ray trygstad:


A Scout is Reverent

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for February 8, 1998: Scout Sunday
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is Scout Sunday, when we recognize Scouts and the blessings that Scouting brings not only to our congregation but to our nation and the world. Since the inception of the Scouting movement at the beginning of this century, religious faith has played a major role in character development of Scouts, which is one of the primary aims of both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. "The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America is...to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness", while "The mission or purpose of Girl Scouting is to inspire girls with the highest ideals of character, conduct, patriotism, and service that they may become happy and resourceful citizens."

These goals are more critical today than ever before. A recent Lou Harris Poll tells us that the proportion of young people in America today choosing to do what is wrong is alarmingly high. Sometimes even basic values such as honesty and respect for others seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Of Scout-age boys polled, during a one-year period prior to the poll, fifty-four percent had cheated on homework or a test; twenty-eight percent had been drunk; twenty-four percent had shoplifted; seventeen percent had used drugs like marijuana or amphetamines; and five percent had carried a gun to school.

The same study also revealed that the morals and values of American men often fall below the ideal:
"Only 62 percent strongly agree that 'a person should not resort to a means that he or she knows is wrong, even though it may lead to success.' Only 38 percent strongly agree that 'helping others should come before one's own interests.' One of four (25 percent) strongly agree that 'being honest with everyone is not something that pays off in the kind of world we live in.'"

Scouting is a powerful force to counter these attitudes, and faith on God is at the heart of the programs. In their oath and promise all Scouts pledge to serve God. Why should a scout pledge duty to God? In the words of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, "Religion is essential to happiness. This is not a mere matter of going to church, knowing Bible history, or understanding theology. Religion ...means recognizing who and what is God, secondly, making the best of the life that He has given one and doing what He wants of us. This is mainly doing something for other people."

In fact, it was Baden-Powell's emphasis on reverence that led the Boy Scouts of America to adopt "A Scout is Reverent" as the twelfth point of the Scout Law. Some have said that obedience to the twelfth law will ensure that the other eleven have been obeyed as well. Here's what the Scout Handbook says this law means: "A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others."

This belief is at the core of service that Scouts render unto others; the fact is that there is a striking similarity between the Scout Oath or Promise and John Wesley's motto, which was:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

While the Scout Law (with little expansion) reads:


Honor is a quality we all possess because of our dignity as human beings and children of God. In "doing my best", 'best' means a Scout gives all he has. It means to keep striving to do what we know is right, and in the Scout Oath it means to try to be good Scouts by fulfilling Scout duties as expressed in the Scout Law.


Duty to God and country means chiefly two things: obedience and loyalty. The duties Scouts owe to the House of God, to our country, to parents, to one another, and to themselves come from commandments of God; the Scout Law sums up all the qualities a Scout should have and without which he can not be a good Scout.


Our Lord told us that love of our neighbor was like the first law of love of God. The first children of God were known by the love they had for one another. Real human charity or love prompts us to want to help others at all times. Scout training gives Scouts skills and knowledge that will put them in a better position to do this.


Scouting offers many opportunities to grow strong physically. To be alert and ready requires giving special care to those gifts of soul - intellect and will - that awaken us to God. 'Morally straight' means Scouts must try to know what is right and true, and to love what is good and choose it.

Although religion is clearly important to Scouting, Scouting in the United States is actually a little unusual in that it is entirely nonsectarian. In many nations of the world, Scouting organizations are associated with particular denominations or religions, but all that is required of scouts in the Boy Scouts of America is profession of religious belief. This has actually drawn a lot of fire in recent years as the Boy Scouts have been repeatedly charged with discrimination in refusing to admit atheists, but it is the official position of the BSA that the Oath and the Law are nonnegotiable and inviolate, and form the core of what Scouting is all about. The broad support that this position has won among religious bodies in the U.S. is clearly evidenced by the denominations and faiths offering religious awards to both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; here's a quick list:
African Methodist Episcopal
African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Assembly of God
Christian Church
   (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal
Christian Missionary Alliance
Christian Science
Church of Christ
Church of God
Cumberland Presbyterian
Eastern Orthodox
Eastern Rite Catholic
New Jerusalem (Swedenborgians)
Meher Baba
Polish National Catholic
Presbyterian Church of America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reorganized Church of Jesus
   Christ of Latter Day Saints
Roman Catholic
Seventh Day Adventist
Salvation Army
Unitarian Universalist
United Church of Christ
United Methodist

Whew! That's quite a list...

Just as Jesus taught the disciples on the Road to Emmaus in today's scripture reading, Scouting has leaders who teach Scouts as they walk along the paths of life. Scouting CAN make a difference in the lives of boys and girls. And it does so because of the dedication of the adults who lead them. In the Boy Scouts, potential leaders are required to sign a statement that includes the Declaration of Religious Principle, which says:

"The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. The Boy Scouts of America's policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life. Only persons willing to subscribe to this Declaration of Religious Principles and to the Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of leadership."

The Leadership Requirements go on to state:

"The applicant must posses the moral, educational, and emotional qualities that the Boy Scouts of America deems necessary to afford positive leadership to youth. The applicant must also be the correct age, Be a citizen of the United States of America (or satisfy one of the approved alternatives), and subscribe to the Declaration of Religious Principle, the Scout Oath or Promise, and the Scout Law."

The difference Scout Leaders can make in the life of a boy or girl is startling. In his short essay, Within My Power, Forest Witcraft reminds us of the potential impact of a Scout leader on the life of a youth. He said:

"I am not a Very Important Man, as importance is commonly rated, I do not have great wealth, control a big business, or occupy a position of great honor or authority. Yet I may someday mold destiny. For it is within my power to become the most important man in the world in the life of a boy. And every boy is a potential atom bomb in human history.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the Scoutmaster of a Troop in which an undersized unhappy Austrian lad by the name of Adolph might have found a joyous boyhood, full of the ideals of brotherhood, goodwill, and kindness. And the world would have been different.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the organizer of a Scout Troop in which a Russian boy called Joe might have learned the lessons of democratic cooperation. These men would never have known that they had averted world tragedy, yet actually they would have been among the most important men who ever lived.

All about me are boys. They are the makers of history, the builders of tomorrow. If I can have some part in guiding them up the trails of Scouting, on to the high road of noble character and constructive citizenship, I may prove to be the most important man in their lives, the most important man in my community.

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy."

While the figures are not in for 1997 yet, 1996 saw the largest growth of the Boy Scouts in twenty-five years. Scouting grew to nearly four and a half million youth members. A key to the success of Scouting is the participation of chartering organizations such as the United Methodist Men here at Wesley. And what organization do you think has the largest number of youth members in their troops, pack and posts? The PTA? Home and School Associations? NO! It's the United Methodist Church, with over four hundred thousand youth members. This is even more than the Mormons, where Scouting is the official youth program and participation is essentially mandatory. This is a tremendous service to the youth of our nation. For many boys, participating in a troop may be the first time they have ever set foot in a church. And they may even set foot in it outside of Scout meeting time based on their experiences and the welcome they receive. So it is time not only to recognize Scouts but to recognize ourselves for the contribution we are making to the future of our community and our nation. As a Scouter, I would just like to say thanks; the boys of Troop 100 here at Wesley are for the most part not yet aware of the impact that Scouting may have on their lives, but I know what Scouting did for mine and I know what an important role the chartering organization has in making that happen.

I have here a staff; this one is very special to me and I have had it for fourteen years. It is used to help out when hiking and has been a common accouterment for foot travelers for thousands of years. Jesus may have carried a similar staff on the road to Emmaus; Moses certainly carried one on one of the longest hiking trips on record. As well as being a useful tool, it is a symbol of traveling by foot, a pastime which I find brings me closer to God. Being close to God's creation, under the vast canopy of the heavens He created, makes His presence feel very near and the sigh of the wind on my face feels like the very breath of the Lord. Abraham Lincoln once said, "I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon earth and be an atheist, but I do not see how he can look up into the heavens by night and say there is no God." I have never seen the stars as I have seen them while lying in my sleeping bag on cold, crisp fall nights high on Mount Palomar or Mount Cuyameca while camping with the Scouts, and I have certainly experienced that same feeling as Lincoln on those occasions. I know that without Scouting this important aspect of my spiritual growth would have been missing and I would not feel as complete.

A Scout is reverent. These are important words expressing an important concept that many may never have known before joining Scouting. It is the clearly stated goal of Scouting that every Scout should develop a personal relationship with God and we play an important role in making that happen. Scouts may not realize for a while who has been walking with them and guiding their growth in knowledge, wisdom, and faith, but one day, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus the scales will drop from their eyes and they will see the Christ in those of us who lead them, and realize the true meaning of the phrase "A Scout is Reverent".

Let us pray:
Lord, We are thankful for the life of General Robert Baden-Powell and his work in starting the Scouting movement. We are grateful that Scouting has given millions of youth a vision of what life at its best can mean.
Grant blessings to all Scouts around the world and help them to be true to the Scout Oath and Law. Keep them always mindful of a Scout's duty to God.
Increase the number of adults who offer their lives as Scout leaders. Let no one who wishes to be a member of Scouting miss the opportunity to join. Watch over all Scout leaders and inspire them to always lead by walking in your footsteps.
Grant that Scouting may help to raise up in our world generations of citizens who will live by standards of honor and duty. May they be able to save humanity from hate and greed, and lay the foundations for a world in which all people are held to be brothers or sisters.
In the name of the great Master of All Scouts we pray, Amen.

Copyright 1998 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement. Much of the quoted material in this sermon was drawn from the United Methodist Church Scouting Homepage at http://www.bsa.net/nc/t476/cysas.htm (since them moved to http://www.umcscouting.org/); additional material was drawn from the P.R.A.Y. [Programs of Religious Activies with Youth] Web Site at http://www.praypub.org.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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