This Saturday; May 23, 2020 I will eulogize my mom’s oldest sister Alma L. Perry. A faithful wife, loving mother, and dedicated educator. This is the third family funeral I will have preached in 6 months. I preached my cousin’s funeral who was misdeed at 24 years old and my uncle who died right after the new year. In the past, I’ve preached my wife’s great-grand mother’s funeral and my father-in-law’s funeral. The most challenging was my own mother’s funeral.
As a pastor, you learn to marry and bury. You learn to be there for birth and death but when it’s family, it takes an extra dose of the Holy Spirit to know what to say to comfort your family and most importantly point people to Jesus. I’ve found three keys to performing that challenging but significant task.
1. It’s Not About You
Rick Warren in his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, starts the book with this line because it’s so true. The purpose of life is not about us, it’s about God. The same is true when we preach a funeral for a family member. This is not the time to grow your influence; build your church, or get followers on social media. It’s about pointing people to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Do what you are called, gifted, and asked to do with passion and purpose but focused on ministering to the family and those who’s life have been impacted by the person who has passed on.
2. Let Their Life Speak
Each of us has a birth date and a death date. Scripture teaches us before we were formed in our mother’s womb, Scripture also teaches us it’s appointed unto man once to die then the judgment. That dash is all we can control. The life we’re given is God’s gift to us, how we live it is our gift to him! Find out what they did to make people smile, cry, laugh, and think. Find out the impact they made and share it. Let others know how much they’re life impacted family, friends and colleagues. Find out the story that few others know. Let their life speak.
3. Let Scripture Speak
The Bible says the word is powerful and active, sharper than a double-edged sword. The Bible says his word will not return void and will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. All of our creative words and thoughts pale in comparison to the power of God’s word. Let it do the work. Read it in context. Preach it context. Don’t try to be cute, be true. It’s timeless and will never lose its power.
4. Invite them to follow Jesus.
We will all have to meet our maker one day and knowing him is eternal life. They will miss their loved one, but the only relationship that will last forever is one with our savior. He hung, bled and died to be in relationship with us. He was separated from his father and humiliated so we could know him. He squeezed all of his “godness” into a human body coming through the womb of a virgin and lived 33 years so we could live forever. He is the resurrection and the life. He needs to be the feature of the sermon; beginning, middle, and end. If we preach and we don’t invite people to know him, we’ve failed.
I consider it an honor to preach a family members funeral but it’s even more of an honor to be used by God and called by God to preach his word. Take that honor seriously and remember our faith was made for moments like this.