“Be Prepared”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
Lent 1C and Scout Sunday
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Luke 4:1-13

           We were called to worship this morning by the choir singing the memorable refrain from Godspell: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”  It was the perfect song to start our service because not only are we observing the first Sunday of Lent today, but we’re also celebrating Scout Sunday.  And, as every Scout knows, the motto of both Boy and Girl Scouts is: “Be Prepared.”

Robert Baden Powell—the founder of Scouting—devised the motto himself in 1907, before the Boy Scouts were officially launched in England in 1908, and in America in 1910. When someone asked Mr. Baden-Powel the question, “Prepared for what?” he replied, “Why, for any old thing.”

In his book Scouting for Boys,he explains howto be prepared: “Be 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.” Be Prepared in Body by making yourself strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it”[1]–even if doing the right thing at the right moment is extreme.  In the first edition of Scouting for Boys, he wrote “BE PREPARED to die for your country if need be, so that when the moment arrives you may charge home with confidence, not caring whether you are going to be killed or not.”[2]That phrase was not included in later editions, but it shows that Baden-Powell believed being prepared included even being ready to die if that’s what was required.

In the year after their founding in England, at a 1909 gathering of Scouts at the Crystal Palace in London, “amongst the many thousands of Boy Scouts, there was a small group of girls, dressed in Scout uniforms, who had gatecrashed the event without tickets. When asked, they replied, ‘We are the Girl Scouts!’”[3]  I wonder whether Mr. Baden-Powell came prepared for that!

If he wasn’t fully prepared in the moment, he certainly mobilized quickly.  By the end of the year, he had recruited his sister Agnes Baden-Powell to assemble and lead a new organization they called Girl Guides.  In 1910, there were 6,000 girls registered.  In a joint publication, Robert and Agnes declared that “The motto of the Girl Guides is ‘Be Prepared’. . . because . . . you have to be prepared at any moment to face difficulties and even dangers by knowing what to do and how to do it.”[4]  In 1947, the American Girl Scout Handbook explained the motto this way: “AGirl Scoutis ready to help out wherever she is needed.  Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”

In the Church, Lent is a season for getting ourselves prepared to follow the Way of Jesus more closely, even if it takes us on a journey to the ultimate sacrifice, as it did for the Lord.  Jesus’ entire life was all about serving others, reaching out to those who were pushed aside, healing the afflicted, strengthening the weak, helping everyone to know the life-changing, world-changing power of God’s love and grace.  But that power is not always well received by people who feel their own power threatened by it.  Jesus had to be prepared for the resistance and hatred that would challenge his ministry. And his disciples have to do the same.

One of the ways that Scouts become prepared for life—one of the ways they learn how to be strong in their bodies, spirits, and minds—is by spending a good deal of time outdoors, in the wilderness.  There, Scouts learn how to survive, and even thrive, without the luxury of a well-stocked fridge and pantry, or a warm, comfortable bed—to say nothing of the security of a door that can be locked against potential threats or dangers.  Spending a few days in the wild can quickly help us begin to recognize our personal limits, and our amazing resourcefulness. We can also experience the astonishing grandeur and abundance in God’s creative work when we’re in the wilderness: out in the wild of nature, you can see a greater expanse of sky, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, the damp and chill of rain or snow affecting the rest of your body, appreciate the changing air currents, the smells and sights. I know I’m not the only one who often finds it easier to acknowledge God’s handiwork and feel God’s spirit walking with me while I’m out in the woods or in the wilderness, than when I’m inside my comfortable house.

Both of our scripture lessons this morning are situated in wilderness scenes.  In the first one, Moses was giving some final move-in instructions to God’s people, who were about to claim the land God had promised to their ancestor, Abraham, many generations ago.  Between the time God made that promise and the scene where we met them today, much had happened that made the people both hope in the promise, and sometimes doubt it.  There had been family rivalries and trickery.  The tribe grew, but they were eventually taken as slaves by the Egyptians and treated very harshly.  Eventually, God heard their cries for mercy, and helped them to make a miraculous escape from their enslavement—after which they spent 40 years sojourning through the wilderness.  During that time, their faith waxed and waned.  But they learned through experience that God always provided what they needed.  When you’re camping for a while, you get a good idea of what you really need, and what are actually wantspretending to be needs.  As God’s people spent four decades in the wilderness, they learned that there are times when some have morethan they need of some particular thing, and some have less—and when those with more share from their abundance with those who have less, then relationships are strengthened, love flows more freely, and life is better for everyone.

Now, as the people were finally preparing to enter and settle into their long-awaited Promised land, Moses gave them instructions.  He said, “Always remember God is your ultimate Provider by bringing a portion of your first fruits each year as a sign of your gratitude.  Tell the story of God’s faithfulness and salvation out loud as you present your gift—this will help your children remember in future generations.  And each year, have a celebration to which you invite people you don’t particularly care for (e.g., Levites) or necessarily trust (e.g., foreigners): this will strengthen your relationships, as your goodness to them will be rewarded—not only by God, but also by these neighbors—in times of need or distress.” Moses gave all of these instructions to the people to help prepare them for a satisfying life with God as they claimed the promise and moved into the land God was giving them.

Jesus grew up learning about and practicing these teachings.  Each year, his family would go to the Temple and make an offering, and they would remember out loud God’s faithfulness and goodness to the people of Israel, in their liberation from slavery and during their 40-year journey through the wilderness.

In our Gospel lesson, the scene opens up just after Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan.  Prior to his visit to John the Baptizer, Jesus had evidently recognized that, while the world needs carpenters, for him the job was not using his strongest abilities or passions.  God had given him other gifts with which to make a meaningful difference in the world.  And so, we’re told that after he was baptized, he was led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit—just as his ancestors had been many generations ago.

He went willingly, knowing that this trek would help him to be prepared for whatever the future held in store for him.  He knew that just as his ancestors had grown stronger spiritually, mentally, and physically by spending time in the wilderness, so too would he.  He knew he would be tempted to take an easier path if it was available, yet he willingly underwent the temptations even his weakened state—when he was famished, tired, and thirsty at the end of 40 days in the wild.  Because Jesus understood that if his spirit was strong enough in his weakened physical state, he could withstand temptations when his body was satisfied.  He knew that taking time away from creature comforts and regular distractions would allow him time to really dig deep into his soul, and listen for what God’s purpose for his life was.  He was setting an example for you and me, for everyone who longs for the clarity of purpose and the unbounded freedom Jesus had.  He was fully prepared to serve and reveal God’s love and power with every bit of his human being.

How prepared to youfeel to do the work God has created and given you life in this world to do?  Being prepared is a life-long discipline; one doesn’t just tick a bunch of boxes and say, “I’m good; I’m prepared.”  I’m sure even Robert and Agnes Baden-Powell would agree that being prepared requires regular upkeep.  So, how are you continuing to prepare for your ongoing ministry outside these doors, for the important work that God has created and uniquely gifted youto do—in this community, and in the world?

Lent is a time for us to think about that, pray about it, to set some intentions about how we will get prepared, and then set about fulfilling our God-given purpose.  These forty days are given to us as a gift for achieving greater clarity, or re-focusing our attention on the way we truly want to live.  Some people give up certain things for Lent as a way of clearing away the distractions that get in the way of being prepared.  Others take up a new discipline—they choose to do something every day that helps them to remember their relationship with God.

Whatever you choose to do, however you choose to use these 40 days, I hope you will discover, as Jesus did, the immediacy and strength of God’s spirit abiding with you.  The faithfulness of God providing everything you truly need in this world.  And the liberating joy of Preparing the Way of the Lord.  Amen.

[1]Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys – Campfire Yarn No. 3 – Becoming a Scout.

[2]Scouting for Boys, First Publication, #5, 12 February 1908, pp. 331–332.

[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Baden-Powell.

[4]Forbes, Cynthia. 1910 . . . and then?  As cited on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scout_Motto#cite_note-4.

© 2019 The Congregational Church of Hollis, UCC