Sermon - Funeral Scenario

Be Still In the Darkness, Children of the Light

To make perfectly clear, this is a fictional scenario given to me in preaching class, in order to practice the struggle of preparing and preaching a difficult funeral sermon. However, this scenario is all too often a reality for many schools and church youth programs. My prayers for anyone who has suffered this type of loss in their life.

The Scenario: Drunk Driving

About 1:00 AM Saturday morning, you receive a call from a distraught mother in your congregation. She just received word that her 18-year old and 15-year old daughters were involved in a car accident, along with a 21-year old friend. They had been coming home after a football game when they decided to stop by a liquor store across the county line to get some beer and liquor. In spite of the protests of the younger daughter, the 21-year old friend got the alcohol, then the 21-year old and 18-year old began to drink. The 18-year old insisted on driving; she was impaired from the alcohol. It was a single car accident, killing the 18-year old, critically injuring the 21-year old. The 15- year old is still in the hospital, but expected to be released in the day. All three were members of your parish; the girls were active and popular in the church youth group; the 21-year old was a college student home on the weekend. The 15-year old will be at the funeral.

Victims:

  • Susanne - 21 yrs old

  • Courtney - 18 yr old (deceased) 

  • Ashley - 15 yr old

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalms 139:7-12

Starting Image: Be Still / Darkness and Light

The scenario description starts by stating that I receive a distraught call from a mother in my congregation. I can’t image the panic a parent must experience when your children are out with friends, they miss curfew, and the phone rings early in the morning. To confront the feelings of being distraught and panicked, the image of being still came to me. While Psalms 46:10 is a great verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” the entire psalm is not appropriate for a funeral setting.

When looking for other verses, I connected with the image of darkness and light in Psalm 139. Courtney got into the accident in the darkness of night and was taken up into the eternal light of God. The people at the funeral are in the “shadow of death,” seeking a path of hope to return to the light. The Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” For those not ready to seek the light of hope, there is comfort to be had in knowing that they do not need to seek God, God is present in the darkness, because it is not dark to God.

Exegeting the Congregation: Family and Teenage Friends

I feel strongly that in my sermon I need to address the issue of drinking and driving. For the sake of the young people in attendance and the community as a whole, we must see this tragedy as a preventable event. To not address it or gloss over it would given a sense of condoning the behavior. However, addressing the drinking and driving as the cause of the death, puts blame on the deceased, which may be difficult for everyone, especially the family.

In my pastoral care, I would discuss this sermon with the parents before. I would explain my thought process and intention. I do not want it to come across with the mistaken message that God caused Courtney’s death as a punishment, or that Courtney’s purpose in life was to teach us a lesson in her death. Rather, I think that in her death, we can be reminded of a lesson we all already know. Many parents use the tragedy of their children’s death to help spread awareness, so other families do not have to face the same suffering. With the number of teenage friends who will be at the funeral, I believe that her parents would agree that addressing the issue is needed in hope of preventing this type of tragedy in our community, again. 

In sharing this message, there needs to be sensitivity. The teaching moment must be supported in Scripture and cannot: Take up too much of the sermon time, shame either the survivors or the deceased, or be used to define who the deceased was as a person.

Preaching Style: Pulpit with Manuscript

My decision to write and use a manuscript was intentional. I believe a funeral sermon, more than any other type of sermon, has a “right” and “wrong” way to say and express the message. The words I have chosen have purpose, and while a Sunday sermon can have a brain fart or hiccup, a funeral sermon cannot. Having known Courtney, there is also the possibility for stronger emotion. If I become overwhelmed, it is wise to have a script to get me back on track.

Closing Prayer in a Song: Be Still