forward to Jesus’ death on Good Friday to the place where David and dear Mary and you and I and all Christians, in fact where all people, were lifted up in Christ Jesus, who is our Rock and salvation, high upon a rock set outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. So these words from the Bible in Psalm 27 and these other words in the Bible come to you today through Mary to point you again to Jesus.
Knowing and understanding and having faith that we are indeed tucked away in Christ Jesus all the days of our baptismal life, in our day of trouble, in our happy times, in our times of sacrifice, in Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, is a great comfort and encouragement for the Christian. Mary leaning on this was able to press through her grief and loss when her husband Fred died in 1957 and when she moved to Regina in 1960. Her faith and the support of her Christian family, which we hear about earlier, likewise lifted her up. And because she received help she was in turn able to continue her work of caring and helping you all. She made sacrifices of love for you all because she knew and trusted that Jesus had made the ultimate sacrifice of love in His Cross and Passion and that His sacrifice from that high and lifted up place flowed to her and down to you.
In this last week’s Epistle reading Saint John says, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers [for each other]. But if anyone has the World’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, [Saint John writes,] let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Mary loved you in deed and in truth, she loved you in all the ways that Linda spoke of this morning and the ways you know best and she loved you in her faith in Christ Jesus, her dedication to His church and her attendance, her lifting up her voice in songs of praise in the choir and her faithful reception of the Lord’s Super even when she could no longer make it to church in person to receive it and it had to come to her.
Mary lived a long life, it was not always easy but it was a life full of faith and love and happiness too. Psalm 27 and Romans chapter 8 which we also heard read to this morning were both very dear passages of Scripture to Mary. I remember reading Romans 8 to her at Elmview Extendicare Care. It was a great solace to her that, as Paul writes “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Even when we are at our strongest, when we are fighting the hardest to take care of our family and those around us, we likewise still know that we are weak, if we are honest with ourselves and with God we know that we need the help of the Holy Spirit, the help of God the Father, the help of Jesus Christ even when the whole world looks at us and sees nothing but strength and perseverance.
Mary was very strong and yet she also received the help of others when she needed it. Again to be strong, to have a sure footing in times of weakness when our strength gives way, we need to have solid footing, solid ground to stand on. Jesus gives us the parable of the house built on the Rock to illustrate this truth. Listen to Jesus, He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” It’s not hard to see Mary as one who wisely built her house upon the Rock of Jesus, who all her years continued to build her house on the Rock of Jesus. She built that house for you that you would dwell secure in Him.
As Psalm 27 says, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, [and] that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple,” to seek His Face, to seek the face of the LORD. She waited long for the LORD to look upon His face and she in now with Him as we lay her to rest and she will, as David likewise desires, “look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living,” in that far and distant country, in our heavily home, the one that’s mentioned in that song she loved so much. So dear ones King David and Mary say to you today, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD,” she waited 98 year, and in the end she often wondered “why am I still her left to wait? Why hasn’t God taken me home yet?” She asked me this, I know she has asked many of you this too.
Interestingly this brings us back around to where we began today, to Jesus’ words “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” in Christ Jesus this is the narrow way, we follow in His footsteps along that way, knowing it lead to and through His cross and passion, for the way of selfishness and self interest is wide and easy but the way of self sacrifice and care for others in narrow and hard. Mary, who sacrificed so much for other, did so much for them with such love and care likewise needed the love and care and rescue provided by Christ just as we all need it and she, like we, became the object and opportunity for good works and deeds to be done for her.
Sometime you make sacrifices to help and sometimes others make sacrifices to help you. Sometimes those sacrifices are hard and sometimes they are made easier by love. She was here so long, I think, so that others could care for her in return for all the care she gave. You were all given opportunity to care for her in your ways, and you have been given opportunities to care for others in your family and in your work and in your various responsibilities and vocations in this life. When we fail to live lives of sacrifice, when we fail to do the hard things set before us, it is Jesus who provides forgiveness. Turn to Him like a salmon heading back upstream to its source and you will find the same love and forgiveness in Christ that Mary found all her long life.
So again I leave you with this encouragement: consider the outcome of Mary’s way of life, and imitate her faith and remember that, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Therefore then as Christians do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings that would take your eyes off of Jesus, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by His grace and not by the things of this World. Mary looked to Jesus, in happiness and in every struggle, you do the same. Remember Mary’s Confirmation of Baptism verse from Psalm 37, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act.” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Matthew 7:12–14
 Hebrews 13:7–9
 Psalm 27:5
 Psalm 18:2
 John 12:32
 Colossians 3:3–4
 1 John 3:16–18
 Matthew 7:24–27
 Psalm 37:5
Photo credits: Main Photo Stained Glass with photo of Mary Fiissel inset by Ted Giese; Family Hands from unsplash; Boats on Water from pexels; River from pexels; Jesus Cross Pipe Organ from pexels; Photo of Mary Fiissell supplied by family; Sand Castle from pexels; House Built on Stone from pexels; Hands from unsplash; Hand with Cross from pexels; Detail of Christ Jesus Crucified from Unsplash.