Funeral Sermon in an Uncertain Case
For the last however many years I have been a pastor, I always did funerals for associates and relatives of members of the church who died, even if it was unclear whether they were Christians. I did it even though I was aware of the fact that at least Walther’s pastoral theology said, basically, you only do funerals for church members who gave evidence of faith, because your presence at a funeral is a sign that the person is in heaven.
I figured, “Well, the people in my congregation simply could not accept this.”
But now I am thinking of changing this practice. Maybe a private service could be done–apart from the burial–for the comfort of the family, to proclaim the Gospel to them. But I am starting to think that even though that would be an extremely difficult stance to take, it may be the only way of making clear to people the certainty of God’s judgment and the reality that we cannot expect to find the Holy Spirit apart from the marks of the church–that is, the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments.
In addition, this means that church discipline would need to be re-instituted. In theory, it’s still in the books. In reality, it’s been ignored. And I really question whether the “compassion” which has led me to be slow in reinstituting it has actually helped the congregation. I think my compassion has more to do with “compassion” for myself in that I don’t want to be hated. It has more to do with that than with real compassion, which would seek the salvation of people’s souls through the truth, and at the same time the honor of Christ, rather than a desire not to see people get upset. If it really is good and necessary for people’s souls, then I will continue to do it. But I don’t think it is. I think it helps people whose family members turn from Christ to lull themselves to sleep.
At any rate at this point it does not appear that preaching and teaching is likely to help the people who have been listening to at least the preaching for the last six years and yet either have rejected it or it seems to have borne no fruit.
Luther did not institute church discipline right away into the churches but preached and taught. It seems to me that many of us are asking: at what point do we simply say–look, we’ve preached and taught, and now it is time for you to heed the Word or no longer be considered a Christian. Do you have an answer to this question? If so, tell me.
Anyway, here is the sermon.
In Memoriam ….
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 13.1-5, 22-30; 1 Corinthians 15; Lamentations 3
July 16, 2012
[Father], [Mother], [Girlfriend], [Son], [ Brother], [sister], [sister], [Little Brother],
All of [name’s] uncles, aunts, family, friends,
Members of St. Peter:
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Personal expressions of sympathy and grief.
Who knows your grief?
Even we don’t know it; our hearts confuse us.
God knows it. He knows the depths of the human heart, the depths of human suffering, the depths of sin.
Lamentations: He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.
God wants to speak to you in your grief.
Do you have regrets—things you wish you would have said?
I do; I wish I had been more faithful as a pastor in seeking him out.
Things you wish you could take back or undo?
How can you live with and love someone for years and not say or do something wrong
The living God wants to speak to you.
Not religious sentiment.
Not human opinions about God.
Not false gods, idols, gods that don’t exist and can’t save.
The God who created you;
The God who made Himself known in history; the living God.
What does He want to say to you?
He wants, after all, to give you real hope:
The hope of the resurrection of the dead.
Life is short. It is not forever.
The things we set our hearts on in this world are temporary.
God wants to give you the assurance of the resurrection from the dead;
That this body and all who taste death will rise again;
And God wants to give you the certain hope that you will be raised to everlasting life.
But real hope means that we must first give up on false hopes.
Our world is full of false hopes:
“Everyone will go to heaven.” No; God will judge the living and the dead, the righteous and
“No more pain.” Not so. There will be everlasting pain for those remain God’s enemies.
Not “he was a good person.” [Name] surely was good in our eyes; he gave us joy. But there is a difference between God’s judgment and ours about who and what is good.
Jesus explains that tragic death does not come because a person has done worse sins than everyone else; rather, death comes to all sooner or later.
Mentions tragic deaths at the time; his countrymen murdered by Pilate during worship, the people who suddenly died when a tower fell on them.
The issue, Jesus says, is not really them, but you. “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”
What kind of heartless, judgmental thing is that to say? How could Jesus say that they also need to repent or perish eternally? Did he know their hearts?
Yes. But one does not need to be God to know the human heart.
God has revealed to us what is in the human heart—sin, rebellion against Him, idolatry.
Death is the penalty for sin, and it falls on everyone; Pharisees and tax collectors alike.
Sin dwells in us even when we live well; even in Christians. The heart inclines to idolatry. We do not wish to love God with all our hearts. We want to be independent—at least our old nature does.
How does God regard this sin that dwells in good people and bad people? It calls forth His wrath and judgment. He is just and must punish sin.
You know how you desire vengeance when someone wrongs you. That is because sin and wrongdoing earns/deserves punishment.
Therefore each person stands under the wrath and judgment of God; He stands ready to judge the living and the dead. And those who sin and do not receive cleansing from their sins will certainly be punished in eternity by the just wrath of God.
God announces real hope to us in Scripture: “The wages/ just desserts of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul says it plainly in 1 Cor. 15. It’s practically the first thing out of his mouth. What is the
good news, the Gospel you heard from me? “Christ died for our sins…”
He died under God’s wrath for our sins; He who is God from eternity, but is also our brother, a fellow human being, born of a woman, the virgin Mary.
He died, and He rose from the dead; defeating death for us.
God’s righteous wrath against sin and sinners—on Jesus, His Son!
Therefore all sinners have this promise from God—Your sins are forgiven through His innocent suffering and death alone. Not through anything you have done, not through any striving of yours.
Thus with sin paid for, He ransomed us from death.
He treads on the ancient lying serpent’s head and sets us free from his slavery and bondage.
He gives us the certain hope that we will rise again from the dead in Him.
He promises us a new creation in which we will see His face and never again weep, suffer, die, sin.
Yet Jesus still warns: Unless You repent…
I used to hate these words of Jesus. Why would he die for me and then insist that I do what I cannot do? I have tried to stop sinning, but I failed, over and over.
Maybe you experienced this and so you gave up on Christianity.
Repentance means “Change your mind.”
You used to love sin—now hate it.
You used to trust yourself and your works and your own goodness and your own broken ideas about God. Now trust only in the God who was crucified for you.
The great sin in our lives—not our evil actions, but our worship/trust in false gods—idols.
We trust ourselves.
Love of the world.
Love of money, power, lust.
Turn from this. Fear God’s wrath, flee the sin that provokes his anger, looking to Christ alone who died for our sins.
Be baptized. Put your sinful life away and come to be washed in Christ’s blood and to live as His redeemed one.
If you are already baptized, turn away from your sins and that which you know is displeasing to God; return to His Word, to prayer.
Not that you no longer sin, but that you no longer desire it. You want to be free of it. And though it still lives in you, you look to Christ’s death on the cross to cover it.
In the ongoing struggle with sin that begins when you are baptized or return to the life of following Jesus, the life of Baptism, look to Jesus alone.
Even though I am a sinner, I do not want it, and I cling to Christ for righteousness before God.
I do not preach to you today because I do not sin; I preach what I myself cling to—the righteousness of Jesus only which saves the ungodly.
Baptism is God’s promise that in your ongoing struggle with sin you are not alone. Jesus’ death and resurrection which forgives and conquers sin and hell is yours, placed on you like a robe covering the filthy garments of our sin.
This is the chief thing: not ‘why did this happen’ but that you may repent and not perish. But what about [name]?
How do we find comfort for ourselves about him?
No false hopes.
Not [Ns] good qualities. Instead thank God for those; He gave them to you because He
Loves you. He lets his sun shine on you, feeds, clothes, puts you in a family, gives you life—because He wants what is good for you.
This limitless mercy is what we trust.
[N] was not baptized. Yet the Son of God bore his sins and shed His blood for him.
And the Lord Jesus, the true and living God who speaks to you to day to comfort you, also spoke to him in the Gospel of His cross.
He spoke to him in church, through his mother, through some of you, so that he might forsake sin and find forgiveness and cleansing by faith in Jesus.
In the last few months/weeks, God worked on his heart to bring [N] into his church to hear the word of God.
He was here just a few weeks ago. I thought he was here for the potluck, but he was here because he wanted to go to church.
Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” So we put our hope in Christ’s mercy that the gospel he heard also brought him to repentance in his last hours, weeks, months—brought him to Jesus.
But besides all this, Jesus made him. He was [N’s] creator, and redeemer. He made him and
He died for him.
As hard as this is to believe, Jesus loved [N] more than even his own mother.
And as hard as it is to do, you are safe in entrusting [N] along with yourself into the hands of Jesus. He is wise and far more merciful than we are.
“He who comes to me I will by no means cast out” says Jesus. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” says Jesus.
Jesus says this to you in your grief.
Now we give [N] and ourselves into the hands of Jesus.
We can’t control when death comes; God is in control. But the one true God does not hate
He gave you [N], and every earthly blessing. And He has given you His Son—on the cross and in Your ears.
He looked your sin and hatred of Him in the face and gave His Son to die for them.
Come to the true God who does not lie to us and whose word does not leave us in the dust or crush us and cast us into hell, as do the lies of the evil one.
He does not hold your sins against you; He will not cast you out no matter how you have lived; He frees you from sin and death. He calls you “Son” when you turn to Him and believe on the name of His Son—that Jesus died for you.
He calls you His own. He justifies you, covering your sins with the blood and righteousness of Jesus.
He enables you to say in the words of an old hymn:
I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds; There pardon for my sin abounds
Yes, Jesus’ blood and righteousness—My jewels are, my glorious dress.
In these before my God I’ll stand When I shall reach the heavenly land.
God grant it to us. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
- Popular Sermons and Juvenile Christianity (glennpackiam.typepad.com)
- The Certainty of Faith – Exaudi Sermon (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- He Interrupted His Grandmother’s Funeral to Preach About Christ (patheos.com)
- Serious Preaching (pilgrimpassing.com)
- Preach the Word (getreal.typepad.com)
- Christianity in America (christiansunitedforchrist.wordpress.com)
- Truth and Strange Fire (wordofpromise.org)
- What will be said about you at your funeral? (sanctification.wordpress.com)
- Celebrity pastor Ed Young regrettably spits into the wind! (atwistedcrownofthorns.com)
- How to Hold a Funeral Without God (patheos.com)
- Nora Ephron left wishes for her survivors: “a funeral and not a memorial service” (westallen.typepad.com)