Monday, January 23, 2006

Sample Funeral Sermon

I've always loved the imagery Paul uses in 1 Cor. 15 relating to death and resurrection. For probably 6 years now I've wanted to write a funeral sermon on that text, and I finally had my chance in Preaching Workshop class here at seminary. We had to write a funeral sermon on a real or fictional person. And I knew all along which text I wanted to do. I chose a fictional character, so the sermon isn't actually for someone I know or who has died, but there are certainly real-life elements I tried to incorporate into it. Since I've dwelt on this text quite a bit for many years, it was really quite personal for me, and I greatly enjoyed writing this sermon.

“A Gardener For Life”
1 Cor. 15:35-49
“Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
To the end, Edith was a gardener. Anyone who knew her knew of her fondness for all sorts of green plants. At the end of every winter, as spring drew near, she’d rub her green thumbs together with excitement as she anticipated that first opportunity to dig around in the soil and plant those seeds in her vegetable garden and flower bed. And oh the joy she derived from nurturing those first tiny green shoots of life into big healthy green plants and glorious flowers! Carefully fertilizing, watering, digging up the weeds, anticipating the harvest—there was no doubt that when Edith was in her garden, it was a labor of joy. And anyone who wondered why would soon learn when they tasted those garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and squash and all her vegetables.
As I sat with Edith in the hospital, those last few days before she died—we talked a lot about gardening, of a similar sort. You see, even though she didn’t quite know how it happened, Edith knew that when she planted those small, dried up, dead seeds in the earth—that very soon, as the sun shone on them, and the water soaked them, a new shoot of life would break out of that old husk or shell of the seed, and grow up into a beautiful living plant. And her eyes twinkled with the childlike joy of a Christian when I shared with her that this is just how St. Paul describes the Resurrection body in today’s text. So it’s particularly fitting today that as we sow Edith’s body like a seed in the ground, that we recall these words of Paul about Divine Gardening:

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed it’s own body. Paul was facing a troubling skepticism about the Resurrection among the Corinthians, and some were doubting how God could raise the dead—after all, once the body has gone to dust…But Paul rebukes such skepticism: “You foolish person!” They should have had faith, instead of doubting God’s promises. So Paul lays it out once more in a metaphor they can all understand. A seed cannot be made alive unless it first dies. That seed of course, is the human body—unique from animals, birds, and fish, as Paul goes on to tell. But when that seed is planted, the seed is not the body that is to be, but rather still just a bare seed. And admittedly, a little seed isn’t much to look at. Often they are dried up and shriveled.

And though I doubt we have any Corinthian skeptics here, many of us do struggle to believe that new life will come, when we see death staring us in the face. Edith’s wrinkled and frail, aged body might have reminded us of that little dry seed. It’s hard to see life there. Indeed, Paul goes on to say of this seed: 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Edith’s body, the seed we will sow, will be sown as it was in this life: perishable, in dishonor, in weakness, and as a natural body. But that’s not the way it should have been—for her or for any of us. God did not create us to die, but rather The first man Adam became a living being. But because of his sin in the garden, and because of all our subsequent sin, we all together bear the image of the man of dust, Adam. Therefore it is right that we should mourn and grieve for the loss of this beloved friend of ours. Death is not part of God’s design, but it is a cruel invader in this life. But death must happen first before we are raised to life. Just like the planted seed must crack out of its dry, dead, outer husk before it grows up in new life to the surface.
You see, God made Edith a wheat seed, that is a believer, by her baptism into Christ. God gave her a body as He has chosen, a seed for a unique body, a unique believer. And she knew that this happened all by grace—she didn’t make herself that seed, and she wasn’t responsible for that tiny germ of new life that was inside her by baptism. She knew that she was a sinner, and couldn’t bring about new life within her. But that gentle sprinkling of water worked a miracle in her heart when she was baptized as an infant—the miracle of faith. She was adopted as God’s own child, paid for by Jesus’ blood shed for her sins on the cross. And while her new life continues now in heaven, where her soul is with the Lord, it is not yet complete, as her body will lie dormant like a seed in the earth…awaiting that Last Day.
Because 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. And also, 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. What was once perishable, dishonored, weak, and natural, will be raised Imperishable, in Honor, in Strength, and Spiritual. No longer will Edith suffer with arthritis or a weak heart. No longer will she feel suffering or pain! She is at home with our Lord Jesus, and she awaits with us the day when our bodies will be raised as spiritual bodies. Bodies that bear the image of the man of heaven! Jesus Christ is that man of heaven, who took on the earthly body to redeem us perishable humans from our sin.

The only begotten Son of God, who was imperishable, became perishable, dishonored, weak, and natural for our sakes. Jesus took on human flesh so that when He was brought to dishonor by our sins and weakened by the physical and verbal abuse He faced at His crucifixion, that He would die an innocent death, to bear that awful load of sin with Him to the grave. His natural body perished, sown in the earth—a dead seed. But death could not hold Him! After three days, He rose imperishable, raised in glory, raised in power—a spiritual body. But He was no ghost! And it wasn’t some totally different body—no, He still bore the nail and spear marks in His glorified flesh. The body was the same, but it was transformed! Like a new shoot of life grown from the dead seed, Christ’s new body was glorified, transformed, strong, magnificent even. And so shall we be, and so shall Edith be on that day when Christ comes again.

We shall bear the image of that man of heaven, Jesus Christ, because His death was for our sake, and He has gathered us like seeds to be planted in His field. Martin Luther said, “You can think of God as such a [gardener] and yourself as a small kernel which He casts into the ground, so that it may come forth much more beautiful and glorious…[Thus] the cemetery or burial ground does not indicate a heap of the dead, but a field full of kernels, known as God’s kernels, which will verdantly blossom forth again and grow more beautifully than can be imagined.” So therefore we know

To the end, Edith was a gardener. And that makes it particularly fitting that now she’s the seed, to be planted in the ground. And we know that as her body lies dormant in the field like a dead seed, her soul is at home with the Lord. But on that last day, when the Son shines down on the earth, and the clouds in the heavens break—the Son of God will appear to all. Shining down as He descends in His glory, the radiance of His light will stir every wheat seed that lies waiting in the grave. And when all humanity rises to life for the judgment, Edith and all the rest of those seeds that were watered with the gentle sprinkling of Baptism, shall rise to meet Him in the clouds, bearing the new image of the man of heaven! And clothed in His glory, we will bloom forth like new shoots of life, into that new heavenly life that awaits us. Amen. To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done, brother.

This would work well with a farmer too!