Sermon preached at Glenalmond for All Saints’ Day, 1 November 2015
Right. Your Chaplain says I have 7 minutes, to turn you all into Saints. No problem. For I am the Chairman of Gordonstoun, where we love a challenge!
First, I have a secret to share with you. Actually, we’re all saints already. Technically we’re saints, because we’re all made in the image of God, so we have the capacity to be saints. And practically we’re saints, because we’ve all either been saintly once or twice, or at least know other people a bit like us who have been from time to time. So we’re already half-way there. Result! Not even a minute gone, and we’re already ahead of the game.
But how can we achieve this technical and practical reality, a bit more consistently and often, so it’s not just our lovely mums who reckon we’re saints? Here’s my plan. It involves fighting, stealing, and swearing.
The first part is fighting. Saints are brilliant at fighting. These days it’s about words not swords, though. But I’ve started with fighting, because it really worries me how vulnerable you all are. Bullying in my day was generally about being thumped in the playground, and luckily my parents had sent me to judo. But how can you fight back against abusive texts, nasty messages on social media, and the misuse of images that will stay online forever, and blight your future? In this community, you MUST FIGHT THIS. In your world it’s extremely saintly not to get involved in this kind of thing, and to call your peers on it when they do. And it’s terribly important. The psychological damage it’s doing to your generation is tragic and terrifying.
So, please, be careful. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t be a coward and hide behind your phone. Fight your temper, not the person. Just switch your phone off until you’ve calmed down.
The second part of my plan involves stealing. I want you to steal people’s hearts. Do you know of the poem by Sir Philip Sidney, called “My true-love hath my heart and I have his”? It sounds a bit soppy from the title. But actually it’s quite an interesting poem, because it ends up with these lines: ‘He loves my heart, for once it was his own; I cherish his because in me it bides.’ Yuk. Mutual heart-transplants! Even Heathcliffe didn’t go quite that far in his macabre pursuit of Catherine. But what all saints know, of course, is that we’re all made of the same stuff, created in the image of God, and when we die we all return to the same stuff. So of course we love everyone else, because they are us. It’s all selfish, really. In the same way, of course Sir Philip and his lady, love each other’s hearts, because they are now their own. So can you look after other people’s hearts as though they were as precious as yours? Can you have a care for them and be gentle? Can you understand and forgive them, as you yourself hope always to be understood and forgiven?
The third part of my plan involves swearing. Have you ever thought about what swearing is? Of course I’m sure none of you ever actually swear – probably you get detention for that here. ‘Swearing’, as in saying rude and naughty things, should really be called ‘swearing in vain,’ because it relates to the commandment in Exodus 20 verse 7 – ‘Do not take the name of the Lord in vain,’ that is, do not swear on God’s name then fail to live up to your oath. And I think this is rich territory for saint-schooling, because it’s both about keeping your word, and about not ‘cursing’ using the holy name of God or Christ. But if you’re just a trainee saint like me you probably get frustrated, and find yourself risking the odd detention now and again, possibly out of earshot and sotto voce. Actually, I think you should SWEAR MORE. Because I think that it’s rather crucial to the business of saintliness to be constantly texting God – OMG what is he LIKE?! So next time you find yourself driven to exclaim OH GOD in someone’s general direction, wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t in vain, and you actually meant to call down a prayer on them? And what if you were actually making a promise both to yourself and to God when you did so, swearing an oath that you will try terribly hard not to be provoked by this person next time?
So please, more fighting, more stealing, and more swearing. Fight bullying, steal more hearts, and swear a prayer.
But how can we be sure we’ll stick to the plan? Here’s what I reckon is the key. Did anyone dress up for Halloween yesterday? Did you pretend to be a pumpkin or a ghost, or something weird like a Minion? Well, all you need to do is start PRETENDING to be a saint. That’s all. See if you can really fool people. Because if you try hard enough, you might actually fool yourself, and accidentally become one. Fake it ‘til you feel it. Simples!