18 Sample Message: When You Know the Person and Family Well

I knew Eddie’s family from some time we spent at the same church. His dad was skeptical of faith; his mom was committed to serving at church and to her sons. Eddie’s brother was intellectually challenged and incredibly loyal. And Eddie died in a crash.
The family asked me to return to the church to lead the funeral. The message that made sense for everyone was the story of the prodigal.

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I don’t want to be here, at a funeral for Eddie, any more than you do. This isn’t what we had planned for today. It isn’t what he planned.

But since we are here, let’s be here.

You know your stories of Eddie. I told Dave and Sue and Terry that when I thought about him, two expressions came to mind. One was when he said something and then waited for you to realize that he was teasing. It was followed by his smile. The other was when he was thinking, when he was working hard to understand.

His ADD challenged him. It helped him keep moving; it was part of his running for excitement. He was, he told his dad, addicted to adrenaline. It’s why I treasure that picture in my head of him working to understand, wanting to concentrate. It’s my sense of the deep-down, caring, compassionate, thinking Eddie.

And I remember that he played the guitar. He worked at it. He helped others at open mic night. He wanted to be better than he was. And he didn’t quit.

I’m pretty sure that Jesus, if he were confined to his walking around body, would have come to Eddie’s funeral. Because he would have known Eddie pretty well.

A man named Luke gathered stories about Jesus. He wrote,

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

For some reason that seems strange to us. People who felt really uncomfortable in church loved listening to Jesus whenever they could. And the people who felt a little too comfortable in church, with the status it gave them, felt threatened by Jesus.

Luke says Jesus told those grumblers three stories to help them understand why he spent time with the tax collectors and sinners. All three were about people searching for things that mattered. A shepherd searching for a lost sheep. A poor woman searching for a tenth of her money. And this one:[1]

“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’

Like saying, “You are dead to me; give me my part of your estate.” It was as rude then as it would be now.

And the dad divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Just so you know how bad off the son was, the audience Jesus was talking to hated pigs. They avoided them completely. Those grumbling church people would have been saying to themselves, “That kid got what he deserved.”

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

There was something about Jesus that kept tugging at Eddie. It made him stand up there and get baptized. It was a second time. Eddie had been baptized once. But this is Eddie. He wanted to be sure, on his own.

And Eddie struggled from time to time. He wasn’t perfect. You can fill in the stories.

But Dave wanted me to tell this story that Jesus told because a dad doesn’t quit loving his kid. Run away, and a mom and dad still watch. Stomp out, and a mom and dad still watch. Look at two doors and pick the wrong one or the right one, and a dad and mom still watch.

And sometimes, as kids, we start to come back, wondering what will happen when we walk back in the door. And as parents, in our best moments, a mom and dad are watching from the window when a kid’s car slowly pulls up, jumping down the steps two at a time. At the door before the car gets stopped. Hugging before the first words of apology come out. In our best moments. And, to be honest, at this moment Dave and Sue and Terry would give anything to do that.

But Jesus wasn’t just telling a Hallmark story. Remember that he was trying to explain why he intentionally spent time with the people at the edges of proper culture.

Jesus knew that there are lots of us who have been pretty obnoxious about making sure that everyone knows that we are good at running our lives. We’ve shunned our parents, walked away from anyone who tells us how we ought to do things. And we figured that God was part of all those rules, so we walked away from Him, too.

And we don’t want to tell anyone, including ourselves, but some of us are pretty scared that we went a little too far, that we’re all alone. Permanently. We are feeling pretty empty inside. Self-medicating isn’t working the way we wish it would. We’re like that young son, jealous of the pigs.

But, Jesus says, regardless of whether anyone else cares, there is a father watching. And waiting. And celebrating at the least evidence of turning back.

Not to scold. Not to scream. Not to blame.

Just to welcome. And embrace us. And to teach us how to live a life forgiven of regrets.

Eddie knew that. Eddie kept coming back home. To Dave and Sue and Terry. And, I think, to God.

There is more to the story Jesus told, by the way. There was an older brother. He was not happy about the return.

“Don’t you know what he did out there?” the brother said. “Don’t you know what he spent his money on? What he spend your money on?”

And the father said, “But he came back home.”

Eddie knew a God committed to welcoming wanderers. A God who knows what it’s like to lose a child. A Father who watches and welcomes people who turn around, people who realize what doesn’t work, who can’t figure out how to make things work. And he forgives them. And he gives them new clothes. And has a party.

There is going to be a party, someday, for all the wandering sons and daughters who come home. Eddie’s there. We’re all invited.

Let’s pray.


  1. Luke 15:11-32.

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