This sermon was delivered by Dean of Students Laura Clay prior to our community signing the Honor Code.
Several years ago, I was teaching in North Carolina and as an opening activity during the first week of school, I asked my students to answer this simple question: What do you want to be? As I read the answers that night at home, I discovered I had students who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, pilots, and soldiers. Some wanted to be architects, engineers, surgeons, CEOs of big companies, and, yes, at least one mentioned being a teacher. And then I came across the paper of Mary Beth Browne: What do you want to be? I asked. And her response was as follows: "I want to be happy. I want to be loved and to know love. I want to be at peace with myself and those around me. I want to be in community with others and I want to live with honor." At the bottom of the paper, she added a postscript: "It's possible I also want to be the first woman President of the United States..."
Mary Beth wrote that answer her sophomore year in high school. She is now a junior at the University of North Carolina, a recipient of the prestigious Morehead Scholarship. She chose UNC after turning down an invitation to attend the United States Naval Academy. One might argue that her positive conscious daily thinking led to her success and happiness.
"I want to be in community with others," she said, "and I want to live with honor."
Living in community and living with honor is something we celebrate at SAS, but it requires effort and it requires intention. I love the Scripture lessons chosen for today's service. Philippines 4:8-9, written by Paul, most likely from a prison cell, reminds us to put into our minds and into daily practice, certain thoughts. He says we should fill our minds with: "Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy" and if we do, Paul promises "the God of peace will be with you." In this scripture Paul's concern is not for himself, but rather for the community. Throughout the Bible, Scripture commands us to be devoted to one another, to live in harmony with one another, accept one another, serve one another in love, be kind and compassionate to one another, and to offer hospitality. This is what it means to live in community.
In Philippines, Paul is not just saying "the God of peace will be with (the individual) you." Paul is saying the "God of peace" will be with "all of you."
You see, our faith doesn't just thrive in community; it depends on it. Romans 12:6-8 says "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently.
Our collective life together needs intentional thought and practice. Paul says it clearly in the scripture reading: "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me.... put it into practice." Consider the advice of Frank Outlaw: "Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny"
Today is a special day for our campus and community. In a moment we will all sign the Honor Pledge. This pledge is not designed to intimidate or to suggest unreasonable expectations. Rather, it is a pledge we make together to honor each other, to trust one another, and to honor what it means to live in community together.
We don't expect students to be perfect. Father Richard Rohr reminds us, "We have for too long confused holiness with innocence, whereas holiness is actually mistakes overcome and transformed, not necessarily mistakes avoided...."
As we sign the pledge, we give assurance that we understand our personal responsibility to our school and we ask for God's help in doing so. This is a gift, a privilege we all get for being a member of this wonderful community.