Today was Boy Scout Sunday, so in honor of our wonderful relationship with our Boy Scout troop, I preached a sermon on the Scout Law and the fruits of the Spirit, completely with Paul’s knapsack! At least I think it was his…
SCRIPTURE – Galatians 5:22-26 – 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
“What’s in Your Knapsack?”
February 7, 2-16
We open our doors to a lot of groups who use our space for a variety of good purposes, but I believe one of the best things we do here at Crestwood is our work with the Scouts. I can’t think of an organization that has as much of a positive influence on our youth as the Boy Scouts. Young people who participate in this worthy program come out of it more respectful, more self-sufficient, and infinitely smarter.
Which may make it hard to believe that I was a Boy Scout growing up. We were living in Ft. Belvoir, Va., and my stepfather thought it would be good for me to be exposed to all the benefits of scouting. I thought he was crazy. I’d never spent a night outdoors, I could barely tie a knot in my shoelaces, and I looked bad in brown. But he insisted, so gave in and joined the local troop.
As I look back now, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Of course, at the time, I thought differently. I remember my first camping trip with the troop. I couldn’t believe we were going to be out in the woods…ALL NIGHT! Don’t people know that there are animals in the woods, like squirrels and snakes and tigers, all of which eat people? As I was setting up my tent, a tent that would later that evening collapse on me while I was sleeping, my scoutmaster came over and said, “Kory, did you forget anything?” I said, “Yeah, my mom!”
But I survived that trip and many more, and came to love my time with the Scouts. And now that I’m a minister, I am even more appreciative of what the Scouts did for me, because I am now able to see how closely connected the scouting experience is to the Christian experience. I can vouch for that first-hand, because my time in the scouts helped me learn the basic skills not only for being a scout, but also for being a person of honor and integrity. At a time in my life when I was struggling with my identity as well as my faith, scouting gave me the confidence to believe in myself – and planted the seeds for my belief in God.
I know the Scouts didn’t exist in biblical times, but I would like to suggest that we make the apostle Paul an honorary Boy Scout, because he understood all the principles put forth in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. And Paul knew that in order to have a successful trip, you had to be prepared by packing the right things in your knapsack.
Would you believe I was rummaging through one of the closets here at church – we have almost as many closets as we do coat hooks – and I actually found the knapsack Paul used on his journeys? You just never know what you’ll find in a church closet! You may think I’m just making this up, but I have verified its authenticity in two ways: first, I did some scientifically integrated carbon-dating, which was inconclusive; and then I smelled it. It smells 2000 years old. You think we should open it up and see what Paul kept in there? He won’t care, he’s been dead a couple of millienia. Let’s see what honorary Boy Scout Paul kept in his knapsack.
The first thing I see in Paul’s knapsack is love. Well, of course, you have to start with love: love of yourself, love of each other, love of God, love of creation, even love of man-eating squirrels. To be loving is to not only say you care about someone, but to also act out those words through your relationships. How do we show God’s love to others? A scout is friendly.
Let’s see what else Paul has in here. Ah yes, joy! No trip is complete without experiences of pure joy, of simply basking in the thrill of being alive. In our hectic lives, do we allow room for joy, the simple appreciation of God’s presence around us? Joy is meant to be contagious, to radiate out from us and infect others. Do you experience joy? Do others around us know when that happens? A scout is cheerful.
This probably the heaviest thing in Paul’s knapsack. It’s peace. Can you imagine carrying around the hope of peace in such a violent, conflicted world? Peace is not the norm anymore, and anyone willing to work for peace must have the courage to say “no” to the violent and chaotic ways of the world. Do we have the courage to make such a stand, to stand for peace in the face of conflict? A scout is brave.
Along with peace, Paul packed patience. I’m not sure there’s a knapsack big enough to carry all the patience we need in our lives. Sometimes being patient means being willing to put someone else’s need ahead of ours, or waiting for God to tell you the right time to act. Patience requires working together and submitting yourself to God’s leading. Are we as patient with God as God is with us? A scout is obedient.
I don’t think any of us are surprised to find kindness in Paul’s knapsack. I think kindness is the difference between doing something to make our lives easier and doing something to make someone else’s life better. My life would be easier if I didn’t shovel my neighbor’s driveway, but their life would be better if I did. That’s kindness. It’s easy to be kind to those we like and those who are like us; the challenge is to be kind to those who need it most, those who rarely, if ever, receive kindness from others. Do people walk away from us feeling as if we truly cared about them? A scout is kind.
Here’s something I almost missed. It’s goodness. Paul didn’t put this on top; he hid it away, because he knows it could be misused. Too many people do good to either get into Heaven or stay out of Hell, when the only real reason to do good is because good needs to be done. We all have goodness in us, don’t we? It’s up to us whether or not we use it. How do people know there’s goodness in us? How do you show goodness? A scout is helpful.
Strapped to Paul’s knapsack is his faithfulness. Faithfulness for Paul was like a sleeping bag; he nestled down into his faithfulness and zipped it all the way up, until you couldn’t tell the different between Paul the individual and Paul the man of faith. The fingerprints of our faith should be on everything we do, so much so that we become known for being people of integrity. Do people know us because of how we live out our faith? A scout is trustworthy, loyal, and reverent.
I have to be careful taking this one out of the knapsack! It’s gentleness. It’s a fragile thing, easily lost amidst the other items. Our world doesn’t really value gentleness, especially in boys. We expect rough and tumble, practical jokes and horseplay. But gentleness is more than how we treat ourselves; as Paul knew, it’s also how we treat others, as if their safety is the most important thing to us. To be gentle is to respect someone for who they are and treat them that way. Have we helped any old ladies across the street lately? A scout is courteous.
Aha! I thought Paul had forgotten to pack this. Self-control is the last thing in his pack, and probably the last thing he wanted to bring, because it’s the hardest to use. When you have resources at your disposal as Paul did, it’s hard to give those up, to make your mouth say “no” when your mind and your hormones and your wallet say “yes.” But Paul knew that self-control not only creates a clean conscience, but also a clean heart. To what have we said “no” lately, even when we’ve wanted to say “yes”? A scout is clean and thrifty.
That’s a lot of stuff in Paul’s knapsack. I know it must have been heavy for him to carry around, just as some of us may feel the burden of trying to live up to these traits. I hope every scout takes each word of their law seriously, just as I hope each person here today takes Paul’s words to heart. Because if we all are able to live our lives in such a way that honors those fruits of the Spirit, what would this world look like? How would it be different?
No one says this is easy to do. I struggle with each of those fruits even more than I struggled to put up a tent. If being this kind of person was easy, then everyone would do it. No, what Paul is calling us to do is to be counter-cultural, to live in a way that bears witness to the image of God inside of us. We are called to be trustworthy when it’s easier to lie. We’re called to be obedient when everyone else wants to do things their way. We are called to be cheerful when it’s tempting to complain. We’re called to be brave when it would be easier to keep our heads down and not take a stand. Why go to all the effort to do these things? Because that’s who we were created to be. To be anything else is disingenuous. The world says it’s OK not to be like this. But God – and the Scout Law – reminds us that we are better than that.
A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. A Christian strives to live a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Jesus tells us that whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. So…what’s in your knapsack?