We belong together: A sermon for All Saints’ Sunday
Marlborough College Chapel, 5th November 2017
One of the first things that comes to my mind when thinking about Saints is the word ‘belonging’. Why? Because today we are reminded that we not only belong to each other in the present, but also we belong to those who have gone before us and, indeed, to those who will come after us.
Yesterday, the Festival of Sports, is a really good example of this: current pupils playing matches alongside former pupils, encouraged by you, your parents and many others. You may remember Mrs Horton saying in assembly at the beginning of the week how Old Marlburians have enjoyed participating in the School Walk, walking alongside you, and how touched the cyclist were when they were sent off by the whole school just before half-term. It is an example of how we belong to one another throughout the generations. Being here at Marlborough means that you are not only part of your House, Form or year group, but you are part of something much larger: a community that now spans 175 years.
But what does it mean to belong to one another? It is certainly not that we all have to be the same. We have things in common and we do things together, but in any good community, there is space for our differences too. That is challenging, learning to live with our differences, but I think it can be exciting too.
Living together and learning together is a challenge, no matter whether you are young or old, but what I think makes it even harder when you’re younger is that it is so much linked with discovering who you are. We only learn and discover who we are in relationship to others, and that can be challenging and confusing. Especially because we try to learn from others who we ourselves are.
Again, let me give you an example of what I’m trying to say. When I was at school, one of the most inspiring teachers was my History teacher, even so much so that I almost decided to study history instead of physics, because I wanted to be like him. However, now, looking back on it, what he inspired me to do was not to study history, but to think for myself, to always ask a further question and to enjoy learning. So, when we think about people who inspired us and reflect on what we may learn from them, we need to make the distinction between ‘trying to be them’ and ‘trying to be like them’. Because, as I said before, we have things in common, but we are all different too.
True saints, truly holy and inspiring people, are people who dare and trust to be themselves. Who, looking at and learning from others discover who they are, and live the life they are meant to live. By looking at them, we learn to see what makes them who they are, and that can give us a clue about who we are, and how we need to live up to that.
As Christians, we believe that each person, each individual, is made in the image of God. I believe that means that our core being is godlike, is good. But because of our own insecurities, our fears, our weakness, we tend to cover up this goodness, very often without even realising. Saints are people who manage to expose some of that goodness, for us and for others to recognise, and so, in a way, to see what God is like too.
We all have it in us, that goodness which is God-given. What we need to learn, and continue to learn, is not to hide it, but to live it out. How do we do that? And maybe here is the twist to the story today. We live it out not by imposing who we are, but by being attentive to who others are.
Maybe the best-know and by now overused example is that of helping an elderly lady crossing the street. We can become so determined to be good, that upon spotting an elderly lady at a crossing, we can’t stop ourselves but helping her to the other side of the street, heroically risking our lives by stopping that Waitrose lorry that is rushing towards you, to ensure her safe passage. However, did we ask the lady where she wanted to go?
All too easily we can jump to conclusions in our desire to help. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try and make mistakes at times, but I’m trying to encourage you to be attentive: try to really see and listen. I’ve used this quote from Rowan Williams before, and I’ll use it again ‘A Saint, a holy person, is someone who makes you feel good about yourself’. And there is nothing so effective as the feeling that you are listened to, the feeling that you are noticed, valued and loved.
I guess what I have been saying is nothing you didn’t know already, but we all need a reminder at times. That is the opportunity All Saints’ Sunday gives us to do today. To remind ourselves of what we already know, and once more try to live up to it.