This was a commencement address for the graduations of some students at our Trinity Home Educators Cooperative. What a privilege to be invited to speak! May the Lord’s blessings rest on these youth! (The thoughts here are similar to those in my exhortation at Christ Church for Kenton Spratt’s installation. And the central image of the two stonecutters was borrowed from James K.A. Smith’s thought provoking book You Are What You Love.)
4 And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.
Once upon a time there were two skilled stonecutters working diligently at their craft. A young man walked by admiring their skill and industry. The care they took with the stone, the intricacy of their work, and the nature of their tools enchanted him. But most he was struck by their intensity; they were absorbed in their task. The young man couldn’t resist the urge to learn more.
“Excuse me, Sir,” the young man said to the first stonecutter. “What are you doing there?”The stonecutter glanced up at the young man, wiped sweat from his brow, and gave the young man a quizzical look. “Well, lad, as you can see I’m cutting stone.” And with that, the man went back to his work, chisel and mallet in hand, focused and intent.
The young man moved on to the second stonecutter. He watched the stonecutter for a few minutes; noted the calluses on his hands; the dust and dirt on his apron; the blood trickling down the knuckle that he had just caught on a piece of stone. “Excuse me, Sir,” the young man said to the second stonecutter. “What are you doing there?” The stonecutter glanced up at the young man, wiped sweat from his brow, and gave the young man a smile. “Well, lad, I’m building a cathedral.” And with that, the man pointed behind him to the plot of ground that had been cleared for the new church.
Today is a momentous day. Today is a day of transition; a day of new beginnings; a day when the old things have passed away and, behold, new things have come! You are graduating, entering into a new phase of your life. As you make this transition, I would like you to think about what you have been doing thus far and what you will be doing in the future.
Many young people are directionless and listless. They think that the purpose of education is to enable them to get a job; accomplish a task; fulfill a chore. But the education you have received and the tasks you shall yet pursue – whether that is further education or vocational training – is about far more than a job. It is about a vocation – a calling, a summons from God to use your gifts and talents for the glory of His Name and the growth of His Kingdom.
John Milton, the great Puritan author of Paradise Lost, wrote in an essay on education: “The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”Milton reminds us that education isn’t just about the transfer of information but the process of formation – changing not just our thoughts but also our habits, our loves, our desires, our goals. Rooting out the ruins we’ve inherited from our father Adam and that we’ve created ourselves. The Spirit of God has been poured out upon us to shape us into men and women of virtue – which, when it is joined with faith in the Triune God, makes up the highest perfection, the summit of achievement, the end of education.
And the goal of being men and women of faith and virtue is that we might be instruments in God’s hands to advance the Kingdom of God in the world. God repairs the ruins of our own selves that we might be instruments in repairing the ruins of the world. Listen to Isaiah’s vision for you: And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.
Isaiah reminds us that the work to which God has called you is not merely cutting stone, not merely getting a degree, not merely doing a job. The work to which God has called you is to rebuild the old ruins, and raise up the former desolations. Your task is glorious – it is to reverse the effects of the Fall by laboring for the expansion of God’s kingdom; to repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. This is what you have been doing and what you are yet called to do. Not merely cutting stones, but building cathedrals.
Do you see that? When someone asks you in days to come – be you plumber, nurse, teacher, homemaker, soldier, administrator – when someone asks you, “Excuse me, Sir,” or, “Excuse me, Ma’am, what are you doing there,” how will you respond? Will you say, “Can’t you see I’m cutting stone?” or will you remember the end of your labor, the purpose of your labor, the goal of your labor, and declare with joy, “I’m building a cathedral! I’m laboring that God’s kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” That is your calling. That is your vocation. That is the end of your education.
Almighty God and Father, you have so ordered our life that we are dependent on one another: prosper those engaged in commerce and industry and direct their minds and hands that they may rightly use your gifts in the service of others; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Church of England Collect for May 4, 2016