Thursday, September 1, 2011

Opening Convocation

We had a wonderful time of celebration and worship, commemorating our new school year and the installation of the Class of 2012 as the seniors who will move our community forward this school year.This was the fourth year of our tradition of beginning our school year with a service and I think it was by far our best. Watching our seniors march into the beautiful sacred space at St. Margaret of York dressed in their gowns was a moving experience. I had the privilege of offering a charge to our student body and especially to our seniors. Below are my remarks.

Put on Christ
Galatians 3:23-29

I actually want to begin with an apology. To the good number of parents who have approached me over the past week about the emotional shock and anxiety caused by seeing your daughter or son in a Graduation gown the first week of school, creating panic over the year ahead, college visits, selecting a college, and leaving your home to enter the great wide world—I am deeply sorry. That was not at all my intent. To be honest, I didn’t see that coming. Next year, we will send out that email in June to order gowns with something like a surgeon general’s warning about how this email and its consequences may be damaging to your short term emotional health.

To be honest, I did want the effect—just not on parents. I wanted it for you, the seniors of the class of 2012. I wanted in this opening ceremony of our year for you to see vividly where it will all end up. Our year will come full circle with you marching with us the faculty, in our medieval regalia, entering your Commencement ceremony. Because in a strange way, even though you wait for it all year long, it somehow sneaks up on you. You will wonder where the year went. So I hope this moment dressed as what you are becoming, gives you pause and a sense of recognition for what this year is about. You are dressed for what you will be!

Since childhood, getting dressed has been a big deal. You probably do not remember the sense of pride you had when you were first allowed to pick out your own clothes and dress yourself. As a parent, depending on how much control you need, that can be a humorous or difficult transition. One of my kids always wanted to wear shorts and bathing suits in winter, while wool sweaters and stocking caps were typical summer fare. And that’s without mentioning the god-awful color and pattern combinations. But over time, children figure out how to dress appropriately and can do it themselves. That is the reason why in Elementary School and Middle School, we give you a uniform but in high school we assume you can pick out something appropriate to wear. Of course that doesn’t always work out either…

Another important aspect of dress related to childhood is the game or activity of “dress up.” This is basically make-believe with props. Fireman, vet, doctor, sports figures, law enforcement officers, soldiers, ballerinas—through a simple game of dress up, we were actually exploring the future, trying on for size the roles and professions as we understood them. That is why “play” is such important work for children. It is the beginning of becoming, So seniors, what if all of the emotion and sentiments that come out in the last days of your senior year, the maturity and the perspective that you will have gained or at least appropriated, what if tonight became the beginning, as you dressed up as who you will be?

We talked together on Tuesday about students taking a lead, owning our school culture, and demonstrating a level of responsibility to each other that will make CHCA a school like we’ve never seen before. Basically, we are asking you to be the kind of people who leave here as graduates, but begin by dressing up now. You’ve put on your robes. Seniors, this is your year. This is our school. I want to see each day the pride and legacy that you all make as you move this community forward.

In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul speaks of the role of law and how it is like a disciplinarian or a tutor that makes sure we do the right thing, the thing we do not actually like to do. In our passage read this evening, he makes a transition to life in Christ through faith. Rather than thinking about righteousness as a series of rules to follow, Paul reports that as we are baptized into Christ, we “put on Christ.” We are “clothed” in Christ. We are dressing up again!

In C.S. Lewis’ famous treatise, Mere Christianity, he discusses this very thing in a chapter entitled “Let’s Pretend.” He argues that as we are “dressing up as Christ,” we are pretending to be something we are not yet, but are becoming. And often times, the more we pretend, the more we realize we are no longer pretending but the action has actually become the natural response. He writes, “Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.”

Students, faculty: just as the seniors stand as an example, as those who have put on gowns to show us who they will fully be nine months from now, I want us to “put on Christ” as we live and learn together this year. May our lives be so focused on the person of Jesus, may we relate so closely with Him, that He is ever in our minds and on our hearts. Let us put on Christ! I say that very intentionally: I don’t say to you, Let us be careful to pay more attention to all the rules in the handbook about what you should and shouldn’t do. I say, Put on Christ. If we truly do that, handbooks should take care of themselves. As we continually wrestle with what it means to be a Christ-centered institution, I would surmise that we would get a lot further into the discussion if more of us “Put on Christ.” Let us dress up. Let us pretend. Let us act out in faith what we know we are becoming. And the corollary to this is that God who saves us by His grace has begun pretending about us long before we did. God in His mercy, sees us for what we will be one day when God finishes us—not for what we are right now. God sees us for who we will be and treats us accordingly. This year, as we each “Put on Christ,” let us also see the dressing up in each other, even when we fail miserably. Students, Teachers, Parents—we are all becoming. Let us try this year to see each other as God sees us. Not as we are but as we “dress up” to be. That is why in the end, Paul writes that we are all one in Christ, every barrier and division knocked down—Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female. Trust me, Paul’s world did not look that way, but he was challenging the believers to dress up and pretend, to accept each other in a unified community. As we put on Christ, let us live out a community that learns and lives together in a faith and unity like we have never experienced here before.

Seniors, you begin tonight your end. And all of us here, let us begin to pretend we are who God is making us to be.


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