Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 4th September 2020: Start of the Academic Year
1 Samuel 17.33-40: David & Goliath
The story we just heard, I am sure, is familiar to many. It is the story of David and Goliath: the story of the small boy determined to defeat the giant. Most of us too know how the story ends: David strikes down the giant with his sling and a single small stone. He defeats the enemy who had been terrorising the Israelites.
You may wonder: why this story today at the start of the new academic year 2020/2021? What can anything written so long ago teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live? I think rather a lot, and one of my hopes for our Chapel services is that we can all take something away from them, whether we are Christians, people of other faiths – or no faith –, or whether we don’t quite know yet what to believe.
So, back to the story of David and Goliath. Or maybe, not quite yet, let’s go back a step first. Over the last few days, you have heard various people talking about what your time here at Hurst is about: the Hurst purpose. Work hard, do good and engage. Making the most of your time and opportunities here at this College, and enabling others to do the same. That message is the same for each of us, whether we are in the Prep School, in the UVI, or members of the teaching staff. We all owe it to ourselves and others to use the opportunities and the gifts we have been given.
Now then, really back to the story of the giant and the boy. Because here we see an example of someone doing exactly what is asked of us; and we too might get a clue how to do the same. We too, like David, may have had people to us saying: you can’t do this, you are too small, too insignificant, not good enough. Or we may sometimes even hear those voices in our own heads. But David shows courage. Not arrogance, but courage. And trust. Trust in his own abilities, his own experience, and his own belief: the knowledge that God is by his side. For us too, it will often take a little bit of courage and conviction to take that first step, but it’s the only way to start.
The second lesson we can learn from this story is that to be successful, to do good, we don’t need to pretend what we are not: we just need to be ourselves. Saul gives David his armour: he, Saul, wants David to be like him, to do what he would have done. To take his helmet and sword and use these to defeat the enemy. However, David quickly realises that the armour is too heavy for him. It doesn’t don’t fit: the helmet and the sword are Saul’s, not his. So he takes his shepherd’s staff, some stones and a sling. He knows how to use those, he realises his own skill.
It is true for us too. Of course, we need to try different things, engage in activities outside our comfort zone. But there also comes a point at which we need to realise what our talents are: what makes us unique, and what can we offer to others that makes a difference? Because recognising our gifts brings us only half-way, we need to learn to use them for the good of others to really flourish.
When we do that, we realise that there is no challenge too big for us. The headmaster spoke yesterday about privilege. Maybe the biggest privilege we have is being part of this extraordinary community: we have each other. Each with our unique gifts and talents, which hopefully we have the courage to share with each other. In this College and beyond.
At the start of this academic year, let us commit to finding and using those gifts we have and to encourage others to find and use theirs. As Christians we believe we’re not on our own in this, but we know that God – who made us with precisely those gifts and talents – will be with us.
So as we start the year, my prayer for you is: “Go, work hard, do good, engage, and may the Lord be with you!”. Amen.