The following sermon is thanks to Denzel Nonhof and Lection List for encouraging the exchange of funeral sermon ideas during the week of August 17-23 1997
From: "Denzel Nonhof"
Subject: F022797 Favorite Funeral Sermon
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 08:01:48 -0500
I have preached this sermon many times in various forms. I have repeated
it after a few years because of its power and message. I stole a lot of
this from the late Clovis Chapel, a Methodist preacher who published during
WWII. I have read and tried to preach many of his sermons in my early days
of learning, and learned much from him in the process. I am greatly
indebted to the man. This sermon is based on the Gospel passage.
The Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 1
Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1:11-23
Gospel Lesson: John 11:1-16
Sermon: The Village Tragedy
Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead." For most of us, that
is the last word. There is nothing else to say. We silently turn, hugging
our family or friends who are with us. We cry and walk out the door. The
worst has happened. The grimmest of all grim tragedies has already been
enacted. Lazarus is dead. In our modern world, the nurse can go home.
The physician can return to his office. Medicines, IV.'s, oxygen and
ministering hands are no longer needed.
There had not been a happier home in the little village of Bethany. They
had everything a family could possibly need. They had a comfortable home
and plenty of good food. More than that, they had a home whose doors were
open to many friends. And there was love there. They loved each other,
and they had a love for Jesus. That is a sure foundation for any happy
But, Lazarus is dead. The head of the house, the protector, the business
manager, the beloved brother could no longer join in their laughter or
share their tears. The home which once was among the happiest, is now
filled with gloom, darkness, and despair. The light had gone out of their
lives. The sun had set. Home can never be again what it once was.
Their home had always been the place where people would go to sing and
dance, and celebrate. They made others feel loved and they rejoiced with
others in the village. Opened handed hospitality is what would could
expect to find from them. Their home was the preacher's home.
No where on earth was Jesus more at home than when he was with Lazarus,
Mary and Martha. Here was a brother to listen, a sister who sat at his
feet, and a sister who was the best cook around. What a wonderful place to
go! Jesus went there often with his disciples. But, all is changed now.
Lazarus is dead.
What took Lazarus' life? We do not know. How intense was his suffering?
How long did he linger? Be assured, from the first day of his sickness,
his two sisters and others nursed him with the most tender care. During
his illness, many times the sisters said to one another, "If Jesus would
only come." There was a dread that death would cross his ghastly foot
across the door sill before Jesus would come again.
Why was this tragedy allowed to take place? Why must Lazarus suffer? Why
must death lay hold of him? Why must God call these sisters to pass
through this Gethsemane? I am sure that these questions perplexed these
two sisters long along, just as they puzzle us.
Lazarus grew sick, and died. Some may claim, "If Jesus really loved him,
he would have been there." The Bible says, "Jesus loved Martha and her
sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed
where he was two more days."
Love does not always do what we want or expect. God does not always do
what we want or expect. Jesus loved these three as special individuals and
as part of a special family. Yet Jesus stayed away from them in the hour
of their dire need. He loved them; therefore he delayed until Lazarus
died. Jesus stayed away until under-takers prepared the body of Lazarus
for burial and put it into the tomb. What a strange event! To put it
plainly, "Because Jesus loved them, he stayed away."
We would expect just the opposite. We expect the Bible to read, "Jesus
loved him, therefore he rushed to go help them." That is what we expect.
That is what we want. If you are in the hospital, most of you want your
family or pastor there immediately.
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; therefore he will let
Lazarus die. That is strange to us. What really seems strange is when we
read about the disciples being confused about Lazarus really being dead,
and Jesus says plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and ... I am glad I was not
God, in his infinite wisdom sometimes delays to act, or refuses to act as
we want him to act. For most of us, there is nothing more important than
life. For God, death is a transition, not the end.
Jesus loves you, and there are times he brings you to extreme
God loves you, therefore trouble comes to your house. God
loves you, therefore He calls on you to kneel by the coffin of your dear
one. None of that makes sense. The goal of God is not to make sense, but
to bring people to faith. The desire of God is not to destroy the body,
but to build up the soul.
"Why, must this happen?" is a question which ran through the mind of Mary
and Martha. If only, Jesus had been there. Why couldn't things have
turned out differently? Why was this village tragedy allowed to take
place? Simply, it was because Christ loved these people. Christ loves us
and he comes to us through tragedy and grief.
There is something more precious than life, and that is to do the will of
God. There is a power greater than death, and that power is in Jesus
Christ. More precious than preserving life, are events which bring others
to believe in Jesus Christ.
To do God's will is more precious than life. To believe in Jesus Christ
is to triumph over death. And, to help others believe in the power of God
in Jesus Christ is worth endangering your life.
It was some time after Jesus raised Lazarus that he gathered with his
disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. They saw the resurrection of
Lazarus, and still they did not understand that resurrection power was
within Jesus. Many times that sat down at table with Jesus, but on this
evening, the meal had a new dimension and a new meaning.
Jesus calls us to himself. He is the resurrection and the life. He is
the Lord of the universe and comes as the servant of all. He calls us to
die with him, that we might have life. He calls each of us to be a
servant, that we might reign with him. He calls us to give ourselves and
all we own to his purpose, so we can inherit treasures in heaven. Sin and
death are powerful and they stand against us. But, thanks be to God who
gives us the victory through Jesus Christ.
The pain of the village tragedy receives meaning when we come to the
Lord's Table. Here we obey the command, "Do this in remembrance of me."
Here also we receive the promise, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the
close of the age." No tragedy, no pain, no tears, no heartache can
separate us from the love of God, for he also suffers our tragedy, our
pain, cries our tears and experiences our heartache. Trust in the Lord who
comes to be with you in your pain, who weeps over you, and gives himself
for you to the glory of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!