Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Foolishness of the Gospel

I recently had another one of those funerals where I knew no person involved. I was called because one of the family members contacted a friend about a minister to do the service, and that friend contacted me. I had never even met the friend, she knew me only by reputation. They asked me to come, and I went.

The family was rather nice, and they seemed well-educated and pretty cultured. They were polite with me, and they thanked me for coming. They gave me the order of service. I was to open with prayer and then lead the family and friends in the Lord's Prayer. At the close of the service, I was to give a devotional thought and close with the 23rd Psalm. After this was explained and I had offered condolences to the family, one of the family members spoke up and said something to the effect of, "Now, we don't need a sermon pastor, or some speech on, 'Repent or else!' Just something nice. I'm sure you know what you're doing." The family laughed in agreement. They wanted no sermon and no message on repentance.

I was oddly stunned. I was called at the last minute, and I had planned on speaking from Ecclesiastes 12 and the vanity of clinging to this life without regard to God. I felt as if the rug had been pulled from under me because I knew that if you take away sermons and messages on eternal life and repentance and hell and heaven, I'm just a guy in a suit. The janitor would have had more things to say than me, and he wouldn't have had to drive as far to say them.

So I went in the back and I prayed. I did not speak on Ecclesiastes 12. Instead, I chose 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is all about the resurrection from the dead and the glorious appearing of our Lord. I did the opening condolence, recited the Lord's Prayer, and sat and waited in growing discomfort.

The family gave the eulogy. One read a poem about how the deceased had not really died but simply had become one with nature. She was now a bird and the wind and the grass and the water. She was everywhere and always with them. The family wept; I fidgeted.

My part came soon, and I took my Bible and stood behind the lectern. The family waited, and I struggled. I knew that what I was about to say would probably offend, but that is not what bothered me. I felt deeply, for perhaps the first time, the foolishness of the gospel. I don't know why it struck me so deeply at that moment, but it did. As I was turning to 1 Thessalonians, the thought in my head was, "I am about to tell these people that a Jewish man some 2000 years ago died and came back to life. And if that weren't enough, I am about to tell them that this same man is going to appear in the sky and that when He does, He will teleport people into the air to hover with Him there." Internally, I chuckled to myself. How absurd I was about to sound to these people!

So I preached, contrary to the request that was made. I did not raise my voice or yell, I simply presented the hope of the gospel in all of its glory and foolishness, and I told them that I believed it with all of my heart. I came to give hope to those who mourn, but more importantly, I came to give honor to the One who is Sovereign over life and death. That is why I disregarded the request, and that is why I always will.

Next time, I will be better prepared for such a circumstance. If someone says something like that, I will simply say something like, "Sir, I am servant of Jesus Christ, not a hired professional. I must say what I must say, and if that is disagreeable to you, then I will leave. But I promise you this, what I say will be sweet because repentance and salvation is sweet, though not everyone finds such truth palatable."

The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, and I am a fool for Christ's sake. May the Lord bless the gospel that was not wanted but was given, and may they come to see a likely offense as a tender mercy. Amen.

6 comments:

Even So... said...

Amen, I have been exactly there before...tell me, what happened afterward?

You know, telling a preacher not to preach is one of the most absurd, blind things I can think of...well, that is if the preacher is a true servant of the Master, he is compelled to deliver the gospel in just such a circumstance...

St.Lee said...

I can't think of a much tougher situation to be in; the need to preach the gospel but at the same time not wishing to offend those grieving. It is dificult enough trying to be sensitive in a funeral situation even without receiving instructions not to preach the gospel. God bless you for choosing to preach!

Faith said...

I don't know why preachers are so willing to accept every invitation to marry and bury?

Do they not realize that they are servants of Christ and not employees of some hire a pastor organization.

You did the right thing by preaching the gospel of Christ regardless of their notions. Your idea for next time is also very good.

People want the stamp of religion without the voice of truth and conviction.

Eric said...

There is no better time to preach the Gospel than at a funeral. The absolute, undeniable proof of sin is lying a large box at the front of the room. Whether the deceased was loved or hated, he is dead because of his sin.

But Jesus...

What better segue could a preacher ever ask for? Way to go, Sojourner!

DJP said...

I'm not Bob Thieme's greatest admirer, but I heard tell that he was once asked to give the prayer before a football game. And just before the prayer, he was cautioned not to talk about Jesus in his prayer.

This was a monumental mistake.

Sounds like you did good. Rough situation.

Dark Blue said...

Yes, please tell us what has happened in the time between the funeral and now. Did you ever hear back from family?