Sermon preached 7 July 2019
Readings: Isaiah 66: 10-14 Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Two headlines caught my attention this week:
the first read – “Mark Wood’s lucky touch symbolizes England’s change in fortune”. I really didn’t know I was so influential!
The second was rather brief and read simply:
“A good week for teenagers”.
Behind that article was the separate successes of two fifteen year olds. Firstly there was Alex Mann, who found himself quite literally plucked from the crowds at the Glastonbury Music Festival and hauled up onto the main stage where – for almost 5 minute – he performed flawlessly alongside his hero – a rapper called Dave; whom I’d never heard of, possibly because I’m not a teenager!!
And there was Coco Gauff, the American tennis player who astonished the crowds at Wimbledon by beating her own here – Venus Williams – and going on to win her match against the Slovenian Polona Hercog – so making it into the last 16.
For two particular teenagers, then, it was a VERY good week.
I heard something rather different on Thursday, however, at a meeting of the Local Youth Network – the group which advices the “Area Board” on which local initiatives deserve Council support.
In the middle of the meeting we wandered into the area of mental health – and our main youth worker suddenly said “You know, I think this is a really depressing time to be a teenager.” And seeing the raised eyebrows around her, she went on to explain why.
Although we may think that young people have more freedom, more opportunity, than we ever did, the fact that the school leaving age has been raised to 18 takes away some of the choice we had: if you really are not academically minded, you can’t now leave school and get started on a career – as previous generations could.
If you’re the kind of teenager who just doesn’t fit in at school – the prospect of living with that until you are 18 can feel like a life sentence. And of course there’s far more scope for bullying now – on and off school premises.
None of which is great for mental health and wellbeing.
Young people today are only half as likely to have a Saturday job as their parents’ generation – not because they’re lazy, but because the opportunities just don’t exist. Retailers don’t hire as many staff, Newsagents don’t have paper rounds any more, employment legislation designed to protect the young from exploitation makes them, in some cases, too expensive to employ.
And with that loss of opportunity to work comes the loss of independence – the sense of pride that comes from earning your own money and deciding what to do with it – the ability to go and do things for yourself without having to ask your parents for the money.
For many in our own area, that lack of freedom is exacerbated by lack of public transport: if you live down the valley in Fovant, or Compton Chamberlayne, or Dinton – you may well live in a very lovely house and a beautiful area – but if you want to get into town or to visit friends, you still have to rely on Mum or Dad to drive you.
And while their parents may well have got on a bike and ridden into town – today that simply isn’t safe.
On balance, it really isn’t clear whether today’s teenagers have greater or lesser freedom than their parents.
And when they do finally make it into the grown-up world of work – there will be the prospect of zero-hours contracts and other unpredictable employment systems that just didn’t exist 20 years ago.
The likelihood of being able to afford to rent a house, let alone to buy one, as many of us did in our 20s or 30s will be pretty much zero.
And the prospect of a decent pension at the end of our working life is seeming increasingly distant for MY generation, never mind the next one.
There is now much more freedom from some of the constraints that were imposed on us – at school and through social pressure beyond that. But even there the lack of an agreed social norm produces a new set of pressures – needing each of us to decide for ourselves what to regard as “normal society” and where we fit in.
So, a good time to be a teenager? Not necessarily.
As so often, it’s a question of perspective.
Of course teenagers are going to feel hard done by – they can’t remember any of the hardships or constraints their grandparents or parents faced, only the sense that NOW their elders seem to have all the power. That’s always been true to an extent.
But then, their elders generally see things through the lens of their own experience too.
We remember what it was like, don’t we – we’ve all been to school after all? Except that school life today is rather different than it was 10 years ago, is very different from when I left school in 1986, and completely unlike anything many of you would ever have experienced before then. And it’s easy to make assumptions which may actually rest on rather flimsy foundations.
I’m labouring this point rather, not to make us ALL depressed – but just to encourage us think about the way we do read the headlines or interpret comment in the media: do we make assumptions about people who are younger, or older than us, that really we have no right to make? Do we ever challenge those assumptions – whether made by us or someone else?
The question of “perspective” is there in our Gospel reading today – with its equally challenging picture of power-play and motivation.
The section we just heard comes at the end of a gradual unfolding – in Chapter 8, Jesus set out on his ministry of healing and teaching, then in chapter 9 he sends the 12 to continue this work, and now in chapter 10 he sends out “70 others”. They are evidently successful in their mission, and return excited and eager to tell Jesus all about it.
But he’s not interested in that; he’s more concerned that they have they eyes set on the future – on the coming kingdom of God. “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you – but that your names are written in heaven.”
What matters, it seems, is not the power we can achieve – the things we make happen, for good or ill – but the reason we do anything at all.
If we are motivated by God’s love and concern for all people and all life, and a desire to make that love known and that life a rich experience for all, then surely we will develop a perspective that sees things from many angles – that sees the world in the way that others do.
And that, I think, is what Jesus is asking of us.
We somehow need to work for a practical vision of the future which both recognises and encompasses the mix of needs and perspectives across the generations and within each generation – to avoid generalisations about “young people” or “old People” or any other category of people and to see just “people”.
The world in which Jesus first preached the kingdom of God is as alien to us as life on Mars would be – 2000 years away and with social complexities that we simply can’t comprehend.
And yet that vision does speak to us, as it does in hugely different cultures around world and as it has throughout the intervening generations since Jesus first spoke of it.
That vision is one of inclusion, of justice, of love and forgiveness – it is a broad vision of life in all its fullness.
To all of us, then and now, Jesus gives an urgent call to action – to be labourers in the harvest of God’s people – and not to feel that we have failed when some refuse to see that vision with us. It’s not success that he asks from us, but our willingness to join in the attempt.