Looking through the questions
John 8:31-36

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. ... If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
All parents have a long list of hopes and dreams for their children.  And in a parallel column is an equally long list of doubts and anxieties, of questions.  The joy of watching a child grow – (actually, we adults are all still growing, too; so we’re actually still on the same journey, just a little further down the road...) – the joy of watching a person grow always seems regularly punctuated with great big “question mark”s.
[At this point I would like all of you to take the printed question mark that was handed to you as you were coming in this morning and place it on your lap, with the question mark ‘up’ so that you can see it there; I want to use this to help you think....]
Schools, of course, are places of learning.  And in learning, question marks are not something to be feared, but encouraged!  We encourage one another to ask questions.  From the moment a toddler starts chanting an incessant “Why?  Why?  Why?” we recognize the question as the lead into exploring and discovering and ‘figuring out’ and ... learning.
So the “question mark” is a powerful symbol!  And, depending what kind of a day you’re having, it may evoke one of two different and opposite kinds of responses:  a feeling of excitement and opportunity; or a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety.
In a few weeks children from our Good Shepherd school, and from schools all around our Australian community, will take home ‘reports’.  In an odd way, the report is seen as a measure or a summary of what has gone on during the learning of the year.  The main problem with reports is that we often look to them focussing on skills and subject matter – things that gauge whether or not we can answer questions like “What does 2+2 equal?” or “How long is the Zambezi River?”  And then, parents may use that information to consider and postulate answers to questions like “Will my child be successful in his studies next year?  What about at secondary school?  And at Uni?  Will she find a satisfying and rewarding career?  Or, at least, get a good, stable job?  What about a house?  Family?  Income?  Independently wealthy enough to look after me, the parent, in my old age and declining health?”  (That’s a lot to try and figure out from a year 2 report!)
But, then, you’re actually starting to head towards what the real questions are!  All the while, behind and beneath and beyond the literacy and numeracy and integrated studies and science and technology and music and art and PE and LOTE, are forming the real questions your children are exploring through all of their other learning:  “Who am I?  How do I ‘work’?  How does the world ‘work’?  Who are the people around me?  How do I fit in?”
And then “Why?”... added to all of those....
Today we give thanks to God for 30 years of blessing, and particularly for this one special blessing:  that all the while, in every moment of 30 years, the whole time, behind and beneath and beyond all the subject areas, and all the questions and, importantly, even before all the questions—those real, deep, fundamental questions of “Who am I?” and “How do I fit in?”—before those God has said something to us.  Before we speak with our questions, he has spoken with a truth that is the foundation for our learning, the foundation of our being; it is God’s declaration about you:  “I made you.  You are mine.  I love you.”  (It is not an accident, or an empty, ancient tradition that we begin our day “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; we do that because it says that we know something important before we set off to explore the difficult questions!)
This truth—sometimes we call it the Gospel, God’s Good News—this truth that in the beginning is God, and God’s love for us, and God’s good plans for us—and that this love is absolute, and unconditional, and eternal—God wants you to know that! trust that! live in that and learn in that!—this truth transforms our questions—whether they are the “excitement & opportunity” questions or the “uncertainty & some anxiety” questions—this truth of God’s love for us transforms our questions; changes them; tells us that there is something else behind and beyond our questions that we already know.
In our school and church community here it works something like this:  I want you, now, to pick up the question mark on your lap, and hold it up—with the question mark facing you—hold it up to the light coming from the front window.  And though the question mark is there in front of you, through the question mark, behind the question, you can see something else:  a simple, strong symbol of the love of God for you, and for everyone.  If you look through the question, you will see the cross.
That cross has been the determining constant behind our 30 years.  There’s been lots of change in every other respect—students, staff, buildings, curriculum—but the cross has been there, unchanged and unchanging.
And that’s important to our learning.  The cross of Christ our Good Shepherd, the love of God, is unchanged and unchanging.  And as I ask the question “Who am I?” the cross shapes my answer; it is God’s given starting point for my learning, and my living.
Hold those question marks up in front of you again; and look through the question mark and see the cross...  Now, without putting them down, turn your head and look around the chapel and see what everyone is holding up!  Everyone is holding up the cross—showing the cross to each other, to the community, to the world!
We give thanks today for the fact that for 30 years we, in our school and church community, have been holding up the cross for everyone to see.  Learning and living are not individual pursuits—we do them as community.  In this community we have encouraged and guided and supported each other, not simply with our own energies and talents—of which there has been a real blessing, God’s real bounty!—but consistently and fundamentally we have encouraged and guided and supported each other with the cross of Christ, the love of God, the care of our Good Shepherd. 
At the same time as we look to the questions of our learning, we teach, proclaim and live the cross!
Now that cross doesn’t answer the question to “How long is the Zambezi River?”!  But it does have an interesting effect on our learning about the Zambezi River, and about the people who live along that river.  We have noted that in a special way this year as we have, in fact, explored questions like, “How do I fit in with the people of Mozambique?  How do we belong together in the world?  If I recognize my blessings, my talents, my opportunities, and see my brothers and sisters in need, what then?”  We have asked those very questions; we have studied those very facts, learned those very lessons!  Questions plus cross!
Hold up the question—the question about others in their need—and you’ll see the starting point for the answer—the cross—the cross in which God gives everything, in love, for those whom he loves.  The cross may not answer the question “How long is the Zambezi River?” but the cross is the crucial reference point for our navigation and exploration of life with our brothers and sisters who live along that river!
When Jesus told those listening, in our Gospel reading, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”, they were all somewhat confused.  They wanted to deny that they were enslaved by anything!  Jesus pointed out, fairly gently on this occasion, that ‘sin’ enslaves everyone.  We have, in our worship this morning, recognized sin, named it, confessed it, and heard the truth of Jesus’ word of forgiveness—which then sets us free to get on with it:  with our worship, with our celebration, with our enjoying one another’s company, with our learning and our living.
The truth of God’s love for us in Jesus does not take us out of the reality of the world we live in—it firmly directs us into it!  The truth of God’s love for us in Jesus does not eliminate questions about disappointments and frustrations—it gives the assurance of letting us look for answers within the certainty of his goodness and faithfulness.  The truth of God’s love for us in Jesus does not set us free from learning(!), but takes us forward in confidence with his leading and feeding—that’s what a Good Shepherd does!
We look forward to many more years, and many more lives, of learning—of holding up the questions ... always to see the cross ... to know that God loves—that we are loved!
Who am I?  [?]  Why am I? [?] How do I fit in? [?]  I am loved by God!  [†]