An address for Leavers’ Evensong
Christ Church, Oxford, June 12th, 2022
The full service is available to watch on YouTube
It’s a privilege to be able to speak to you at the end of this academic year, especially to those of you leaving us to move on to pastures new.
I begin with a story.
In the 14th Century, there was a monk called Brother Bernard who lived in a monastic community. Every day when he left his house an old man in rags stood outside the door and shouted the same two questions to him.
Who are you? Where are you going?
After several months one of the other monks asked Brother Bernard if he wanted something done about the old man. He could be moved on.
Not at all, said Brother Bernard. I pay him in bread to be here every morning to ask me those very questions.
Who are you?
Where are you going?
In your time at Christ Church, you will have been asked and been examined on many and various complex questions. You will have struggled through problem sheets, dissertations, tutes, and submitted thousands of words.
But these two simple questions are crucial and we forget to ask them at our peril.
Who are you? Oxford student, Christ Church member, medic/historian, etc,
gifted at xxx, lover of xxxx, feels fully alive when xxxx (Fill in the blanks)
Also, fallible, weak, vulnerable. pretty useless at xxx, addicted to xxxx, struggles with xxxx (Fill in the blanks)
Where are you going?
Not just what job are you going off to do. Or what internship will you join. Where are you going?
What is it that propels you out of your door in the morning? What is it that fires you, that fills you with life, or joy? Or what is it that fills you with rage or frustration at injustice so much so that you can’t help but speak out.
You may not know yet, but I’d like to suggest that this is a question to keep asking yourself.
Our first reading from Numbers is of a story rarely heard in Church, and is of a group of women who have inspired me over the past couple of years.
Mahlan, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, the five daughters of Zelophehad.
Their father had died and as this period of history was a classic patriarchal society, all the land belonging to his clan was to be passed to another clan.
And the daughters decided this wasn’t good enough. So they joined together and went to the tent of Moses and the elders. And they argued their case.
‘why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son?’Numbers 27.4
Moses didn’t know what to do. So he prayed.
The Lord said:Numbers 27.7
‘the daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance’.
And this transformed women’s land rights for generations of women to follow them.
They knew who they were and where they were going. And they were not afraid to rise up and speak up. What is it that makes you rise up and go the tent of Moses, as it were?
There is much to rise up about isn’t there.
- Environmental issues
- Racial or LGBTQ or disability inclusion
- Integrity in public life
But we don’t do any of this on our own. The daughters of Zelophehad would not have been heard alone. They needed one another.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu died this year. In his book God Has A Dream, he speaks of God who calls people to join in with the work of justice and peace.
All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend His kingdom of shalom-peace and wholeness — of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no opposition that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned into love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled’Archbishop Desmond Tutu. God Has a Dream
Who are you?
The most important aspect of who we are is we are people loved by God. Nothing can separate us from that love.
If you remember nothing else from what I say today remember that. You are loved. Not because you are clever, or you’ve got a degree result that you’re proud of, or even because you have unique gifts you hope to use for the good of the world.
You are loved just because God is a God of Grace
And so where are you going? Well, in some ways that’s a mystery.
But if you hold as a guide a desire that wherever it is you go you extend God’s realm of love, justice, goodness, compassion, caring, sharing, laughter and joy. That’s a pretty good guide for the journey.
And you do that with the blessing of this community of Christ Church.
Desmond Tutu also used to quote a Xhousa word, which is what I’d like to leave you with.
It means, ‘Get up and do it’
And so ‘get up and do it’, and do so with all our love and our blessing.