Sermon given at a National Scout and Guide Service 2018
Do any of you like to sit quietly at home on a Saturday evening? If you do, it seems you are not.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Saturday, 3rd November 2018 at 12.00 PM
Do any of you like to sit quietly at home on a Saturday evening? If you do, it seems you are not alone. And if you are sitting quietly at home on a Saturday evening, are you by any chance likely to tune in to Strictly? Strictly come dancing? I am, given half a chance.
It’s all very well, but I have a bone to pick with Strictly. Yesterday and the day before here in the Abbey, as elsewhere in the Church, we have been keeping our great annual celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
On All Saints’ Day we give thanks to God for all the holy men and women and, come to that, children, of every age since the Church began, everyone who has been an example and inspiration in their own generation and everyone whom the Church looks back on with thanksgiving, because they have done something extraordinary and significant, sometimes to the point of giving their lives in martyrdom. That’s All Saints’ Day, always on 1st November, when we sing For all the saints, who from their labours rest.
And then yesterday on All Souls’ Day, we commemorated all the faithful departed, all those whom we have loved and who have died, but who we cannot think of necessarily as saints, but our own friends and family members. We commend them to God, asking God to give them a place of comfort and peace in heaven. That’s All Souls’ Day, always on 2nd November, when we pray Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
So, what is the little bone I want to pick with Strictly? You may have guessed it. They don’t celebrate All Saints’ or All Souls’ but they celebrate the eve of All Saints’. Another word for All Saints’ is All Hallows’. And Hallowe’en is the day before, the eve of, All Saints’ Day. Well, of course, it’s colourful and perhaps it’s fun, to dress up as Ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night. But what do children learn from it? Not necessarily anything good.
Well, I don’t want to be too harsh. A couple of years ago I was in New Haven Connecticut in the United States on Hallowe’en. A lot of the houses had witches’ hats on gables and netting, and in front of one house was someone lying on the ground dressed up as a sort of crocodile. A lot of the children had special clothes as well. And they were picking up sweets at every house. It was fun and harmless, though I suppose all those sweets weren’t very good for them. I just think that we want our children and young people to grow up, not obsessed with Ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, but prizing goodness and kindness and generosity and politeness and being willing to help and to serve.
And that is where the Scouts and Guides come in.
When I was a boy I was a cub scout. For some reason, perhaps I had too much else to do, I never became a scout. Perhaps I was a little disappointed being a cub. We always played British bull-dog first, where the task was to upend as many people as possible. One person began by trying to catch people as they ran across the hall. And everyone he caught and upended joined him until there was only one left to be caught. There were I’m sad to say injuries and eventually I heard that the scout movement had banned British bull-dog. And I think that was a good decision. I expect our Akela just wanted to tire us out a bit at first so that we would be good.
So, being good. That’s the real point. Being kind. Learning to love and serve, not to dominate, not to bully, not to be selfish, but to be kind.
And I really believe that the Scout and Guide movement has a huge role to play in helping people to come to see that kindness is good and to come to learn that being kind is the right way. How much better would our world be if everyone learnt as a young person to be kind.
There are various ways of looking at kindness. And the route to kindness we may see as one of wisdom, being able to judge aright, knowing what matters and what really doesn’t matter. Being wise leads to being kind.
The lesson Ioannis read just now from the book of Proverbs was about the importance of wisdom and how we can become wise. ‘Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you,’ he read. ‘Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.’ And he went on to say that wisdom and understanding are better than silver or gold, ‘more precious than jewels and nothing you desire can compare with her.’ So, riches count for nothing, I suppose as long as you’re not living on the streets or in night shelters. Even fame matters not a jot. What really matters is being good and kind and doing what is right.
We all know that is true. It’s the only way to sleep at night, to have done the right thing, to have worked to help others, to have served the greater good. How dreadful it would be to find our whole justification in life based on the money we have in the bank or the people we have beaten or the way we have used other people for our own ends and for our own advantage. None of that leaves us feeling comfortable or at peace.
The second lesson, read by Bryony, was from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. And this is on the same lines but more radical. If you really listen hard it turns out to be a little shocking. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.’ Jesus says that, if that happens to you, you should be really happy and glad. Now that is difficult. None of us likes to be accused, whether we have done something wrong or not. And then, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’ It’s easier when we hear him say, ‘Blessed are the meek’, meaning people who are humble, and ‘Blessed are the merciful.’ That makes sense.
Sometimes Jesus expresses things really strongly to make a point. Most of us are unlikely to be persecuted. Or I hope not. Most of us are not going to be accused in the streets. Or I hope not. But we can all be good and kind, merciful, humble, generous. And above all, our example can help others be the same.
You know for sure that children and young people aren’t great at just being told. They have to be shown. They have to see for themselves. You who are here are here because you have given so many hours of your life week by week to serving young people. You have gently and unobtrusively shown them what it is to be good and kind. And they will have caught it from you. That is the only way. No amount of telling works. You have to show them, by what you do, not by what you say.
And you have. That is what you have done. That is why you’re here. I really want to thank you. The whole purpose of this service is to say a heart-felt thank you to you. Thank you. And God bless you.