7 tips for preaching at a stranger’s funeral

By brother Glen just shared this short article about taking funerals of people we don’t know.

I liked point 4: “Eulogize the deceased in light of the common grace God has given.”

I used to feel a bit awkward about how we seem to talk a person up at their funeral. So you’re chatting with the family about Uncle Joe who no one liked and who spent all his time at the races and never did anything good – is it somehow dishonest to talk about his life positively at a funeral?

I was helped by this article by John Woodhouse in Moore Matters where he said:

“I have been reflecting on David’s remarkable lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:17-27. David had suffered much at Saul’s hands… Saul had descended into mad and violent jealousy over David’s successes and popularity. And yet when David put his response to Saul’s death into words, there was no hint of all this. He spoke only to the good that there had been in Saul’s and Jonathan’s lives – the good that had now been lost… When we attempt to express our grief in words (whether formally, perhaps in the eulogy at a funeral, or informally, in our talking about the one who has died with friends and family)
it is entirely proper that we speak about the good that has been lost.”

Everyone’s life is precious to God, and there is always something to be thankful for, while still at times acknowledging hardships the person may have gone through.

In terms of preaching I have found that my preaching has become a lot stronger and clearer at funerals. Early on I felt like I didn’t want to offend the family if I preached clearly from a bible passage – particularly if the family are not Christians. But I have found that people appreciate a clear but short exposition of the bible. Seeing the clarity of Craig’s sermons here on pastor 2 pastor helped me raise the gospel content of my talks.

When I preach at a funeral of an unbeliever I do what Bryson taught me – I separate as best I can (1) Bible’s words to us, and (2) the person’s life. So after the Eulogy I will give thanks to God for their life. Then, the Bible reading leads into a separate talk from the bible addressing the family and friends in their loss. I still try to link the bible passage in with something about the person, e.g. their faithfulness, commitment, care, etc that can serve as an illustration of God’s treatment of us in Jesus.

I find funerals always come at a bad time, but they are good opportunities to serve people who are not from church and this is particularly true in a small town where you may have ongoing contact with the family or other people who may be at the funeral.

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