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 namedespite 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 newJesus 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
Law in Practice by Arthur A. Careyit 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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