notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley

Here are a few comments on the state of society

“I think morals are getting much worse. There were no such girls in my time as there are now. (Charlotte Kirkman)
A magistrate writes, “The morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly….”
A clergyman writes – “ The rising generation are more and more debased, than any previous generation for the last three hundred years.”

Clearly all these writers are expressing a sense of the moral decay of the age, dismissing the young as spoilt, corrupt, violent and out of control. Would it surprise you to know that these protests were written not last week but in the 1840s? A historian called Geoffrey Pearson wrote a book called “Hooligan: a history of Respectable Fears”. In it he produces a fascinating account of the way respectable folk like us think about the age that we live in.He shows that every generation since the beginning of the nineteenth century at least has feared that their age was going to the dogs. That every generation has recorded comments bemoaning the manners, morals, habits, clothes and behaviour of the younger generation. That every generation has compared the present time unfavourably with the one in which they were children. That they, like us, declare that we don’t know what things are coming to. If people have had this sense of fear and dislike of the young for at least the last hundred and fifty years, does this mean that things are not getting worse, but that we just think they are?

I had someone tell me this week that the end of the world must be coming “because things are so much worse now than they were before”. When before? During the “golden age” of the Black Death? During the “Merrie England” of eighteenth century England, when thousands starved after a bad harvest? Do we really think that things are worse, people are worse, than when tens of thousands of Scottish people were moved off the land by money grubbing landlords? During the Victorian period where children were sent up chimneys and worked fourteen hours a day in factories?

Pearson shows that the old and middle-aged have always take the attitude that the young were wrong, out of control and dangerous. Would it surprise you to know that British social commentators writing in the 1930s were desperately worried by the out of control youth of the period, with their slang, odd fashions and popular music? This was the generation that went on to fly the aeroplanes in the Battle of Britain, fought at El Alamein, and left home to work in the factories, pulled people from the bombed buildings during the Blitz! So obviously the fears of the 1930s writers about the young whippersnappers of the era were unfounded and perhaps our view that things ain’t what they used to be isn’t true either.
Why am I saying all this? Because I think that negativity is a quality which is against the values of our faith. That being negative is a habit that we can get into, as we find new things strange or difficult – we attack or dismiss them. Tony Benn says that when you reach his great age, eighty, the only valuable thing you have left to do is to encourage the young. I feel that this is particularly vital in the context of the church.

We must resist the Tabloid tendency to dismiss the young as lazy, drug-ridden, violent etc. Writing off a whole generation, their habits and morals is against everything we should stand for. The Holy Spirit is not able to work when barriers of prejudice are raised against it. Love cannot flourish when there is condemnation and fear. Now we have come to terms with the fact (most of us) that it is wrong to be prejudice against someone because they are Jewish or Indian, people now accept that women are to be treated as equals. But there seems still to be an open season on teenagers. Our attitude to the young seems to be the equivalent of racism. In the same way that foreigners were expected to be as like us as possible, the young are expected to conform to our ways as much as possible.

Jesus stood for the very opposite of this kind of prejudice. His life as described in the Gospels, was shocking in the way it included people rather than excluding them. In a culture where knowing your place was very important Jesus lifted people out of the place assigned to them by society and brought them to shine in the light and freedom of His presence. Jesus didn’t exclude the young, or women, or unclean people and he didn’t exclude the morally bankrupt, like tax collectors. I am entirely sure that He never thought or spoke carelessly about any group in society. The challenge for us, as Christians, is to try and think, like Jesus did, in the most open and generous terms, to resist the urge to judge and most especially to resist the urge to prejudge a person or group of people. As we come to the Lord’s table today, we aren’t invited because of our virtue or what our theological beliefs are. We are welcomed because God loves us. Everyone is invited and everyone is welcome and it is our job as a Christian church to make sure everyone knows about that welcome. Amen