Delivering a sermon at a funeral presents some unique complications for the pastor. First, there will often be people present who are not Christians; in fact, they may be adverse to the Gospel, and merely respectful of the deceased. Should one ignore the question of eternity at such a time? Should the pastor “give it to them?” Broadus provides some good advice:
Sorrowing and softened, we feel then a special need of God’s mercy and grace, and the preacher should gladly seize the opportunity to recommend the gospel of consolation, and to impress the need of personal piety, that we may be ready to live and ready to die. And not only will some habitual hearers be then better prepared to receive the word, but persons will be present who seldom attend the place of worship. It is highly important, therefore, that funeral sermons should clearly point out the way of life, and tenderly invite to the Saviour.
John Albert Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, ed. Edwin Charles Dargan, New (23d) ed. (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1898), 101.
I think this advice sound on multiple grounds. First, if we believe the Gospel to be true and to be a matter of life and death, it would be cruelty to ignore it – especially at such a time. Note that Broadus emphasizes the matters of “mercy”, “grace”, “consolation”, and the manner, “tenderly.” When presenting the Gospel, many with more zeal than wisdom make themselves rather than Christ the offense. We cannot cause another to either receive or accept Christ, but we can be careful not to make the decision in some manner based upon our offensiveness.
Second, he notes that the presentation at this time should be a matter of “consolation.” I know personally too much death within my immediate family and have seen the pain of death felt by many others. The pain of death demands a commensurate consolation: Something which only the resurrection promised by the resurrection of Christ can answer.
Third, believers often grow careless and thoughtless; the time of death can serve us well if we use it to remember that we too will die and will soon face judgment.