[Job 19:23-27; 1 Peter 2:4-6; Matthew 16:13-18] Lynn, Dana, Debbie, David, family and friends of Paul Steinmann: Stein-mann - Rock- man! Did ever a fellow have a more appropriate surname? No, I’m not talking about all the years he spent hauling rock around. I refer to the fact that this man built his life upon the Rock, our Lord Jesus Christ, and so became a living stone himself, and thus was a true rock for his family and his friends.
When he was but a little bundle, not even two weeks old, his godly father and mother brought him to the Rock, to Jesus Christ. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling, naked, come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace, foul, I to the fountain fly. Wash me, Savior, or I die!” And washed he was.
As Pastor Hansen poured the water over his little head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ, cleft for Paul, and Paul began his journey through this world of being conformed ever more closely to his Lord, the Rock. He was in process of becoming a living stone.
It was some 13 years later that he knelt before this very altar and promised that his life would belong to the Lord Jesus and not to himself. And he opened his mouth and received into it for the very first time the body and blood of the Rock of Ages. “For you” said Pastor Hennig as he poured the blood that ran from Christ’s riven side down Paul’s throat. “For the forgiveness of your sin.”
As he grew in years his distinctive character took shape. A man of great integrity, good hearted and kind, loving and - we must say it - fun. Blue eyes that twinkled in merriment as he told his stories and laughed and led those who struggled to get along to find peace in Him who was the Rock of his life. He had the gift.
And when he laid eyes on that young teacher, Lynn Cowell, well that was the end of that. He knew what he was after and went after her with all the grace and humor that always characterized his life. And what a life you two had together - how it blessed so many people - not the least of which are your children and grandchildren, whom he loved so much. But also all those you two made feel part of your family - a family without limit, always open and welcoming to others. Truly it is said, Paul Steinmann never met a stranger.
In our second reading, we heard St. Peter (another Rock man) give an invitation: “Come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, and you yourselves like living stones be built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Paul never tired of inviting others to become living stones like himself. To build their life on the Rock that is Jesus Christ. Even during his sickness, Lynn, you told me of his witness to a woman who just couldn’t understand his contentment, his joy, his peace. He told her that he went to church where God supplied him with everything he needed for time and for eternity and he told her she should give it a try. She did, too! Her life is changed because Paul spoke up in witness to His Lord.
Paul, you see, knew how utterly precious is what goes on in this room. We who love him have a hard time remembering that he was sinner - he was to so many of us such an icon of God’s goodness. But he was that because he never forgot or underestimated his own sin.
Just three days before his death, through great pain, he spoke the words of the confession: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” No matter what we might think, he knew that of himself he had deserved nothing from God but wrath, and yet he trusted wholly that His Lord loved him and had suffered and died for him, His Jesus, the Rock in which he always sought refuge. As the body and blood of Christ went into him for the last time, it brought him as it had across the last sixty-seven years, the promise and guarantee that his sins were answered for completely, and so death would never, ever be the end of him. He would live in Christ forevermore. To know that is to know a peace unshakable. You could see it on his face.
Having communed, he joined his feeble voice in the song of Simeon for the last time. He sang in a way that he had been practicing for these many years: “Lord, NOW lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thine salvation.” Which is to say: “It’s okay, God. I can die now. I know I have peace with you and life that never ends. Take me home.”
And so came that moment when, with his family gathered around him, the hymns the church on earth ringing in his ears, his eyes closed to this world and opened to heaven, and - just as you said Lynn - his voice was set free to join in the hymns of the saints who behold the Rock of Ages. It was heart-breaking, and it was devastatingly beautiful at the same time. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
We, as is natural, have the tendency to look on this from our perspective. Paul was blessed in that moment to see things also from God’s. Here was a moment that God had been waiting for since before time began. He got to bring His beloved Paul, His little Rock, His Steinmann, home to the Kingdom He had prepared, joined him to his loved ones who had gone ahead of him, and showed things that we can’t even begin to dream of now.
This is the joyful and blessed end of all who build their life upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Against them, the gates of hell will never prevail. Joined to Christ, their souls live now in His light and rest, beyond all pain and heart-ache, and they await with us the joyful moment of the resurrrection of their bodies.
“Oh, that my words were written, that they were engraved in the rock for ever. I know that my Redeemer lives.” Job’s words were Paul’s as well. May they be yours and mine throughout our days of pilgrimage and whenever our last day finds us. May we live and die with the confidence of a Paul Steinmann in his everlasting Rock, and so join him in praising our Redeemer unto the ages of ages. Amen.