The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2020
On this Scout Sunday, we are delighted to worship with Boy Scout Troops 1401 and 401, and Cub Scout Pack 401 here at Holy Comforter. I began as a Tiger Cub, became an Eagle Scout, and now I’ve graduated to Girl Scout Troop Leader.
As we’ve gotten more involved with Girl Scouts, it has all seemed so familiar. Not that it’s like Boy Scouts, because it’s different. Girl Scouts seems familiar from something else in my life. It all sounded as if I’d heard it before. Girl Scouts is about empowering young women to be leaders in church and society. It’s about being united as sisters, not by geography or race or ethnicity, but by common adherence to shared values; you know, “make new friends, but keep the old.” Girl Scouts may seem that it’s about the cookie, but it’s through the cookie that we teach young women about goal setting, leadership, finances. In Girl Scouts, we don’t pay annual dues. We bring our dues to every meeting as signs of our ongoing commitment. Even the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law felt familiar, like I knew the rhythm of the words. Why did all this feel so familiar?
Well, I did a little digging. The founder of Girl Scouts was Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia. Lo and behold, she was an Episcopalian. Figures. Girl Scouts feels just like us Episcopalians. Raising up women for leadership roles. Creating bonds of kinship that transcend barriers. Singing songs that create community. Even the Girl Scout Promise and Law sound like they came right out of the Prayer Book. I mean, we might as well pass the offering plate at Girl Scout meetings because that’s exactly what it feels like. As a Girl Scout leader, sometimes I wonder if I’m raising up little scouts or little Episcopalians.
Born in 1860, Juliette Gordon Low did not live an easy life. After a series of injuries as a child, she experienced nearly complete hearing loss. She had a rocky marriage that ended with her husband’s untimely death. She fought multiple recurrences of breast cancer, undergoing dangerous and experimental treatments. We think she probably had dyslexia. Starting in 1912, she threw herself into the Girl Scout movement, keeping an arduous travel schedule, even in the midst of her painful treatments, speaking, organizing, and raising money for her new organization. Undaunted by threats from her male counterparts who didn’t want young girls learning leadership skills, she forged ahead with a vision for a movement that would shape the lives of millions of young women. When she finally succumbed to cancer in 1927, she was buried in Christ Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia. Juliette Gordon Low had a vision for young women around the world to live with character, serving their communities, in unity with others; even when it was tough, even when many opposed her. Sounds familiar right? Salt of the earth, light of the world.
But something she said really struck me. Through all the difficulties of her life and her work she said, “Right is right, even if no one else does it.” It sounds so familiar, just like the prophet Isaiah. He sees the people saying all the right words but doing all the wrong things. Isaiah denounces the people for exploiting the poor and oppressing their workers while worshiping the God who cares for the poor and oppressed. “Is not this the fast that I choose:” says the Lord, “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed to free, and to break every yoke?” Isaiah had a vision for the people of God. His vision was that the poor would not be ripped off by the rich. His vision of true worship was caring for the needy and the beaten down. Isaiah sees a world in which debts are forgiven so that people can live again. A world in which people are treated as people and not as objects off which to make money. Isaiah is banging his head against the wall because even though the people know the right thing, they do not do it. It has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?
Centuries after Isaiah, Jesus climbs a mountain to give the sermon of sermons. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Jesus goes on, “you are the light of the world. A city built on a hill that cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus has a vision, a vision of the Kingdom of God, in which all manner of people commit themselves to each other. And through that commitment they will be preservative to a rotting world, light to a darkened world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
With the life and death of Jesus Christ that was given for us, we feel right at home with Isaiah, the prophets, Juliette Gordon Low and all those who have a vision for something better. Indeed, that is our solemn duty and call as Christians. To do right, even if no one else does it. It is our calling, our duty to break the yokes of injustice, to forgive the impoverished, the loosen the bonds of oppression; even if it would be much more convenient, and profitable, to keep up the old systems of the world. It is our calling, our duty to be salt and light. To live differently, even when the world is set against us. To live to a higher standard so that others may look on us and have hope. We are to call to live to a higher standard, to not give in to the coarse, brutal discourse of this world. We must shine light into the dark places so that the world may know mercy in place of vindictiveness. We, the Church, are not to fall into the old traps, the old, cheap, distinctions the world would put us in. We, Christian brothers and sisters, are not united by which primary we vote in, or by what cable news channel we watch, or by where we were born. We will not be divided by petty differences of opinion. No, we are united by Jesus Christ himself, and we commit to living together so that the world may see and know that something better is possible. And that, I believe, is the right thing. Even if no on else does it.
My brothers and sisters, my fellow Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, we are united by one common purpose. To be salt and light. Do not be daunted by the overwhelming cares and concerns of the world. Do not be intimidated by the bluster, the threats, the insults hurled by those who would prefer hate and enmity. Do not back down from those who would choose darkness. When Isaiah was threatened, he kept on preaching. When Juliette Gordon Low was told to stop, she kept going. When Jesus was crucified, he got up from the dead.
So I’ll end today with another line from Juliette Gordon Low. “The work of today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.” Today, this very day, whether you are a Scout or not, make the decision of what kind of work you will do today for the history of tomorrow. And in the name of Jesus, I ask of you, choose to be salt, choose to be light, choose to be love. Today, choose to make the world a better place. Today, choose to make the world a more sustainable place. Today, choose to be united rather than divided. Today, choose to empower rather than enslave. Choose to forgive rather than to retaliate.
And centuries from now, when they look back on us, maybe some priest will give a sermon about you, and about your vision. A vision that was given to you by Jesus Christ to create a lovelier, a lighter, a more beautiful world. For Jesus calls you, even you to be salt, and light, and love.