This is my dad speaking to his Sunday School class at his 90th birthday party. On this Fathers’ Day I am departing from the revised common lectionary reading for this Sunday. Instead, I’m preaching from Genesis 26:18 NIV —
18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
The title for the message is “Re-digging Our Fathers’ Wells.” The story from Genesis is that Isaac reopened wells that his father, Abraham, had previously dug, which were filled up by the Philistines. Of course, the Philistines were sea-faring people who realized that if they cut off access to water, they cut off the lives of their enemies.
The big idea of the message is that we need to reopen the wells that served as a source of life for our fathers, and which can serve as our life-source today. I’m going to examine the wells dug by our biological fathers, our denominational fathers, and our spiritual fathers.
Of course, I recognize that this is a “spiritualization” of this passage, but Fathers’ Day is a Sunday for remembering the contribution that our fathers have made to our lives, appreciating their examples, and learning from them. I’ll probably post the sermon text on Saturday. If you’re a pastor, what are you planning to preach on this Fathers’ Day?
A memorial service should accomplish two things — it should bring comfort to the family, and it should connect with the life of the deceased. To meet those two criteria, I ask the family to help me by providing these 6 things:
- Scripture passages. I ask if they have scripture passages that hold special meaning for them. I do not promise I will use all the passages, but they usually give me a place to start in message preparation.
- The Bible that belonged to their loved one. I have asked if the family would like for me to read from their loved one’s Bible. Some do not have a Bible they have used frequently, and I move on.
- Stories. I am looking for stories that characterize their loved one’s life. These can be funny, serious, spiritual, or everyday stories but they need to capture some aspect of the person’s life. I always ask if I can share that at the service. Sometimes people tell you stories as a part of their griefwork, but they do not want them told publicly.
- Hymns or songs. In our community we get requests mostly for traditional hymns like In The Garden or Amazing Grace. Some families may select recorded songs that may or may not be apppropriate, but you can guide the family to use music that honors both God and the individual’s memory. I conducted a teenager’s funeral years ago, and the family played heavy metal music prior to the service. I thought someone at the funeral home had a radio on. I complained to the manager, who informed me that this was the family’s request. I would have tried to steer them to a more appropriate means of honoring their son.
- Poems, prayers, or readings. Some families want a special poem, prayer, or reading used during the service. I try to accomodate those requests as often as I can.
- Eulogies. Often families want to give an opportunity for others at the service to share their memories with the congregation. I suggest that one or two of these be planned so there is not a long period of silence while waiting.
If you’re a pastor, you probably have a similar list of helps that you’re looking for when you prepare for a funeral or memorial service. What questions do you ask? How do you connect the service with the life of the person being remembered?