It was February 15th and the Stainbrook family gathered the night before for Ash Wednesday services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio. The year was 1945 and it just so happens that was the last time our Lenten calendar ran from February 14- April 1st as it does this year. Ash Wednesday to Easter. So it was 1945 yet, four and a half years earlier Oscar and Anna Stainbrook had brought their two sons, Robert and Richard to the baptismal font found at Trinity Lutheran Church on the corner of Vance and Ewing streets. There nine year old Robert entered into the kingdom of God through the waters of baptism. But in the year 1945, 14 year old Robert Stainbrook was in the midst of his confirmation studies. Robert was 38 days away from standing before God’s congregation and answering the following questions:
Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true? Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? (LSB 272-273)
Standing before God’s people gathered around God’s gifts of immortality, Robert answered, “I do so intend by the grace of God.” And by the grace of God the Lord who always knew Robert held him tight in his God given faith for the next 72 years, 10 months, and 15 days. Last Friday was that last day Robert’s faith was needed because in the afternoon one week ago tomorrow, the time for Robert’s confession of faith to be realized had come. In Christ he had fought the good fight, in Christ he finished the race, in Christ he kept the faith. Now in place of his God given faith, he has received the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award to all who allow the Lord to carry them on that Day.
At Robert’s confirmation almost 73 years ago, his confirmation verse was John 10:27-28, in those verses we have heard again today, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For the last 73 years, filled with the Holy Spirit, Robert never stopped listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. He never stopped being known by the Good Shepherd, as if anyone can hide themselves from the all knowing one. He never stopped following his Good Shepherd, as if anyone who listens could ever stop following the only one that could lead them to green pastures and still waters with a restored soul in paths of righteousness.
Many many many things could have dissuaded Robert from listening to his shepherd. Many things could have led him astray: the temptations of youth, the delusions of greatness in this world, and the lies of the deceiver who tempts us to believe that God doesn’t care about us let alone know us or meet our needs. Yet God never stopped knowing what Robert needed. When his regiment was deployed to serve in the front line theater of the Korean War, Robert was spared a likely death. Many of his fellow soldiers died in battle as his regiment was decimated, yet he was spared death by the death of his mother. Anna Stainbrook had died and her Christian Burial on May 21, 1952 was arranged by our Lord and Master keeping Robert from the front lines. Robert could have despaired of his Savior’s voice at that time, listening instead to the voice of guilt that speaks to us all when we unexpectedly avoid what befalls others. Instead that day at that funeral of his mother he heard the voice of God’s undershepherd, Pastor Mueller point to the Good Shepherd in the Words of Psalm 23
Years later Robert could have despaired of his Savior’s voice when his wife of 35 years fell ill and spent months in a coma before her death. While many would say, “where is your God? He must not care. He doesn’t know.” in the face of such tragedy, Robert knew he was being held. Years later again Robert could have despaired when his legs despaired him of their good use. “Where is your God in the face of such weakness?” Many could ask. Yet Robert knew that he would never perish of being known by the One who’s voice he was given to treasure. And yet again, years later, Robert became a statistical anomaly. In an age where women regularly outlive the men Robert once again became a widower. And instead of saying “God, who is good and gracious and loving must not be real if he continues to take those close to me.” Instead of this Robert was held by the Spirit in his faith. And the lies of the devil would not snatch him out of the hand of God.
What a good fight this man’s life was. Yet he never fought alone. The good fight is never fought alone. Following the Savior who knew him fully, Robert heard the voice of his Shepherd speaking to him from the pages of sacred scripture and through the voices of God’s undershepherds in the midst of the fight. And what he heard there might surprise you. In listening to the Shepherd, he didn’t just hear this and this and this is what you should do, dear child. No he heard something much more important, something that we all need to hear daily. In reading scripture as a faithful follower of the Good Shepherd, Robert heard, “here is what you are supposed to do, but you fail at.” He heard, “here is what I call you to be but you cannot be.” He heard God say “be perfect as I am perfect” and Robert knew the thing that we all know on some level. He knew he was not perfect, that he was as weak as grass. We all know this truth because the voice of the world, the voice of our flesh, and the voice of the deceiver all come close to proclaiming the truth. The lies come close to the truth when we hear what we cannot do well enough. When we hear the false shepherds telling us all the things we “should have” but can never have enough of. Grass that withers when the breath of the Lord blows on it. And hearing the voice of his Shepherd, he withered. Robert withered because Robert was a sinner. From birth he was broken, defiled, impure, and imperfect. Yet this sinner did not despair this sinner did what sinners following their shepherd do. He withered in the hand of a gracious and loving God. He was held from snatching in the Hand of God. Robert the sinner continued listening to God’s word, he continued listening to the only word that provides the hope that the hopeless world and the hopeless entirety of humanity in it needs.
Robert heard that God in His mercy has sent His son Jesus to die for you, and for His sake forgives you of all your sin. Robert was received by Jesus as a sinner but he was not left a sinner, he was made over and over again to be the saint God wanted him to be.
Jesus knows His sheep. He knows your suffering, he knows your grief and pain. He knows your needs, he knows your wants. He knows what tempts you and he knows what comes close to choking you out and leaving you separated from Him forever. He knows this because He endured this for you. Jesus walked this earth and faced what you face and faced what Bob faced. Yet he faced it perfectly for you, so that you may have hope. Not in what you do, but in what God has done in giving you the Word of a better life.
Roughly 75 years ago, the seeds were being sown in the heart of Bob. The seed has not been choked out by the cares of the world that seek to offer shiney solutions to our biggest problem. The seed has not been snatched away to never be heard or listened to again. The seed did not grow quickly with shallow roots only to be withered and die when the winds of this world blew on it. No the seed took root and the seed was nourished as it was watered by a daily remembrance of a baptism that continually works to save. The seed took root and was fertilized by the meal of immortality that gives strength in the midst of this trying time we lie. The seed has born fruit and the seed of faith planted so long ago in the seats of this school and the pews of this church has delivered Robert to his eternal home with the one who has kept him from snatching all the way.
Today is February 15th, seeds continue to be planted in the seats of the school going on even right now down the hall and in the pews of this church. Last night many members of the Stainbrook family gathered for Ash Wednesday service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio. Yet, before and after the service yesterday, many were found across Glendale paying respects to a child of God who has followed his Savior through the grave to eternity. Bob’s life of confession is a life you are called to live too. A life of listening, a life of being known, a life of following. All of this living is given to you today, as it has been given to Bob. Here we feebly struggle to know the holding of our Lord as we listen to the voice. Rober no longer just hears and knows by faith, no, now he hears and knows by sight that which he long ago confessed, you have confessed today as well.
You have said it: I believe in God the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his perfect son who died to deliver you from death. You believe in the Holy Spirit who calls you by the gospel and keeps you in the hand of God.
May we continue to listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd, known by Him, following Him, held by Him. Unto life everlasting.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.