I have a dream
So begins one of the most famous speeches in history, as Martin Luther King (MLK) spoke of the “Dream” that he had for the future of his country.
Included among the many aspirational and inspirational statements in that speech MLK declared that in his dream, people “would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”.
In these words MLK was reminding us that the true measure of a person was not to be found in the external things like their ethnicity or cultural background but in the essence of who they were inside and how they acted towards others. In the context of the Civil Rights movement this was a powerful message about what really mattered.
As we pray for our Year 12 students who are currently sitting for the most important set of tests they have faced so far, the HSC. I want to remind them, in fact I want to remind us all, that the essential truth in this statement is just as applicable to them and to each of us today as it was to those that were listening to MLK so many years ago.
Before the Year 12’s sat their first exam I shared with them a reflection from Henri Nouwen, a very famous Christian intellectual and philosopher. Nouwen writes of his experience in moving from working as a world famous professor at university to being a simple carer in L’Arch, a home for the intellectually disabled. He reflects on how different these communities were; specifically on how his own value and importance was measured so differently in each. He noted that in the university he was given respect and opportunity based on how clever others thought he was, how many degrees he had attained, how many papers or books he had published. In stark contrast, at L’Arch none of those things mattered. The only thing that counted was how he treated people, whether he listened to them, how willing he was to help them.
Our culture can be a lot like that of the university. Not that our value depends on how many letters we have after our name or how many books we’ve written. Possibly depending more on our ATAR or our annual salary or our postcode.
Both Martin Luther King and Henri Nouwen were Christians with a deep personal faith and a commitment to being disciples of Jesus. In their own way they were each recounting the biblical truth about what God himself values most highly.
When the nation of Israel was looking for a new king the people evaluated the candidates on what were very logical criteria for the job - their physical strength, their ability to strategise and their influential leadership. God was less interested in these achievements than were the people.
In 1 Samuel Chapter 16, God tells the prophet not to be persuaded by the impressiveness of outward appearance of achievement. He says “God does not see as men see, for men look on the outward appearance but God looks in the heart!”
For our Year 12’s, as it is for all of us, it is vitally important to remember that our true value does not come from what exam mark or what ATAR result we achieve. Neither does it depend on what record we can break or what team we are selected for. Nor does it flow from how popular we are or how many “likes” we can get from our Insta followers. The measure that counts is what sort of person we have become and how we treat those around us.
My dream is that every one of our students will know the true measure of their value and worth.