Address Hurstpierpoint College Leavers’ Service
1 Corinthians 13 & John 15.14-17
25 June 2022
The exams are over, the hard work is done, you have packed up your room in St John’s and the summer lies ahead of you. Today, our Prize Giving and Leavers’ service and next week’s ball, mark the end of your time here at Hurst, and the end of your time as a school pupil. And with that, you are no longer a child, but an adult.
Of course, I’m not saying that you were still little children by the time you arrived in the Sixth Form, – although some of you arrived here in the Pre Prep as little children – but leaving school comes with sudden freedoms, and sudden responsibilities. No more school uniform, with rules on hair styles and footwear, no more clearings or detentions for being late or work not handed in. No more assemblies or indeed Chapel services where you have to be, even though you don’t see the point of it. From this point onwards, a lot of the choices are yours now.
And that is a great feeling: you can choose. It is up to you where you go, what you do and, in some sense, who you become. That is indeed a great freedom, but also a great responsibility, and I hope one that you have been prepared for by your time here at Hurst. To me, school is not about exam results, not about Grade 8 music exams, winning the netball finals, or playing county-level cricket, although they are all great achievements, and rightly celebrated, as we did earlier. However, the most important thing about your time at school is that you are ready to use your freedom.
That is the reason why I chose this morning’s readings. In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples that they are no longer servants, but friends. At this point, it is no longer about being told what the rules are, but now, it is about knowing what the rules should be. Life is not about obeying laws for the sake of them, but wanting to follow a pattern of living, because you know it is the right thing to do.
That is precisely the point you are at now too. You won’t get a clearing any longer if you are late, but you know it’s right to be on time, because someone else is waiting for you. You have learned what it means to be a good person, and that means you know what is right and what is wrong. Although, that is of course not entirely true. Learning to make the right decisions is actually a life-long journey, and we are all still on it.
But the most important part of this reading from John’s Gospel is the second half, where Jesus says: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’ It is the message that is at the heart of the Christian faith that with all our freedoms and choices, we have already been chosen and appointed. Another way of saying this is that we all have a purpose in life, no matter where or when we were born. Each of us here have a purpose, and it is our journey to find and live that purpose.
What that looks like will be different for each of us, that is the joy and the privilege of the freedom we have. We live in a time and place where we can make those decisions for ourselves, and it is good to be reminded that this is not the case everywhere. Think only of Ukraine, where for many the end of their school time is the point when they will be conscripted, and for many young people their education has been interrupted and has been left unfinished.
Although, as I said, what we will end up doing will be different for each of us, there is one thing that we all have in common. That is that whatever we do, we don’t just do for ourselves. Our Gospel reading finishes with Jesus saying: ‘I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another’. Whatever we end up doing in life, we do it with care, consideration and indeed love for the other. That, ultimately, is our purpose in life, in whichever way we live it, to love one another.
I would like to finish by some words from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. He writes that: ‘Love is a cosmic force. Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling – the equality of lovers, from the smallest to the greatest.’
We will only be able to find our true purpose in life if we dare to love one another, to really care for the people we encounter, from the smallest to the greatest.
So as you go from here to continue your journey, my hope for all of you is that you will find and embrace your purpose in life. And we would love to hear from you, in two, ten, twenty years time. To tell your story, interwoven with the stories of those who were here before you and those who will come after. The story of what has made you who you are, which is the story we share and the story we live. Amen.