Do you remember being a student? For some of you school was long, long ago. For me, it has been almost fifty years since my first day of Kindergarten. Yet, even though nearly a half century separates me from them, there are teachers I won’t forget. I remember the pride I felt in eighth grade Algebra when Mr. Barton praised me in class for asking great questions. I remember Mrs. Rutkowski in the sixth grade lighting the fire I have had for history ever since when she told us about her experiences in Poland during World War II. I remember the safety I felt in my Kindergarten class taught by a sweet but towering Mrs. Hamilton.
In the waters of baptism, God gives all of us gifts. The Holy Spirit works within us not only to create those gifts, but bring us to opportunities to release them to a world hungry to receive them. Today we celebrate one particular gift, teaching. In some ways, this seems unfair. We have never had a special blessing for auto mechanics in worship, yet I thank God for the great, fair and reasonably priced care that our own member Don Gabe gives me at Don’s Car Care, on Main Street. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for teachers. I started my career life as a high school teacher, my mom taught for almost six decades, my wife has taught here in Reynoldsburg for 22 years and my daughter and daughter in law are now teachers. But this is not why teachers are being honored today, either. It is because of the important and unique role teachers play in our faith lives.
The hope God has for all of us is that we will mature in Christ, becoming little Christs. To do this, Paul writes in Ephesians, we need pastors, apostles, evangelists and teachers sharing their gifts generously. All gifts received by the Spirit are important. Mechanics, teachers and even lawyers delight God. All gifts given in these waters are exactly what the world needs. The role of the teacher though is uniquely crucial in the God’s kingdom. Teachers are called to use their gifts to help us mature into Christ, grow into little Christs. And you don’t have to be a Sunday School teacher to do that.
Mr. Folger was my eighth grade history teacher. Hands down, he was the best teacher I ever had. When I was searching for a teacher to learn from for college student teaching, I only made one call and it was to Mr. Folger. He was passionate about his subject. He was creative in how he taught it. In the spring of 1978, we held our own presidential convention. He was firm in his expectations. I still remember how difficult his tests were.
I had a lot of great teachers, but what made Mr. Folger the best was that his outstanding teaching gifts were paired with his deeply held faith in Christ. He was a lifetime member of Trilby United Methodist Church. I remember this because it came up in funny stories he would tell us about his weekend. Often in conversation he talked casually about his faith. He never read scripture to us, explained the Trinity or tried to get us to pray a believer’s prayer, but his daily uncompromising grace instructed me in faith, but his acts of grace were part of my education on being in Christ as Paul writes.
In the winter of 1978, I came down with flu like symptoms in the middle of his class. Without asking for permission to leave my seat, or grabbing the wooden paddle he used for a hall pass, I raced out of his room to attend to my flu like symptoms. Let’s just say it was horribly obvious to everyone in the class, the hallway and the bathroom that I was experiencing flu like symptoms. Rather than this being the worst memory of my childhood, it remains one of my warmest memories. On this horrible day for any thirteen year old, or anyone for that matter, I received a great gift of compassion and care. Mr. Folger made sure I found a way to clean myself up, get new clothes and get home. He did this while making sure that I not feel any more humiliated than I already was. Some teacher at Trilby United Methodist Church or Trilby Public Elementary School did an excellent job teaching Mr. Folger so he would mature into a little Christ. He not only was a good student, he used his gift as a teacher to show me the way, too.
We learn our faith from teachers. Teachers like Jim Diehm here at Messiah who lead our Confirmation youth on Sunday nights helping them understand the nuts and bolts of what it means to say I believe. And teachers like Cassie Diehm, his wife, who couples her passion for English and care for students daily. God uses great teachers in our science classes to unlock the mysteries of creation for us. But God can also use those same great science teachers to teach us how to be little Christs.
I fully support the separation of church and state. We should not dishonor or bring discomfort to Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Atheist children in the classroom. I would not want my child to have the faith I am teaching them at home to be challenged in their classroom by a teacher of another faith or even a Christian with different beliefs than my own and we should not do that to non Christian children either. However, all teachers baptized into Christ can use their gifts of teaching in a way that reveals the abundant grace of God. Not to convert them, but to give them a taste of what love looks like. Maybe or maybe not they will mature into little Christs, but all of them will cherish, like I do, those very special moments of grace. Amen