Preached on March 26, 2015. Steffie Walters, December 24, 1911-March 20, 2015.
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. ” (Luke 24:36-43)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
There are many beautiful things to share about Steffie:
…as an immigrant who made good on the American dream; with a loving family, home and community that surrounded her; a wonderful legacy.
…as an entrepreneur who put savvy and wisdom in her community both in New Britain and here in Saybrook, down by the Point.
…as a woman in a man’s world who had great success. She even had her name in a book! Even a whole chapter, chapter 15 – “Steffie Walters – Point of Destiny”. (Tedd Levy, Remarkable Women of Old Saybrook. Charleston: The History Press, 2013.) How about that? She will continue to be an inspiration to many women and men for generations to come.
The stories can go on and on. They will. You will tell them. You’ll tell them today, and far beyond. Age one hundred three gives us a lot to celebrate. Not just longevity of what that means, but by the lives touched and shaped by this amazing woman with and her incredible story. And not just as an immigrant, entrepreneur or woman making her way in a man’s world, but Steffie was a woman of deep faith.
Steffie helped shape this community here, that we call St. Paul. Eddie and Steffie were charter members. You could say without exaggeration that she, “prayed this place in to being.” She prayed for this house to become a house of prayer. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
She gave as a gift this magnificent pulpit. Magnificent not because of its beauty per se, but its size. Look at this thing! It’s huge! It is so intimidating, the stature of the thing is so large that has gone largely unused. Karen, Mark and Karl read from it today. I normally speak from the spot Steffie’s casket now sits in the aisle. But today, I thought it was appropriate to speak from her pulpit – this magnificent gift that she gave us.
I had an email from Pastor Duane Peterson (my predecessor) who knew her well:
“You bury one of the amazing saints of St. Paul Lutheran this week. No doubt you’ll hear plenty about her growing up and emigrating to America, her Dock and Dine years, and her feisty zest for life!
Steffie was insistent that Charlene and I come visit her about every eight weeks.
She loved hosting and serving coffee and goodies. Attached is a picture from the old Dock & Dine. Yes, those are Manhattans, one of her favorite drinks. She liked the glass large and the drink strong. And, yes, we both had more than one!
How appropriate that on the threshold of Holy Week, that you proclaim Christ crucified and risen for Steffie and for all who are swept up in the salvation of our Lord! Strength and peace to you, O proclaimer of hope!
PS: I suspect you know that the large pulpit that is never used was donated by Steffie in memory of her husband. It has sat there all these years, because no one wanted to remove it while Steffie was alive. Well, I think it would make a very nice bonfire :)”
I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Not just its size, or as Pastor Pederson suggests, having a bonfire in Steffie’s honor. But I have been thinking about what a gift like this – was supposed to mean. Why would Steffie leave it to us? What did she hope it would inspire?
That God’s Word be shared. Proclaimed. Lived. Heard. Without timidity. As bold as the size of this thing. As bold as her faith and personality that gave it. As bold as God’s love for our lot. As bold as God’s grace and forgiveness given to sinners by way of a cross. As bold as standing beside the dead, and telling you, that as Jesus is raised from the dead. So will Steffie be.
That is the promise for each of us too.
Only a pulpit this big – could be as strong as the Manhattans shared among friends; given by heart that big; with a zest for life that Steffie shared.
I’ve been wondering – what would Steffie’s sermon be? Not, what I would say about her (though I have been thinking about that). No, I wonder what Steffie would want us to know. What would she preach to us?
Everyone I have talked to, as soon as you mention Steffie’s name, lights up with enthusiasm and smiles. To the point they cannot stop talking about her encouragement, her hospitality, her friendship and love of anyone and everyone – no matter how long or how little she knew them, even if she was meeting an old friend again for the first time. “You’re so beautiful” she said, and meant it; not just as a nicety to be shared, but heartfelt, and in the proclaiming of it, making it true to the hearer.
“You are beautiful in God’s sight, whatever it is you bring with you.” I think Steffie would want you to know that, “In the image of the Risen Christ, you are made beautiful in God’s sight.”
I think she would say that with her beloved Dock and Dine that now sits in ruins and waiting, with her body that now sits in ruins and waiting, with our sadness of something so beautiful missed; that faith, hope, courage, the belief to stand strong and sure – that yes, the Dock and Dine will rise again; that Steffie will rise again; that you and I will rise again, just as Christ; is raised again – out of the ashes, of death and destruction, that new life waits for us all – and it is beautiful. “Come and take my hand,” she would say, “see my smile, my laugh, and know that it is true. And it is beautiful as you are beautiful.”
I picked this passage from Luke because it is an Easter story – a resurrection story. I know it is not even Palm Sunday yet. Here from this pulpit and many others throughout the world people will tell the story of Jesus going to his death. But thanks to Steffie we can fast forward a little bit. We know the horror and ugliness of death are met in the beauty of new life – where hope is restored and where new lives are meant to be lived. We have been touched by such grace and beauty of an empty tomb. Even as we prepare Steffie for her grave, the grave remains open.
But there is more to this passage. Jesus is meeting with his friends. It is Easter evening, not Easter morning, in a story that is more familiar. It takes place after the women, bold women – bold women like Steffie, went to the tomb and proclaimed it be open. They heard the angel say, “He is not here.” They went back to tell the others. The men thought it an idle tale.
Yet Jesus shows up.
The first thing Jesus does when he arrives is offer them peace. His peace. The peace that surpasses understanding. Peace that reaches beyond death to remind his friends after they ran away in fear and sorrow, that they were beautiful, and he would always see them that way. That’s what the promise of resurrection does. It breaks into our fear and sorrow and tells us we are beautiful. That our lives are worth it to Jesus. That his love for us is meant to be shared as we touch the lives of others.
But there is even more about this story! Before Jesus sends them out to share good news, before they “get it” fully, before they touch him and hold him again…
Jesus wants to eat.
And who better to host the meal than Steffie? Not just the fish in the story, but all the fixings. Maybe some good German or Austrian desserts to go with it. Maybe some good old East Side, “Ticky tocky ticky tocky. Hoy. Hoy. Hoy.” The joy of hosting and sharing her generosity with all she knew and shared with every person she encountered, she here offers it to the Lord. Through the holes in his hands you can see the table as she hands them a robust plate and sits beside him.
“You’re beautiful,” she says to Jesus with a smile.
“You’re beautiful too Steffie,” says Jesus, as she slides him a tall Manhattan.
She made one for you too. It is sitting there at the table.
Come, and sit for a while.