But I’m Only…
Rev. Leanne Walt
Your reputation precedes you, Troop 22. Your history leads you. Your reputation precedes you here in this congregation and here in this town. The oldest active Boy Scout troop in Braintree, joining only a few others in the area. You are part of something larger than this one day or this one morning, a part of something larger than your years and experience in scouting. So we stand in reverence to a great God who has woven us all together through a legacy and ancestry of faith and scouting that preceded each and every one of us - one that established and built what you now build upon, a legacy that this congregation continues to celebrate and support.
Like all organizations that withstand the passage of time and generations, the scouts and the church have been faced with the changing tides of time, with having to shift and adapt and transform in order to maintain our relevance and integrity in a culture that is socially progressing, and one that has become increasingly individualistic and decreasingly invested in civic life.
There was a time, and in fact, not so long ago when there was regular, free and fluid movement between the church and Troop 22, when we had direct and immediate connection with the troop through many, many adult members of the church as well as youth who actively participated in both the troop and this community of faith. Part of our shared history and legacy is here, in these common strands.
And, when I say this, I trust that for most who have been around this church and town some time, the image of Bob and Marge Downey cannot help but naturally come to mind or perhaps surface in your heart - a couple whose reputation in the troop and church surely precedes them. In fact, just a few weeks ago I had lunch with a new acquaintance here in town and about halfway through our meal and conversation, we made, what I have come to term as, “the Downey Connection” – a phenomenon that has happened frequently and often over my 2-years pastoring this church. Turns out, she was a good friend of Bob and Marge – she quickly lit up at the mention of their names and began telling me story after story about Bob and Marge. She first met Marge while camping with Troop 22 when her two boys were in the troop where they discovered they were the only women on the trip. She told me about the time she was sitting next to Bob one evening at an Old Colony Council meeting and only after the meeting did she find out that he had driven directly from Boston where he was receiving his chemo treatments to attend the meeting. That’s how great and deep his dedication to this program cut.
The troop’s commemorative 90th anniversary patch on the pocket of your uniforms has an image of the church silhouetted between the years 1921 and 2011. A visible, evident and tangible reminder that the church and the troop are not so far apart in character or in spirit. Sharing a belief in community and working toward the common good. Celebrating the adventure and continuing the journey – of life and service and faith.
Our mission here at this church, our very purpose for gathering and for worshiping by song and prayer and offering and Word is – by the grace of God - the transformation of the self for the transformation of the world. Troop 22, your mission, your purpose for gathering and for meeting, for camping and serving and merit badge earning is the transformation of the self for the transformation of the world.
The Boy Scout Law is not so far off from our law of faith – the Boy Scout Law begins with the transformation of the self:
to be trustworthy,
The law of the Christian faith begins with the transformation of the self. As the Apostle Paul proclaims in his letter to the Ephesians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Not so far off, are they – are we. The transformation of the self for the transformation of the world.
You are part of a culture much larger than Troop or Pack 22, a culture of being prepared, so says the new logo revealed in 2011 upon the 100th anniversary of the scouts:
Boy Scouts. Prepared. For life.
Prepared in mind and body to do your duty, whatever that may be – wow! well, that’s serious stuff – that goes beyond having a book of matches on you when someone needs a light, or a pocket knife when someone needs to open a package, or to start a fire or pitch a tent when darkness enfolds the forest.
Boy Scouts. Prepared. For life.
Prepared in mind by having disciplined yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.
Prepared in body, also, by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it. The transformation of the self, for the transformation of the world.
Be Prepared. For life.
Again, not so far off are we – troop and church. We, too, are concerned with being prepared. Be Prepared. For life. Be prepared in spirit for God to call and use us as instruments of peace and justice, forgiveness and salvation in this world. Be prepared, in mind, body and spirit, for you don’t know when or how or where the call will come – but it will come – and when it does we are to be strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and we are to do it.
Because the question is not who is called, but who will respond – who – by the grace of God – will be willing to do the right thing at the right moment.
For our brother Jeremiah, that moment came at one of the most troublesome periods in Israel’s history, in the decades leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC and followed by the Babylonian exile. These were bad times – these were changing times – politically and socially and even geographically for the Hebrew people. They were in between domination by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. Their religion and culture, nation and peoplehood were at stake. Yet, also at this time the people of Judah had a much loved king – King Josiah - the people just adored him – he had launched religious reform that reaffirmed the covenant of Moses and he had centralized the worship of God in Jerusalem. These were good and positive movements, it seemed, for the Hebrew peopled.
In the midst of all of this a young man, Jeremiah, hears, or perhaps perceives in his heart the voice of God – the nudge, the pull of the one speaking from the place of higher purpose and wisdom and power.
“Jeremiah, my beloved: before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
And, so, Jeremiah, hearing this, says to God – or perhaps he speaks it deep in his heart: “But I’m only a boy.” But I’m only. But I’m only….
God nudges him, he nudges and nudges him and urges Jeremiah to speak out against the popular and much loved king of his people, King Josiah - to preach an unpopular message at a difficult time – a message that promotes submission to the Babylonians – the foreign rulers of Judah. Submission for the salvation of his people.
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“But I’m only…” transformation of the self – by the grace of God - for the transformation of the world.
Be prepared. For life. For the Call.
Surely there were others who stood along side Jeremiah at that same moment in history who sensed a call on their hearts to submit to foreign rule in order to preserve the longevity and future of their people – but it was Jeremiah who acted, who gave God’s call voice and expression and presence – it was Jeremiah who was not only strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, but it was Jeremiah who did it.
* * *
How will you know it’s the call of God? Because it will be hard. Because you will resist it. Because it will come at an inopportune time and in an unexpected way calling you to speak an unpopular truth at a difficult moment.
It will mean speaking out and up when you see a kid at school repeatedly bullied and put down. It will mean extending a hand to those who are excluded and marginalized in society and culture. It will mean standing with and walking alongside the oppressed. It will mean being a voice of hope and optimism in a world that speaks the language of cynicism and suspicion.
We find resolve this morning in the words of Dr. Howard Thurman: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have.”
Wait. And listen for the sound of the genuine inside yourself. You will know, you will sense – the time and the moment and the truth you are called to speak.
The call is difficult yes, but here again troop and church emerge and merge. Scouts and Christians – People of God - You are prepared. For life. To act. With integrity of person and fruits of the spirit. With confidence and conviction and courage.
Scouts and Christians, may we trust so deeply that God knew each and every one of us before the womb, before birth – that we have been divinely and fantastically and wonderfully and specifically appointed for the good news difficult and dirty work in this world – that when our call comes, and we know it will, we will respond not, “But I’m only. But I’m only.”
Scouts and Christians, we will instead respond, “Here I am. Here I am.”