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
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:
ON MY HONOR I WILL DO MY BEST.
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.
TO DO MY DUTY TO GOD AND MY COUNTRY AND TO OBEY 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.
TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE AT ALL TIMES.
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.
TO KEEP MYSELF PHYSICALLY STRONG, MENTALLY AWAKE, AND MORALLY STRAIGHT.
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
(Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal
Christian Missionary Alliance
Church of Christ
Church of God
Eastern Rite Catholic
New Jerusalem (Swedenborgians)
|Polish National Catholic
Presbyterian Church of America
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Reorganized Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter Day Saints
Seventh Day Adventist
United Church of Christ
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
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
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
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
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
additional material was drawn from the P.R.A.Y. [Programs of Religious Activies
with Youth] Web Site at
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois