Here is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2 February, 2004. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 6: 1- 8 (9 – 13), 1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11, and Luke 5: 1 – 11.
In our journey through life, we tend to mark certain days as being important to the journey. The second Sunday of February, which we call Boy Scout Sunday, is one of those days. For it was on Boy Scout Sunday that I celebrate my Christian birthday.
It was this particular Sunday when I completed the confirmation portion of my studies and joined the First Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado. Later, in May of 1965, I would complete the studies that earned me the God and Country award given by the Boy Scouts. But it was this day that I took that first step as a member of a church. You might say that this day doesn’t qualify me to be a Christian but I think it was the culmination of a journey that had begun some two years before, when as an seventh grader in Montgomery, Alabama, I began looking at my relationship with Christ.
One of the decisions that I made was to begin studying for my God and Country award. I wanted this award because it is one of the few awards in Boy Scouts that is not rank dependent. In other words, you do not have to be a certain rank before you can earn it. And it is an award, which calls upon the individual to make decisions about themselves, and which will have an impact on their lives far beyond the time of study and work towards the award. If you are going to earn this award, you must make a commitment to Christ.
What I remember most about my own studies is what came about because of my studies. I do not remember how it was that I became a part of that first class, other than I approached Reverend Eddy about earning the award. But however it happened I, along with two others, began my classes on Saturday morning.
These studies included the traditional confirmation studies. But service was also a part of the curriculum, so on Sunday mornings, the three of us served as acolytes. Now, the church held two services each Sunday morning so that meant that one of the three of us had to be the acolyte for two services every Sunday.
It was about this same time that the Scoutmaster of my troop decided to hold a contest to get the members of the troop involved in Scouting activities. Most of the activities centered on traditional scouting activities such as hiking and camping. But there was also a service element and when the others in the troop saw that we were getting points for being acolytes, they also wanted to be a part of that process as well. And when our class was over in the spring of 1965, ten members of the troop indicated that they wanted to be a part of the next class.
Now, some thirty-nine years later I cannot say what happened to those who went into that next class; I can only hope that their lives were changed as was mine. But the fact that they wanted to be a part of that next class indicated that they saw something in what was happening to the three of us in the first class and it must have had an impact. Each one of us, through our words and deeds, exposes others to the impact of Christ on our lives and gives others the opportunity to find Christ in their own lives.
And that is the point Paul is stressing to the Corinthians in today’s Epistle reading. Each one of us has come to know Christ first through the actions and words of others. No one in Corinth was present at the resurrection but they had heard from those who had encountered Christ and, in turn, they would transfer this experience to others down the line. We individually come to know Christ because of what someone did for us; our hearts are opened because we have seen or heard what happens to others who have encountered Christ.
But it is not action alone that brings us into a closer relationship with Christ. It is our faith. For some today, this is a very hard idea to accept. They are willing to say that because there is no physical evidence, the resurrection could not have occurred. They are willing to say that a God which allows hatred and violence to exist in this world, then there cannot be a God of love and peace. But we know through faith that Christ died and that he died for our sins so that we could be free. And if there is hatred or violence or repression in this world, it is because we have allowed it to happen, not because God has done so.
We know, as Paul did, that there are those who have encountered the risen Christ. To those individuals, who told others, the resurrection is not a simple folk tale; it is the truth. Our celebration of communion today is more than just a ritual; the words that we say only have meaning because of the faith that we bring with us to the table. Our celebration of communion today is more than just a reenactment of a gathering of friends one night many years ago. It is our connection with Christ through the very act by which He became a part of our life.
Our faith is renewed each time we partake of communion because we, along with countless others today and countless saints who have walked before us, take part in the celebration of life and its victory over sin and death.
Each of us here today holds on to the legacy of faith. By our actions, we reestablish the legacy of faith that has been passed down from age to age and which we shall pass to ages to come. It is true that our faith is being sorely tested these days. There are many who would say that the world around us is falling apart and that our faith is not sufficient to fight the forces of evils. The events of the past week merely show how hard we must work. There have been many that call themselves Christians who are quick to react to the threats of society. But their reactions and responses are repressive and hardly reflect the words of Christ. It is one thing to condemn but you must also open your hearts and forgive those who have wronged; you must also provide a response that reflects a better alternative.
The problem is that those who condemn fail to provide alternatives. Remember when the self-righteous leaders were ready to stone the woman who was caught in adultery? Let us ignore for the moment that they were not going to punish the man who was also caught. They asked Jesus who should throw the first stone but he replied, "let that one person without sin cast the first stone." Those who condemn should be prepared to offer an alternative.
Our faith is tested and often found weak because we are not ready to focus on Christ. We more often than not focus on our own life. Like Peter, in the reading from today’s Gospel reading it is our faith that will move us forward. Peter didn’t think that he could catch any fish; after all, he and the others had been up all night and had not caught anything.
But he listened to Christ and came away with a full load of fish. Peter’s life changed because he heard Christ calling him to be a fisher of men and not just a fisherman. Isaiah was just as sure that he wasn’t the one who should serve God. He was a sinner, hardly worthy of a life serving God. But God granted Isaiah a second chance and changed his life and made him a prophet.
So now God is calling. Perhaps it is quiet and soft like the call heard by a twelve-year-old in Montgomery, Alabama so many years ago. Maybe it is a call through thunder and lightening like that Isaiah heard. Or perhaps it is through the cries of the needy or the moans of the hungry. No matter how God is calling, He is calling you. It is not important how the call is made but it is important that the call is answered.
The twelfth of the Scout Laws is "A Scout is Reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others." This simple statement was one that has directed my life ever since I heard the call from God so many years ago. It took me a while to figure out how to answer that call. And today, as we come to the table we hear the words of Christ calling to us, inviting us to be a part of the table as well. How will you answer the call?