Service to mark the closure of Tyholland National School

Sermon preached by the bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd Michael Jackson on Advent Sunday 3 December 2006 in Tyholland Parish Church, County Monaghan.

Galatians 6.2: Carry one anotherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

Recently we bought a container for salt because it was among the more unusual we had seen. It is cast in the shape of a frog pulling an upturned snail. And then sitting on the back of the snail is a beetle. The upturned shell of the snail is where you pour in the salt. The frog is doing all the work and he is in fact doing all the leg-work, striding out in front and giving a lead. The snail and the beetle are being carried along, the one doing something useful, the other taking it all for granted and looking as if he is enjoying it to the full. It is a funny little thing but interesting. It draws out and draws together a number of characteristics which can be transferred to the human population all too easily and all too readily. And I think that they are, all of them, relevant to the occasion which has brought us together this afternoon when we mark this most significant day in the history of Tyholland National School.

Let me just remind you of the scene. The frog is pulling ahead into the future Ė and it is a struggle but he has the satisfaction of a job being done well and it is all the better for his contribution. The snail is carrying the salt and that is what matters, because it forms the content of what the whole exercise is about. And the beetle is looking back, enjoying it all; mindful of all that was good in the past and thoroughly relaxed about it. Here we have three pictures in one, and all together they represent the journey of which all those associated down the years and also today are part: striving into the future; carrying the burden in the present; looking back with pride to a job well done.

Advent Sunday is a very fitting time to do this and to make the thanksgiving of which we are part today. On Advent Sunday we challenge the darkest days of winter with the Light of Christ when we say: Grant us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light. On Advent Sunday we hold together present and future when we say: that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal. And on Advent Sunday we hold up an event in the past as something which is alive in the present: the birth of Jesus Christ who came to visit us in great humility and who to this day liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and ever.

Advent Sunday is when we look to the future with the expectation of something new and something good. The Scriptural Readings which we heard this morning in church point to the future in a thoroughly religious way. The prophet Jeremiah told us of his confidence that the Lord will fulfil the promise he made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. There will be unity between two kingdoms often at loggerheads in the past. Harmony forms a large part of the salvation which the Lord brings. The apostle Paul speaks of the love for one another which is the lifeblood of the community of Christians in Thessalonika which mirrors the love which he has for them. And St Lukeís Gospel encourages us even at times of darkness and distress to read the signs of a fruitful future. For we are asked by God not to look at this stage for harvest home or a bumper crop but for a trust that summer will come precisely because we see leaves sprouting. Prophets of doom will draw us back into the roaring of the sea and the waves but Scripture tells us something quite different: Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. These threads for the Christian make up the signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Now there is something to celebrate!

The goal of education in a Christian context and a Church of Ireland National School is not to fill us with more information but to draw out in us the calling which we have to be children of God. National Schools stand in close relation to a parish and a community and both perspectives are important in understanding their role and function. Too easily can we let the bigger agenda be chipped away by a political correctness which starts by shooting from the hip at all-comers for bring politically incorrect. But this argument goes round in circles. To suggest that everyone else needs to shed presuppositions in order to have any integrity of thought or entitlement to hold an opinion, is at the end of the day no more sophisticated an argument than to say that I am right because I got my spoke in first Ė and, by the way, how dare you suggest that my mind is already made up! There is a mirage of being free of presuppositions and, therefore, totally neutral. But it is and remains no more than a mirage. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom is an old saying which we hear less and less today. Recognition of a human dependence on God is unattractive and increasingly incomprehensible to a contemporary world. But in the season of Advent and Christmas we are called to be strong in our humility like the Christ-child, to bring a sense of fulfilment and also a sense of expectation.

One of the best things which we can learn to do is to give help and to accept help. Both, somehow, are increasingly difficult for a generation of people who are conditioned to be self-sufficient and to regard any sense of need as a weakness, a failure. Everything today pushes us towards doing things for ourselves. We cannot own up to being anything other than: Great! or Fine! or OK! and so it goes on. One of the most ridiculous conversations which you often overhear, or maybe you even sometimes say it yourself, goes something like this:

And how are you?
Busy, busy, busy!

Busyness is hardly a real answer to such a question, is it, when someone is asking you how you are! But that is what we have become: people who exist to be busy; people whose very being is busyness; people whose sense of guilt is being caught out doing nothing. Is it any wonder that we are stressed out? Is it any wonder that we are not sticking the pace?

Even this one verse:
Carry one anotherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ from St Paulís Letter to the Galatians asks us to look again at what really drives us. We are asked to stop piling more and more burdens of our own choosing on ourselves and invited to do something quite different: carrying one anotherís burdens, taking the load off other people. This, surely, is something different from the being wrapped up in ourselves which is so much a feature of modern life. St Paul suggests that by thinking of other people we will fulfil the law of Christ. There to my mind is a real challenge for Christmas.

May God continue to bless you as together we give thanks for all that those who down the years have been associated with Tyholland National School, those who have taught, learned, served on Boards of Management, been supportive parents and from today may you in a Christ-like way carry the burdens of others and in this way fulfil the law of Jesus Christ.

Carry one anotherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.