How to craft your first Funeral Sermon.

Disclaimer: Though I am only in my 3rd year Pastoring God has seen fit to have me officiate around 25 funerals.  I pastor a 155-year-old congregation in a relatively small town.  Older Churches in small towns often have myriads of connections into the community that you, as Pastor will assuredly be ignorant of.  You may in fact never connect all the dots.  So it is that over the last 3 years I have conducted funerals for saints of the local assembly whom I knew well through fellowship, as well as funerals for people I knew not at all.  I have conducted funerals for the elderly and prepared as well as the elderly and woefully unprepared to meet their maker.  I have led services for the expected departed as well as the tragically departed.  God has in His sovereignty placed me in a position to minister to the grieving parents of infants as well as the grieving grand children of 100 year olds.

Every funeral is different; therefore the minister must be adroit and sensitive to grieving loved ones.  We, however, have but one source of hope in the face of the dark reality of human mortality.  His name is Jesus Christ.

The gospel loving, Jesus worshipping Pastor has no other answer other than Jesus Christ in the face of such sorrow and darkness, but how we reveal the balm of Gilead will be different in each case.  This is just one short funeral that I have done.  I make no lofty claim that is a stellar example to be emulated, merely one example that may, Lord willing, be of some use to you, especially young Pastors facing the daunting task of their 1st funeral service.

 

Service of Death & Resurrection

 

[Words have meaning, and connotations.  The term “funeral” has a severely final connotation.  Yet we who have found new life in Christ echo the Apostle Paul’s triumphant words in 1 Corinthians 15, “O Death, where is your Sting?”  Christians conduct services of death & resurrection.  We know the body dies, and the soul goes on, the body shall by the power of Christ resurrected, be itself resurrected.  The goal for the Pastor conducting a funeral is to rejoice over the confessing departed, and if it be too late for the departed to be saved through the believing on of the Gospel preached then our job becomes to show the people huddled in darkness and grief the way to the light.]

 

Scripture of Comfort: John 11:25-27

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and every one who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?  She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

 

[I find it helpful to open the service with the words of God.  Scripture has the supernatural ability to calm even the unbeliever’s heart.  The scripture is ancient, lofty, and comforting.  It is no mistake that the scriptures somehow fit perfectly into the sacred context of a funeral, so it is that I like to comfort people straight out of the gate with God’s word.  Among all the scriptures that one could use John 11:25 is one of the most effective because, 1. Jesus is incredibly poetic as he speaks to Martha; notice how he says “the resurrection and the life”.  2.  Jesus is in this instance talking to a woman grieving the death of a loved one.  3.  Jesus is not only clearly presented as the solution to spiritual and bodily death but by asking Mary, “Do you believe this?” it is clearly established from the get go that the body of information concerning the Gospel in Jesus Christ is one that  must be acted upon with the good confession of faith.]

 

Welcome

[Wherein you welcome the grieving on behalf of the family to celebrate the life of the departed and more importantly the work of Jesus Christ in their life]

 

Hymn

Obituary

[The obituary is especially helpful in cases where you do not personally know the deceased.  Reading the obituary publically is a good way to remind family members of the person’s life and times.  However it must be pointed out that your purpose in conducting the funeral is to point them toward the brilliance of the Cross of Christ shining in the gloom of personal lost.  If they merely wanted a eulogy they should not have asked a minister of the Gospel to officiate.  Always remember that your calling as a minister of the Gospel is to…minister with the Gospel.  You cannot preach someone into heaven with truth or falsehood because salvation is not based upon works and merit, but rather by the gift of God in Christ (Eph. 1 & 2).  This is an issue of divine Election, not of political election.]

 

Hymn

 

Sermon:

 

[During the sermon your objective is to show Christ to be the precious treasure of this life as well as mighty to save for eternal life.  You do not know the eternal destiny of any man; so do not act as though you do.  If the departed had a strong testimony it is all right to talk about the faithful life they lived that we should emulate, as well as the hope in Christ they had.  God, however, is the only one who knows final destinations, therefore spend most of your time talking about the hope all men have in Christ.]

 

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,

O Lord of Hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints

For the courts of the Lord;

My heart and flesh sing for joy

To the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home

And the swallow a nest for herself

Where she may lay her young,

At your altars, O Lord of hosts,

My King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

Ever singing your praise!     Selah

Blessed are those who strength is in you,

In whose heart are the highways to Zion

As they go through the valley of Baca

They make it a place of springs;

The early rain also covers it with pools

They go from strength to strength;

Each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of Hosts, hear my prayer

Give ear, O God of Jacob!    Selah

Behold our shield, O god;

Look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God

Than dwell in the tents of wickedness

For the Lord God is a sun and a shield

The Lord bestows favor and honor

No good thing does he withhold

From those who walk uprightly

O Lord of hosts,

Blessed is the one who trusts in you!

 

[The purpose of the funeral sermon is to 1. Bring glory to the work and power of God in salvation.  2.  To draw myopic humans toward the things eternal.  3.  Therefore, the Pastor should focus on the aspects of a text that are concerning eternity.  A text may have some decent applications about Christian holiness but by all means make sure the people have been pointed to Jesus Christ 1st and worry about discipleship in a different context and time.  Some will look at Psalm 84, for example, and feel compelled to talk about the temple, or the millennial kingdom, but the point of a service of death and resurrection is to draw men’s hearts toward the Savior Jesus Christ in light of the realities of eternity.]

 

Today as we mourn our loss and celebrate the Christian’s gain we will explore three points.

 

  1. Heaven is incredible.
  2. Heaven is the home all human hearts long for.
  3. Jesus is the Way to Heaven.

 

 

1.  The first thing we learn from this Psalm is that God’s home, Heaven, is incredible.  In short, you don’t want to miss this.  Heaven is the place we all want to end up.  Korah, the author of the Psalm, says that God’s dwelling place is lovely, and that his soul longs for this place.  Heaven is so great that Korah says that his soul faints at the prospect of God’s home.  In Acts 7 God says that heaven is His throne and that the earth is his footstool.  Now think about the greatest places on earth to vacation or better yet, to live.  Some might say Paris: it is a footstool.  Some may say Monaco…. It is a footstool.  Others may say the Caribbean, again a mere footstool.  There are many beautiful places on planet Earth, but none compare with heaven.

We may ask, “Why is that”?   Why is there no place like heaven?  The answer is simply that God is there.  Now, of course God is what we call omnipresent, He is indeed everywhere, but the throne of God is in this place we call Heaven.   The Father’s Glory is there, the Son Jesus Christ who was nailed to the cross so that all who trust in Him can one day dwell in God’s courts sits at the right hand of Father God.  For the old story is true fact: After He suffered on the Cross for us God brought Him back to life in a resurrected Body.  One day we shall all behold Jesus in His very much alive body as either savior or judge.

 

2.  Heaven is the home all human hearts long for.

 

So, we’ve established that while heaven may be indescribable it is definitely something none of us wants to miss.  Why?  Well, we said that God is there.  But why should that matter much?  Sure we all have people whose company we rather enjoy and surely you’ll never meet anyone as interesting as God Himself (imagine the stories He’s got up his sleeve, if He is partial to sleeves that is.).

But there is surely something much bigger at play and at stake here.  The human heart longs for there to be life after death after life because we were made for more than the dreary mundanity of life.  While a man may take great pride in providing for his family and a job well done, most of us get bored with that after a while, why?  Simply put, the book of Ecclesiastes says that God has put “Eternity” in your heart.  You were made for more, but if you were made you were surely created by the creator.  So not only were you made for the creator’s plan, which is much bigger and longer than a mere lifetime, but you were in fact made to spend eternity with this creator.

His name is God, and He lives in Heaven.  That is why we want to go there.

Verse 3 states that “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young…” Sparrows and swallows were made to find their homes in nests, and the human nest is the kingdom of Heaven, in the presence of God the Father, under the kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One cannot read these words in the this psalm without being reminded that Jesus Himself once eloquently spoke about how birds haves their nests and foxes their holes but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.  Sometimes the narrow road that unfolds before the follower of Jesus is rocky, and toilsome, and burdensome with pits and precipices aplenty, but the point of the narrow road is not the journey but rather the destination.  The road ends at Heaven.  The Son of Man has a place to lay His head now; Jesus says in John 14 that if He goes away it is to prepare a room for his disciples in His Father’s house.  Jesus is now there, and he awaits the faithful with arms wide open in welcome.  Indeed it is not without reason that Korah writes to us in order to describe this home in verse

10-11

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold form those who walk uprightly.

But how do we get there?  By walking uprightly, well of course, but “how does one walk uprightly in this world of ours?”  This becomes the question before all of humanity.

 

3.  Lastly, if any of us would go to our final home, the destiny that God would have for us, then we must do rightly with the claims of the Savior of the World, the once and future King, Jesus Christ.

How does one enter into this wonderful kingdom described in Psalm 84, after life is lived and our deeds for good or ill are all done and over with and second chances have long been used up?

I will not give you any kind of Sunday school answer, nor shall I give you empty moralism.  I will not tell you to just be good and hope that the chips, which always fall as they may, somehow fall in your favor.  No, this will not suffice at all.

The answer is found in Psalm 84 itself.

Verse 12

O Lord of hosts,

Blessed is the one who trusts in you!

The answer is Trust in God, and specifically to trust in God’s Son Jesus Christ.  Notice I have not said that you must “accept Jesus into your heart”, though I think the sentiment is well intended the truth is that God does not suffer from low self esteem in the least, and is not in need of our acceptance, but we, for our part, are desperately in need of His.  I say, “trust” because if we are to be washed clean from our guilt and shame so as to enter into God’s house, we must trust that Jesus is who says He is, that He came for the reason He said He came, and that He is able to do what He claims He can.  He came to die and suffer in our place so that we could live in Heaven to the Glory of the Father.

John 10:10-11

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

 

I leave you with a thought to ponder as pondering eternity is what we do at funerals,

 

Romans 14:9

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

 

He is indeed the Lord of both we who live, and of those who have gone on to stand before God to give an account for their lives.  The only question is: Are we in good standing with Him? God Loves you, and wills that you come to Him now so that you may live in paradise in the future.  He is our hope forever.

I leave you once again to ponder the words of Jesus:

John 10:10-11

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

 

 

[This particular service of death and resurrection had a graveside service, as it was February and a mere 12 degrees outside I kept it short and to the point, reading Psalm 23 and praying a slightly modified Anglican arrangement.]

 

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