I get Jan Antonsson's sermon she gives the residents at the local nursing
home in her town on Sundays. This one is full of humor but really drives a
good point home. Read it and enjoy. And, if you are an avid believer in Hell,
think about it. Jan's website : The Glory Road Debbie
Ida Mae Magillacutty was bored, and so she did what she always did when
she had nothing else to do. She signed on to the Internet and logged on to
a Poker Game site, where she had an account. She told herself as usual,
that she'd only play long enough to win back what she had lost, IF she lost
anything. She never bet much, but this evening, she couldn't lose. Winning
hand after hand after hand added money to her account, until she had the
unbelievable amount of $400 in her bankroll. This was making her as
nervous as losing usually did, because that's a lot of money. What would
her friends at the Third Baptist Church think of her now?
The slightly wicked thought crossed her mind that maybe one of them was
playing in this very game. Who would know? She smiled, remembering the
old joke that Catholics don't recognize Protestants; Protestants don't
recognize the Pope, and Baptists don't recognize each other in Liquor
Stores or Online Poker Games. Chuckling to herself at how easily she
dodged that bullet of guilt, she looked at the cards she'd just been dealt
for the new hand. Ida Mae gasped out loud when she saw she was holding
4 Aces! Four Aces, how rare is that?
The Aces on the screen actually caused her hand to shake slightly as she
clutched the computer mouse. She worried, "Oh my, what shall I do now?"
She got up and hugged her kitty Miss Priss, who purred contentedly, but
offered no advice. She stroked her other kitty's head, but Taffy had nothing
to say either because she was having, well you guessed it, "a cat nap." Ida
Mae picked up her half drunk cup of tea and gulped it down, trying to think
what to do next. "If I bid right away, they'll know I have Aces," she
reasoned, since bluffing was a skill she hadn't learned, and she was so
new to the game, she was sure the other players had guessed her good
fortune. Good thing they couldn't see her, because she was decidedly NOT
wearing a poker face.
She decided to just bide her time and play along, making small bets, to let
the pot get bigger. Another player must have had a good hand, because he
or she kept bidding it up. "Surely, nothing would beat 4 Aces, would it?"
she worried. She looked it up in her "Beginner's Guide to Poker," and was
relieved to see that she did have a winning hand. So, when it came her
turn to play next, she bet her entire pot, $400 big ones. She was so
nervous, she could scarcely breathe. The guy or gal who had been betting
the most called her hand, but when she revealed the 4 Aces, she was the
winner of the entire pot, $5,000!
That was an enormous amount of money, and Ida Mae knew she had to stop
right then! She elected to take her money and run. She logged off, turned
off the computer, and sat there stunned for a minute. After making herself
another cup of tea, into which she put a drop or three of brandy, she had a
terrible thought: "My God, I'm a gambler. Horrors, what if someone finds
out?" And right after that, a worse thought hit her, "Does this mean I'm
going to hell?" Her friends from church were VERY big on hell, not to
mention her boss, Miss Upchurch, who seemed to think that any infraction
of the rules would send you there in a quick hurry. This was horrible!
Ida Mae wasn't sure what she thought about hell, but she surely didn't want
to become known as a gambler. It would get her tossed out of church and
probably fired from her job as well. Worse, what would God think of her?
What to do? What to do?
She hardly slept that night, dreaming she was tossing and turning on a
huge poker table with green baize covering, surrounded by poker chips;
the devil was lurking nearby, pitchfork in hand, grinning and saying, "Come
on down. The weather's fine down here, Ida Mae honey. You're mine now."
She woke up with a start, covered in sweat, trembling from head to foot.
She had to deal with this like a good Christian should, but how?
Perhaps God took pity upon her; yes, let's just say that. What happened
was that the next day, when she went to work, she saw a flier on her desk,
faxed to her by the Pastor of her church, Rev. Gooddeeds. It was an
announcement of a trip to Israel the church was sponsoring, and offering a
discount on the trip to the first 10 people who signed up. Would you
believe that her $5,000 winnings would be just enough, with a little
spending money left over? "Wow," she thought, "This is just what I need.
Maybe if I go to the 'holy land' God will forgive me for this terrible thing I
have done." So, she called up Pastor Gooddeeds and told him to count her
in. She was among the first 10 who called and thus qualified for the
That decisive action eased her guilt over the gambling for quite a few
weeks, but then when the war started between Israel and Lebanon, she
was terrified. Who knew that bombs could reach all the way from Lebanon
to the Sea of Galilee? Or maybe even further? Maybe this was God's way to
punish her. What if she was killed in Israel, and then went to hell anyway as
judgment for the sin of gambling? "Oh horrors, this is awful!" she moaned,
but she'd already paid her money, and couldn't back out. And the worst part
was she couldn't tell anybody what was troubling her.
One good thing was that Mrs. Goodie and Miss Percy, her friends from
church had signed up for the trip as well, so if she died, she wouldn't be
alone. Finally the trip was upon them. She packed carefully, only taking
what she wouldn't miss if a bomb blew up her bags.
Much to her surprise, the flight over was long, but uneventful. She
couldn't sleep on the plane, however, and was really punchy when they
arrived in Tel Aviv. She and her two friends finally got through customs,
and after some rude questions and much bag and purse searching by the
Israeli officials, they boarded the bus to take them to their hotel.
Because of the bombing in Northern Israel, the tour guide explained they'd
be starting the trip in Jerusalem and hopefully, the war would be over in
time for them to visit Mount Carmel and the Northern part of the Sea of
Galilee. He assured them that the Israeli Defense Force was competent,
diligent, and perfectly able to keep them safe. He added, "No terrorists are
going to keep us from living our lives or you from seeing our beautiful
country." It sounded good and Ida Mae was reassured, slightly.
They stayed the night at the Jerusalem Hilton Hotel. No bombs were
forthcoming; the food was excellent; the beds soft, and tired from the trip,
Ida Mae and her two companions slept very well indeed.
The next morning, after a marvelous buffet breakfast featuring Israeli
produce, including a zillion kinds of olives, many types of breads and rolls,
cereal, yogurt, eggs, smoked fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, and lots of
coffee, they boarded the bus for the Old City of Jerusalem. Ida Mae and her
friends loved all the items for sale and the vendors hawking their wares. It
was sort of like a Walmart outside, she thought, because you could buy
almost anything from padded bras, to fresh spices, bread, clothes, shoes,
luggage, and souvenirs, most of them made of olive wood.
They had lunch there at a little outdoor deli. The food was delicious and the
atmosphere was fine. After walking the stations of the cross, and visiting
several holy shrines, they finally boarded the bus to go back to the hotel.
Driving along through the streets of Jerusalem was an exercise in
repentance and faith, for never had Ida Mae seen such wild and reckless
driving. The little cars whizzed along so close to the bus that she was sure
they'd be crushed under its wheels. At one point, at an intersection, the
bus driver opened the door and the Israeli guide began to shout and
gesture at another bus which was blocking their way. He spoke Arabic,
which she didn't understand, but from the gestures and smoke pouring out
his ears, she was sure a fight would ensue. The fracas passed as quickly as
it began, and they drove on peacefully.
When they passed through what looked like another urban neighborhood,
their guide stood up, turned on his mike, and announced, "Well, now you
can tell your friends back home that you've been to hell and back. This is
Gehenna." Ida Mae didn't understand what he meant and so she stuck up
her hand and asked.
"Oh," he explained, "Gehenna is the Greek word for the Valley of Ben
Hinnom, where we are right now. It's what your American Bibles refer to as
'hell,' but in the time of Christ, it really was the city dump where the
garbage was incinerated. The fire was kept burning day and night."
Ida Mae was stunned, because if hell was where the bad people (probably
the gamblers) went when they died, how could this be hell? "Why didn't
Pastor Gooddeeds tell us about this? Doesn't He know?"
She stuck up her hand again and asked, "You mean THIS is hell?"
"Yes, ma'am," the guide answered with a wicked grin on his face. "This is
'hell.' You're driving through it. Now you can say you've been to hell and
He laughed out loud at his joke, but Ida Mae was confused and more than a
little angry. She felt duped, relieved too, but boy did this raise a lot of
She thought of nothing else as they drove back to the hotel, enjoyed a
delicious dinner buffet, and then prepared for bed. She couldn't talk to her
friends about this because they didn't know any more than she did, and
they were as afraid of hell as she was. After they fell asleep, she got out of
bed, put on her clothes, and went down to the hotel lobby where she found
a comfortable seat hidden behind a plastic palm tree. She whispered, "Lord
what happened today?"
She was hoping He would show up in person like He did at Christmas, but
this time, she heard His voice in her mind's ear.
"Ida Mae, do you really think I failed in my mission on earth?"
Not knowing exactly what He meant, she asked, "Which one?"
"Taking away the sins of the world."
"Oh, no, Lord. You couldn't fail," she stammered.
"Then why are you so afraid you'll go to hell when you die? Didn't I die for
"Yes, You did, Lord, and we all appreciate it so much, but well, I keep
sinning, like that gambling stuff, and the brandy and all that. And
sometimes, I don't really want to go to church, but I do it because I'm afraid
You'll be mad at me if I don't. For sure, the Pastor will."
"Ida Mae, do you think that my blood is a sufficient antidote for your sins?
Or, did I waste my time and yours on the cross?"
"Of course You didn't; I mean Your blood is sufficient to take away sins, but
what if I keep on sinning?"
"Then my blood keeps on taking away the sin, but you know what the real
problem is Ida Mae?"
She shook her head "No."
"The problem is," the Lord continued, "that you don't know that I'm the one
who keeps you from sinning from the inside out. When you depend on
yourself, you will always fail, but I can't fail. Can you trust me?"
Ida Mae feared this might be a trick question, because if she said she did
trust Him, and kept on sinning, then she had lied to God, but if she said she
didn't trust Him, then she had insulted God to His face.
She put her head in her hands and began to cry softly, "I don't know, Lord. I
don't seem to be able to do anything very well by myself."
"That's the point exactly," the Lord said, and though she couldn't see Him,
she knew He had a smile on His face. "I love you; I died for you; I live in
you, and I am going to personally see to it that you make it to heaven when
you die, which by the way, isn't going to happen on this trip."
"But why have You let Pastors scare us to death with hell?" she protested.
When He didn't answer, she knew that the conversation was over. She
would liked to have that question answered, but really, she had the best
answer of all, which is that Christ died for her sins; hell was a literal place
on earth, not something she had to fear after she died, and that made her
very happy, and Christ Himself had promised to bring her safely to heaven
when she did die.
Ida Mae went back to her room with a smile on her face, put on her night
gown and crawled into bed for the best night's sleep she could ever
The next morning, she told her friends, "It's a beautiful day to see Israel.
Let's enjoy this trip and not worry about bombs or sin or hell, for God is
going to take care of us now and forever. Amen."