February 12, 2020
February 9, 2020 Scout Sunday
Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 5:13-20
The World is Watching
The sermon began with a reflection from Eagle Scout James McCarson.
Thanks very much, James, for sharing that as we celebrate Scout Sunday and the 98-year history of Troop 16 here at St. Andrew’s. For those of us who never made it past Cub Scouts, it’s great to hear what the experience of Scouting means for those who make it all the way along the path to Eagle.
Other than the fact that the church sponsors Troop 16, you might wonder what exactly is the intersection of Scouting and Christian faith? After all, the Scouts aren’t an outside group that uses our space; Troop and Pack 16 are part of our youth ministries. So presumably, the trail toward Eagle, and, for that matter, the path toward the Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, and the journey of following Jesus – they must overlap on the map of our lives, right?
I was talking with parishioner Dave Banks last week about Scout Sunday. You may remember Dave for the amazing movie trailer he put together for Trivia Night and the Annual Parish Meeting, but Dave is also deeply involved in Scouts. An Eagle Scout himself and the father of an Eagle, Dave was our Scoutmaster for several years and now is the unit committee chair. He was reflecting on what it means to be an Eagle – the hard work, commitment, and perseverance it requires, as well as the virtues it teaches. He noted that one step in the Eagle process is that the Scout has to go before a board of review, adult leaders who expect to hear about the Scout’s progress and why the work merits advancement. That review happens at each rank, but the stakes are especially high at the Eagle review; and sometimes, they’re turned down. Dave said, “The process helps to hone their character and ability.”
Honing our character – I think that’s a good way of seeing our path of discipleship as well as the path of Scouting. And I think a big part of that process is learning where to look as we make our journey. Where should our attention lie?
You don’t have to be a theologian or an expert in human behavior to know that, left to our own devices, we’ll often head down our path with blinders on. It’s not necessarily about selfishness or ugliness of character; even people with noble motives can be so focused on their own priorities or their own issues that the journey ends up being mostly about them. I think one of the important intersections of the way of Scouting the way of Jesus is the call to take off our blinders – to get past our own agendas enough to see our fellow travelers along the road. The Scout Oath puts it like this: “I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, to help other people at all times….” The Great Commandment frames it this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37,39). They’re not precisely the same, of course, but they both call us to open our eyes and mold our hearts to see and serve those we might be tempted to pass by.
That’s what I hear in the Old Testament reading today. The prophet Isaiah is talking about being righteous, which means living in the right kind of relationship with God. Back in the day, people often thought about that in terms of their up-and-down relationship with God – whether they said their prayers, and offered sacrifices, and observed God’s commands. All that is important, Isaiah would say, but don’t forget that a big part of being in a right relationship with God is about how your care for the person in front of you. If you want to get closer to God, Isaiah says, get closer to someone who’s suffering. Get closer to someone who doesn’t have enough to eat or a place to live. Respect the dignity of someone off to the side of your path by showing up for them. That’s when we’ll find God showing up for us when we cry out in our own troubles. That’s when we’ll hear God saying to us, yes, “Here I am,” for you (Isaiah 58:9).
So maybe righteousness, that right relationship with God – maybe it happens when we love God by loving the people it would be easiest to forget. Maybe even by loving the people most different from us. Maybe even by loving the people we like the least. Maybe even by loving the people who don’t much like us, either.
Scouts get that, right? Being righteous may not be easy, but it’s also not complicated. Every time the Scouts say their Oath and Law, they name their take on what it looks like to live in right relationship with God: I’ll help other people at all times. I’ll be trustworthy, loyal, and helpful. I’ll be friendly, courteous, and kind. I’ll be obedient, cheerful, and thrifty. I’ll be brave, clean, and reverent. In all these ways, I’ll respect the dignity of the people around me as a way of honoring the God who made us both. In a day when we watch our leaders refusing to shake their opponents’ hands and ripping up their opponents’ speeches, I’d like to suggest some Scout meetings might be just the thing to teach respect for the dignity of the person in front of you, whether you like that person or not.
When we make a different choice, we change the world. When we honor each other, Jesus says, we shine God’s light for all to see. Though we may be tempted to see ourselves as just one person whose choices don’t make much difference, Jesus says no: That’s letting yourself off the hook, allowing yourself to play too small. Yes, you are just one person. And – “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. You are a city built on a hill, and “a city built on a hill cannot be hid.” I don’t want you to follow me just in your own head and your own heart, Jesus says. Instead, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14,16)
Because, after all, the world is watching – especially when you’re wearing a Scout uniform, or wearing a cross around your neck.