While reading the bible the other day, I came across Ecclesiastes 7:1-4. “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born. Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies—so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.”
In my 50 plus years as a minister, I have shared in people’s happiest and saddest moments. Now it’s not nice to speak ill of the dead, but the other day I read a story that triggered memories of a funeral I conducted many years ago.
The story is told of two brothers who lived in a small town who, over many years, cheated and stole from everyone they ever did business with. All who lived in the town despised these two brothers because of how dishonest they were. One day, one of the brothers died. Although they had never attended church, the remaining brother went to the local pastor and offered a lot of money if he would conduct the funeral and say the appropriate words, AND, a large bonus if he would, during the eulogy, refer to his brother as “a Saint.” The pastor was troubled by the request, however, it was a poor church and the building needed repairs. The church was packed as the funeral began, and the pastor started with the usual prayers and rites required by the church’s teachings. In closing, after referring to the man in the box, he paused and turned to face the remaining brother. He began, “As you all know, the departed was a rotten human being who robbed, cheated, swindled and stole from everyone he ever did business with. However, compared to his Brother, he was – “a Saint!”
One day I was asked by the local mortician if I would do a funeral. The man wasn’t religious and none of the local clergy would to do it. When I found out who the deceased was, I understood why there were no takers. I knew of this man. Let’s just say, he wasn’t a nice guy. As with most funerals, there comes a time when people can say a few words about the departed. Several got up and said wonderful things about the man. I sat there thinking that I must be at the wrong service. I wondered how much they were paid to say what they did. I’m reminded of that funeral when I wear one of my favorite T-shirts. On the front it says NO REGRETS. On the back it says, “LIVE YOUR LIFE SO THE PREACHER WON’T HAVE TO LIE AT YOUR FUNERAL.”