“Ascension Episcopal School–A Christian Institution” (August 12, 2014: Opening Eucharist of the 2014-2015 Academic Year of Ascension Episcopal School–Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”–I Corinthians 3.11

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen!

In 1997, at the age of 12, I enrolled as a 7th grade student at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Day School in Talladega, Alabama. That one year that I was fortunate enough to spend learning at EDS was my very first, formal introduction to the worship of Christ in the Anglican tradition. Every weekday morning, before the beginning of class, the Rector of Saint Peter’s Church, serving as the school’s chaplain, led chapel service for the students, faculty, and administration in the parish nave. For me, these weekday morning experiences caused me to develop more of an interest in my Christian faith than what I had previously had. I found myself paying more attention to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, feeling a hunger for them, and remembering what the readings were for that particular day. I was finding myself developing a closer relationship to Jesus and praying more. My time with Jesus was becoming the best and most important time to me.

But not only did these weekday chapel experiences affect me spiritually, they also affected my learning in the classroom. The spiritual questions that I was asking myself—“Who is Jesus to me?” “What does it mean to follow Him?”—began making me see my lessons in English, science, mathematics, history, the fine arts, and activities in physical education, as well as in other extracurricular activities as, somehow, all pointing back to God—to the truth of His existence, His Gospel, and His grace. The Psalmist best expresses what I was feeling and now firmly believe: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it….” (Psalm 24.1)

The purpose of me recounting this experience from my own life is due to the fact of how I felt it to be a result of my Episcopal school’s adherence to the words that Saint Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” As distinct from each other, respectively, as they were, by the faculty and administration of my Episcopal school working together for a common purpose—to provide an enriched, quality education within an intentionally Christian environment—I found myself part of an atmosphere in which I became increasingly aware of Jesus as the foundation for all truth. The faculty that I learned from and the administrators that led the school all saw themselves as colleagues and fellow workers, not making it about them, but about the students they were charged to teach. The reason they worked so well together was because they, themselves, believed in Jesus as the foundation for all truth and the importance of the type of education they committed themselves to provide. It was because of the work of these early faculty, administrators, and chaplains, grounded in the faith of Jesus Christ, that I began to firmly believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I stand before you as a living testament to the importance that Episcopal schools still have within our larger common life.

As I was preparing this sermon, I kept being drawn to the first line of our school’s mission statement: “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” Being drawn to this line from our mission statement, I could not help but to reflect on our school’s history, of those things from its beginning that have guided us to this current point of existence. When Jeanette Parker , in 1959, engaged in efforts to establish what then became Ascension Day School, she did so simply out of a want for there to be a specific kind of academic environment for her children to learn within. Several other parents, along with the late Reverend David Coughlin, then Rector of Church of the Ascension, believed in Mrs. Parker’s vision and joined with her in bringing it into reality. From a founding class of 17 kindergarten students in 1959 now stands Ascension Episcopal School, a K-12th grade institution of over 800+ students, faculty, staff, and administration and one of the most, if not “the” most, academically reputable institutions in Lafayette, Louisiana. What started it all was Mrs. Parker’s Christian faith, her belief in Jesus, her belief in His Word, and a want for an institution for her and others’ children where they would receive a quality academic education encompassing the tenets of the Christian faith as expressed within the Anglican tradition. It has been God’s grace that has sustained Ascension Episcopal School for 55 years and a constant reminder of and firm commitment, on our part, to the school’s Christian identity, of which by doing so, others have seen and come to know about us, wanting for their children that same type of academic environment that Mrs. Parker wanted for hers all those years ago. The foundation upon which we came, that has sustained us to the present, and on which we must depend for our future is Jesus Christ.

Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, the late VI Bishop of Alabama, always said to the young children he was about to confirm, “Remember who you are and what you represent.” For us, I view Bishop Carpenter’s statement to be just as applicable, for I believe it important that as teachers, staffers, and administrators, we remember who we are as a school community and what it is that we represent because of it. Our Epistle lesson began with Saint Paul asking these two questions: “What then is Apollos? What then is Paul?” In order for us to remember who we are, we must first know who we are. What then is Brandt Montgomery? What then is all of you? The first thing we must know and remember is that we are all distinct individuals, equipped by God with various gifts and talents. Saint Paul attests to this: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4.11) Within our vocation as teachers, God has called some of us to be language teachers, others as science teachers, others as history teachers, and so on and so on. The disciplines we represent are all different, yet equally important, for each of them brings to light particular aspects of our common life together.

But as Saint Paul also says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (I Corinthians 12.4) Although we, ourselves, and the disciplines we teach may be different, all of our respective disciplines and us reflect back and build upon the same thing—God as the foundation upon which all truth comes. In reading the Bible, all of us can see our respective disciplines reflected throughout it pages. Science by the proclamation of God as the source for all creation, the One who has set all that there is in motion. History by a comparison of events from the past with those from the Biblical narrative, proving God’s very existence and as a relational Being, involved in all facets of time, past, present, and yet to come. Language arts by the lyricism of the Psalms, the Songs of Solomon, and various other Biblical poems, reflecting language as a gift of God to us, giving us the ability to communicate our emotions both to and about Him, and serving as a connecting source amongst the various peoples of the earth. And the reflections continue on. From these reflections, we come to see that whatever the differences regarding what we teach or what we do are, or whatever differences there may be between us, God uses us as conduits of His truth, thereby making us servants through whom others may come to believe in Him. This makes us all God’s servants, working together. This brings us together as God’s field, God’s building (I Corinthians 3.9).

But not only is it important that we know and remember who we are, it is also important that we know who it is that we represent. Again, as our mission statement declares, “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” The Person who it is that we represent and the very foundation upon which all that we are as a school is built is Jesus Christ. This Jesus, who is the Ascension Episcopal School foundation, is the God of all time who, out of His great love for us, became human and dwelled among us; who, for us, suffered on a cross and died, paying the price for our sins that we could not pay, freeing us from the shackles of sin and death, and reconciled us to God the Father; whose resurrection from the grave opened for us the way of everlasting life; and through whom our humanity sits on the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. Saint Paul says, “…We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us…” (II Corinthians 5.20)

In order for Ascension Episcopal School to remain true to its mission of providing a quality education within a Christian environment, we must acknowledge Jesus Christ as being the foundation upon which our school is built. As a Christian school, we align ourselves with Jesus, the Son of God, revealed in Holy Scripture and confessed in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. We look to the Holy Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, as being the Word of God, through which God still speaks to us, His people. We commit ourselves to gathering together for corporate worship, so we can give praise to God, hear what His Spirit is saying to us through Scripture, pray for ourselves and for others, and experience God’s grace through the Sacraments. As a Christian institution, all that Ascension Episcopal School endeavors to teach and do should reflect back on Jesus, God’s love in human form, the only One able to free us from our sin, and who, by what He has done, has made us heirs of God’s kingdom.

It is this kind of environment in which the mission of Ascension Episcopal School is focused. As one administrator said during a recent CPE session, “These kids are going to be looking to see if we walk the talk.” This begs the question, “Do you believe?” Do you believe in our mission? Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe Jesus to still be relevant to who we are as a school community? I know that I do and I hope that all of you do, as well. If you believe in our mission and are committed to its manifestation, our students will take notice. By seriously striving to walk the talk, committing ourselves to be that community that we say we are, our students will know that we are serious about this Christian environment stuff, from which opens the possibility for the seeds of belief in Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life to be planted.

May we always remember who we are—Ascension Episcopal School…committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment. May we always remember who it is that we represent—Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, the foundation for who we are, and the fount from whom all truth comes.

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Amen!

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