Sermon – March 7, 2004

His name was Mr. Huettl. He was an inspiring 6th grade teacher who worked tirelessly at improving the lives of his students, spending day after lengthy day preparing young men and women for the realities of the world. He would show up each morning to homeroom with what seemed to be an excited and joyous look on his face—a look that seemed to say “this is my passion, and I am looking forward to being with you today!” He’d have this expression almost every morning—no matter how horrific the day was beforehand. He was the kind of teacher who knew just by looking at you when you were having a tough time with something—whether it was an assignment, a relationship with a friend or parent, or if you were feeling physically ill. He’d give you a smile, a pat on the shoulder, and ask if everything was all right. He was the type of mentor who would speak the truth about life and do it in such a way that it made you reevaluate yourself. He was an amazing teacher—one who really cared about his students and wanted to enrich their lives in any way that he could. On this day, March 7, 2004, I know this. However, I didn’t realize this back when I was one of his 20 students…

No, back in 1988 I didn’t recognize most of what I told you. You see, I was part of a 6th grade class that was blinded by its own way. We were dubbed “the bad class” by the rest of the school. We were constantly getting into trouble—whether it was in music class, phys. Ed., the playground, the lunch- room, or wherever. Substitute teachers hated coming to teach us because we would usually drive them to tears by the end of the day. There usually wasn’t a day that would go by when we wouldn’t have our heads down on our desks for something we did wrong. Our class had all the big troublemakers: Mike, Tommy, Sarah, Brett, Todd, you name it. However, even though one or more of those people would start something, the quiet ones (like myself) would do nothing to stop it. In fact, in order to not look like we were un-cool, or to avoid being teased later by the creeps in the class, we would even encourage the behavior by laughing or joining in.

Yup, we were blinded by our own foolishness—enthralled by our own thoughtlessness. Yet, even in the midst of our own egocentric ways, Mr. Huettl stood by us. I remember days when he would become so frustrated with us that he would have to leave the room, slamming the classroom door behind him. This was always jolting to us—of course there were the kids who would snicker right after it happened, but after a few minutes the room would become utterly silent. Deep down we knew that we had upset someone very important to us. Yet through it all, through every little act of indiscretion on our part, Mr. Huettl never belittled us or gave up on us. No, instead, he came to class each day even more determined than the day before to show us that he truly cared and that we mattered.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t realize back then what a great teacher Mr. Huettl was. It wasn’t until about three years ago when I randomly ran into one of my old classmates at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, that I remembered. My classmate and I reminisced about our days together, and eventually our conversation wandered to our experience with Mr. Huettl. We both spoke fondly of him, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways—she back to her family in Owatanna, and I back to Dubuque Iowa. As I drove down the interstate I began to have an awful sensation within me. I realized that as his student, I took for granted all that he had done for me. Yes, I wasn’t the huge troublemaker that some of my other classmates were, but I knew that I didn’t show my appreciation to someone who dedicated a part of his life to me. This may sound silly, but I felt truly awful. I knew that I had to do something. When I eventually got back to my apartment, I tried finding Mr. Huettl’s whereabouts on the internet, but with no avail, I was unable to find it. To this day I don’t know where Mr. Huettl is—or what he’s doing. I often wonder if he’s still teaching somewhere, enrichening young people’s lives like he had mine.

You may be saying to yourself, well, this is a touching story, Pastor, but why are you telling it to us? Well, I think there are times in all of our lives when we are blinded by our own broken humanity—blinded by the ways of the world, and we don’t see the greater good right in front of our noses. The story that we hear today in the book of Luke is an example of this. Jesus had dedicated his entire life to speaking the truth of God to everyone around him. He showed God’s mercy by healing cripples and lepers, including those were socially outcast, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and most importantly, living out God’s holy Word in human form so that they may be free.

However, the vast majority of those people were blind. They chose not to see the transforming truth of God’s love, but dwelled in their own created reality. They chose to seek freedom in the world, rather than in Christ. Just as Mr. Huettl became frustrated with those he loved and cared about, Jesus also became frustrated. Jesus exclaimed that all he ever wanted to do was to love them and shelter them—to shelter them as a mother hen shelters her brood under her wings–to show them true freedom. However, just as we do today, they did not listen. They did not trust in what Christ was telling them—even after seeing all of the wondrous things that Christ had done. No, in fact, these people who Jesus had held dear in his heart set out to kill him. The fear of our sinful world became so central to them that they blocked out the one thing that would give them the only true peace they needed.

This has not changed today. We still would rather turn from Christ and seek comfort in created things. We still want to blind ourselves to the true goodness of God’s reconciling love for the world. We want to side with the masses by excluding those different from us, ignoring injustice, encouraging ignorance, and seeking hate; not the love which God calls us to. We all are guilty. We are as guilty as sin. 

However, we have a word of hope—not just a word, but the Word. We have the Word, who is Christ Jesus who stands in our muck and loves us in spite of ourselves. We have the Word who is Christ Jesus that gets frustrated with us because we do not listen, yet stays with us day after day and teaches us. We have the Word who is Christ Jesus that even though we do not always recognize him and thank him for what he has done for us, he still forgives us.

We are such foolish children—and we don’t truly understand what our God is all about. We do unspeakably horrible things and we mess up continually. However, we are foolish children whom God loves more than you or I could possibly describe. As we journey through this time of Lent and beyond Lent, let us not forget the one who has done everything for us. Let us turn our hearts to God and live our lives in and through Christ’s love.

Please pray with me:

Lord, teach us to trust in you. Help us to put you first in our lives and to seek in love those whom we often forget. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew in us a right Spirt within us. In your Holy name, Amen.