Revd Dr Donald MacEwan of the Church of Scotland – Chaplain to the University of St Andrews with Alex and Marina Pease
Lucy and I have been in St Andrews for the graduation of our daughter Marina. Some time ago I was asked by the chaplain Revd Dr Donald MacEwan to preach at the graduation service today. As it turned out, the topic which I chose was rather more relevant that I had been expecting…the Principal of the University told me afterwards that the final words of the reading had had a big impact on him on this particular morning, after the Brexit vote.
Of course, this talk is not directed towards Itchen Valley and is for graduates at St Andrews but the passage of scripture quoted is, I believe, particularly relevant for the situation we are in today.
Matthew 6: 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever, I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and …loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them….
I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
And when do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear
Ok, so its not scripture, but Lily Allen does have a way of capturing the zeitgeist of the times.
I am sure that your time at St Andrews has been amazing, but now its time to leave to go out into careers which your brilliance and hard work have won for you and yet I know that many of you will be thinking ‘will I ever have fun again?’ ‘Will my life be a long grind of crazy hours miserably working, working, working?’ What does the Brexit vote mean for my future which hasn’t even begun yet?
Have you been taken over by the fear?
If you are trembling on that particular threshold, can I suggest an antidote?
The one unchanging centre point of everything. The solution for guilt about the past: the solution for fear about the future: Jesus Christ.
Getting to know Jesus Christ is the antidote to the fear. And Jesus says in the scripture we have just read ‘don’t worry’: look at the birds of the air, consider the lilies of the field. God provides for them and he will provide for you.
Look, I know that many of you are graduands in medicine, management, maths and economics and I am speaking from my own experience as a lawyer, which is different but, I think, relevant for the other professions you may go into.
So two points: firstly look and secondly consider.
Firstly, look. Look at those a few years ahead.
There are things that birds and lilies don’t have to put up with which make life more difficult for us: They don’t have to listen to people winding them up about how awful life is after university when you get to your work: ‘It’s not like it was in my day’, people say.
One of my eldest daughter’s friends, called Laura, told me that she had gone on a vac scheme at the best law firm in the world, in which I worked for 26 years. She told me that the trainees at the law firm had told her what long hours they were working and, although she had been offered a job, she was going to turn it down, because ‘she did not want to live like that’;‘she wanted a life’. So I introduced her to an alumna of the law firm called Sarah, now working for a bank, about 8 years older than her, who was just going off on maternity leave to have her second baby.
‘Of course, training is difficult, it will be anywhere, whatever your profession’ Sarah said. She had loved being an associate, but now she had moved on. You must get to the end of your training and then ‘it works as long as it works’ she said ‘and then you move on’.
She completely turned Laura around, and Laura is now very excited to be going off to the law firm in September, may be for a long time, maybe for a short time.
So the first lesson from this is look – at those ahead of you: see what their lives are like, do they shape up, to what you want for your life, do they enjoy their jobs – and if so why? Do they have fulfilling lives? Look and act accordingly.
So firstly, look…..at the birds of the air, the things around you, the things you would not normally notice.
Secondly, consider… reflect on the lilies of the field.
One of the great things about the animals and the plants is that they flourish in being what they were created to be. Their place and usefulness in the environment is perfect. They don’t force themselves to be something they are not. So why do we do this?
A few years ago, the law firm I have been speaking about did a survey of its partners to discover why they had become lawyers, very good lawyers. Almost half of them had just drifted into law, because they could not think of anything better to do, or they had been under pressure from their parents to become lawyers.
So for some of them, there had been no deliberation, no ‘considering’, no reflecting but for others they had always wanted to be lawyers and were totally in their element. But whether they had just drifted into the law, or the law was an out working of who they were, all of them were making huge personal sacrifices, to do the demanding work that the clients expected.
It seems to me to be pointless to spend our lives as round pegs in square holes sacrificing our lives to doing something which is not an outworking of who we are, who we were created to be, only because we are making lots of money doing so.
It took me 25 years to work this out, and it’s difficult to tell at the beginning if a job is an out working of who you are, until you have done it for a while, so I am not saying its easy, to work out who you are, who you have been created to be.
But don’t spend your life preoccupied with earning more and more money. As Jesus says in the parable, God will provide what you need.
Whatever political turmoil we live in, the birds and the lilies are still here…
And you are here for a purpose.
But don’t stop considering, don’t stop reflecting on who you are and what you are doing and where you are going.
As I am convinced that human flourishing comes from choosing to be the person you were created by God to be. And if you are being that person, then I am sure you will find all the passion you need to do the challenging work that a job today demands of you, it becomes a joy, not a burden.
Look at the birds, consider the lilies, live as you have been created to be and you won’t be taken over by the fear.