Be Real!

Sermon preached at Keble College Oxford, 21st October 2018
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity: Isaiah 53:4-end, Hebrews 5.1-10, Mark 10.35-45

First of all, thank you to the Chaplain for inviting me to preach here at Keble College tonight. Writing a sermon is in many ways not unlike writing an essay. You read, you think, you read again, and despite your intention to be well-prepared and organised, eventually you realise that still, you haven’t started writing yet the day before.

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I myself come from a physics background, so for a long time I was blessedly unaware of the process of writing essays – although working to the deadline wasn’t that uncommon for myself and most others! What struck me when writing essays was that some of them, in which I had invested a lot of time and effort, were subsequently marked disappointingly low. Others, which I thought were far less well-researched, would sometimes get marks much higher than expected. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this experience.

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St Michael: The power of story and ritual

An address given at Marlborough College Chapel
Feast of St Michael and All Angels

Every year, on 29th September, the Church throughout the world celebrates the festival of St Michael and All Angels. As some of you may know, Marlborough College Chapel is dedicated to St Michael and All Angels. I may be wrong, but the only reason I could find why was that it was consecrated on 29th September in the year 1886.

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Now, celebrate may a big word for what is happening nowadays, but traditionally it was an important day in the year. Together with Christmas, Midsummer and Lady Day, it is one of the four so-called ‘quarter’ days, which mark the turning of the seasons. Of course, this day marking the end of the summer and the beginning of the autumn and the shortening of the days.

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A ‘not so new’ beginning

To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognised need of the human soul.

Simone Weil in ‘The Need for Roots’

rootsThe start of the academic year means a new beginning in many ways: new faces, new subjects, new responsibilities, and hence an opportunity to find new habits and routines. This being my second full year at Marlborough College, however, the beginning of the year has also meant a certain continuity: familiar faces, catching up with friends and colleagues, and of course in many cases continuing where we left off academically.

The first few weeks, months, or even years in some cases, are difficult in any place, whether it’s a new place of work, study, or residence. It can be daunting to get to know new people and find yourself in unfamiliar places. Yet, it is also an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself: what and who really matter to you; what you value in friendships in particular, and in life in general. When I moved to Berlin in 2010, I was surprised how many of my ‘old’ habits came back rather quickly – including finding a Church community to which to belong.  Continue reading “A ‘not so new’ beginning”

Go and do likewise

An address for the Civic Service at St Mary’s Church Marlborough
‘Schools & Education in Marlborough’

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25–37)

MarlboroughThe theme of today’s Civic Service is ‘Schools and Education’. A quick inventory amongst the congregation present this morning shows that most of us are or have been in some way educated in Marlborough. Looking at the Mayors present from other Wiltshire towns, I am sure that if we would have done the same in your Town or Parish, the result would have been the same: certainly here in Wiltshire, education is at the heart of the community.

When we think about education, probably most of us rightly think of schools, children and young people first. And that is one of the reasons why it is so encouraging that a large part of the Mayor’s charities this year benefit the young people in our Town. But, education doesn’t end when you leave school: we continue to learn, and for that matter to teach, all our lives.

The English word ‘education’ finds its root in the Latin word that means ‘to mould’ or ‘to train’ (educare). It is also related to the word that means ‘to lead out’ or ‘to bring forth’ (educere). So, when we think about education, we have two famous images: that of a potter moulding clay into a certain form, and of a midwife bringing forth a new-born child.

Imagine for a moment a potter, a sculptor, working on a piece of art. It starts with a raw block of clay or other material, and slowly it is shaped, it is formed into something beautiful; something precious. Over days, weeks and months, the artist invests a lot of him or herself into the material, and I suggest that this is what it gives the final piece of art its beauty: the love and the care that go into it.

Love and care are words that apply to the image of a midwife as well. There is something incredibly precious about each new child being born. So I suspect that although midwives may deliver over hundreds of babies in the course of their lives, each time there is a sense of wonder that inspires in us a desire to love and care.

Inspired by these two images, this is what I would like to suggest this morning education is about. It is not just about imparting knowledge from teacher to pupils, but it is the process in which through love and care, both teacher and pupil are formed. It is not a one-way process, but a forming of a relationship, in which people learn from each other. So no wonder that education is at the heart of community life.

This thought brings us then to this morning’s reading: the parable of the Good Samaritan. First of all, because it shows us what kind of a teacher Jesus is like. ‘An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus himself was by many regarded as a teacher. People would come to teachers like him to find answers, to find advice.

However, Jesus normally answers, not giving a straightforward and simple answer, but replying with a question or telling a story, a parable, as he does here as well. He tries to make people see that they have the answer themselves already: a good example of education as ‘bringing forth’.

Then Jesus tells then the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. A man is lying in a ditch. Beaten up and stripped of his clothes. Half dead. The first two people who walk past are a priest and a Levite. People of high standing within society, dignitaries. Leaders, teachers themselves.

Instead of helping the man, however, they leave him. We don’t hear why. They may have felt too busy. They may have been scared. Or they may have felt he wasn’t worth being helped, probably looking not looking very appealing in that state.

The third person who walks past is a Samaritan. A traveller himself, like the man who was robbed. When he sees him lying in the ditch, he takes pity on him, and takes care of him. He looks after the man’s wounds, and then takes him to an inn to rest and to get better. This is, Jesus says, what it means to be a neighbour. And then Jesus says to the person who asked the question: ‘Go and do likewise’. This is what God wants us to do, to be good neighbours. To look out for each other, not matter who it is, and to care for one another.

That collective responsibility, I think brings us back to the theme of this service ‘Schools and Education’. As members of this community here in Marlborough, we need to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter whether we are the Mayor, a Town Councillor, a teacher, a parent or a pupil: whoever we are, we have to do what the Samaritan did: notice the person who needs us and help them.

Because before we can help, we need to notice. We need to keep our eyes open to those who may need our help. And that is not just the homeless people, or those who are sick: everyone needs someone at some point, whether you’re young or old, rich or poor.

So, we come back to where we started: that education, that community life is about love and care, and hence about relationships. It is by no means a one-way process, but it is reciprocal: together we learn and grow. You cannot do this on your own.

Jesus said to the person who asked the question ‘Go and do likewise’. And that is what we may be able to take away from today ‘Go and do likewise’. Go and be good neighbours to each other. Learn, live and love together. That is how we continue to grow as individuals, and as a community.

The more we do this, in the image of the sculptor, the more we will be able to see the beauty in each other and the beauty of our community life. It is then that we realise that in loving each other, we ourselves are loved to. In caring for one another, we are cared for too. That, to me, is the essence of human life, and the essence of the Christian faith.

‘Go and do likewise’.

For everything there is a season

For everything there is a season
A Reflection for May Day

seasonsThe first day of May, May Day, has been traditionally been marked as a day to celebrate the return of spring. Despite the chill, it was a glorious morning this year. At Marlborough College we were treated by the Chamber Choir singing the May Madrigals in Court from the Bradleian Arches. It was an opportunity to pause for just a few moments, listening to wonderfully sung music and feeling the warmth of the sun on our backs.

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Unlikely Contrasts

A reflection at the beginning of Lent

These last few days have been a time of unlikely contrasts. Personally, as the start of the season of Lent was not only marked by a celebration of the Eucharist, but also by a iPGCE residential organised by Buckingham University, filled with lectures about marking, lesson planning and essay writing.

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I have been surprised by the lack of acknowledgement and conversations about the horrid shootings in Florida earlier this week, despite being together with over 300 teachers and educational specialists. Does it show that this kind of news tragically has become too ‘normal’, or does it show that we are so focused on our own targets, that we lose interest in what is happening around us? And if the latter, does it imply we are losing compassion for those who are further away than the immediate?

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Taking Stock

A reflection just before the half-term holiday and the start of Lent

It is the week before the spring half-term, which this year is also the week before the start of Lent. Two good reasons to take stock and see how far we got. Especially for those of us who have started something new at the beginning of the academic year, a lot will have happened since September, and it is good to take some time to see where we are.

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