Some time ago I did a funeral and was saddened to realize that I was dealing with a family that had no tradition of Christian faith. The patriarch of this family had passed away in his early 60s, and his daughter wanted me to do his funeral.

The family had no connection with any church, except that this daughter had visited the church where I was preaching at that time.

Taking Christ Where Christ Has Not Been Preached

I went to the funeral home that Sunday afternoon to perform the ceremony, and I was told that no one else in the family wanted me to be there. A son-in-law had agreed to do the major work of this funeral service, and I was just to read the Scripture and say a prayer.

I did my best to share the gospel in the brief time given me, and then the son-in-law began the “sermon.”

He gave quite a eulogy. It told me a lot about the family’s traditions, and it went something like this: “He could drink more beer than anybody I’ve ever seen. We used to love to watch the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Those are my best memories of him–and then there was the night he tried to take on a man half his age and we had to pack him away…”

Dreadful Sorry, Clementine

This went on for 45 minutes. I will give the man who passed away some credit, though. His children and grandchildren loved him. He’d had a favorite song that he had sung to these grandchildren, and they were going to sing that song at the close of the service.

Imagine for a moment this expression of a family tradition. Three little children sat on the mourner’s bench–his grandchildren. One boy was around six years old, another was nine. Their sister was about 11. These three grandchildren stood and sang, tears streaming down their faces, their childish monotones sounding sad and fearful:

Oh, my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ Clementine. You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine.

Then the man’s son, an angry young man who’d held himself back through the entire service up to that point, stood and joined them.

At that moment, it hit them. I felt it. A chill went up my spine, and I know it hit them at the same moment because the tears came flowing down their faces as they sang it one more time:”Oh, my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, Clementine.”

Suddenly no one was thinking about Clementine anymore:

You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine.

How Will Your Story End?

That need not be the story of your family. It need not be the story of your life. It need not be the heritage that you leave behind, because the gospel is something that can be taught and learned.

You and I have a great message to share: the hope of the gospel. As God gives us ability and opportunity, let us live it and share it for our sake, and for Christ’s.

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The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Tallowood Baptist Church on March 4, 1990.

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