Homily Marlborough College Chapel 13th January 2019
The Baptism of Christ: Matthew 3.13-17
I’m sure that even if you’re in the middle of your mock exams, you may have had time to see some of what is happening in the news this week. Of course, there is the very worrying situation in Iran, and competing with this for the headlines has been the recent statement of the youngest son of Prince Charles that he and his wife Meghan are stepping back as senior royals. Looking at the newspapers, the statement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has caused quite a lot of controversy. Headlines range from “Harry digs in for a deal” to a caption stating that friends claim that the couple has been “driven out by Buckingham Palace”. I would love to do a quick survey what you think, but I guess that this is not the time nor the place.
However, the whole affair raises some interesting issues that are important for all of us to consider at some stage in our lives. The first is the question in how far we should follow in the path that our parents, or our family have set out for us. It is of course a particular pertinent question for members of any monarchy for example, but also a question for each of us.
Some of you may have already decided to follow in your parents’ footsteps: applying to the same university or Oxbridge College; studying the same subject; or making sure that you will be ready to take over the family business. I am sure that there are also others who have decided not to follow the path that their parents have taken.
It takes courage to find your own path, and I would like to stress that it is worth not to ignore the advice that you are given, even if you don’t always agree. There are times when your way is not the best way, but there may be times in life when it is really your decision, especially as you get older.
That brings us to the other point that is worth considering, which is the privilege of having a choice. Many of us indeed have the opportunity to make choices in our lives, again, increasingly as you get older. However, not everyone is as lucky as we are. There a quite a few things make it possible, or at least much easier to have a choice: freedom, health and money, to name just a few.
If you would live in a country that is at war, you may not be able to go to school, study or do the work you would like to do. If you don’t have your health, your choices become limited too. In a small way you know this already: not matter how much you would like to play in a match, if you’re ill or injured you don’t have a choice. And lastly, money is important too. If you have enough or even more, you may still choose a simple lifestyle. Yet, if you have to live on £73 a week as an adult, it becomes much harder to make the choices you would like to make. So what I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t forget how lucky we are in the choices we have.
There is also the matter of where our choices may lead us, which brings us to our reading this morning and the theme of today. On this Sunday we think about the Baptism of Jesus. Just to remind you that Jesus was not baptised as a baby, but as an adult. The practice of infant Baptism didn’t occur for another century-and-a-half. Jesus’ Baptism is the start of his public ministry, and there is still debate amongst Christians whether this was the life that was chosen for him, or the life that he chose for himself. Predestination applied to the Trinity: I think that would make a great essay question. However, let’s save that for another RS lesson.
The most important line in our reading this morning is the voice from heaven, saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” At the start of his working-life, so to speak, the Father says to his Son: you I love, with you I am pleased. It is that affirmation that is there for each of us. Hopefully you will have already experienced this from parents, teachers and others in your life, but today is a reminder that it is there for each of us. No matter where our choices may lead us, from the outset we can be reassured that we are loved and that we are valued. That doesn’t make every choice we make the right one, and that doesn’t justify everything we do. However, it is a promise that never goes away: no matter where we end up.
So, two messages to finish, and in line with what I have been talking about, you have a choice which one to take on board, and you can even choose both. The first is maybe more suited for those of you feel they never have a choice: please think again, and try to be thankful for the opportunities and choices you have. The second piece of advice is for those who always worry to make the wrong decision. To you, I would like to say, don’t worry too much, sometimes there is no real right and wrong, but just two different paths. You don’t need to earn love or affirmation, but those are freely given from the outset.
So, enjoy the choices you have, but use them wisely, thoughtfully and gratefully.