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.
A reflection for the Tuesday of Holy Week Luke 22.24-53
In countries across Europe exam boards have decided to cancel all school exams. In England this means that pupils will get teacher-assessed grades this year. There has been much controversy over the decision to cancel the exams, rather than postponing them, and the debate on how precisely teacher should assess their pupils is still on-going.
Some have mentioned that cancelling the exam was unfair: you cannot change the rules of a game this late on, so the argument goes. Pupils have a right to exam-assessed grades, as this is the goal to which they had worked. This comment made me think. Of course, it is not fair to change the goal posts at this late a stage. Most of us will remember the indignant feeling as children when our peers did exactly that: changing the rules of the game we were playing. However, we also have to admit that some situations require the rules to change, and we find ourselves in one of those situations.
Sermon 9th February 2020 Marlborough College Chapel: Matthew 6.25-34
As with so many readings from the Bible, at first the language might seem rather strange and the images that are used feel out of date. However, I think that it is not very hard to find a message that is still relevant for us, for you, this morning. Of course, I would say that, else I would probably not be standing here. I appreciate that you get advice from teachers and others all the time, so sometimes you may get a bit tired of it. Also, 8.30am on a Sunday morning is maybe not the time that you are most awake to absorb new knowledge and ideas. Fortunately, this morning’s reading can be summarised in a couple of words, easy to remember: don’t worry.
‘Don’t worry’ is not quite the same as ‘don’t try’ and even more different from ‘don’t care’. On the contrary, if you try and care, there is no reason to worry, however difficult this may be. Just a couple of example to illustrate this. The first one may be very much on your mind at the moment, or hopefully for at least some of you here: upcoming exams. And of course, a lot of you are worried, because they are important and may well have an impact on your future. That’s why you should care and try – which in this case means work hard.
The third reflection after my Camino journey is maybe particularly ironic as I am working at a school. As Santiago came closer, more people joined and the roads got busier and the group of walkers more diverse. It made me think about those times when we believe that our way is the only way.
On whose terms?
Quiet, please? was one of the headlines in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. Steve McQueen’s new installation in Tate Britain, Year 3, features over 3000 class photographs with the faces of about 76,000 children. All these children have been invited to visit the gallery to come and have a look. It will probably be a bit noisier than on an average day in the art gallery.
This was more or less what I experienced too, when on the penultimate day of my journey to Santiago, I was sharing the roads with a group of about 40 Spanish teenagers, and remarkable what seemed only one teacher. By this time I had got used to the hours with little noise and the relative isolation whilst walking. So this many people at once was a shock to my system in the first place.
Having been on enough school trips now, I was not surprised that the young people did not walk quietly two by two, but congested the paths whilst chatting, singing, smoking and vaping. Of course they had also at least one loudspeaker between three, each playing a different type of noise, which I am sure they will have called music – my initial annoyance, I am sure, is evident. How could these people disturb the last couple of days of my spiritual and religious journey? They weren’t even carrying their rucksacks, and probably hadn’t walked the hours I already had.
A short reflection for the second week of Marlborough College Summer School
The reading set for today is the well-known parable of the sower (Matthew 13.1-9). We hear how the sower’s seeds fall on different type of ground: a path, some rocky soil, amongst thorns, and some of them fall on good soil. It is a story familiar to many of us, I suspect, and there is a lot that can be said. In this short reflection, I’d like to apply the image of the sower and the seeds to our approach to teaching and learning.
As with many Gospel stories, we are presented both with a challenge and a reassurance. The reassurance this time is on the side of the sower: you can’t always guarantee that your seeds will flourish, as the soil needs to be receptive. It can be an encouragement for all those involved in some sort of teaching: we can sow the seeds, but their success will still depend on the soil in which they fall.
A short reflection in week 1 of Marlborough College Summer School
“you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” – Matthew 11.25
The daily Gospel reading for today doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for the first week of Summer School. Surely we are here taking or teaching courses to learn, to become wiser and more intelligent? And here Jesus says that the important things in life are actually hidden from the wise and intelligent and shown to infants.
However, when we think about it, we realise that they are actually words of wisdom, conveying a truth we intuitively already know. Because I think, or I hope, that most of us here at Summer School are not here to achieve something, but rather to enjoy the process. There is no certificate, no diploma at the end for most of us, but what remains will be hopefully the memories and the discovery of skills and talents we didn’t know we had.
Here we are, on the last day of term. I’m sure most of us are looking forward to the holiday, to a break: a change of scenery and a change of rhythm. Some of us will travel far, others will stay closer to home. However, all of us, at least hopefully, will make it out of Marlborough. And, I also suspect that for most of us, the rhythm of the days and weeks will change for these two months: no check-in, Studies or prep. No assemblies, Chapel or fixtures.
And of course, although you may take some friends with you, it is also a break from those you see every day, whether that’s people you like or those whom you find slightly more challenging. The summer gives us an opportunity for a change of scenery, a change of rhythm, and a change of company.
A sermon for Trinity Sunday Marlborough College Chapel, 16th June 2019
In 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.
It is exam time again, and that there is a lot of pressure on many young people. Not just to do well in exams, but also to make the most of those last few sports matches of the year. For some, it will mean try to catch up with work not done at the start of the year, and for others to achieve the ambitious target, which you or your university of choice has set, towards which you have worked for months.
Those pressures are good to some extent, because they help us get the most out of ourselves. It may motivate us to get up a bit earlier, or to make the most of the hour before prep. But it can also come too much, when it becomes hard to sleep at all, or hard to see any enjoyment in what you are doing. Continue reading “Being great, or too much pressure?”→
A reflection about the importance of good foundations, both spiritually and practically.
The short passage from Matthew’s Gospel below is set at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus addresses the gathered crowds. It is full of teachings, parables and admonitions explaining to the people what it means to lead a godly life. So please forgive me if I take it slightly out of context, and try to apply it probably more generally than it was meant originally.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”