Sermon on Education Sunday 2009
Education is one of the hottest topics around these days - so it’s a fearful task to try and say
anything coherent and better than platitudes – especially in less than 15 minutes. And relate it
to a Christian message. Last week there was debate about whether schools should have closed because of snow. Yesterday morning the news headline was about the Leader of the Opposition saying he’d send his children to his local state-maintained school… if it was good
enough. But debate has raged over education for many years; with sharp differences of views about resourcing, management, curriculum, testing, and not least, the place of religion and the church in schools.
Education Sunday is an annual event for churches to remember and pray for the world of education; schools particularly, but also, all places where there’s an intention to learn. So we include church groups too in our prayers.
This year the organisers have asked us to consider the theme “The Earth is the Lord’s”. It
sounds like an environmental topic – and it is! But what’s the connection between education
and the future of the planet? Actually it’s not too hard to see the link when we ask another question: What is education for? Is it just about making money? Or the skills we need to get a job? Or can education prepare us to live in more sustainable relationships with one another and with the ecosystems upon which we depend so completely? Can education prepare children and young people for a responsible stewardship of God’s world? We’ve heard three
sections of the Bible this morning and I want to relate their three themes to education: these are – it’s God’s world; diversity and difference are good; and all are to be included.
Isaiah Chapter 40 tells us that the world is created and sustained by God. Majestic and incomparable – there is no comparison between the powers even of the most powerful rulers on earth and the Creator. But far from this being a threatening or oppressive thought, it is a message of hope. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”. When we paint the vision of a sustainable future for the earth; and when we dream of a free society living in harmony with nature; and when we long for an end to grinding poverty and preventable disease in the world; with good schools for every child – and when we set to work
for those - then we are not going against the grain of the universe – we are co-operating with
it’s Creator and Redeemer. And so that’s why the message that the earth is the Lord’s is a liberating message and a motivating message. We are co-creators and co-sustainers with God.
We all share the same planet. The global climate crisis is a powerful reminder of that but in a negative way. Research has shown dire warnings about climate catastrophe in the future if our current lifestyles continue, are not really enough to change our behaviour. There needs to be a more deep-rooted change of attitude and values. Real and sustained change comes out of hope for, rather than fear of, the future. So schools need to be places of hope and courage – places where children are equipped with the spiritual and moral values as well as the technical skills and knowledge to bring healing and harmony to the earth. Children need to learn how to love God, how to love others, how to love life, and how to love themselves, as much as they need to learn how things work. And so do adults – and to be honest we can
often learn those things from children if we listen to them. It wasn’t for nothing Jesus said –
unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
We live in one world – and yet it’s also a world of diversity and difference. And here the
question is – do we value and encourage diversity and difference? or do we seek to eliminate
it? Too often God has been mobilised on the side of those who would want to make the world in their own image – an endless monotony of sameness in time and space. That’s not how
the New Testament sees the future. Christ is for all nations not one nation only. Saint Paul was commissioned to go and bring the good news not only to the Jewish people where it originated - but to the whole world. We read that brief extract from Paul’s first letter to the
Corinthians and we caught a glimpse of his philosophy of inclusion. He works to ensure all are able to access the message he has to bring. “I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some”. To Jews he becomes a Jew; to Gentiles a Gentile.
Paul embraces diversity and difference. And he is inclusive. Schools for today’s world need to help children learn how to value diversity and difference in the one world. This is true both in human communities and in the ecological communities of nature. Where diversity and difference are devalued and when we try to eliminate them; then there is the potential for great suffering, for conflict and destruction.
When we look at today’s gospel reading we see Jesus both proclaiming the good news of
God’s kingdom – God’s rule over the world - and demonstrating it by bringing healing. And
we see also that Jesus did not stick in one place. His message was not to be restricted to one city either – his mission was to take this message to other towns and cities. In those very first days of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee the Christian vision of an all-inclusive community of hope and healing germinated.
At least one of the Government education initiatives of recent years has an inspired title and philosophy. It’s the Every Child Matters agenda – the name is succinct enough to convey its
core value. Recently, the joint education department of the Bradford and Ripon & Leeds C of E dioceses has produced a resource book entitled Every Child of God matters Everywhere. It’s a global education resource for church schools. It links the global dimension with Every Child Matters. Schools today have duties placed upon them to promote community cohesion. So there is a recognition that all are to be included in education in a way that enables all children fully to access learning. Can we see this in the context of a global community of humanity and the biosphere?
The challenges facing the children of the twenty-first century world seem immense. Education needs to inspire and equip children to hope and work for a sustainable, unified, diverse, and inclusive world. But our schools and our teachers cannot carry this massive responsibility alone. These values need to be woven into the warp and weft of our society. Unfortunately they are not. And children learn from what they see adults really think matters. Last week the Children’s’ Society charity produced the report of its major inquiry called A Good Childhood. It concludes that most of the obstacles children face today in the UK are linked to the belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others. So the Children’s Society is arguing
for a significant change of heart in society where adults, be they parents or teachers, are less embarrassed to stand for the values without which a society cannot flourish.
Education is not only about information and skills. Church schools, and many other schools too, know that education is about leading children into a fullness and abundance of life, for all. As Christians we see this in a holistic way: harmony with God, with neighbour including the ecosphere, and with one self. This peace and healing is the good news of the gospel of Christ and it is in Christ we receive them.