Today I attended a funeral with my friend Dan. The funeral was for the cousin of a friend of ours, who had committed suicide. Funerals are generally tough anyway, but this one was just downright painful in ways it shouldn’t have been. This mainly had to do with the minister who was “doing” the funeral. From almost the moment he started speaking I didn’t feel good about it. He started off reading a couple of passages of scripture, but it seemed more like he was just going through the motions of what you’re supposed to do and say at a funeral, rather than actually seeming to empathize and attempt to bring encouragement. After he spoke for a couple of minutes, people from the family got up and offered their eulogies.
Following this, the minister began speaking again. From my past funeral experiences, I expected him to offer a few closing remarks, offer a prayer, and that be the end of it. But this is when the trouble really began. While he apparently was acquainted with the deceased in his youth, he hadn’t known him since. He tried to say it was hard for him, and that he empathized due to having someone in his family die in an accident. Yet his actions and words communicated quite clearly how out of touch he was with the situation immediately surrounding him. What he was saying was painful to me from almost the beginning. I felt like I wanted to slit my wrist in order to get out of having to listen to him talk any longer. I would have gotten up and left, and I think many other people would have too, if I didn’t feel that it would seem rude.
After a long several minutes of him talking, he made a comment about having finished his introduction, and about the message he was about to speak! The whole thing was a classic evangelical sermon. It really had little if anything to do with the funeral, though he tried to tie it in. It was the whole “We’ve all made bad choices, but God loves us, and we need God, etc., etc.” message. I admit after the first minute or so the Charlie Brown teacher effect set in, and I heard little more than “blah blah blah.”
It was so bad all we could do was to start making jokes about it (while trying to to laugh inappropriately). I wondered if he was going to offer an “altar” call (or maybe casket call, only there was no casket). My friend thought this was both hysterical and (I believe) completely farfetched. However after his like half hour sermon, the minister basically did this (only asking people to raise their hands rather than come forward). I also mused that it seemed like the minister was going to preach until he died himself (he was 82), wished someone had a shepherd’s staff, and considered that I could probably find a way to turn off the microphone he was using.
The reason it seemed so bad was because it clearly seemed to be an inappropriate context for this sermon, and the minister seemed to be painfully disconnect from the other people in the room (as mentioned). I got the distinct sense that everyone could have gotten up and left, and he would still have been preaching. It angered me to a degree, and I felt bad for those who were morning. This message didn’t help, but seemed to make things worse.
This brings me to the point of blogging about this. Following Christ is more about participation than it is about intellectual things such as holding certain beliefs and having certain amounts of knowledge and understanding. Yet in some christian circles, certain things are preached so much, that those christians seem to completely lose touch with reality. I believe the minister today had good intentions, but he was painfully disconnected with reality. In the bible, Jesus did view death and funerals as an opportunity for evangelism, trying to feign empathy while holding more of a recruitment meeting? No. He wept. And then proceeded to resurrect the dead. I’m not suggesting we should try to raise the dead. What I am saying is that Jesus was actually connected to the people. His agenda didn’t get in the way. He didn’t say, “I’d love to help, but I’ve got to tell people about how they’re sinners and need God.” His agenda was to demonstrate God’s love.
Some christians have gotten it in their head that “saving people” is so important that it trumps caring for them. “We’re loving them because that’s what they really need most, even if they don’t realize it.” Really? Is that so? I think this actually demonstrates a lack of understanding the good news. And this misunderstanding is widespread. What is the “good news”? Is it a little snippet of “special knowledge”? Oh wait—that’s gnosticism. Is it that if we say we believe something and/or pray a prayer, that we have “fire insurance” (that is, won’t go to hell)?
What if the good news is that God loves us? What does this mean? How would this change things? Is Christ still alive and active? Yes. How does love us? How does he work in the world? Just as our bodies enact the decisions of our minds, Jesus also works through his body. And where is his body? Don’t you know that the community of those following Christ are his body? So what would the followers of Christ being doing today, at the funeral? Wouldn’t they be morning with and trying to comfort those who are morning? Or would they be preaching a completely detached sermon about people needing God?
I’m sure there are Christians who would be quite disturbed by my words, and thinking, “but people need to ‘be saved’—that’s got to be a priority.” Our friend isn’t a professing follower of Christ. The deceased had apparently only recently begun attending church. Therefore I assume that most of the people at the funeral weren’t followers of Christ either. If I weren’t myself, I would be more turned off to it after hearing this minister speak today. Dan and myself are however. Yet we didn’t go to the funeral with an agenda in mind of “witnessing” to our friend, or taking the opportunity to ask, “if you died tonight…” We came simply to support him, because we recognized that this is a tough thing for him. (I don’t like to use myself as an illustration, but have in hopes of making my point clearer.) Now, pragmatists, which one was likely to bring him closer to God: the minister who spoke the “wrong” message for way too long, or those who simply showed up to demonstrate care?