Note: This story was written before I had realized that this Sunday is, in fact, Scout Sunday (the day that commemorates the founding of the Boy Scout movement in the United States, February 8, 1910). Regardless, I’m curious how many preachers would approach their Sunday sermons like our protagonist below.
It should be a simple sermon to write. The Boy Scouts are coming so everyone is expecting the usual Scout Sunday sermon. It’s not the first time I’ve given this kind of sermon. The usual pronouncement of “reverence to God” has become an annual tradition. Plus, it’s a great way to encourage the scouts’ parents to stop into the church more than once a year. Still, with so much going on in the world these days, it’d be nice to talk about something a little more timely.
Now, I’m certainly the last person you would expect who would want to stay up on the times. After all, I’m a preacher. My life’s work is in the interpretation and dissemination of the word of God. While times can be changing, God alone is the constant; the unwavering foundation of everything in the world. It’s because of this consistency that we can place our faith in God as we traverse the trials of our lives.
There I go again. Reverence in God. It’s not so much a bad message, as much as it is an obvious one. There’s a reason the expression is “preaching to the choir.” I don’t want to just double down on the things people already accept. If they didn’t believe in God or have faith they probably wouldn’t be here in the first place. While we have wars and famine and disease and inequality and nature itself in uproar, it would seem unsatisfying, to me at least, to be told to just continue to have faith. It’s akin to telling someone to keep breathing when they’re asking how to live. It’s not incorrect, but it’s certainly far from what they expected. And for all the offerings and time people spend with me in the house of God, I think I should be able to give them something better than that.
The world’s going to hell and we’re just along for the ride. That reminds me of a story.
A devout believer goes to church every Sunday. He prays, volunteers, and is an active member of his congregation. His church, nestled in a valley, enjoyed great affection from the community. One day, a great rainstorm began to cause floods throughout the valley.
The believer, ever confident in his Lord and Savior, went to church and prayed at the altar for hours. As the streets began to flood, a truck of emergency responders checked the church, found the man, and urged him to evacuate. He simply replied, “God will save me”. Without much choice as the road began to flood, the emergency responders left. As the rain continued to pummel the valley, the waters rose up to the church, flooding into the sanctuary. A boat of emergency responders came through and urged the man to hop in. The man, now praying from the elevated pulpit, again replied “God will save me” until the waters became too choppy for the boat and the responders had to leave. The water, continuing the rise, led the man to climb onto the roof of the church, where he continued to pray devoutly to the Lord. A helicopter hovered carefully over the church where emergency responders threw down ropes and demanded the man climb up. As he looked up at the helicopter he once again said “God will save me” before the roof collapsed around him and he sank down into the depths of the water and rubble.
Upon realizing he died, the believer was very angry with God. He marched over to the Pearly Gates and demanded that he be granted audience with the Lord. St. Peter obliged him and presented him to God. The believer angrily shouted “I had always believed in you! I went to church! I made offering! I prayed to the moment of my death! Why didn’t you save me?”. To all of this, the voice of God boomed: “I sent you a truck, a boat, and helicopter.”
I always enjoyed that story. While there are plenty of lessons to draw from it, I think the best one is that one should not allow their faith to obscure what is immediately in front of them. Even when the world goes to hell, you are still able to do something about it.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have stayed up so many nights this week reading Genesis, but the story of the Great Flood (and floods in general) is sticking out particularly. Scouting, as well as the tale of Noah’s Ark, are both about responsibility. With Scouting, it’s about holding oneself to a higher standard. All those oaths and laws that are taught are about conduct and responsibility. One of them, particularly, is about the world we live in. The Outdoor Code, I believe its called:
“As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate of the outdoors, and be conservation minded.”
A good paraphrase: “Leave things as good, if not better than, you find them.”
As much as I know Scouts enjoy fire and elaborate wooden constructions held together by advanced knots and lashings, there’s a certain value to preserving the inherent beauty of things in nature.
Our friend in the storm watched the world fall apart and expected God to directly intervene, even though we as human beings have developed many ways to protect ourselves. In many ways, you could draw a parallel between our friend and the world’s view today on climate change. There is a great deal of debate on whether or not humans are the driving force behind a changing climate. The debate itself is great not because of the validity of the arguments but because of how long it has gone on when the conclusion seems quite clear. In the same way that we have developed ways to save ourselves from great dangers, we have simultaneously created incredibly dangerous weapons that can ensure our destruction.
The Great Flood is a story enough people should remember. Noah is told by God to build an ark and to take two of every creature onto it. He does, the world floods, and the survivors of the boat repopulate the world. It’s a simple enough story but it glosses over something Christians might take for granted. God spoke to humanity to ensure the survival of life. He didn’t do this because he just felt like it. Since the beginning of creation, God placed humanity higher than all other life. That’s why we are “made in his image.” But while people nowadays often use the supremacy of the human race as justification to do whatever we want with the planet, whether it’s pollute, deforest, and generally trash our planet, we were given this position with a great deal of responsibility. God told Noah to get two of every animal on the boat because Noah would be responsible for the continued existence of life on Earth.
Today, we face extinction of living things we haven’t even fully understood or discovered. Rain forests are getting chopped down to make way for new “developments”. Ocean life suffers because of a giant floating island of garbage in the Pacific. On top of all that, global temperatures are rising, ice caps are melting, and we’re looking at the makings of a new Great Flood in our times.
God didn’t put us on Earth to do whatever we wanted. God made us from the Earth so that we could be its steward. We could take care of all life on the planet. By ignoring this responsibility, we ignore the duty to God that is our birthright (and is rightfully placed as the first duty in the Scout oath). As humans, we face a world that is challenged on a multitude of fronts. As believers, we have the responsibility of making the world better for all life. By doing that, we can hold ourselves to a higher standard and subsequently, be better Scouts.
Perhaps this is a little too provocative for a Scout Sunday Sermon. But I think its better to get people up and out of their seats to do something rather than just sitting in sanctuary to pray.