There is a child who attends every day school chapel service held in this church. He has been here for every Friday chapel ever at St. Paul’s. All evidence suggests he loved the outdoors. Whether riding his bike, chasing rabbits with his dog, or watching birds soar through the air, I am sure he loved the sweet smell of green grass in the open fields. Reclining on his back on a summer day watching the clouds floating across the deep blue sky, I am sure his imagination led him westward on the Santa Fé or Oregon trails, dreaming of hills overlooking teepee villages on the great plains. Perhaps he imagined himself in a plane soaring overhead on its way to his next adventure. Or perhaps, with a bit of swashbuckling bravado he would, with Captain Jack Sparrow, cast off from Westport and sail his ship to destinations known only in the imaginations of young children. Whatever dreams and magical places filled his mind, I see him reclining on the lush green grasses of summer, drifting half-awake / half-asleep, and traveling to exotic destinations on the other side of Neverland.
This child reminds me almost everyday of the unlimited possibility and potentiality possessed by every child who passes through the doors of St. Paul’s Church and Day School. This child, Vincent Park Williams, grew up in this parish in the 1930’s and died in a tragic accident at a parish picnic in June of 1943. He was the first person buried in our church yard. He is forever memorialized by the large wooden panel in the baptismal niche and this very pulpit. The icons of childhood adorning the baptismal niche woodwork tell us much about him. Every time I walk past the baptistry, I am reminded of the amazing and unlimited potential each child possesses; and, I am reminded of the loss we experience when that potential, unrealized for whatever reason, is lost to the future. Who might Vincent have been? How might Vincent have changed our world? What might he have done to make this world a better place? In a paradoxical way, Vincent reminds me why it is so important we adults, parents, teachers, and staff, commit to each of you to offer you the finest possible education we are capable of offering. Like Vincent, each of you comes to us with amazing potential. Like Vincent, each of you is gifted with imagination, creativity, and joy in life. We experience you with a combination of awe and amazement.
Who will you become? What will you do? How will you change the world? Over your years here at St. Paul’s, in a world of growing perplexity, you have grown into persons who are asking hard questions of us and of yourselves.
Please, continue to ask the hard questions. Hold us and yourselves accountable to seeking just solutions for the benefit of all of God’s creation. However, let me remind you not all of life is about finding final answers or solutions to difficult questions. Frequently, Jesus responded to the hard questions his disciples asked not by providing answers but by suggesting even more probing questions and challenges to his disciples, questions that defied easy or conventional solutions. In your lives, expect God to present you with such probing questions as you seek to be faithful servants.
Over the years, we watched you grow and develop as you moved from early childhood into blooming (and occasionally aggravating) adolescence. You amaze us and make us proud. We watched you engage academic challenges and succeed. We watched you deal with disappointments and prevail. We watched you recognize the hardships of others and respond with commitment and generosity. We watched you grow in confidence, strength, and courage. We pray we have taught you well and enabled you to distinguish between confidence and pride, strength and arrogance, courage and bullying. Jesus incarnated confidence, strength, and courage paradoxically by living a humble, gentle, and servant life. You are called to this kind of confidence, to this kind of strength, and to this kind of courage.
As we listened to the powerful words of the Shema from Deuteronomy tonight—Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And the words from Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians reminding us love is the greatest of God’s gifts to us–so too we are called by God’s love to be people of loving service to all of God’s creation with all our heart, our soul, and our might. I am convinced we carved this God-love upon your hearts; a love that reveals the story of our faith heritage, a story of servant living and of living faith.
As you walk out of this chapel, we imagine a world that will change because you are growing and living in it; preparing to take your places among those who lead as we continue forward in this century. Vincent, like a guardian angel, hovers here reminding us of our obligation to prepare you to accomplish all the promise, all the potential, and all the possibility God offered us in your lives. For all eternity, Vincent reminds us of what might have been. But you, of what do you remind us? We look into your eyes and there, still bursting with promise, still exploding with possibility, still evolving with potentiality, there we see hands offering help to those in need, hearts offering healing to those who suffer, and minds imagining and creating for the benefit of all humanity. There in your faces, in your eyes, dwelling deep in your heart of hearts, still being formed, still being created, still being imagined, there, we see the beginnings of what will be. Like Mary in tonight’s Gospel, we treasure all this in our hearts.
Remember, the doors of this place are forever open to you. As an 8th grade graduate you can, if you want, be married in this church (not anytime soon of course). In addition to our parish high schoolers, we hope to expand our offering of a service trip to Haiti to all graduates of the day school. We are already planning the next trip for 2016. We hope some of you will consider being a part of that trip to Holy Cross School—your sister school in Ravine a l’Anse. As you need service hours in high school, please consider coming back to the pantry and offering your service….
If ever you need a quiet moment of prayer or reflection, a moment to re-imagine your life’s journey, a chance to give thanks for God’s blessing so generously given, or to ask for God’s guidance in challenging moments, come back and visit this sacred space. Vincent will be here to welcome you, standing vigil for all the children and graduates of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Day School.
May God bless you on your journey, today and forever more.