Right between the eyes

I was talking with a person a while back about a funeral they attended…and I was saddened by what I heard.  I was saddened because  it didn’t sound like the Gospel was preached.  When I asked how the funeral went they said things like:

It was a great celebration of their life.
It was very upbeat.
Fun stories were shared about him.
“He lived a very good life.

There was nothing about the Gospel.  Maybe it was preached but those comments sure don’t sound like that is what they heard.  What this person remembers are stories and remembrances of the past.  I wish I would have challenged them more but being in a public place I shied away from confronting them…but maybe I should have.

[A missed opportunity]

I also remember another conversation (by the way…I am preparing for a funeral this week, that is why these memories are bubbling up).  This conversation was with a family.  I was meeting with them but was unable to do the funeral because of a prior commitment.  Luckily they had a family member who was a pastor so they were going to lead worship.  Through the course of the meeting the daughter was talking about the service and wanted lots of stories about her mother.  I chimed in and said a funeral has nothing to do with the deceased but everything to do with Jesus and what he has done for you and for me.  This was the response I got:

Well…at my funeral you are going to talk about me!

I really wanted to argue but I decided that wasn’t the place.  Besides…at her funeral she won’t have any say what I talk about 🙂

Why am I bring this up?

As I prepare for a funeral one of the things I am keenly aware of is that there could very easily be people there who normally do not attend worship.  These people only enter a worship space on Easter, Christmas, funerals and weddings.  They go through life without hearing the Good News.  So when they do finally show up in a worship space you just can not miss that opportunity.  You have to smack them right between the eyes with the Gospel, not fun stories about the deceased.  The dead person’s past life is not going to help them.  The only thing that will help is Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection; the victory he won FOR YOU and FOR ME.

Too many people in the world today water down the Gospel with the prosperity gospel (which is NO gospel at all; not good news).  The prosperity gospel says that if you believe hard enough, are a good person and keep your nose to the grindstone, you can be successful (to have your best life now).  If bad things happen then you somehow fell short. Please do not buy into this false gospel.

Once again…that is NOT good news.

And it bugs me to no end that this message is being preached by many so called ministers out there; leading people astray.  What they are doing is simply preaching a message that people WANT to hear, not what they NEED to hear.

What people need to hear is:
–We are sinners and can not survive this life on our own.
–There is hope.
–We have a savior in Jesus.
–That through faith in Christ there is forgiveness of our sins.
–That there is NOTHING we can do to earn, merit or deserve this grace.
–God loves you!

So when I prepare a funeral sermon (or any sermon for that matter) I try to keep in mind what people need to hear…and let them have it.

So as I prepare for this funeral on Thursday I am winding up and preparing myself to smack people right between the eyes with the TRUE Gospel.  And I pray that God will use the words I say to change someone’s life.  All to God’s glory.

So if you are reading this and coming on Thursday, get ready because I will be bringing it 🙂

Praise be to God!

edh -|—

6 thoughts on “Right between the eyes

  1. Thank you for saying this so clearly. God bless you as the Spirit of God takes the Word of God through you to these dear people. Thank you for giving the best and only hope. I thank God for you and will be praying that as you bring it on, the Spirit will take it to every heart. It is so exciting to know that it is God who is working in you both to desire and to work out His Good purpose. Eric, this post is a great blessing to me. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  2. I have a strong reaction to what you wrote, mostly in agreement. I’ve been hearing this celebration of life thing for awhile now. I don’t think it is just from the current interim pastor. I’m going to have to ponder that, and maybe talk with her about this. I’m also going to check to see what the local obits are saying, as these reflect many church backgrounds.

    At some funerals I’ve been to, people, starting with family, have been allowed to get up and speak about the deceased person. These talks vary, and are usually quite poignant. They are not, be definition, just about the person who died. For example, a man from my church spoke at the funerals of both of his parents.He is quite the story teller, and some things were humorous, some were deep. But there was a prominent thread running through the stories that the man and woman were who they were, as partners and parents and grandparents, because of their faith in our Lord.

    My Father-in-Law died in 1994. The funeral was held at his church, in a Lutheran branch that allows the male pastor to be the only person who can do anything, including lead bible studies. Our Brother-in-Law, not a Lutheran, but a deeply faithful Christian, wanted to speak. This was non-negotiable. It came out, through discussion, that his interest in wanting to speak during the funeral, was to make sure that the Gospel was the emphasis and focus of the service. The pastor, of course, could not let him speak, but his stance, made very clear in the sermon, was that we were celebrating what Christ had done for us, not what a good man my FIL was.

    But that church has a large hall where we gathered later and ate. At that gathering, people were allowed to speak publicly about my FIL. It was a very good session, with people speaking who would never dare to come up to a microphone in a church service. My husband had been asked to write something humorous, such as my FIL would have written.

    I’m convinced that the situation I’ve described, and as reflected in your essay, is much better than incorporating the stories told by lay people into the church service, because you never know where that will lead. But our church here has a hall that isn’t big enough to accommodate everybody who would want to stay for such an after-session, so I suppose that is why it all gets put in the church service.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts. I do have a couple comments in response.

      First…I have heard the “celebration of life” thing as well. Where I serve I call it a Celebration of New Life. The focus in that title is on the New Life that we have through faith in Jesus Christ. The one objection I have heard in using this title is that the word “Celebration” could indicate that mourning, crying, shedding tears is not appropriate. So I make sure I indicate during the sermon that it is fine but the difference is that through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus we can mourn with hope.

      Second…I do allow people to speak in the service about the deceased. Sometimes there’re funny stories, sometimes it is about their faith. Either way I tell people to write out what they are going to say in an attempt to keep them on point and not to ramble. The other reason is if they have trouble finishing either I or someone else can step up and finish for them. I also tell them to keep it somewhat short. But the main requirement I have is that these eulogies take place before the sermon. I get the last word; the clear proclamation of the Gospel.

      Lastly…basically the point I wanted to get across is that at a funeral the “star of the show” is Jesus. It is not to say that we can’t talk about the deceased but I want people coming away hearing about their future hope.

      Does this make sense?

      Thanks again for your comments.

      • Well put. And if I do talk to somebody about this, like my pastor, it gives me more to consider.

        I’ve thought about how modest and introverted my husband is. He would hate it if a bunch of people got up and talked about him when he is alive. I think I would want to discourage it during a funeral for him.

        • Praise be to God!

          I just love having these faith conversations. It forces us to think about and put into words what we believe.

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