Sermons - Reverent

Sermons - Reverent

A Scout is Loyal

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for March 12, 2000: Scout Sunday
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA
Luke 16:10
"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much."
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

A few years back, Bruce Willis starred in a movie called "The Last Boy Scout". In it he plays a former Secret Service Agent who, driven from his position of trust by alcohol and ennui, is now a down-and-out private eye. He teams up with an ex-football player kicked out of the league for indulging in gambling and drugs to investigate the murder of the player's wife. As the rock-em-sock-em action continues, the pair uncover shocking corruption at the highest levels of professional football. The name of the picture is a little intentional irony, as it is clear that Willis' character is no Boy Scout. But there is a point to the name—despite his image, his 'aura' of dissipated indifference, when the chips are down Willis' character wants to do the right thing. Deep at his core he still believes in the values that led him to his first career in the Secret Service.

When coupled with the subject matter, the name of the film implies that there is something terminally square about being a Scout, which to me is just another illustration of how out of touch Hollywood is with the real values of America. Critic Michael Medved calls this type of thinking in the movie industry an "assault on the innocence of our children". This assault on the standards we set for our children is by no means new—Jesus saw it in our Gospel lesson today (how contemporary a reading from the Bible can you get?). "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light." As we can see, even in the days of Jesus the perception sometimes was that it just didn't pay to be honest or loyal, to hold the kinds of values one learns as a Scout.

Fortunately we know the truth, and the truth is that Scouting and the other youth programs we are recognizing today hold fast in their commitment to the moral, ethical, and religious values that form the core of our Judeo-Christian tradition. It's Scout Sunday again, a time when we recognize Scout, Campfire, and Four-H members and leaders in our congregation and all the blessings these programs bring to our children, and by extension to our community and our nation. As I mentioned last year, the "official" term for these four organizations is "Civic Youth Serving Agencies" associated with the United Methodist Church . This still has a bureaucratic ring to it, but nonetheless remains a critical part of United Methodism's ministry to youth. Despite some divisions and controversy at the top level of the denomination, United Methodist congregations sponsor more Scout units than any other religious body. When you search online for resources relating to religion and scouting the page that pops up time after time is www.umcscouting.org, the official Civic Youth Serving Agencies/Scouting Ministry page of the General Commission of United Methodist Men. (Not that it really matters, but the first sermon listed on their site is one of mine...)

This brings us to our point, the topic of our sermon for today, the second point of the Scout Law:

A Scout is LOYAL

Two years ago I preached on the twelfth point, a Scout is reverent, and last year on the first point, a Scout is trustworthy, so I guess this means that I have nine more years of sermon topics to go. Then my youngest, John, will be just old enough to be a Boy Scout so maybe I'll just start the cycle over. Getting back to the subject at hand, let's look at the explanation from the Scout handbook for "A Scout is Loyal": "A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, nation, and world community." Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, phrased the original just a little differently but it's sort of illuminating to hear his version: "A SCOUT is LOYAL TO THE KING, and to his officers, and to his parents, his country, and his employers. He must stick to them through thick and thin against anyone who is their enemy or who even talks badly of them."

The Scout Oath or Promise in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is really all about loyalty, expressed in three parts: duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self. Loyalty is perhaps the foremost expression of these duties. It is very clear to whom loyalty is due here; personal loyalty, where the focus is on personal loyalty to a leader of a group, can become one of the worst perversions of the term and results in subverted concepts of loyalty such as those shown by "made guys" in the mob. To understand what is really meant by loyalty, lets go way back to a book called The Scout Law in Practice by Arthur A. Carey—it was written 85 years ago but it's just as true today as it was in 1915:

This leads us to the original meaning of the word "loyal" which comes from a word meaning "law" and expresses faithfulness to law. From faithfulness to law it came to mean faithfulness to the representative of law, such as a prince or the chief magistrate of a country, or a commanding officer. Hence, it got the meaning of faithfulness between comrades and friends, and so on; but the original meaning of faithfulness to law is the best one for us to pin our attention to; for, if a man is loyal in this sense, there will be no trouble about his being rightly loyal in every other; whereas, if he is only personally loyal, in the sense of being faithful to personal friends or parties, his loyalty may be led away and become unsound by the weakness of the persons or parties to whom he is attached.

Loyalty to self is perhaps best summed up in the words of the Bard: "To thine own self be true". In both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts this loyalty to self is the starting point for Promise: "On my honor"—a recognition of the primary importance of personal honor and integrity as the core of this loyalty to self. In the Boy Scout Oath this is further expanded on in three parts: to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. This loyalty to self is a reinforcement of the concept of conscience so valued by John Wesley. We know right from wrong as the law is "written on our hearts" but there are better moral compasses to allow us to be true to ourselves. In his sermon on "The Witness of Our Own Spirit", John Wesley said:

God has made us thinking beings, capable of perceiving what is present, and of reflecting or looking back on what is past. In particular, we are capable of perceiving whatsoever passes in our own hearts or lives; of knowing whatsoever we feel or do; and that either while it passes, or when it is past. This we mean when we say, man is a conscious being: He hath a consciousness, or inward perception, both of things present and past, relating to himself, of his own tempers and outward behavior. But what we usually term conscience, implies somewhat more than this. It is not barely the knowledge of our present or the remembrance of our preceding life. To remember, to bear witness either of past or present things, is only one, and the least office of conscience: Its main business is to excuse or accuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn. Some latter writers indeed have given a new name to this, and have chose to style it a moral sense. But the old word seems preferable to the new, were it only on this account, that it is more common and familiar among men, and therefore easier to be understood. And to Christians it is undeniably preferable, on another account also; namely, because it is scriptural; because it is the word which the wisdom of God hath chose to use in the inspired writings.

Scouting helps establish a clear understanding of what loyalty to self entails and why it is important to live in such a way as to always strive to do the right thing. In his book On My Honor, I Will: Leading With Integrity In Changing Times, Bruce Pennington relates a story about why this is so critical:

Once Upon a Business Trip. We were at an impasse. Mr. Horton had hired us to provide consultation services for his firm. The project had gone well, and everyone was pleased. In fact, after the project was begun, Mr. Horton had agreed to extend the scope of the agreement for an extra fee. Now, he was claiming he had always assumed the extra work had been part of the original package and denied agreeing to any additional charges.

We knew we were right, and Mr. Horton said he was right. The old saying, "An unwritten agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on," came to mind. Obviously, without written evidence or corroborating testimony, judgment would default to Horton's firm.

"What about Mike Johnson?" I asked, remembering that Horton's Vice President of Finance had attended the meeting where the extra work was discussed, priced, and approved.

The client gave us a "now-I've-got-you" smile and picked up the phone. He buzzed his superior and asked him to join us. When Mr. Johnson arrived, Horton gave him the details of the dispute, making his own position perfectly clear.

Johnson listened carefully until his associate finished, then shook his head: "Oh, no! They told us about the extra charge up front, and we both agreed it was fair! Don't you remember? In fact, you said the price was more than fair!"

Horton mumbled something, and thanked his supervisor. After Johnson left, Horton began shuffling papers on his desk. There was a somewhat awkward silence, which was broken by my associate who said with relief, "I'm glad Mr. Johnson remembered."

Horton shook his head in disgust, "Yeah, he's a real Boy Scout."

As we drove back to the airport, we began to wonder about Horton's disparaging remark that Johnson was a "real Boy Scout." The implication was that anyone who valued integrity more than money was somewhat defective in judgment.

And what about Horton? Had he fallen into the mind trap of believing greed was good? That the end justified the means? That honor and integrity were not consistent with long-term success? That the principle of doing what is right is archaic, outmoded, and fit only for children? If so, a quick scan of recent headlines would have indicated that he was not alone in his belief. It was almost as if there had been a shift in moral values. If this was true, it might explain the apparent moral malaise in American business and society.

Pennington then goes on to discuss that perhaps the solution for much of what ails American business could be solved by application of the good old Scout Law and Promise. This takes us right into the second loyalty found in the Scout Oath or Promise: Duty to others.

One of the main complaints in American business today is that companies do not have employee loyalty because they no longer exhibit any loyalty to their employees. Folks seem to have forgotten that loyalty is a two-way street. It isn't just something given by employees to employers or by students to their schools: it has to come from the top down as well. Those in positions of authority or responsibility must be loyal to those under them as well or institutions have no more strength than a house of cards. Going back to Arthur Carey's The Scout Law in Practice (1915, remember?) We read:

If also includes "employers" as people to whom loyalty is due; and it must be quite clear to any one that if a person has a business agreement with another by which he receives pay for work that he promises to do, it must be a matter of honor to be loyal to that person and to do full and honest work; for, without this unwritten understanding, he never would have received his job. But it is equally plain that the same loyalty is due from the employer to his employee, and for the same reason; for nobody would accept work without the assurance of fair treatment on the part of his employer, unless he were forced to do so by the fear of starvation or other adverse circumstances. No scout who is an employer could take advantage of the unfortunate situation of his employee in order to make more money out of him, and such conduct would be gross disloyalty both to the person employed and to the scout law itself.

In our Old Testament lesson today we heard the term "steadfast" several times; in the contexts used, it means the same thing as loyalty. In this Psalm, this steadfastness is in both God and the Psalmist, demonstrating that even the Lord recognizes that this is a two-way street. Of course it extends to peers as well. Scouting is about teamwork, and a team without loyalty to the other players soon falls prey to grandstanding players each out to impress with no thought for the overall good of the team. Scouting builds this loyalty to others through placing boys and girls in small units where mutual support and cooperation are a must to accomplish the task at hand.

Having examined this concept that loyalty to others is always a two-way street, we come to the first loyalty in the Scout Oath or Promise: Loyalty to God and Country. Scouting is a movement that is distinctly and unabashedly both religious and patriotic, as there is clear recognition of the value in character development and in the betterment of our society in promoting faith in God and pride in country. I have had the privilege of taking another Oath, the Oath of Appointment as an officer in the U.S. Navy. As a measure of the enlightenment of the American system, nowhere in that oath did I express any direct obligation or loyalty to my superiors. In the oath, I swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same". I value this oath highly, and even more so do I value the wisdom of those who drafted it to place the clear emphasis on conscience, and on obligation to the rule of law rather than to anyone in authority. It demonstrates that loyalty to country, which seems to have become as unfashionable in some circles as spats and petticoats, does not have to be an unthinking, blind obedience but rather can represent a thoughtful obligation to the betterment of our society. This is the kind of patriotism that Scouts promote in their duty to God.

The concept of loyalty to God should not be any stretch for you sitting out there in the pews, but for many boys and girls in Scouting, the Scout Oath and Law may be the first time they are required to confront the role of God in their life. This emphasis on the role of God in our lives makes Scouting a natural mission field, especially for us Methodists, who try to never preach God to anyone without first trying to ensure they have a full tummy and a place to sleep. In the case of Scouts, Scouting fulfills a natural need to associate with peers and to learn from adults who are there because they really care and not out of any obligation. When these needs are met there is some room for the young people to stop and consider the hands of the Maker and what role He may have in molding their life.

It is amazing how much of what Scouting tries to accomplish in the lives of young people can boil down to one word. The whole essence of the Scout Oath or Promise that guides the life of Scouts can truly be found in the phrase: A Scout is Loyal. "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much."

Dear Lord, we thank you for the loyalty of Scouts to learning and growing in Your path, for the loyalty of Scout leaders to mold their charges in Your ways, and for the loyalty of all those who make this program possible. Help us always to be loyal to You and to Your word, and we pray that You will always be our map and compass to guide us through the wilderness of life. In the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Copyright 2000 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.

Copyright 2000 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
Last Updated Wednesday, 09-Oct-2002 12:39:28 PDT