My younger brother, Daniel, passed away on October 14th 2013. I had the distinct honor and privilege of officiating his funeral service. I’ve had numerous requests from people who attended his funeral for a copy of my sermon. The following is a copy of the manuscript I used at my brother’s funeral:
Funeral Service for Daniel Nolan Oberhellman
Usually these kinds of events begin with a professional minister speaking from a handbook saying something along the lines of “dearest family and friends; we are gathered here today to…” and so on, and so forth. However we all know that Dan was never much for formalities, so in this service we will forgo such traditional ceremonial rhetoric. We are all here today to both grieve the tragic loss, as well as celebrate the extraordinary life of Daniel Nolan Oberhellman. Today we will, no doubt, shed many tears, but I am confident that we will also crack some smiles, and even let out some laughs as we reminisce over all the joyful memories that Dan has blessed us with, which we will all cherish close to our hearts for the rest of our days.
Let us begin our service this morning with a prayer of invocation. I invite you now bow your heads and join me in prayer: “Gracious and merciful Heavenly Father, we come to you this day humbly recognizing the frailty of human life. We are broken. We are grieved. There is now a void in each of our lives that our loving relationships with Daniel once filled, and we will never be the same from these days forward. Our broken heartedness at the loss of Daniel is of such great magnitude that we cannot help but rely upon your divine strength and love to comfort the deepest sorrows of our souls. Lord, we do pray for your mercy and grace upon us. Strengthen us according to your loving kindness, and grant us the peace in our hearts that only you can provide in the midst of our brokenness. Amen.”
Today we remember and celebrate the life of Daniel. I could stand up here all day, perhaps all week, or even for months on end sharing stories of my life experiences as Dan’s older brother. I could start right at the very beginning, and tell you of the time that Dan was first born in the hospital, and family members came to visit. I was 4 years old at the time, and although everyone was coming to visit mom and newborn baby Dan, I somehow ended up with a bunch of new Ghostbusters toys (presumably to distract me from potential jealousy of now having to share my parents with another person.) I remember thinking “wow, mom and dad should give me little brothers more often!” I could tell you of hot summer days spent swimming in the pool at Gram’s former house over on Meadowbrook Lane, and the times we would sneak in through the porch door to swipe a cookie or two from Gram’s cookie jar – we ate those cookies with such a devious sense of satisfaction as though we were mastermind criminals who had just pulled off the greatest heist in history and gotten away with it. Of course, in retrospect, we now realize that Gram had intentionally left the door unlocked and the cookie jar well-stocked and child-accessible, knowing that we got such a thrill out of “sneaking into her secret cookie stash.” I could tell you of Christmas mornings in which both Dan and I would wake up at ungodly hours in the morning full of the adrenaline rush every child experiences on Christmas morning. We would quietly tiptoe out to the Christmas tree and snoop around in all the gifts intoxicated with excitement of what Santa Clause had brought us that year, and then jump on Mom and Dad’s bed hollering at them to get up because we simply couldn’t wait any longer. I could tell you of how Dan and I would constantly ask mom and dad for quarters to go play over at the video arcade whenever we visited the mall, and how Dan would end up with a massive amount of prize tickets and always seemed to cash them in for a handful of the cheapest prizes rather than that one awesome item he could’ve gotten with a hundred tickets; hence the origin of one of Dan’s most infamous titles, “King of Useless Crap.” As we can see from his shoe collection, and perhaps some of the items that show up on his Birthday and Christmas gift lists, not much changed over the course of the years – Dan wore that title proudly. I could tell you of the numerous family vacations to Traverse City where Dan, myself, Krista, and Kevin became practically professionals when it came to Pirate’s Cove miniature golf. The adults would jokingly say that the sound of car and truck horns blaring out on Munson Avenue was the indication that we kids were done with our round of mini-golf and were now crossing the road to get back to the beach.
I could go on and on with stories about Dan, and no doubt so could everyone in this room, however for the sake of time and consideration for others of you who would also wish to share of your memories of Dan, I will simply share with you the one thing that I will always remember about Dan: Dan had an indestructible and contagious sense of humor. He always knew how to ensure that people were laughing and having a good time when he was around. His sense of humor enabled him to get smiles out of the youngest of children to the most elderly of seniors, and everyone in between. Everyone who had the pleasure of conversing with him fell instantly in love with his cleverness and his wit, even if he did occasionally cross the border of appropriateness… Ok, Dan did more than just cross the border of appropriateness – he often times hit the proverbial pedal to the floor flying by the security checkpoints crashing through the gates at 100 miles per hour blasting Dubstep at full-volume from his stereo when crossing that border into the world of explicit wise-cracks! Even when his health was wavering and he was stuck in hospital beds, he was always cracking jokes with the nurses and doctors. Dan’s remarkable ability to find the bright side of life in any situation was something that simply couldn’t be broken – it was one thing cancer was never able to take from him. Dan’s unwavering humor now lives on through us as we remember him – whenever we hear an off-color remark, or a slightly inappropriate (but funny) comment, or even a well-timed fart joke, we will be reminded of Dan, and his constant reminder to us all to never take life too seriously, and never be afraid to laugh (and yes, I know he’d be proud of me for using the word “fart” in his memorial service).
Scripture Reading from James 4:13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
We as human beings have a tendency to take life for granted. We live our lives simply presuming upon tomorrow, or the following week, or the upcoming months. However, life has a tendency of reminding us of our own temporality, our fragility, our own mortality, our own finiteness. The truth for all of us is that our days are numbered and ordained of God from the very beginning. We might be tempted to think that Dan’s life was cut short, and it would seem so – yet if we take God’s Word at face-value, this is not the case. Dan’s twenty-four years and ten days right down to the very number of breaths he would inhale were determined in the mind of God from before the foundations of the very world itself. Dan lived twenty-four years of life full of love, adventure, friendship, laughter, and joy. But Dan’s time has ended. Dan is now gone. There are no more prayers that can be offered for him now. His time has expired, and he has gone on to meet his creator. There is nothing left that we can do but to entrust him to the hands of an unfathomably merciful and gracious God. But we remain. Therefore, I turn my focus now to addressing all of us who are gathered here in Dan’s remembrance. I wish for us to allow Dan’s death to direct our attention to our own lives, and for us to consider the fact that our time is also limited. We are not infinite. We are not immortal. We too have expiration dates. What makes life tricky is that none of us know when our expiration date will be – we simply know that one day our time will come as well.
Recently I watched a very intriguing video on the internet. The creators of this inspirational video gave a presentation about life with each day represented by jelly beans. They began by dumping approximately 28,835 jelly beans on the floor, with each individual bean representing a single day. This number represents the average number of days an American will live – some of us may have more beans and some of us may have less, but the average works out to about 28,835. The narrator then isolated a single bean to represent the day of our birth, and then took another 364 from the pile to represent the 1st year of our lives. Next, to give a sense of scale the narrator then isolates 5,475 jelly beans from the pile to give a visual representation of the first 15 years of life, all the while there is a counter in the upper right corner of the screen keeping track of how many beans (days) are left from the original amount. By this time there are 23,360 beans (days) left. The video continues to illustrate how much time the average person will spend throughout the course of their lifetime on various activities. The average person will spend 8,477 days sleeping, 1,635 days eating drinking or preparing meals, 3,202 days working in our various vocations, 1,099 days commuting to or from somewhere, 2676 days watching television or consuming some form of digital media, 1576 days tending to routine household chores like cleaning or tending to pets, 564 days caring for the needs of others, 671 days bathing or grooming (and other bathroom-related activities), 720 days participating in community activities like religious or civic duties or continued education classes. After all these basic activities and functions of average life are accounted for there are only 2,740 beans left, which leads us to the grand question…
What will you do with the time you have left? How much do you think you’ve already used? How much do you think you’ve wasted? If you only had half of that time left, what would you do differently? What about only a quarter, or an eighth of that time remaining? If you had only one day left to live, how would you spend it? Are there broken relationships in your life that need to be reconciled? Could your priorities use some adjusting – perhaps a little less television and more family meals around the dinner table? Perhaps allowing the words “I love you” to more frequently leave our mouths directed toward those whom we love. As we reflect upon the loss of Dan, may we be brought to a deep and sobering reminder of the fragility of our lives, the temporality of our time, and the finiteness of our existence, and let us all re-examine our values and priorities as to whether or not they are really that important from the perspective of eternity. May Daniel’s twenty-four years that were jam-packed full of life inspire us all to never take a single day for granted, and live our lives to their fullest capacity, giving of ourselves in love to others unreservedly and abundant in expression.
We now bring our service this morning to a close with a prayer of benediction. I invite you now bow your heads and join me in prayer: “Heavenly Father, we are eternally grateful to you for the gracious gift of twenty-four years of life granted to Daniel. I confess on behalf of all of us present that we will be tempted to arrogantly question, and even be angered by the seemingly shortened life of Daniel. I pray that as we are tempted to think this way, that you would graciously remind us that not a single one of us is entitled to life – that life is a gift of grace that comes from your hand. I pray that you will help us to instead of complain about the life Dan did not live, that we would be humbly grateful and offer you thanks and praise for the life that he was granted. We pray that as we bring our service to a close that as Daniel departs from us physically, that his memory will never depart from our minds and hearts. We pray for the strength that only you can grant and the peace that only you can give to enable us to live what life we have remaining for your honor and glory, and with the memory of Dan constantly in our hearts. Amen”
Graveside Service and Committal:
On behalf of Daniel’s father, Ted; his mother, Jane; and myself, I wish to express our most sincere gratitude to you all for being here today to share in our suffering and loss. We simply do not know how we could possibly bare such a heavy burden without the love and support of those of you who are here, and the countless others who have expressed their love and support in other means. As we stand here graveside we are painfully reminded of the brokenness of the world in which we live. While we believe that Dan’s life ended too soon, the reality is that any life that ends at all ends too soon. God never intended for death and suffering to be part of his creation. But while death reminds us of the brokenness of our world, God reminds us in the scriptures that we are not left hopeless.
A reading from the Revelation of John 21:1-6: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’”
Here we read of a great promise from God – a hope for us to cling to – a promise from God that he will one day restore to perfection the world that is now corrupted and broken. One day God will right every single wrong that has corrupted our current world. God promises that one day he will put an absolute end to every ounce of suffering, hatred, violence, conflict, corruption, decay, disease, and even death itself! We suffer loss now, but if we are faithful we will reap a harvest of joy that is vastly incomparable to anything this world has to offer us. Until that great day, may we faithfully and hopefully await the fulfillment of this promise, looking beyond the temporal and affixing our sight not on this temporary existence, but on the existence to come in eternity.
We now commit Dan’s body to the ground where it will rest until the resurrection at the end of this time. We entrust his soul to the hands of Almighty God, who is faithful, just, righteous, and incomprehensibly gracious, merciful, and loving, with the hope that by God’s grace we will one day be reunited with Dan, as well as with other loved ones who have preceded him in death, in an eternal existence completely free of sadness, fear, pain, illness, or death.
May we go now in peace, with Dan’s memory forever in our hearts until the end of our days.