Sermon Archive

Sunday March 3, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Rev. David C. Cobb

II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

Choir School Centennial

At one hundred years, an institution, a school or parish, is likely to have resources and capacity that the founders could not have imagined- just as founders had a zeal and ingenuity that astound us and an ability to accomplish much with what we would think of as far too little. Founders and sustainers face different tasks with different resources. Anniversaries offer a time to recognize demands that were met and the challenges that remain.

The school’s founding took something that was and reached forward towards something better. The choir was here and boys were being trained for this work but in an unsuitable manner. Schedules are complicated today and arranging a meeting is often more challenging than the meeting’s task. Canon Wright’s history reports T. Tertius Noble rehearsing boys individually[1]. They came from across the region and there was little opportunity to have them in one place, at one time, focused on one task. If doctors making house calls seems inefficient, ponder Dr. Noble traveling out to boys in random schools and homes across the region to rehearse them in next Sunday’s music, individually.

There were other choir schools and though they are no longer with us they provided examples and maybe even a sense of competition which this parish and this school answered. A residential school made the choir that existed infinitely more efficient and more crucially, broader in its mission. Not just Sunday’s music - but a week’s worth of education and formation, of music making and character building. The concern is both music, which exists in a fleeting moment - and young lives, the stuff of eternity. An hour’s beauty; decades of life; the school aims at forming both for God’s glory and for the good of this world.

For 100 years the school has brought together boys from across the region and the nation making it possible for them to be in one place and to focus together on the one work of any Christian community: To learn, grow, and live in companionship; to strive towards what is good and true, and in their case particularly, towards beauty.

Which is to say, this school became a place where God is known. As truth and the wonders of creation are explored; where God is known through growing facility in language and clearer comprehension of history; where God is known as scientific method teaches wonder and artistic imagination fires creativity; a place where God is known as the joy and challenge of life together lead towards maturity and moral development. All of that gathered up in music - offered in thanksgiving to the One who gives us breath and mind, time and imagination and who calls us all to ever nobler use of those gifts, not least eight-year-old boys.

In Canon Wright's History, we hear the choirmaster and rector report on the boy’s enthusiasm. Rehearsals, were not seen as tasks, but a delight; the daily services were not duty, but a reward. As the father of former choirboys, I will leave the question unasked, but succeeding classes and generations might not have found practice and the routine of daily prayer quite so constant a joy.

Why should they? Our lives and our music - athletic or academic pursuits - all hold promise that is unanswered without disciplined and determined effort. It all flourishes under the guidance of mentor and teacher, coach and conductor. And each of us finds our best utterly transformed when it meets that in another. The school creates far better music than was possible with scattered and random rehearsals. And because they learn, live, pray, work, and play together, it opens the possibility of far better lives for generations of boys and young men. All of us - students, adults, the youngest, and those whose memories hold more than half this school’s story - all of us are called to make ever better and more fruitful use of the lives and talents, the minds and the hearts that God has given. And that requires learning and growth that continues, a faith that deepens and a delight in God’s world that widens. It requires effort and intention, and it finds inspiration in community. These boys are our teachers, if we would learn how discipleship - Christian living leads from glory to glory (II Corinthians 3:18) as Paul says - from one degree of glory to another as we see Christ more clearly and as we let the words we pray shape our actions so that his presence shines through us. They inspire us to find a noble aim, a worthy cause, and a promising community and to give ourselves to the work.

We are not to build tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration, but we build lives and communities that support those lives. Memory and history helps us see and hear the call to faith ready for deeper thought and costlier enactment. The transfiguration leads on towards Jerusalem and all that will be accomplished there. We see Christ’s glory, and are called to a life of determined, patient, and committed discipleship.

Founders have their work, and so do those who sustain and continue institutions and communities. We look back with gratitude at the last 100 years and realize that all of that hinges on boys who will arrive next September - on some student taking organ lessons for the first time this year - who will, in decades to come, find a calling and vocation here. There is a future just out of the range of our vision and it holds as much promise as does the history we recall. It asks for the same hope and joyful labor as it took to build what we receive as gift and responsibility.

The school is here for this moment, standing within the history of what has been, and pointed towards lives of purpose, excellence, and godliness that will bring light and hope in a future we cannot yet see. There is this moment where Christ can be known and in knowing Christ we come to know ourselves and the high calling he holds out to us - for lives that are changed by the glory we see and know in this moment as on that Mountain. There is this moment where the work of the choir school asks boys to learn and achieve, to grow despite or from failure. It holds before them the most profound words and compelling music that the Church has to offer and it teaches them to write and think, to live and to sing in their own voice and in their own time.

These boys sing - and this building stands - so that we might hear Christ call us forward. Awakened, like sleeping disciples to see to glory in the face of Christ, we are called forward. This moment is a beginning, when glory shines, and our lives can be the place where Christ is known.

The School’s opening just as this day was the Sunday next before Lent, standing between a beginning and a glorious future, the brilliance of Christmas and Epiphany with Easter and Pentecost beyond the horizon. And it sends us down the mountain to respond to broken lives and those who need healing. It sends us back into the routine of class and rehearsal, of work and play, life at school and home. We go from carnival to Lenten discipline where we are meant to grow as disciples, to learn our part within the Church's hymn of praise and its work of witness and service.

At a hundred years, we can bask in the glory of what the school has accomplished, the music these boys have made and lives built on what they learned and experienced here. There is gratitude to be offered for founders and for sustainers, for faces on class photos in the halls, and for faculty whose work shaped minds and imaginations. Because of what has been done and given, we have seen and heard glory. Then let us live so that Christ’s voice is heard, and so that the glory we encounter here gives light and purpose, meaning and hope across all our days, and for years and generations for choirs and congregations still to come. Founders, sustainers, the heritage that made this day possible and the future that is our responsibility, it is Christ that we are meant to see and to hear and it is in response to that great vision and high calling, that our lives and institutions, our days and our years become acts of gratitude and our worship here becomes glory that transforms lives and enlightens a dark world and leads it on to the unending hymn of glory.

[1] J. Robert Wright, Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (William B. Freedman Publishing Co. 2001), p. 142