Today was hard, Lord. I was asked to preach a funeral service for someone I had never met; the daughter of one of my church members. She died of a drug overdose last Friday night. It wasn’t a suicide, at least not in the traditional sense of someone who deliberately takes their life with one intentional action. She had made plans to see her father during Easter. By all accounts, she loved life. It just so happened that she took a drug that was cut with Fentanyl, and she died on the spot.
So Lord, it wasn’t a suicide in the sense we usually use the word. But she did take her life. She was 37, and had been in and out of rehab since she was thirteen. She leaves behind a daughter in college and two sons, the oldest of whom is in third grade, I think.
I walked into our sanctuary, and there were pictures of her everywhere. Pictures of her softball team. Pictures of her with her sister. Pictures of her holding her daugther.
I don’t often get emotional when I preach someone’s funeral. I usually mean it when I talk about that we are gathered to celebrate a life well lived.
But today was different, Lord. Today, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. Today, I looked at a room full of people that were the age of my own children, give or take a decade. Her friends. Maybe people who had partied with her. And God, I hurt for them. I hurt for so many that seek to fill the emptiness with a substance. That want the rush, or the numbness, or the euphoria– never realizing that your offer of abundant life is not just for the hereafter.
I’m posting my notes for this service because maybe there is someone else that needs to hear this. Jesus weeps when you weep. Jesus joins you in your brokenness. And if you have lost someone, Jesus is not threatened by your questions, your doubts, or even your anger. These are all natural expressions of grief.
I urge you, if you are reading this and do not have a pastor, a counselor, or a Christian friend; to find a faith community. Find a church that preaches God’s Word. And place your trust in the God who is worthy of it. Give your heart to the only One who will truly guard it.
Opening Statement, Prayer, Scripture
Good morning. On behalf of L___’s family, I want to thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of L___ C. L___ went home to be with the Lord on April 2.
Every funeral service we plan tries to do three things. We want to bring honor to L___. We’ll celebrate her life even as we grieve how it was cut short. We will share memories of L___, and just by being here this morning you are honoring her memory.
We want to bring comfort to L___’s family. Again, you are doing that with your presence here, but I’d like to remind you that this family will need you for a long time to come. Not just today. Family, you will need to lean on each other in the coming days and weeks and months and years, drawing comfort and strength from one another as well as from the community of faith that surrounds you.
Finally, we want to bring glory to Jesus. No matter how tragic the circumstance, no matter the questions we have, today is a day acknowledge that God is our refuge and our strength. He is a present help in times of trouble. L’s mom is holding on to a coffee mug she found in L___’s room that has Hebrews 11:1 printed on the side of it:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
This morning L___’s family has the assurance that she is in the presence of the Lord. She’s free from the addiction that controlled her life. She’s experiencing the peace and freedom and joy that no substance on earth can offer.
And this morning, we want to tell you about the Jesus that offers you that same peace and freedom and joy. And the promise that you do not have to wait until you get to heaven to experience it.
Let us pray,
This past Thursday, I spent some time with L___’s family. Her mom and dad were there, and her sister, and her husband. Her boys were running around, being boys. And I simply said, “Help me get to know L___.” And for the next hour or so, the stories poured out. Her family painted a picture for me of an athlete, an artist, a friend. A personality that lit up the room. A big heart. A fierce protector. Her sister told me that when they were growing up, even though she was the big sister, it was L___ that comforted her. That would lay down beside her at night when she got scared.
L___ wouldn’t let anyone say anything bad about the people she loved. Once, her sister called her because she was frustrated at something their momma had done. And she figured she could gripe to L___ and that L___ would take her side.
Nope. L___ was the one who gently but firmly reminded her sister to cut their mom some slack because she was going through a hard time too.
L___ was honest about her struggles with substance abuse. When she talked with people, she wanted to go deep with them. She was never content with letting things stay at the superficial level. She didn’t care much about what people thought of her. And one of her desires was to get clean so she could help other people deal with their own drug problems. One friend who was at the house the other day told me, straight up, “L___ saved me from killing myself.”
Sadly, L___ wasn’t able to save herself. But years ago, at Pike Road Baptist Church, she put her trust in Jesus Christ to save her from her sins. When I walked into her room at her mom’s house, there was evidence of her faith on every wall. Signs that said “Faith. Hope. Love. Believe.”
He dad showed me a watercolor sketch L___ had been working on at the time of her death. In the picture, there is a dirt road leading past a gnarled and twisted tree. It’s not clear from the picture whether the tree is alive or dead. But you can see that its roots run deep. L painted the picture in such a way that you could see above and below the ground at the same time. Like I said, she wanted to get below the surface.
At the end of the road is a church. And before you get to the church, there is a sign that says, “Credence.”
I asked her family about that. Was Credence a place? They didn’t know. Was L___ a fan of Credence Clearwater Revival? Not to anyone’s knowledge. So no one really knows for sure what the sign means.
But I can tell you what the word means. Credence means belief. It means putting one’s trust in the truth of something. And so we believe that L___ put her trust in the truth that Jesus was her Lord and Savior. She gave credence to the fact that Jesus could save her, and that he did save her. And that no matter how gnarled and twisted someone’s life becomes, there’s a road that leads you home. And L___ was on that road.
I’d like us to listen to a song that talks about the Jesus in whom L placed her trust– the one to whom she gave credence.
I can’t tell you how moved I am that so many of you have come to show your love and respect for L___ and her family. Death is never easy. And when the circumstances are tragic, and a life of promise is cut short, it’s all the more excruciating. Your presence here has gone a long way toward helping this family in their grief.
Believe it or not, the Bible says it’s actually good for us to be here today. In Ecclesiastes 7:2, God word says that:
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every person; the living should take this to heart.”
Whoa. It just got real. Today, this church is a house of mourning. Most of us would much rather be in a place like this for an uplifting worship service. And if we are being really honest, probably most of us would rather be at a really great party—a house of feasting—then in this place this morning, saying goodbyes to L___.
So why in the world would the Bible say it’s better to be here than at a house of feasting?
Because this is a time for us to remember the life God gave L___. It’s a time to share our memories and to encourage and lean on each other.
It’s also a time for us to say good-bye to L___. Saying goodbye is very important for us because L___ meant so much to so many people in this room..
And, lastly—and this is what Ecclesiastes says– this is a time to ponder our own mortality. Because one day all of us will die. “Death is the destiny of every person.” It’s not a matter of IF we’ll die, but only when.
Thus, this is a good time to ask ourselves some basic questions.
Questions like, “Am I ready to die?”
And. “Where will I go when my life is over?”
When it comes right down to it, a service like this is more for us who are living than for the person who has died. So I’d like to pray for us, that we ponder the truth of Ecclesiastes, and ask the questions it demands we ask.
Did you know that There is no record in Scripture of Jesus performing a funeral? In fact, funerals had a way of ending whenever Jesus was around.
Whenever Jesus came to a funeral in the gospels, it stopped being a funeral. The dead rose from the grave. And when that happens, you know, the funeral’s pretty much over.
In John 11, the Bible tells a story about a funeral for a man who had been one of Jesus’ close friends. His name was Lazarus.
Lazarus had two sisters: Mary and Martha. And when Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus’s death, each of these sisters ran out to Him at different times and said exactly the same thing:
˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (verses 21, 32)
They were blaming Jesus for Lazarus being dead.
After all, Jesus could heal the sick. If he’ d been there Lazarus could have been healed and he wouldn’t have died.
At funerals – sometimes – there’s a tendency by some to blame God for death. We may not say it out loud, because we’re afraid we’ll get struck by lightning or something, but the questions are there:
“Lord why couldn’t you cure the cancer?
Why couldn’t You have stopped the oncoming car?
Why didn’t you prevent the overdose?
If you had been there, my sister… my daughter… our mother… my wife…would not have died.
Is it a sin to ask those kinds of questions?
Apparently, Jesus didn’t think so. He got the exact same question twice, and didn’t fuss about it once. Those of us who have a real relationship with Jesus have learned that it’s NOT sinful to question God.
It’s not out of bounds to ask why God would let the one we love die.Notice, Jesus didn’t scold the sisters for their words.
God’s a big God and He can handle your questions.
And you don’t have to feel guilty for wondering why God didn’t prevent L___’s death. Asking the question acknowledges that you believe God is powerful—that He could do something. And you’re willing to believe God is loving—that He should do something.
But the fact that He didn’t prevent it forces us to reckon with a third truth: that although God is all powerful; and although God is all good; God is not us. And we are not God.
The day will come when all of us will die. And we will die because we live in a world that has been damaged by sin.
What I find interesting about this story is how Jesus responded to his death.
We’re told in verses 33 and 38 that Jesus was “deeply moved. ” But that’s not a great translation. It would be more accurate to say that Jesus was indignant, or even that He was angry.
Please don’t misunderstand. Jesus wasn’t angry at the sisters for questioning Him. He wasn’t angry with the mourners for not believing in Him.
I think Jesus was angry at the disruption of death. Jesus was there in the Garden with His heavenly Father. He knew what His Father’s intention was for human beings– that they would live forever in unbroken fellowship with Him.
But sin screwed that up. Sin disrupted that fellowship. And to be honest, I think Jesus was ticked off by it. I think we all could stand to have a little indignation at a funeral. Especially one like this. Because we know that it isn’t supposed to be like this.
When Jesus came to the grave he could have said something extremely profound. But there’s no sermon, no powerful observations.
Instead, the Bible only tells us what Jesus DID:
John 11:35. It’s the shortest verse in all of scripture, and yet the most profound.
Here is Jesus of Nazareth, the world’s most complete, most perfect man attending the funeral of a friend, and weeping openly.
He weeps without embarrassment, and without apology.
And those standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”
Some of you have wondered where Jesus was when L___ died. In your heart of hearts, you have wondered why Jesus didn’t do this or that.
But here, I think there is a very good indication of what Jesus did do. I think Jesus wept. I don’t think there is any degree of difference between how Jesus loved Lazarus and how Jesus loved L___.
And where Jesus wept over the sickness and disease that ended his friend’s life, I believe Jesus wept over the addiction that took L___’s. I think Jesus wished L___ could have found her joy in Him. That whatever demons and darkness that drove her to drugs in the first place could have been silenced.
I think Jesus wept because He knew it’s not supposed to be like this.
If you feel like crying today, it’s ok.
If it was OK for Jesus to cry, it’s OK for you to cry.
And I am 100% convinced that God weeps with you.
God knows your pain – He feels your hurt.
And if you will let Him, He will work inside you to comfort you now.
God knows what it’s like to feel hurt.
The Easter season reminds us that God lost a family member too, His one and only son.
˜For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
This is a time – not just to remember L___ and what he meant to us – but to also remember that all life is fragile. One day – we are all going to die.
But do you remember what Jesus said to Mary and Martha?
He said, ˜I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.
Do you believe this?
No, really, Do you believe this?
Jesus wasn’t merely saying there was going to be a resurrection.
He claimed that HE IS the resurrection.
And He proved it.
Not long after raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus died on the cross, and 3 days later He rose from the dead. He did that so we would know that He could guarantee us that promise as well.
We often think of this life as the ˜land of the living,” and that when we die we go the ˜land of the dead.”
But the truth is exactly the opposite. This is the land of the dying. “Death is the destiny of every person.” says Ecclesiastes.
But Jesus rose from the dead to offer us an opportunity to live in the land of the living.
The place Jesus offers is described like this in Scripture:
˜God himself will be with us and be our God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new!
There’s only one requirement for entrance into resurrection life.
You don’t earn heaven by how good you are, or how many nice things you’ve done for others. You don’t earn heaven by getting clean from drugs, or by never doing drugs in the first place.
Jesus SAID: I am the resurrection and the life.
He who BELIEVES in Me will live, even though he dies.
Do you believe this?
Let us stand for our closing prayer:
“Lord, we commit L____; our friend, our sister, our daughter, our mother, Your daughter, to Your loving care. Thank you for taking our questions seriously, and for taking our tears carefully. Please give this family strength, and help the rest of us know how to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.
And now, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, both now and throughout all the days of this, our short, uncertain pilgrimage. Amen.