The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Scout Sunday
February 10, 2019
When I was a young boy, my parents presented me with a dilemma. They gave me two options for an extracurricular activity. Did I want to play basketball or did I want to join Cub Scouts? I’ve always been fairly athletic, so basketball was a tempting option. But I asked, “what do you do in Cub Scouts?” My parents, I think I now know their preference said, “well, you learn how to build fires.” Count me in. On this Scout Sunday, it’s our pleasure to host our Scouts here this morning.
Now little did I know that decision, the choice I made when faced with that dilemma would shape my life. Cub Scouts became Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts meant merit badges, summer camps, leadership opportunities, summer jobs, and of course, lots of fires.
The dilemmas, the choices that we face define our lives, though we may know nothing of it at the time.
Today we read ancient stories of two men facing dilemmas, choices that would define their lives. Isaiah is a priest in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem some two thousand six hundred years ago when the Lord God calls him to be a prophet. Isaiah is faced with the choice - to continue with the comfortable, cushy life of a priest; or to walk out and proclaim the hard truth of God as a prophet.
Peter is faced with a choice. You can see it. He’s probably a little disgruntled that some carpenter is telling him where to fish, professional fisherman that he is. The haul of fish he brings in is so overwhelming that his boat begins to sink. Think of it - with that catch of fish, Peter could be a very rich man. Peter could sell all those fish, pay off his mortgage, pay off the note on his boat, take his family to Disney World. It’s all right there in his grasp. He faces the dilemma.
This is the dilemma each one of us faces. The choice we make will define our lives. The dilemma is Jesus. Christianity presents us with this choice - will you serve others or will you serve yourself?
Now, I can speak from experience, there is a whole lot of self-aggrandizement that masquerades as service in our world today. It happens in the church, and it happens in Boy Scouts. You know that the real reason Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, made “Be Prepared” the Scout motto, right? It’s because BP are his initials. So all you young men and women who want to be Eagle Scouts - why are you doing it? Are you doing it because it’s an opportunity to serve others, or are you doing it because it’ll look good on your resume? Because I tell you, if you are pursuing this goal for your own vanity, that Eagle Scout award will be meaningless. “Vanity, vanity all is vanity,” says the preacher.
And parents, if you have told your kids that they can’t get their driver’s license until they get their Eagle Scout, I ask you to take it back. There is no good in that. Coercion does not produce good character. That kind of manipulation debases the true meaning of service. Scouting at its best, like Christianity, is about serving others simply for the sake of serving others with no personal benefits attached. Isaiah didn’t follow God’s call so that his parents would hand over the keys to the car; he did it because he had been called. Peter didn’t leave his nets and boats and fishing business because he thought it would like good on a college application; he did it because a life with Jesus is the only life worth living.
I know you don’t like it when I meddle in your lives, but alas, that is my job.
So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - we can spend our whole lives climbing the ladder only to find that, once we reach the top, the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. If your vanity is what is driving you up the ladder, I’ve got news for you - the top of the ladder is going to be a real disappointment. This goes for anyone, not just Scouts. Your education, the sports you play, the clubs you’re in, the jobs you take - those ought not be just a means to an end. Now, more than ever, we need servants in this world, not climbers. The world is crying out for someone, anyone, to care and to serve. And yet the temptation to an easy life, a life of service to self, is always beckoning. Granted, the salaries are usually higher. The notoriety is greater. The powers more prestigious.
It is a dilemma. And I’m not going to stand here today and tell you that the choice for God is the easy one. I’m not going to tell you that the decision to be a servant of God is necessarily going to be good for you. Isaiah was called by God to be a prophet, and what did he get for it? No one listened to him, they hated him, and at the end, he was sawn in two. Peter was called by Jesus to follow him. What did he get for it? A lifetime of controversy, of hard work, of betrayal. His life ended, not with a retirement plan but with a cross, when he too was crucified for proclaiming Jesus as Lord. I’m not here to entice you into a life of Godly service by selling some benefits you might find in it. My parents sold me on scouting because of the things I would enjoy. I cannot say the same for a life with Jesus. I’m here to tell you the truth - the life of following God will entail sacrifice for the sake of the greater good. This is the dilemma.
But it is only a dilemma if we look at it from our perspective. For a moment, try as you might, look at Isaiah and Peter from God’s perspective. “Woe is me, I have seen the Lord!” Isaiah says. In other words, “I’m as good as dead because I have seen the Lord!” And if you’ve already died to this life, then what have you got to lose? You can spend the rest of your days in service to God because every day belongs to God already. Look at Peter from God’s perspective. Jesus already loves him infinitely and eternally. Peter’s choice to follow Jesus, from God’s perspective, is the only logical choice because it is only in Jesus that such abundant life, such an abundant catch, is even possible.
Try as you might, look at your life from God’s perspective. What do you see? Do you see someone climbing a ladder? Or do you see someone picking up the cross?
To conclude, I’ll share with you a story from my own time in Scouts. Maybe some of the scouts can resonate with me; I remember the thrill of earning a new rank. Making my way from Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life. And along the way with each rank I got a new patch. They’re just these little flimsy things, but I coveted those patches. They meant the world to me. I’d race home from the court of honor and my mother would dutifully sew that new patch onto my uniform and I’d strut around in my new rank.
Then, after years of work, I achieved that final rank. Eagle Scout. But guess what? That Eagle Scout patch was just as flimsy as all the others. It still had to be sewed on like all the others. At the end of the day, the great reward I sought, my accomplishment, was just a flimsy, little patch.
Do not set your sights on accomplishments which are for yourself only; because at the end, it won’t mean a thing. Do not climb the ladder toward vain goals that only promote yourself. The world has enough of those charlatans and egomaniacs already.
The people of this world are desperate, desperate for some good news. You have neighbors and friends and colleagues and friends in Scouts who are addicted, who are lonely, who are isolated, who do not know that God already loves them. There are people here, in Spring, Texas, that have been left behind and forgotten by the cruelty and injustice of this world. And I tell you, there is no one else that is going to solve those problems or give hope to hopeless but us, the Church of God.
My friends, our purpose, the singular vocation of the Church is to love the world and not count the cost. When we hear the voice of God shaking the foundation of the church and when we hear the angelic call, we will answer, “Here I am, send me!” Even though we’re going out as lambs in the midst of wolves. When Jesus commandeers our boat, our lives, we will do the only logical thing and follow him to the end, even to the cross. This is no time to wait for someone else to do it - the Lord Jesus has called you, yes, even the sinful, confused, worried, you. That’s who God has called to serve this world.
And the reward? The patch? The rank? The goal at the end of it? It is the greatest gift of all - you will see Jesus.