Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sermon: "Let Your Light Shine" (Matthew 5: 13-16)

Last summer, at Camp Makualla, the scouts of Troop 29 took part in the camp honor walk. At twilight, we followed a path through the forest, stopping at various spots along the way to reflect on the points of the Scout Law. Many of the scouts said it was one of their favorite activities at camp.
When we were done, we returned back to our own campsite, and beneath the towering pines and a starlit sky, Scoutmaster Gray led the scouts in reflecting on what they had experienced. To some of the scouts, he asked, “Which is the hardest point of the scout law to follow?”
The scouts who responded said, “A scout is reverent.”
I have at times asked scouts that same question during boards of review. They don’t all answer the same, but many of them do say that being reverent is the hardest point of the scout law to follow.
The Boy Scouts of America believes that every scout has a duty to God. However, the Boy Scouts of America leaves it to each scout and his family to decide how to fulfill that duty. There are many paths to God. Even though I am a Christian, I have friends who are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and B’hai, and sometimes we all get together for lunch. And we are always discovering things we have in common. We are all reverent toward God, each of us in our own way.
Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, said that a scout fulfills his duty to God by fulfilling his duty to his neighbor.
The Bible says the same thing: to love God, you need to love your neighbor. To serve God, you need to serve your neighbor. Other religions have similar teachings.
So anytime you do a good turn, any time you are helpful, friendly, courteous, or kind, you are being reverent. If someone asks you what it means to be reverent, you can answer that being reverent means helping and serving your neighbor.
If that’s a good enough answer for Baden-Powell, it should be a good enough answer for any scout.
Loch Leven is the camp and conference center owned and operated by Bixby Knolls Christian Church and the other congregations of the Pacific Southwest Region. I have spent many days and nights there, some as a camper, many more as a counselor or director. Troop 29 was at Loch Leven a few weeks ago for your leadership outing.
Just up the hill from Loch Leven, right at the base of Mt. San Gorgonio, is Camp Tahquitz, the camp owned by the Long Beach Area Boy Scout Council.
But long before Camp Tahquitz or Loch Leven, those mountains were inhabited by a group of people who called themselves Yuhaviatum, which means “people of the pines.” When Europeans began exploring those mountains, they called the Yuhaviatum “Serrano,” which means highlanders.
The origin of the Yuhaviatam people begins with two brothers, Pakrokitat and Kukitat, who lived in the skies. These two brothers decided to create humans for the earth.
Pakrokitat, being the elder brother, spent many nights creating the people of the earth. But Kukitat hated how the humans looked (Kukitat thought that humans should have eyes in the backs of their heads and have webbed feet). The brothers fought over this and many other things.
Their fights were small at first, exchanging insults and namecalling, but the fights became violent and the most epic battles between them ensued over many moons, until finally, Pakrokitat was killed, and Kukitat was all alone.
After Pakrokitat’s death, Kukitat began to become bitter. He was alone except for the humans his older brother had created.
He began to divide the people who had settled around Mt. San Gorgonio into different nations. The people began speaking different languages, developing different customs, and dividing into smaller and smaller nations.
It wasn’t long before these nations noticed these differences, their different ideas, and just like the sky brothers Pakrokitat and Kukitat, the people starting warring with each other.
The nations believed that the source of their suffering was Kukitat, so they got together and killed him. Then they went back to fighting and killing each other, until there was only one boy left of all the Yuhaviatam people.
When that one boy became a man, he decided to restore the Yuhaviatam nation. He married a Muhiatnim woman and brought her to his ancestral homeland. They had a family, which grew and grew until it eventually became the Yuhaviatam nation, restored once again.

Other religions have similar stories, often involving siblings who end up at war with one another, leading to suffering for all of humanity. The theme is nearly universal. In Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, the two brothers are named Cain and Abel.
Are we supposed to take stories like this literally? No. The idea that stories like these are to be interpreted literally is actually a relatively modern phenomenon. Ancient people read them symbolically. They didn’t take them literally.
But they did find in those stories deep and powerful truths that helped them understand who they were as a culture, who they aspired to be, and the temptations they faced that could keep them from being who they were meant to be.

The fighting continues. It’s all around us. But prophets and wise teachers tell us: “The world doesn’t have to be like this. There is a better way. We are different in many ways, but really, we are all brothers. A better, more peaceful world is possible.”

In the Bible, that better, more peaceful world is described by the prophets as a place where even predators and prey – wolves and lambs – live together in peace. It’s a world where people practice love, justice, and compassion.
Jesus called it the kingdom of God. The book of Revelation calls it a new heaven and a new earth. It is a second chance at creation, much like the restored Yuhaviatam nation that the one boy who was left after all the fighting worked to create.

And just like that one boy who was called upon to restore the world to wholeness, each of us is called by God to help make this new world a reality.

Think you’re up to it?

In the Bible, God called people to change the world, but they all had doubts. Moses said he couldn’t do it because he was a poor public speaker. Jonah didn’t think he could do it, and he even tried to run away from God when God called him. Jeremiah didn’t think he could do it because he was too young; “I’m just a boy,” he said. The disciple Peter said he couldn’t do it because he was a sinner.

But each of them succeeded. How? By being true to themselves. They didn’t try to be someone they weren’t. They were themselves, and that was enough. Just like Hiccup in the movie “How to Train Your Dragon…” he wasn’t like everyone else… he was different… at first his difference looked like a weakness, but it ended up being his greatest strength.
The Bible says that God created you in God’s own image. The Bible says that you are a beloved child of God, beautiful to behold. Just as you are. You don’t have to change who you are to do your part. Maybe you think you’re too young, not smart enough, not athletic enough. Maybe you think you’re too fat or too skinny. Maybe people have put you down – or maybe you put yourself down – because of your race, or because of your sexual orientation, or because of what you look like…But you’re just making excuses. Just like Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah and Peter.
God created you just the way you are. You have everything you need to be true to your calling.
Be true to who you are, just like Hiccup.
Be true to who you are, just like that lone Yuhaviatam boy who returned to his ancestral land to re-start his nation and culture after years of fighting and war.

And if you are true to who you are, and you follow the teachings you have learned, like the scout oath and law, you will show that a better world is possible. That is how you can let your light shine.
By being trustworthy, you will help change the world. In the world, people lie, but you can change the world by being trustworthy.
By being loyal, you will help change the world. In the world, people stab one another in the back, but you can change the world by being loyal.
By being helpful, you will help change the world. In the world, people aren’t always helpful; they only care about what’s in it for them. But you can change the world by being helpful.
By being friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, you can help change the world.

Be true to who you are, true to the person God created you to be, and live by the things you have learned, and you will help change the world.

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