Sermons - Reverent

Sermons - Reverent

A Scout is Brave

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for February 10, 2008: Scout Sunday
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

Readings to Accompany this Sermon:

Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-7
   The First Sin and Its Punishment
Matthew 4:1-11
   The Temptation of Jesus


Be with us, O Lord, as we ask You to illuminate Your timeless Word for today's world. Amen

Years ago, academic legend has it, a philosophy professor handed out the blue books (remember those?) and wrote her single final exam question on the blackboard (remember those?). The question was a classic question of philosophy, one actually posed by Socrates to his students: ’What is bravery?“ One student picked up his pen, wrote three words, turned in his blue book and left the class. His answer?
THIS is bravery!

But today we're going to talk about real bravery. Now some people are almost by definition brave; policemen, firemen, members of the armed forces and federal agents bravely face danger every day to protect the commonweal. But bravery is not always so overt; bravery may be as simple as sitting in the front of the bus or ordering lunch at a lunch counter. Bravery is not always something shown in the face of danger but may be as basic as standing up—or even sitting down—for something you believe in. Scouting tries to impart this through the eleventh point of the Boy Scout Law which says “A Scout is Brave", and explains it like this: “A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.” The Girl Scout Law says Girl Scouts do their best to be “courageous and strong". This is no small challenge. Let's face it folks: when you're 12 years old, jeers and laughter can hurt as much as stones or brickbats.

As we observe the 50th anniversary year of our own Troop 100 here at Wesley, it is appropriate that the title of my sermon is “A Scout is Brave". This is the eleventh of my series of twelve sermons based on the twelve points of the Boy Scout Law and as I look back on this series I know God has blessed me richly with the insight to share my thoughts on His word, as filtered through the set of guidelines for living originally laid down by Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, over 100 years ago. Although the phrase as we know and use it came from Congregationalist pastor Charles Sheldon, Robert Baden-Powell in his own way asked the question “What would Jesus do?", and certainly this thought guided him as he selected the principles for life that became the Scout Law. He put it a little more elegantly: “It is curious to me that men who profess to be good Christians often forget, in a difficulty, to ask themselves the simple question: 'What would Christ have done under the circumstances?' and be guided accordingly. Try it the next time you are in any difficulty or doubt as to how to proceed.”

Interestingly enough, the phrase, “What would Jesus do?", although co-opted by fundamentalist Christians in the late 20th century, was actually a key part what spurred theologian Walter Rauschenbusch to write A Theology for the Social Gospel. This line of thought originated by Sheldon and elaborated on by Rauschenbusch we find today clearly reflected in the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church.

As we look at our scriptures today, we see two very special things that bind our God to us, and us to Him: our creation in His own image and His incarnation as a man. Our creation in His image is made abundantly clear in our lesson from the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter 1 we hear “...in His image, in the image of God he created them". But in our reading today we see that the image is not about outward appearance—humanity comes in all shapes and sizes and colors—it is in the inside, in our soul and intellect that we are in His image. It is this likeness that gives humanity the ability to make choices: not to be driven purely by animal instinct but rather by that divine spark that allows us make choices, even when they are bad ones, even when they are disobedient ones. Even when they cut us off from communion with our Creator.

In God's incarnation as a man, He thrust himself into all that being a man entails. In our Gospel we see Jesus enduring what any sociologist or anthropologist would immediately recognize as a “rite of passage", in many ways very similar to the rites of passage endured by generation after generation of Native Americans. Hunger. Thirst. Fatigue. Sweat. A weekend campout in the wilderness is nothing. 40 days and 40 nights? That's tough. Really tough. Most perspectives on the life of Christ hold that he did not sin, but you don't have to sin to know the miseries of the human condition. Hunger. Thirst. Fatigue. Sweat. Anger. Fear. Fear is not a sin; fear is a manifestation of perhaps the most valuable animal instinct, the one that leads us to say to ourselves: Hey, is this really a good idea? Should I be doing this? Should I just run? It is a perfectly normal and healthy part of human life. We can assume with pretty solid assurance that Jesus was hungry. And thirsty. And tired. And hot. Was Jesus afraid? I think so. He was a human being and fear is an inescapable part of the human condition.

When the devil lifted Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and challenged Him to throw Himself down, was Jesus afraid? I think so. He was human. Does it take bravery to resist temptation? You bet! Does it take bravery to resist fear? You know it does! In this story we see the ultimate “What Would Jesus Do?” And what does he do? Answers the tempter with scripture—at least the first two times. Was Jesus angry? Well, what does he say the third time? “Away with you, Satan!” Is anger a sin? NO! Letting anger rule overrule your heart and intellect: that's a sin, but Jesus had every right to be angry. Being brave is controlling your anger and not letting it rule you—certainly a challenge for many of us.
That same spark of divinity that God granted us to allow us to make choices, that made us in His image, also gives us the ability to be brave.

A lack of fear is not courage; it's not bravery. A lack of fear may often be just plain stupid. Being brave is being able to face your fears. American General Omar Bradley said “Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” Or even more concisely, author Franklin P. Jones put it this way: “Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."

Scouting is about rites of passage. In some senses it is a very structured “40 days in the wilderness” that is, in part, intended to have much the same effect and impact as the experience Jesus faced. Camping in a tent. At night. In the dark. In the wilderness. With wild animals about. When I was a Scout at 11 years old, my troop used to hike five miles from the school where we met to our very own campsite, in a grove of live oaks on the Thibodeaux Ranch in Carlsbad, California. At night we would have a campfire, and at the very far edge of the light from the fire, we would be completely surrounded by a ring of greenish-yellow dots: reflections from the eyes of the coyotes. Scary? You bet! What did senior boy leaders in the troop—our Senior Patrol Leader and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster—tell us? A Scout is Brave! They also told us that we had to rely on each other. Only at the end did they tell us that the coyotes were a lot more afraid of us than we were of them! But learning to be brave in the face of fear—and of anger, your own and others—and of scorn—is a key element of growing to be successful young man or woman.

And we have before us today the example of the temptation of Jesus. Bravery. Later He went on to tell us to love our enemies, which I believe takes far more bravery than hating them. And even later, as He faced His impending arrest, trial and execution, was He scared? Sure He was! He prayed in the garden on the Mount of Olives, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” But He faced His fate despite His fears: Bravery. Bravely He faced the chief priests. Bravely He faced Pilate. Bravely He faced Herod. And bravely He faced death on the cross. Jesus was a man—and it hurt.

In his book The Scout Law in Practice, Arthur A. Carey recounts the story of a young soldier who had been under fire for the first time, and who knew what he had behaved well. He was afterwards asked by his colonel:

“Well, how did you get on?”
“Why , Sir,” said he, in his desire to appear modest, “I had no idea that I was such a funk, but afterwards I felt"—
“Never mind what you felt,” replied the colonel. “What I want to know is what you did.”

The ancient Latin motto Acta Non Verba—"deeds, not words"—sums up the essence of our topic. Bravery is not what you say; it's what you do. For Scouts it's a lesson to be learned, and a pattern to imprint upon our lives. For Jesus, it was His very life; and not just as an example—although I use here today for that purpose—not just another act of bravery but as the act of atonement that expresses God's infinite love for us.

May we all grow in God's grace, and with His help and love learn to face fear and doubt and anger and scorn with true bravery. In His Holy Name we pray. Amen.