I am going to talk about how important you are.
I know how important you are because during my youth I attended a school not unlike this one. From 4-year-old kindergarten to 8th grade, I was a student at St. Johns Lutheran school in Glendale, Wisconsin. It is a smaller school than the Lutheran Academy in Martin. It’s older, too, though, I know by European standards, 153 years is not that old. But age and size aside, it was very much like our Academy here in Martin. We had students of various academic abilities, large classrooms, a technologically progressive staff, classes in religion, math, science, English, PE, music, and art. We had no classes in Slovak, though, which might come to you as a surprise. It was a good school, and I’m glad I attended it.
I know that for most of you, going to a religious school was not an option during your childhood. The state would probably have preferred Christianity to die away with the old grannies that attended Sunday services. Because of this, maybe teaching at a religious school still seems surreal. Maybe for some of you, it seems like a dream come true (despite the kids that make some days feel like nightmares). And maybe for some of you, it’s just a job. Regardless of how you feel about it, you are important.
Despite the Stalinist state’s efforts, the Christian Church did not die in Slovakia; it survived, and founded this school to usher in a new generation under its cross, and now we get to do here for our students what my school did for me: create an environment of love and forgiveness in which to build and strengthen a foundation in the Gospel’s Truth.
First let me talk about that environment of love and forgiveness. After 10 years of Lutheran school, I remember being apprehensive about leaving my Christian school for a public one when I entered high school. I feared that, because not everyone was a Christian, my classmates would be unkind, that I would be constantly bullied, that I would find the “outside world” to be a collection of humanity’s worst instincts and impulses.
Well, it wasn’t that bad. I was bullied a bit, true, and it took me a couple years to find good friends, but people weren’t out to rob and beat me, leaving me on the side of the road for a Samaritan to find.
Still, there was something missing. People were expected to be decent, not because of some higher calling, but because society functioned better because of it. Values merely greased the wheels of civilization. When bad or difficult things happened—a friend of mine committed suicide, another was raped, a classmate got pregnant and gave the child up for adoption—there was no guide for how to deal with them. Sometimes school-wide chaos erupted as a result of these tragedies. Now, you may argue that these things could happen to our students, and, it’s true, they could. Our school’s faith cannot protect our students from the ills of the world—but it does give us a guide for how to deal with those ills. We meet them with love and forgiveness. As Christian teachers, we can be examples of Christ-like behavior; we can build a school where grace and love are the cornerstones and be examples of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
Now let’s talk about that foundation in the Gospel’s Truth.
Today’s society encourages subjectivism. Everyone has an opinion to share, and it’s easy to share it. How many of you today have already pressed a “like” button on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or Twitter? We publicly share our opinions on books and restaurants and music and movies and sports and politics all across the internet. And everyone’s opinion is fine, as long as they don’t try to force it on someone else.
Now, it’s true, some aspects of our lives are subjective—like favorite movies or pizza toppings—but other things, like why we are here, who put us here, how we should act, are not subjective. Our Christian faith points to a reality that is objective. There is a universal truth: Jesus. After all, he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Yet, some people outside of Christianity see following Christ as one point of view among a world of many. They feel that no way of living is any better than any other. They would argue there is no external truth. They don’t understand that Christianity is more than just a lens through which to see the world or fire and brimstone excuses for good behavior. They do not understand that there is a Gospel Truth upon which the world—and our lives—is based.
Teaching that Gospel Truth was a huge part of the job for my teachers at St. Johns. They encouraged me to be led by the Fruits of the Spirit, taught me to love as Jesus loves us, to put others first, to forgive and be humble, and to accept Christ into my life and heart. So it is for us here at the Lutheran Academy in Martin today. Some of our kids might hear the Gospel at home, but for others, our school is the only place in their lives where they can form that spiritual foundation. It is here where they learn that God has a path for them. It is here that they learn to how to follow that path. You are the ones who will teach them, as the Book of Proverbs says, to guard their hearts, to keep their mouths free of perversity and corrupt talk, to fix their gazes directly before them. You are a light revealing that Gospel Truth, building that truth underneath them so their faith is well founded, showing them the path and how to walk upon it, and celebrating the eternal life that that path leads to.
So, you see, you are important, and perhaps no profession could possibly be more so.
by Benjamim Chandler