Friday, November 7, 2014

Who are you becoming? (A school sermon)

Preached at All Saints Sunday Choral Eucharist with St Hilda’s Collegiate School, November 2, 2014

Every year the tradition and challenge of the All Saints Day sermon to the St Hilda's community in the Cathedral presents a formidable task ...

I want to begin with one question: for every student, parent, grandparent, teacher, Board member, choir member, cathedral parishioner, every priest – each one of us.  Who are you becoming?  Who are we becoming?  The truth is that who we are is always a work in progress.  From the time of our birth through to our death, we are always in a state of becoming.  From the raw building blocks of our DNA we grow and mature and what we may call our character (an image of the soul) is shaped and formed throughout our life.  Life is the process for this work and education is a part of it – one of the reasons that we care so much about St Hilda’s and its special character. Our life and our education shape who we are becoming.

I am confident that the Sisters of the Church who founded St Hilda’s cared about who they were becoming and felt the same for the girls they taught.  In the School prayer we come across these words:
… bless we beseech Thee
St Hilda's School, that
whatsoever things are true,
pure, lovely and of good report
may therein flourish and abound.

You’ll have made the connection and realise that those familiar words are drawn from the advice in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians (that we read a few minutes ago) where he says ‘think about these things’.  Why does he say that?  The reason is that we become what we think about.

Now there is a problem with this.  None of us like being told what we ought to think about.  None of us like to feel that we are controlled or constrained.  When Paul lists the sort of things he thinks we ought to think about at least a part of my mind turns toward the kind of things that don’t fit in with his list. What am I missing out on?  The answer might turn on that question we started with – What sort of person are you becoming and what sort of person do you want to become?

Imagine someone who has been bullied or experienced some sort of meanness.  But instead of putting it behind them they choose to brood about it and over time it eats away at them gradually taking hold of them.  Eventually they start to see meanness everywhere – and begin to suspect other people of having it in for them and of ganging up against them.  They may even begin to doubt their family and friends. In a very short time this kind of thinking becomes habitual and a basically decent sort of person becomes twisted in their soul and potentially a source of hurt and pain for everyone whose life crosses their path. This was a life built around a wrong choice and it is hard not to feel a sense of waste and loss; a sense of something being turned in the wrong direction.

That is tragic and on All Saints day we give thanks for the countless men and women just like us who have lived lives of courage and grace and influenced the world about them.  It is the saints who help us to see what really matters in life.

One man tried to express this by bringing science and theology together: his name was Teilhard de Chardin.  In the years between the First and Second World Wars Teilhard, a young priest and scientist, was researching fossil finds in China.  His discoveries in evolutionary biology, including the origins of human beings, excited him and he began to develop of philosophy of evolution together with Christian faith.  In evolution he recognised a principle of growing complexity which, with Christian faith, pointed the way toward a future consummation, collapsing time and eternity, in what he called The Omega Point – where you and I and all the saints are caught up in Christ.

You could say that what Chardin describes as the Omega Point is something like the vision of the saints that John talks about in Revelation this morning – that vision of saints in white robes: well, John’s visionary language sounds weird to us today but he and Chardin are both thinking beyond our world of sight and sense and they both point us toward a deeper reality and shaping purpose in which you and I, all of us, have our part.  Everything is involved in this: our education, our choices, our thinking, all the focus of energy, mind, imagination and will that drive us; countless things, experiences, events; all play their part to form us into the people we are becoming - all these are part of a cosmic evolutionary process beyond the end of time in which we will converge.

So this morning we remember that to follow Christ is to be caught up in a reality far bigger than ourselves; it is to make a conscious choice and so begin to see the world and ourselves in a new way.  When we come forward to take the bread and wine, we receive Christ and we recommit ourselves to following him and to taking our part in the great mystery of God’s purpose in the universe.

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