Sermon from the Funeral of Paul Schenck

(February 2, 1929-March 30, 2022)
Saturday in the Fourth Week of Lent
April 2, 2022
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11a, 13; Psalm 23; Romans 14: 7-9; Saint John 14: 1-6

In nomine Jesu!

In the Book of Genesis we are told that “there were giants on the earth in those days;” who were “the mighty men of old, men of renown.” We don’t really know who they were then; nor what made them “men of renown.” But we do know – all of us know, even a late-comer like me knows — that we can apply that description to Paul Edgar Schenck now. By any measure, Paul was a giant of a man – a strong man, a family man, a faithful man, a patriotic man, a renaissance man, a churchman, Christ’s man, a renowned man. And Paul would tell us exactly what, or rather who made him that way. The Lord Jesus Christ, Paul would say. In fact, that is exactly what Paul is saying to all of us today with his choice of another Paul’s words to the Romans: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Paul lived his life, served his country, loved his wife, raised his family, conducted his career, followed his passions, served this church, and met his death confidently trusting that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” He chose for us to hear those words today because it was by those very words that he lived his life and met his death.

And lest we forget it today, in Tod, Paul found the perfect partner who shared that same joy-filled, confident faith, and today we need to give thanks as much for their life, work, and faith together as we give thanks for Paul alone. Giants on the earth. Men and women of renown!

With Tod, Paul fashioned his whole life as an act of praise and thanks to God. He did this with boundless joy and good humor and best of all, he had fun while he did it. That made him an example, “a model of the godly life” as one of our ancient prayers puts it, for everyone. In addition to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, there are others here, and others who couldn’t be here today, who modeled their life on his. I’ve only known Paul for one year, but I have been absolutely astounded that every time I visited with him, he literally exuded boundless joy! Every story he told (and he told me a lot!), and every story you’ve told, has always had joy as its major component, and their sense of hospitality at their home or on the farm or at this church has been nothing less than joyful. Paul’s easy laugh, even at his own aging difficulties, was infectious, the sign of an untroubled heart.

Paul told us often how he was able to be this way and what motivated his infectious cheerfulness. It’s in that quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. As a child, he told me he memorized the whole poem, but his favorite lines communicated the robust, yet slightly irreverent, piety I personally enjoy:

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small.

From the moment I met him, it was clear to me that Paul “loveth best” everyone he touched and everything he saw. And when he worked with his hands, he prayed best of all. He left us a powerful symbol of his faith, his love, and his praying. We see it every time we enter this sacred space. And the timing of his death, and our liturgical use of that symbol, I don’t think is mere coincidence.

There is a large rough-hewn wooden cross hanging right outside our sacristy. It is visible the moment you enter the nave doors. Paul made that cross. He, and Karin Liebster, told me its story. At the farm, Paul loaded his pickup truck with saved, reclaimed timbers and drove here to the church. Pastor Liebster chose the piece she thought would work best. Paul told me he believed the wood came from an old homestead’s barn. He took that wood and fashioned that cross.

Less than two weeks from today, that large, rough-hewn wooden cross, as it has ever since it was made, will come down from that wall and will occupy the exact same space Paul’s hand-hewn wooden casket, lovingly crafted by his son Greg, occupies today. Gathered around that cross, a cantor will intone: “Behold the life-giving cross, on which hung the salvation of the whole world.” And we will respond, “O Come, let us worship him.” That is to say, let us worship the crucified One whose we are “whether we live or whether we die.” I don’t think the timing of this is a coincidence and that, on this Good Friday and every Good Friday to come, Paul’s hand-hewn cross will occupy the same space as his hand-hewn casket. I believe this is just one more way Paul is proclaiming his faith to us; the faith by which he lived, the faith in which he died. With that hand-hewn wood, Paul and Gregg have given us a visual of the words of the Apostle Paul that we heard at the beginning of this service; for the wood of that cross is the wood of Paul’s casket and their message is the same: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Today Paul Edgar Schenck reminds us that this is the hope by which he lived and the joy that even now he shares. Today Paul invites us to join him, and all the saints, in giving thanks and praise to God, not only for Paul’s life, faith, example and love, but also for Paul’s Lord, Jesus Christ, to whom, in all he did and said, Paul gave all thanksgiving, glory, honor, and praise.