Caving or Chapel?

A sermon for Trinity Sunday
Marlborough College Chapel, 16th June 2019

cavingIn the Church year, today, the Sunday after Pencecost is known as Trinity Sunday. So, obviously, I have spent most of Shell OA week [a week of outdoor activities in the Brecon Beacons] not thinking about my wet feet, or my wet sleeping bag, or how to make the best hot chocolate for the New Court Shell, but about the best, least boring, way to explain the Trinity this morning. Thus, in the middle of the caves on Thursday, again water-soaked, I realised that maybe there is a comparison to be made between going to Chapel and caving. Hence, as Mr Clark still seems to be employed after comparing Pentecost to Love Island last week, I decided to take the risk. But more about that a bit later.

The Trinity, the belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God, is possibly the most complicated concept of Christianity. Hence, most Christians theologians agree that it is impossible to fully comprehend it, just as it is impossible to fully comprehend God himself. Of course, those sceptical of Christianity may reply that the fact that the concept of the Trinity defies logic is of itself proof that God cannot, and therefore does not exist. Followers of other monotheistic religions accuse Christianity of heresy by claiming that God is three persons in one.

But let me stop here, as I don’t want to turn this morning into a Religious Studies revision session, as all GCSE exams are done. For me, the best way to understand God, and hence the Trinity, is to think about an invitation, so I’d like to say a bit more about that. A lot of what you are asked to do at school, I suspect, doesn’t really feel as an invitation: going to lessons and doing your prep, wearing school uniform, playing sports, and of course even going to Chapel.

However, as you go through your school time, you realise that you get more and more opportunity to make your own choices, and to follow your own wishes. And I’m sure that a lot of you can’t wait to the time when you can decide what you’d like to wear, how much you’d like to study and what your timetable will look like – including the weekends. So, I guess that a lot of you will disagree when I say that what we do in Chapel is about invitation.

Marlborough_College_ChapelHowever, I’d like to reply that what we try to do here, as with all good education, is to give you the tools to know which invitations to accept, and which invitations to decline: to know the difference between what is right and wrong, and to know the difference between what makes you flourish and what makes you fail. That’s why I think that being asked to go to Chapel and being asked to go caving are actually quite similar, and not only because most churches are as damp and full of spiders as the Brecon Beacons caves. Not many people, when asked, would jump up at the possibility of going into a dark, cold, wet cave full of spiders and mud, nor get very excited about going to Church when you can have a leisurely Sunday morning.

However, here at Marlborough, most of you are invited to do both. With some persuasion, whether that’s the prospect of getting a detention in case of Chapel absences; or peer pressure and a lot of support from others in your year group in the case of caving, most people give it a go. Some enjoy it, most don’t dislike it as much as they thought. But, I guess in reality, not many will suddenly get into the habit of either caving or attending church weekly at home – although some might.

However, what is true for most, if not all of us is that when we do things we didn’t think we could or wanted to do, we realise that they teach us something about ourselves; they are opportunities to learn something about who we are, by broadening our horizon and inviting us to look further that we thought we could. What we learn precisely, will be different for each of us, and sometimes we only realise quite a lot later.

There is only one thing we have to do to make that happen, and that is to engage, to accept the invitation. Ultimately, no caving instructor will drag you through a cave, it has to be your decision. Equally, no one can force you to participate in Chapel, but hopefully deep down you know that it is part of being a Marlburian, to engage and to give things a go, to try and to experience. That will enable you later to choose what is right for you, and what is not.

This, I think, does not only apply to Chapel, but to religion at its best: an invitation to participate. Something you wouldn’t necessarily choose to do yourself, but you’re drawn by the opportunity it may give you to learn something about yourself. Therefore, I think, it’s no surprise that at the heart of the Christian ritual is the celebration of a meal: the Last Supper, Holy Communion. It symbolises the invitation, the opportunity to share something in common with others, and the possibility of experiencing something you haven’t done before.

So to finish, I’d like to urge you to give it a go, whatever it is that is challenging you. Don’t worry that accepting an invitation means committing yourself: we’re not asking you to become professional cavers, nor religious preachers. But equally, don’t say ‘no’ too easily, as you’ll deny yourself a lot of opportunities on the way.

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