Sermon Freshers 2015: Joshua 5: 13-6:20; Matthew 11: 20-end
‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Thursday was national poetry day, so I thought I would share with you one of the nation’s favourite poems. If you can guess the poet you win a prize. The Provost is banned from answering:
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Can any of the children tell me the author of this poem?
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
When I had the chance to listen to radio 4 on Thursday I heard lots of wonderful poetry, but there has been another vote concerning rhyming verse.
Des’ree’s hit song Life has been voted the worst ever pop lyric according to BBC 6 Music listeners. According to the radio station:III
‘Des’ree, a highly successful UK solo artist, became popular in the mid-Nineties with uplifting songs full of self-help tips and self-esteem makeovers for the love sick and downhearted.
But according to 6 Music listeners she’s also responsible for penning the worst pop lyric:
I don’t want to see a ghost
It’s the sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
Watch the evening news’
It’s an understandable sentiment. I think I too would rather eat toast than see a ghost, but it’s not good poetry. Here’s another less-than-perfect, lyric.
And I met a girl
She asked me my name
I told her what it was
(Razorlight – Somewhere Else)
No cliff hanger there. It’s true that not all pop or rock music lyrics are great. Oasis’s ‘Slowly walking down the hall, Faster than a cannonball’ isn’t the greatest rhyming couplet in the world, but in the context of the song, with the rhythm, harmony, melody and feel of the song, we might really enjoy it. My point is that perfection is not always an indicator of how much we enjoy something or, indeed, how much it is worth to us. Indeed, there is a traditional song about our first reading tonight:
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho Jericho, Jericho Joshua fit the battle of Jericho The walls come tumblin’ down,
The words themselves are not a product of genius, but put them to the music and perform them in the right context and they become powerful.
So why do I mention all these good and not-so-good words. At the beginning of this new academic year we come together in Chapel, and in this College, once again as a community that is re-formed with undergraduate and graduate freshers, new choristers, choral scholars, parents, fellows and staff. Some have returned after a period away and we welcome them back as part of the Worcester family. In order for all of us to flourish and grow in this community over the next year there are many aspects of behaviour that we might adopt, such as respect, kindness, friendliness, understanding, for instance, but perfection, I propose, is not one of them. In this college, at school or in our work we might strive to be the best we can possibly be, and enjoy the challenge, but perfectionism is a different matter and can lead to a counter-productive result. The problem with perfectionism is that, because it is unachievable in all areas of life, it can lead to giving up completely. At this time of year there are many pressures to be perfect in all areas: academically, at school or work, socially, domestically and, dare I say it, even in our online, social media presence. In the midst of this busy life, Jesus says to all of us: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Here’s an example of where perfectionism can lead:
I don’t want the Great British Bake Off normally, but my daughter and I did manage to see an extraordinary incident on TV. Not so much ‘incident’ as ‘bincident’. It involved a highly-talented contestant, Iain Watters. The task was to make a Baked Alaska. The dish is made of ice cream placed in a pie dish lined with slices of sponge cake and topped with meringue. The entire dessert is then placed in an extremely hot oven for a brief time, long enough to firm the meringue. The meringue is an effective insulator, and the short cooking time prevents the heat from getting through to the ice cream. However, on this day the temperature outside the oven was so hot that the ice cream began to melt and the contestants had to quickly find freezer space so that their ice cream didn’t melt. After Iain’s Alaska had been temporarily removed from a rival contestant’s his ice cream was melting all over the table and it was time to present it to the judges. Sue Perkins was just beginning to suggest how the situation might be rescued when Iain pick up the whole concoction and put it in the bin. It was the bin that he presented to the judges, Paul Holywood and Mary Berry, but they couldn’t give him any marks and he was sent home.
What struck me about this episode was not just that he gave up but how the judges reacted, saying ‘was your sponge alright?’, ‘Yes’, said Iain, ‘was your meringue alright?’, ‘Yes’, said Iain. ‘Well we could have tasted those.’ The point was that there was some work to try, and even enjoy, had not the perfectionist in Iain literally thrown it all away. Moreoever, if Iain had raised his head from his own problem for a moment, he might have seen that everyone else had exactly the same problem. Everybody’s ice cream was melting. He was not alone.
During this coming year we might find that things do not always go our way, that there are bigger mountains to clime than you thought, the work is harder than we thought or that people are not always as pleasant as we expect. But remember, that we are a family and in any family there are ups and downs, but also remember this: you are not alone – for there is always someone you can talk to, and whatever you are going through, you will not be the first to go through it and there are probably several other people experiencing the same thing. Also remember that you do not have to make perfect work, for it is through our mistakes more than our successes that we learn. Tenacity, not giving up, is a great gift and one to be practised. It was Albert Einstein who said: ‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I just stay with problems longer.’
Anyway, enough of this advice. This Chapel is your Chapel and you are welcome in it at any time, and the community, the family, is here for you too. May this place remind you of Jesus’s words from our Gospel and may these words stay with you throughout the year to remind you that you are not alone: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’