Troop 44 in Laurel, Mississippi was one of the signature Blue Ribbon Troops of the Pine Burr Council in the Mississippi association of The Boy Scouts. Inside our little Scout Hut, draped on every wall, were long ropes filled with the blue ribbons awarded at the campouts and jamborees throughout each year.
The first campouts were like a bootcamp. A section of the camp ground was cordoned off for the Tender Foots. The tents, the sleeping bags, the mess kits, the latrine kit – all of it was dumped within an area cordoned off with ropes and waiting for the Tender Foots to come and create their Blue Ribbon camp ground. The Scout Master left an old, duct taped, copy of the Boy Scout Handbook nearby.
Once I remember hearing, “Hey Man, what’s this?” The food locker being dumped on its side, and the sound of one of those old Coleman stoves crashing to the ground; and then, “Shooot.”
We mostly looked at the pictures in the handbook rather than read it.
We stepped off the tents in a rectangular grid. We set up the table, the pantry, and the stove. We found a big pine log, lashed it to some trees, and started digging, put the toilet paper on a stick and assembled the latrine.
We became like a screaming troop of chimpanzees.
As the older boys finished their work they would come and watch us. We were the show, the evening entertainment, as we cursed, shouted, and ordered one another around. By supper time there were bruised egos, hurt feelings, and a feeling of being exhausted and exasperated.
“Fellas . . . hey fellas . . . come on . . . we gonna fix things up.”
It was one of the Scout Masters. He gathered us together, the big ones, the little ones, the loud ones, the quiet ones, the sheep and the goats, all the Tenderfoots, and surveyed our work.
“Well fellas, how did you do? You had the book? What do you think? Anything go wrong? Are we looking at a Blue Ribbon Campsite here? I sure wouldn’t want to have to write down what I heard coming out of some of your mouths about an hour ago.”
He was kind, he was gentle, he was firm, and we were listening.
For the next half hour he walked us through it all. He quietly showed us how to drive a tent peg without bending it. He show us how to lash a log to two trees so that it remained level. He explained to us why we needed the fire buckets at the corner of each tent. He showed how to set a tent with the door toward the prevailing breeze so that we might stay cool at night.
Step by step, with kindness and gentleness, he led us to a Blue Ribbon campsite. You might say that he became the Boy Scout Handbook for that sliver of an evening and brought peace and order into our chaos.
By the time supper was cleaned up and put away we were chimpanzees throwing footballs, building fires, and finding the big dipper and little dipper above our heads, all because someone became the handbook for us.
Sometimes when I am reading the Gospel I can see how Jesus becomes the handbook for a sliver of time. It is clear that the Evangelist, the writer of Matthew, is capturing the authority with which Jesus speaks to his friends and followers. Jesus speaks with the voice of Moses. Jesus is the bringer of a new law, and brings the fullness of the ancient law with Him as well.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times . . . But I now say to you.”
Jesus becomes the handbook with intention of showing, explaining, what the Bible means for our lives.
I cannot tell you how often I hear folks say, “Preach something that is practical, something that is simple – you know – something that I can apply to my daily life . . .” And my thought is, Well here you go. In this section of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus give some practical guidance for living life.
Don’t gossip. Don’t sue people before seeking to reconcile with them. Don’t look upon another as an object of desire; and if you do, take dramatic steps to stop. Don’t use divorce as a “lifestyle choice.” Don’t speak out of both sides of your mouth, don’t promise one thing and deliver another.
You see, Jesus is not trying to tell us ways to continue doing in our daily lives what we might normally do anyway, or even what we might be justified in doing under the lex talionis – the law of retribution – eye for eye. Nor has Jesus come to simply bless what is most comfortable for our existing appetites. Jesus is actually pointing to a deeper and higher way of understanding and living.
Some would say these are some of the hard sayings of Jesus; they are simply hard because in our sinfulness most of us actually have no desire or intention of meeting God on this particular ground of our lives
It is true that Jesus has come to fulfill the Law of Moses, but He has not come asking us to make bricks without straw. Jesus means to fulfill the Law in such a way that it will be possible for his disciples to walk in these precepts, and not simply be crushed by their high expectations.
“Follow Me.” “Live in the way that I am showing you” and you will be able to carry the weight of the Law, as I help you to carry the weight of your souls. We will find a way out of the wilderness of anger and appetite together. I have come not just to tell you but to lead you as well.
This possibility of new life, seeking deliverance from our habits of anger and lust, lay in our willingness to be lead by the living handbook for which Jesus gives his life.
The power lay in admitting our own complicity in creating a self-justifying narrative out of my own anger, lust, and self-certainty. The power lay in admitting that often we are weak, and yet that we would still like to fall forward into God’s arms. The power is in admitting that we often do not know what we are doing, and that we need a kindly guide who is showing us the way.
Jesus becomes the handbook for a season so that in the words of Deuteronomy, a book of Moses, we might choose life, and our descendants may live, loving the Lord our God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; as we discover that He has been holding fast to us.