Today is both and ending and a beginning. It is only natural to feel a mix of strong emotions on a day like today. No doubt you are feeling excited, elated and hopeful. Perhaps (for some more than others), there are also some feelings of nostalgia, sadness and even anxiety. Change is not easy.
As we farewell the Class of 2022 today, I would like to tell you two stories, which have the same moral…
In December 1939, King George VI (the grandfather of our new king) gave a famous Christmas Day speech to the citizens of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. George had only been king for three years, and it was a role he never expected to fill (his older brother, Edward VIII, had abdicated). World War II had begun just three months before. Great Britain was at war and was doing badly. Year 12s, if you are feeling a bit unsure of yourself today, consider how King George must have been feeling.
In that famous speech, George quoted from a poem, “God Knows”, by Minnie Louise Haskins –
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’. And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.
We would all like to be able to see into the future, wouldn’t we? When we are leaving the familiar and stepping out into the unknown, it would be very comforting to be sure that all our hopes and dreams were going to be realised. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure of what the future holds. In these days of climate change, technological advances, globalisation, pandemics, economic stresses and geopolitical tensions, that seems more true than ever.
My second story comes from the bible; the book of Joshua, chapter 25.
Joshua is nearing the end of his life. He had been born as a slave in Egypt, but God had led his people out, under the leadership of the great prophet Moses. Joshua had succeeded Moses and had led the Israelites into the Promised Land. “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho” – remember?
Now, Joshua is about to die, and who knows what will become of the great nation that he has led. At this critical point in history, not unlike King George VI, Joshua gives the speech of his life. Knowing that his people face an uncertain future, Joshua gives them some advice and a challenge:
14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
In 1979, Bob Dylan released an album called Slow Train Coming, which included a track called “Gotta serve somebody”. The chorus goes like this –
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
I think Dylan must have had the story Joshua in mind when he wrote those lyrics.
Year 12s, you are leaving school today. It is a significant step towards becoming completely independent. While many of you will still be living under your parents’ roof for a few more years, some of you will be moving out next year. You might think that independence means complete freedom from constraint and obligation, but it doesn’t, really.
We all have obligations; we all have deeply held values (or a worldview) that guides our behaviour and speech. We all, effectively ‘serve’ someone or something. We all have something that comes first, or is most important, in our lives. It might be academic, sporting or career ambition; it might be wealth, or fame; it might be pleasure and the fulfilment of appetites. I think Joshua would probably describe all of those things as “the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates” or the gods of this world.
I really hope that your years at St Paul’s school have shown you that there is a better way. As Joshua said, so I would say, and I would challenge you to consider: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Even if you aren’t prepared to make that kind of commitment, can I at least urge you to consider the quote used by George VI? As you leave here – the familiar, reliable and predictable – and move out into whatever the future may hold for you, why don’t you “put your hand into the hand of God”.
That poem, from which King George quoted, finishes with these lines –
His will is best.
The stretch of years which wind ahead,
So dim to our imperfect vision, are clear to God.
Our fears are premature;
In Him, all time hath full provision.
May God bless you, Year 12s. We hope you will stay in touch, and we look forward to hearing about the adventures you undertake and the achievements you accomplish.