Funeral Sermon for Paul G. Walther
1 Corinthians 15.3-8
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (NIV Adapted)
Dear Mom, Susan, Kathy, Mike, Tim, Carol, children, relatives, friends and members of Zion Lutheran Church,
My message this morning is based on the same text that I was studying and preaching from for last Sunday, Easter. I only had to adapt my sermon just a little on Sunday after mom called me about Dad’s dying. I want to share it again with all of you with just a few more changes.
As most of you know the first Paul was a zealous Pharisee. He wasn’t in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but he must have come soon after - within a year. About that time Stephen was stoned to death and Paul was there guarding the cloaks of his murders. Paul enthusiastically joined the persecution of the church and was on his way to Damacus to find, arrest, and punish the Christians who had fled there. Some of them may have been killed also. But on the road to Damascus Paul, or as he was known then, Saul, was met by the risen Christ. He was the last person to see the risen Lord, and he was the most unlikely - for he had never loved Him but had in facted hated Him with all the hatred a human being could have. Paul was a proud, self-confident Pharisee who viewed God as a rewarder and punisher. His entire faith at that point was based on his own achievements. But as always happens in the Bible, when sinful men, no matter how holy they think they are meet a holy angel or the holy Son of God, it is a complete shock. Suddenly they realize their sinfulness. Paul described his shock by saying that Jesus appeared to him as one “abnormally born.” The Greek word that Paul uses here is the word for “abortion” or “stillbirth.” But Paul’s shock wasn’t just that he saw Christ risen from the dead. The greater shock was that this Christ came to him in forgiveness and mercy, which Paul knew was totally underserved. He was told go on to Damascus where a disciple named Ananius would say, “rise, be baptized, and wash away your sins.” Paul’s shock was that God is not just a rewarder and a punisher, but a forgiver. This is why Paul would refer to himself not as a man, not even as a child, but as one who had been abnormally born or aborted and had not even taken a breath. This is why Paul would refer to himself as the “least of the Apostles” and as “the chief of sinners.” Paul’s life was completely and forever changed. Paul would go on to become the greatest of all the apostles.
Easter, and in fact the entire Christian life, is about forgiveness. The first sentence of Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The last command He gave to the disciples was to “Preach repentance and the remission of sins.” From the cross He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In the heart of His own prayer is the profound petition: “Forgive us our tresspasses.” It is always about forgiveness. Thus Paul also says in our text, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins.”
This is the same forgiveness giving Jesus into whom my father was baptized and with whom and by whom he continued to live all of his life. By God’s grace he met my mother and together they established a home in which Jesus was always the center of attention. He lived out his vocations as teacher, professor, administrator and friend in a Christ-like way. He and mom stood outside our nearest abortion clinic praying for minds to change and for babies to be saved. They went to St. Louis to help the homeless. Once when we were driving home from Ft. Wayne to see my Grandmother, Dad and Mom were have a serious discussion about the Seminex problem.* I was a precocious boy in junior high at the time. Dad was frustrated that some pastors were saying Jonah wasn’t actually swallowed by a great fish and vomitted back up on the beach. They were saying it was just a story. That’s when I piped in from the back seat. I decided to take up a little for those wiseacres with a little of my own logic. I said, “So what if Jonah wasn’t swallowed a great fish. It’s still a good story, and it still could teach us good spiritual lessons.” Looking straight ahead, and with the most matter of fact tone you could imagine he said, “Mike, Jesus said that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish.” Dad taught me not to question the Bible and it’s center in Jesus.
Saturday he watched two basketball games, sports being one of the great loves of his life. He and mom had their last devotions together. The text of that devotions was from John 14. “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Shortly after that he left his home here on earth and joined the first Paul and many other disciples since to celebrate the greatest Easter we all look forward to celebrating someday - Easter with the risen Christ Himself.
What about all of us? Dad would not be happy if I did not bring this sermon directly to you. My family and my sisters and their families know about this. At family gatherings we often talk about our faith. What are you thankful for? How is your faith? Always remember Jesus and hold on to Him. Can we be transformed like Paul of Tarsus and like Paul G. Walther? Can we depart this life in peace and see the risen Christ ourselves?
The answer is certainly “yes.” But like the first Paul God has to break us down. He has to tear from our souls those terrible misbeliefs that Satan wants us to hold: That maybe there is no such thing as sin; That we can pick and choose which things are to be called sins so that we can continue in some of them; That we can compensate for our sins by trying to be a good person. None of those approaches do anything about sin. Quite often I see people looking to God for blessings. They want a good life. But they don’t always want forgiveness. Why would God give you more life if the life He has given you is being destroyed by sin already, and you don’t really care? The sin has to be removed, and it can only be removed by the forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s all about forgiveness. And that is, amazingly, what Jesus wants to bring us more than anything. Once we have that, we have everything. Paul said, “How shall He who did not spare His own Son but gave Himself up for us also, along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8.32). Realizing his own complete weakness as a sinful human being Paul found complete strength in Christ. “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2.20). God has given that strength for life and for death in the forgiveness of our sins in Christ. Oh Holy Spirit, sustain us in that faith that holds dearly to the Easter truths that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day; And, that as He lives, so shall we live also. (John 14.19)
Obituary - Paul G. Walther (1931 - 2015)
Paul G. Walther, 84, of Belleville, Ill., born March 25, 1931, in Brownstown, Ind., passed away Sunday, April 5, 2015.
Mr. Walther received a Bachelor of Science degree from Concordia University, Seward, Neb., a Master's of Science degree from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. from Indiana University. He spent many years as a teacher, a principal, a superintendant, and a professor.
He taught at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Ill., and was an assistant-superintendent and superintendent in the Vandalia, Ill. public school system. He was also the Director of the Area Agency on Aging in Belleville, Ill.
Paul was an active member of Zion Lutheran Church in Belleville, Ill., where he was a member of various boards and committees. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and brother.
He was preceded in death by his parents; F.J. and Amanda, nee Woempner, Walther; and a brother, Richard Walther.
Surviving are his loving wife of 59 years, Ruth, nee Michael, Walther, whom he married on June 25, 1955; a son, Reverend Michael (Carol) Walther of Maryville, Ill.; two daughters, Susan (Mike) Garrison of Litchfield, Ill., and Kathy (Tim) Weber of St. Charles, Mo.; eight grandchildren, Aaron, David, Paul (Laurie), Stephen, and Lydia Walther, Blake Garrison, Adam and Sydney Weber; two great-grandchildren, Jackson and Casen Walther; a sister, Hildegarde (Marvin) Brammeire; three brothers, Wayne (Marlyn) Walther, John (Caroline) Walther, and Daniel (Kathy) Walther, and two sisters-in-law, Doris Walther, and Marilyn Michael.
Memorials may be made to Zion Lutheran Church, to the Lutheran Laymen League, or to the Lutherans for Life. Condolences may be expressed online at: www.rennerfh.com.
Visitation: Friends may visit from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at Zion Lutheran Church, 1810 McClintock Ave., Belleville, Ill.
Funeral: A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at Zion Lutheran Church, Belleville, Ill., with Pastors Brian Downs, Michael Walther, and Dr. Darwin Schrader officiating.
At Paul's request, his body was donated to Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.
GEORGE RENNER & SONS FUNERAL HOME, Belleville, Ill.
*Seminex is short for “Seminary in Exile.” During the 1960s and 70s some pastors and professors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were adopting the presuppositions and methods of Bible interpretation known as Higher Criticism. This approach denied many, if not all, the miraculous reports of the Bible. Yet they tried to retain the spiritual truths. For more on this see two short videos I made: Part One Part Two