“He will speak peace”
Today is Boy Scout Sunday; tomorrow is the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the BSA. We have a long and happy tradition of scouting ministry at EFUMC, and this is a great occasion for us. We have lots of Scouts and leaders and parents here – and there are many others whom we remember – especially those who are absent in the body – who have taken part with us in all the fun of Scouting.
My Scoutmaster used to like to quote the old slogan, “Scouting can be spelled in 3 letters: F-U-N.” I’ll stand by that.
Wait a minute, you say – Scouting is more than just FUN. Well, yes it is, but if it ISN’T fun, then the kids won’t do it, and then it can’t do them any good, can it? But, yes, there are deeper purposes at work here than just how to play Steal the Bacon.
Scouting is the brainchild of a great man and those who became associated with him: General Robert, Lord Baden-Powell, a retired officer of the British Army, the hero of Mafeking in the Boer War. While on service in South Africa, he trained native civilians to scout for his army. B-P published a book, Aids to Scouting, full of wilderness lore. It was immediately taken up by boys in England, who wanted to do what he and his African scouts had done.
And so the retired General got into the education business. He founded the Boy Scouts in England in 1907. In 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was launched. In addition to its British godfather, other leaders – who had already been working with youth in similar programs – joined together to make the BSA what we know of it today – men like the artist and writer Daniel Carter Beard and the naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. Meanwhile, the writer Rudyard Kipling helped give international Scouting much of its flair and its symbolism.
Many men, many hands. But one aim: to raise up a new generation to lead their countries – indeed, to lead all the countries of the world. We sometimes forget that Scouting was founded not only to provide a path for personal development, but also as one of the greatest peace movements ever launched in the history of the world.
Scouting’s detractors, especially, do not see this. They see the use of national symbols, oaths, and uniforms in a movement founded by a British general, and they see what to their minds is a paramilitary organization. And truth to tell, some of Scouting’s biggest fans in this country wouldd wish that we were more like that, too. They forget that professional military officers – like Baden-Powell -- by and large detest war and distrust jingoism. They also fail to realize many groups wear uniforms – including the teams vying in the Super Bowl today – and ours was originally modeled after the uniform of that civilian constabulary B-P worked with in South Africa, right down to the knee socks we used to wear when I was a kid (with the garters and tabs -- one always seemed to lose one garter at summer camp, then walk around holding up your sock at the knee).
And maybe starting a peace movement wasn’t the core of what the founders of Scouting had in mind when it was a-borning – but by the time of the first Jamboree in England in 1920, it was apparent that the movement had swept the world, and boys (and girls) of all nations and all religions and all colors and all languages wanted to be Scouts. And when they got together, they found a way to understand each other that surpassed all barriers. Then they knew that this was something truly special – maybe even a means of finding that elusive peace that the nations have sought in so many ways, and always in vain.
And, if I may say so, the problem with most “peace movements” that have arisen in the last hundred years is that they start from a critique that says that the way we've always expressed our support of our country is wrong, and that we should repent and do it some other they. They always wind up offering an ideology that challenges other ideologies within a nation or culture; in effect, they become “counter-cultural,” and people divide over whether to support them or not.
For the most part, Scouting has avoided this. The Scouting movement affirms one’s duty to one’s country, rather than challenging it. It just believes that if you get kids together to have fun, they mostly will. And if they learn to see these other kids as friends, rather than representatives of other nations or ethnic groups or what-have-you, they will be less belligerent toward the countries their friends are from when they attain to the leadership of their own countries.
The danger, of course, is that in times of peril, Scouts are the first to volunteer to help their own country, and sometimes that has meant shooting at those who were Scouts in some other country in their youth. And, well, we all get trapped in the conflicts and circumstances of our age. But I know I look at East Africans differently, because I have worshiped with them, eaten with them, camped with them, played games with them… and gathered around the campfire and watched each other’s silly skits. They are not a “country” or a “government” to me. They’re Mwenge, and Innocent, and M'munga, and Umba, and Mary. They are FRIENDS – and I want my friends to prosper. Whatever I can do to bring a smile to their faces, I will do.
In the same way, when our youth went to Tennessee last year, we were doing a project for a young mother, and we got to talking about how rickety her steps were. So, we scraped up some money and got the material and built her a new set of steps. And I just know that next week, when our youth meet to begin planning this year's mission trip, they'll already be talking about going back to build the deck on that young mother's house that she needs. Because she's not just somebody who lives far away: she's a friend.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his saints, to those hwo turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Peace is more than the absence of war, more than the cessation of violence. Peace is friendship, helpfulness, good cheer – extended throughout a community, throughout a nation – and to other communities, other nations. And maybe we will never know the full experience of peace until Christ comes to bring his kingdom and extend his peace throughout creation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, ourselves, live in peace – and invite others to do so as well.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
I’ve seen that happen, as boys and girls help each other, befriend each other, include each other in their games and their hobbies and their camping. We call it a Jamboree. We call it a Wider Op. We call it NOAC. We call it the County Fair. We call it a trek. We call it summer camp. We see it in the whole range of youth organizations which were all founded about the same time, with much the same impulse – the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, 4-H, Camp Fire, and others. It gives me hope.
I see it in the church, too – especially in the church. For all earthly peace is only a miniature model of the kingdom of God, and of the peace which is God’s gift: a gift that is in Christ’s keeping. Even in the midst of turmoil, on the night he was arrested and brutalized, he said to his friends, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The church is – or should be – an island of peace everywhere it exists, no matter what is happening outside.
But we also remember that we can’t just huddle in here, for we are needed out there. So, for instance, in Haiti, where “peace” is in short supply – unless you mean the peace of the grave – there are good people from our churches – or supplied by our churches -- who are extending God’s peace through their own acts of friendship. And everywhere someone gives food, or water, or other aid, the people of that afflicted nation have a little less to worry about for a while. And peace rests upon them and renews them for their struggle.
That’s what “church” is about. The sinner finds here peace with God. The lonely find here the peace of friendship. The soul-hungry are invited to Christ’s table and fed – the very table where he said, “My peace I give to you.” And those who are filled with good things are moved by God to remember those who lack them. For remember, when we say “he will speak peace to his people” we mean not only that he will give his peace TO us, but he will cause it to flow OUT OF us to others. That’s what “peace” does. It doesn’t just stay here, it moves to where it is not – as it can, as much as it can.
My friends, the Scouting programs we support or participate in are simply one more way in which we offer our friendship – and God’s friendship – that others may find peace AND be taught how to make peace wherever they go. But we’re not going to stop the fun to deliver that message; instead, we deliver the message by teaching our Scouts how to have the best kind of fun – the fun that is friendship and sharing and freedom from worry and helpfulness and brotherhood and – well, you get the idea.
Yea, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and make his footsteps a way.
Scouting is too big a gift to have come only from Lord Baden-Powell – even if you include his wife, Lady Olave, his American colleagues, Kipling, and all the rest of the founders. Insofar as it has done well and been a blessing to us and a cause of our sharing that blessing with others, it is one of those good gifts that God has bestowed on us, and it prepares the way for the coming of his kingdom.
And yeah, I know: Scouting isn’t the kingdom of God. But you can see it from there. And on this happy day, I would remind you of that.
God bless the Scouting Ministry of this congregation. God bless all Scouts and Scouters, all over the world. God bless us all, and give us ears to hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people – in large ways and small, through young and old, and sometimes, in a uniform with patches all over it.