Preparing for a funeral sermon is not an easy thing – not if it’s going to be a decent one. I look back at some of the funerals I took in my early ministry and I’m aghast at what I got up and said. I was too clinical, too impersonal and too formal. And my message didn’t always relate to the life of the individual concerned. So I have worked hard to try to change things. I started paying close attention to other, more seasoned ministers – even if I didn’t agree with what they said. They had a warmth about them that I lacked. And they seemed to touch the souls of people, not just their heads. I also started reading any funeral sermons I could find online. This was immensely helpful and I’m thankful to those pastors who posted them.
It is for this reason that I decided to post this funeral sermon (see below), because some young pastor out there may need some help. It’s not that I know everything – I don’t. Nor is that I think this should be a ‘model sermon’ for budding preachers. It isn’t. Because every funeral message ought to be unique, not one you can pull out of a draw. Here are some simple tips I offer you:
- It should be true to the person. Your audience will be looking at the casket and thinking about the life of that person. You’re not going to be able to pull the wool over their eyes. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the person from as many different people (including non-Christians) as you can.
- It should be fitting for the audience. Start feeling the ‘pulse’ of the family and the kind of people they tell you will be coming. Are they Christian or non-Christian, religious or irreligious, antagonistic to the faith or open? This will affect both the tone and content of what you will say. In the sermon below I learned that there was going to be a number of people there who would call themselves Christian but are not living it. They have made some kind of commitment when they were young but have not followed through. My message was largely directed toward these very people.
- It must be honouring to God. At the end of it all, you get to stand before God and give and answer for everything you have said, not to your audience. So strive to please God, not man.
- It must be gospel-centered. If what you have to say isn’t about Jesus and what he came to do, you shouldn’t be getting up and saying anything. You are a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). A funeral is a wonderful and fitting opportunity for the gospel – that Jesus has overcome death, opened heaven’s doors and offers eternal life to all who will repent and believe in Him.
- It must be sharp and to the point. My usual experience is enough has been said by the time you get up. People will be looking at their watches. So get up, speak up and shut up. Hit home base as quickly as you can, without appearing to be rushing.
- It must offer hope. People must be able to walk out thinking, “There is a way to heaven for me, there is still hope.” If they aren’t able to say that, you haven’t shown them the way.
Enough said there. Here is the message I gave this past Saturday, at a funeral of a wonderful man of God who gave his life to serving Jesus and helping others come to know and walk with him. I’d be interested in any feedback.
Going Home Service For
Vincent George Borlase
21st February 1930 – 29th March 2014 (84 years)
Saturday April 6, 2014
I often find it difficult whenever I take a funeral, to know what is the most appropriate thing to say. Well in this case Vincent has made it very easy for me. He has already left instructions. This is what he wanted for his funeral message:
What God can do through an individual that is totally yielded to him.
That’s quite a remarkable message title to have for your own funeral don’t you think? Obviously Vincent did not mean this in a general, vague and broad sense. In other words, “What God can do through an individual (and I can’t think of any particular individual right now) that is totally yielded to him.” It just wouldn’t make sense. No, Vincent must have meant this in a very personal sense. He must have been convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was in fact one of those individuals. And he must have been convinced that God in fact did accomplish a great deal through him. Otherwise it wouldn’t mean very much. He was aware that you would be all sitting here, looking at his casket, while this statement was being talked about. He was also aware that there would be people here today that knew him well enough (i.e. his wife and son and daughters) that he wouldn’t be able to pull the wool over their eyes. This had to be true of him.
So now we have three questions we need to answer:
- How was this actually true of him?
- What was it that God accomplished through him?
- What does this mean for us?
Let’s answer the first question –
1. How was this statement true of Vincent Borlase?
It was true in the sense that Vincent, from a very young age, completely yielded his life to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus would have all that there was of Vincent to have. Yet he never viewed himself as in the class of the spiritually elite. No, he believed this was normal (or should be normal) for every Christian. A Christian, by definition, is someone who has surrendered his life to follow Jesus. He listens to His Word. He obeys his instructions. He labours for His cause. And He helps others comes to know Him.
In many ways Vincent was a very simple man. And by ‘simple’ I don’t mean ignorant. I mean straightforward and down-to-earth. If Jesus said it, he believed it. That was all there was to it.
The second question we need to ask is,
2. What was it that God accomplished through him?
God accomplished much through Vincent. It was through Vincent that souls were won to Christ, new believers were discipled and taught, the church was strengthened, mission work was advanced, and straying sheep were brought back into the fold. Who knows how many individuals were brought to God and transformed through the one-on-one and small group ministry of Vince Borlase? I think in many ways he never knew! Well he knows now.
You may have heard the saying, “God doesn’t want your ability; he wants your availability.” It wasn’t because of Vince’s great talent or teaching ability or knowledge of the bible that he was so mightily used of the Lord. It was his willingness to be used. That’s all. And Vincent knew that. He often told me when he reflected on these things, “It wasn’t me, it was the Lord. I was just his vessel.” He wasn’t playing coy. He meant it.
We come now to the third and most important question,
3. What does this mean for us?
Vincent wanted to say something to us today. What is it? I believe it is this: Vincent came to the end of his life happy, fulfilled and content. Oh sure he had his moments – we all know that. He could be sometimes very cantankerous. And he got a little grumpy with the staff there at the Howick Home from time to time. But underneath all that was a free and contented soul who was more than ready to go to his eternal home.
Imagine coming to the end of your life and being able to say,
My soul is at peace
I have done all that God has put me on the earth to do
I have run the race, I have fought the good fight
I lived not for myself but for God and for others
My life has not been perfect, but it has been useful
I have no regrets, nor misgiving
I am ready to see Jesus
I am ready to go home
Would you like to be able to say that? You can. Give yourself wholly over to God. Give Him your heart, your mind, and your body for His use. Just stop living for yourself. Surrender your money, your house, and your belongings and say, “Lord Jesus, I give you full ownership of these things, do with them as you will.” Stop pretending you are following Jesus and actually do it. Or, start following him for the first time. Store up your riches in heaven. And heaven’s doors will open wide for you. Jesus said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34–36)
Did you get that? We are all faced with two choices – to grab everything we can get in this life but lose it all in the next, or lose our lives for Jesus’ sake and gain it for the next. What will it be? What is your soul worth? Whatever you are giving your life to right now that doesn’t involve God – money, a career, or a relationship – is it worth losing your soul for? Does it matter to you where you spend eternity? If it does, I would strongly encourage you to do something about it – TODAY.
Don’t put it off. Get yourself right with God. Tell him you’ve been living for yourself and you want things to change. Ask Jesus to come into your life and take over. He’ll free you from the things that have got hold of your soul. He’ll forgive your sin. He’ll open the doors of heaven for you. Don’t put it off.
Find out for yourself what God can do through a man or woman who is totally yielded to him. You’ll never look back.