In case you haven’t figured it out (or in case you are struggling to accept it), today is the first day of our 2016-2017 school year. Like most schools, we make a big deal about the first day of school, and I want to spend a few minutes this morning thinking about why first days are important.
There was a first day in Portugal in the late 1400s when a young sailor named Ferdinand Magellan – the first man we know of to circumnavigate the globe – saw the ocean for the very first time.
There was a first day in my home state of Illinois in the early part of the 19th century when a young Abraham Lincoln – our 16th President – learned about how our American government is made up of three branches.
There was a first day in England in the mid-to-late 1500s when a little boy named William Shakespeare first learned to pick up a pen and write.
There was a first day in Italy around that same time when a young Galileo Galileli first looked up and noticed the stars.
There was a first day in Africa in the mid-to-late 300s when a boy named Augustine first thought about God.
These were all first days. And these first days turned into other first days – when Magellan actually set sail; when Lincoln decided to run for President; when Shakespeare began to write his plays; when Galileo began to wonder if the Earth might be round instead of flat; when Augustine began to write down his thoughts about God. But these are just five first days in history; there are more.
There was a first day when Catherine the Great, in the mid 1700s, first met one of the poorest of her fellow Russian citizens and wondered how to improve the life that that person lived.
There was a first day when Sacajawea, in the early 1800s, began to learn the trails on which she would later safely guide Lewis and Clark as they explored the western half of the United States.
There was a first day when Marie Curie, in the early 1900s, first became interested in science, which she would later win two Nobel prizes in Physics and Chemistry and become the first woman professor at the University of Paris.
There was a first day in the 1920s when Rosa Parks first noticed that there were differences in skin color, but that looking differently didn’t mean people should be treated differently.
And there was a girl named Mary who lived a few thousand years ago and who first learned to pray and listen to God about how she could best serve him.
First days. We take them for granted, but we shouldn’t. What will this first day hold? For some – particularly those who are new to our school for the first time – it may seem as strange as it is new. For others – especially those who have been at our school before – it may seem familiar or even boring. But think with me: what could happen today, what could you hear about or learn for the first time today that might stick with you for the entire rest of your life?
I remember my first-ever first day of school. Imagine little Mr. Dunham in Kindergarten, wearing his backpack and bow tie, getting ready to get on the bus to make the long six-mile drive to the old red brick building where he would spend the next twelve years of his life learning history and mathematics and literature and science and music and athletics and dramatics and…what makes a good school and what doesn’t. I first became interested in all of that on my first day of school; I was fascinated. What will you become interested in on this first day of school?
Most of us feel a little nervous on our first day of school, and that’s okay. There are people here – your teachers – who have been through plenty of first days of school and they are here to lead you through it. They will be your guides, your shepherds, and your biggest fans…if you learn to trust them and let them, that is. You can learn much from your teachers here at Petra, but no matter how much they love you and want to teach you, they can only do so when you give them the opportunity.
Most importantly, the God of beginnings – of the world, of this day – is here. The Bible says that “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth,” and when he finished doing that, he declared that what he had created was good. You and I are part of that creation, and while the world God made – including you and me – has fallen from its initial perfection, God is still the God of new beginnings, offering us forgiveness each and every day and proving to us with every sunrise that he has not given up on what he has made.
So on this first day of school, I want to encourage us to make the most of it. How do we do that? By enjoying it, by asking questions and learning more about our teachers and fellow students, by admitting that we don’t know much and need and want to grow in what we do know and how we act, and by just thanking God for it, because only he knows how many more first days – or any days – we will ever have.