June 10, 2007: Do’s And Don’ts of a Christian Funeral Sermon

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that everything we do in this life is tainted by our own selfishness and pride. We know that before You, all our righteous deeds are nothing more than garbage. And yet, because Your holiness covers us, in Your eyes our lives truly are living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to You! That transformation is made possible only by believing, trusting in, and relying upon Your grace and mercy. May we always do so throughout our lives. Amen


TEXT: Luke 7: 1-10

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

On Thursday of this past week, our oldest member, Grace Glawe, was buried from the church. She lived for over 101 years and embraced Christ until her dying breath. It was my privilege to bury her body in the sure hope of the resurrection from the dead.

Since I’ve visited her in her home each month for the past 19 years or so (she was a shut-in), I had a lot of personal material to draw on for her funeral sermon. And I used it to help cement the image of her Christian faith into the minds of the mourners while honoring Christ first and foremost.—To be sure, as a Christian, Grace would have expected that!

Many funeral sermons today have taken on different characteristics than in the past. If you’ve been to different ones in various churches you know what I mean. Today it is popular to eulogize, or tell all sorts of happy or funny stories about the departed, while seldom, if ever, mentioning Jesus Christ. Now, recounting stories from their lives is not a bad thing. In fact, I did it with Grace in my address. It helps personalize the sermon. But, the chief focus must always be on Jesus Christ and what He has done to save the soul of the person in the coffin. Otherwise, our Christian comfort is robbed of its power. The grieving family doesn’t need emotional stories for comfort, they need to be reminded of Christ’s power and glory into which their loved one died and has now been taken. Christian funerals are just that: a celebration of Christ through the life and death of a believer.

As I looked over this lesson, I thought of Grace, her funeral, and what kind of a funeral the Jewish elders of Christ’s time would have given this centurion had he died unexpectedly. Would that funeral have been about Christ’s work in saving his soul, or about the good deeds of this Roman leader and how they benefited the local people? In other words, do outwardly good deeds save, or does God’s grace save? What do we focus on when doing a funeral sermon? Well, all this has spawned today’s theme which is:



“Jesus entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them.”

Jesus is a miracle worker. The Roman leadership has heard of His exploits. This shows us that they kept tabs on Him, too. And obviously this Roman noble has taken those exploits to heart. He has a need—his servant healed—and he knows where to ask for help.—No small thing for a Roman noble to ask a subjugated Jew for help. This shows the man’s humble character.

That same character is evidenced by the Jewish elders’ attempts to butter Christ up. They appeal to Jesus’ sense of national pride.—“He has built our local synagogue. He’s a good guy. He loves our nation. He deserves Your help.” Now, I know we humans all speak that way. But from this answer it is obvious to me that those Jewish church leaders had no idea of Christ’s Divine nature and no idea of the meaning of God’s grace. They thought that both Jesus and God would be and are impressed by the sin-tainted, outwardly good deeds of human beings. It’s the old “you can earn your way into heaven by trying to live a good life” syndrome. In reality, it’s nothing more than bribing God. And yet, bribing God by our attempts at holiness is stupid, silly, and will always fail. Recall Christ’s words from John 15:5: “I am the Vine, you are the branches, he who abides and me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Yes, almost all people do something decent or noble in their lives that you can talk about at their funeral. But, what about all the rest? What about all the nasty, evil, petty, bad things they do? Is God blind? Does He not see and remember all those deeds? Perfection is God’s nature and reality. We humans are imperfect. So, why should God ever welcome us into glory? To do so, based on our sorted lives would be a denial of Himself. And focusing on such things at a funeral is nothing short of cruelty to the mourners because it would be lying, wouldn’t it?


Well, Christ goes with them—not because of their misguided notions about God owing this fellow, but because He has something wonderful in mind. After all, as God’s Son, Christ knows the future. And now the future comes calling. “He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This noble Roman leader of soldiers is a humble man. He recognizes Christ’s divinity. Word of the miracles has worked faith into his heart. And now he bows to that divinity. Note well his words: “I do not deserve” and contrast them with the words of the Jewish elders. Who has it right? Who understands God’s ways more? Obviously this centurion. He knows that his life is worthless and meaningless when weighed by God’s perfect judgment. He doesn’t want the focus on himself. He doesn’t try to bribe Christ into helping him. He just asks Jesus to help in humble faith. For Him it is all about Christ and His grace.

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such a great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”

We don’t know when this centurion died. We don’t know who preached his funeral sermon. But, I’m pretty sure of the content of that sermon. Aren’t you? I’m sure that this and other events were mentioned. I’m sure this fellow’s faith was lauded. But it was lauded only because of Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the object of our faith and our lives. He is what makes the only difference on the eternal balance scale. This centurion knew the truth that “we love Christ because He first loved us.” He knew that “our lives are living sacrifices made holy only because Christ’s perfect forgiveness covers over all our sins.” Yes, He knew that “to live is Christ and to die (in Him) is gain.”

Well, Grace Glawe knew that, too. And I preached accordingly on Thursday and today. Amen