Good morning!  Welcome to this beautiful Sanctuary at National Presbyterian Church, and welcome to the 2019-2020 school year at NPS. It is great to see everyone this morning on such a joyful day.

Thank you, Reverend Sutton, for the opening prayer and a warm welcome to you as you begin your first year as NPS Chaplain. We open the school year with a 3rd grader ringing the bell at the start of this service and we close it with a 6th grader ringing the same bell at the end of graduation in June.  Thank you to our bell-ringer, Ella, for starting the year off just right. Between the opening bell on September 3rd and the closing bell on June 10th, so much will happen at NPS—so much growth,  exploration, and joy….and so much learning.  We can’t wait to experience all of it with the children at the school.

This is a deliberately short service, as our students are excited to connect with teachers and friends in the classroom, and our teachers are eager to welcome them there. So this will be brief. In fact, our Opening Ceremony is so brief that I am going to abandon my usual Power of Three format and go with Power of One, offering one theme for us to start the year.

And this is it: the NPS Mission Statement refers to NPS as a “loving and inclusive community”; as we sit here and look ahead with enthusiasm to the upcoming year, my charge to all of us is to be more than just mindful of those words, but to live them out each and every day at the school. Moreover, I hope the expression of love and inclusivity will not stop when we leave campus, but that we—all of us—will also exhibit these traits away from school.  The result, then, will be that through our deeds and actions, we will help to create a more loving and inclusive world.

At our Opening Faculty Chapel last week, I recounted to my colleagues some of the challenging and painful events that have taken place in our city, nation and world in the months since we were last together. There has been plenty of hardship.  Right now, as we enjoy sunshine on the first day of school, Hurricane Dorian is causing damage and destruction in the Bahamas and moving its way up the coastline of the southeastern United States. Our hearts and our prayers are with those affected by the hurricane.

During that faculty Chapel last Monday, Reverend Sutton read the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke, a story many of us are familiar with.

In the passage, Jesus speaks with a lawyer, who asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Displaying an excellent teaching strategy, Jesus answers the question…with a question.

“What is written in the Law?” asks Jesus, “How do you read it?”

And the lawyer responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind….and love your neighbor as yourself.”  The name used in the New Testament for the first precept is the Great Commandment and both of them are known as the Greatest Commandments.

After hearing the lawyer’s response, Jesus replies, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But then the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then tells the Parable, describing a Samaritan who comes across a wounded man lying in the road who had been ignored by two other men (minister –types, no less!). They see the injured man and walk by on the other side of the road.  But the Samaritan does not.  He stops. 

The Samaritan is moved with compassion and immediately goes up to the man and tends to his wounds. Jesus says “And when he saw him, he took pity on him.”  The Samaritan then puts the man on his own donkey, brings him to an inn and takes care of him.

At the end of the Parable, Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three men walking by was a neighbor to the injured man.

The lawyer responds, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus then tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

There are so many lessons from this story, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as lessons we can learn from those around us, people who illustrate The Greatest Commandments and the NPS Core Values.  The teachers at NPS, of course, are great examples of those who, each day, are like the Good Samaritan, selflessly lending a hand, leading, providing comfort, love, and safe space.  

All of us have opportunities every day to be like the Good Samaritan, both with strangers, as in the Parable, and with people we know. Here is one such opportunity: we have 50 new students at NPS. (And no, after spending the past school year talking about our 50th year, I am not making that number up for the purposes of telling a story. We really do have 50 new students…).

In this instance, we can all be Good Samaritans by going out of our way to be particularly loving and inclusive to those new students and parents—welcoming them, inviting them to activities and functions, making sure they know how to find certain rooms on campus, and being a kind and merciful friend and neighbor.  I would encourage you to think of other opportunities where you can step outside your comfort zone, even veering into unfamiliar territory, to show mercy, and to love thy neighbor. Sometimes it is obvious who needs help. Other times it isn’t. Let’s assume that everyone will benefit from our love, compassion, and mercy, whether it appears they need it or not.

The book that our faculty—and some in the parent community—read over the summer, The Person You Mean To Be, by Dolly Chugh, also hits upon this theme. Chugh challenges us to not just serve as a “believer” in terms of believing in the values of kindness, respect, equality and change, but going beyond that to becoming what she calls a builder.

Builders, she writes, “build a better world.” She says that too much is at stake in our society, especially for children, who will become the adults of the future, to not make a difference through acting with kindness, standing up for others, and looking closely at our own beliefs.  Only when we do those things, she argues, will we be the person we mean to be. 

We all know that Love is a Core Value at NPS. Let’s show it. The world needs it. We have the opportunity to bestow our love on all of God’s children. Doing so creates feelings of warmth, belonging, and inclusion, and it is at that time that we can say, yes, we are a loving and inclusive community, as our mission statement attests.

Before I provide final directions, I want to offer my heartfelt sentiments and well-wishes to all in the NPS community for a spectacular school year, and may we be appreciative and mindful of God’s many blessings. I look forward to the journey ahead with you. 

I would like to conclude by thanking Dr. Renwick for the role he plays with the school, which benefits all of us.  He and NPC actually modeled the theme of my remarks by hosting “Neighbor Day” on Sunday. Dr. Renwick is more than a friend and ally to NPS—he is, to quote our summer book, a “builder,” helping to strengthen the school and galvanize the church and school together. Thank you, Dr. Renwick-- and now will you please rise for the benediction.

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