The Many and the One

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For a few minutes, I’m going to talk about Star Trek. Ages ago, when I talked about it, I felt like the young guy forcing my science-fiction interests on a disinterested older generation. Now, it seems like every teenager knows about Star Trek, and I’m one of the old guys with childhood memories of watching the original series on an RCA console television.

Every Star Trek aficionado knows that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, is probably the best of the films. In the dramatic conclusion, Spock enters the ship’s engine room to repair the warp drive, even though the engine room has been flooded with a lethal concentration of radiation. In the nick of time, the warp drive is repaired, and ship moves out of danger.  But the celebration is short-lived. Kirk and the crew realize that Spock has sacrificed his life to save theirs. Some of you remember the poignant conversation that takes place between Kirk and Spock over the intercom and through the clear barrier that separates them. “Don’t grieve, Admiral, it’s logical,” says Spock. “The good of the many outweighs … the good of the few… or the one.”

We might want to push back against that statement with questions: “Really?” “Do the needs of the many always exceed the needs of the few or the one?”

Jesus’ teaching recorded in today’s gospel text challenges that notion. In brief twin parables, Jesus says something important about God’s value system.  Ninety-nine sheep are gathered round, but the shepherd’s heart is with the one missing in the wilderness. Nine silver coins are in hand, but the woman worries about the one lost in a dark corner. In God’s economy, each person is worthy of special concern, and every individual is known and loved. God, with an unlimited attention span, is able to love everyone actively, tangibly, and in a focused manner, like a shepherd loves each sheep in the flock.

This truth about God’s love has some corollaries.

God loves us, not because of our faults, but in spite of them.

As the 15th chapter of Luke opens, Jesus is speaking to religious leaders who aren’t convinced that God’s love extends to those with faults. “Tax collectors and sinners were coming” to Jesus, Luke says. As you’ve heard me say in other sermons, tax collectors frequently were not only corrupt, but also commonly viewed as traitors, collaborators with the Roman occupiers. Sinners were people whose violations of Mosaic law were enough to be barred from worship in the local synagogue. Jesus, the sinless One, includes sinful people whom others have excluded. His message of grace is unmistakable: he doesn’t love the sin, of course, but he loves each person regardless of his or her shortcomings.

Another corollary to the truth of God’s love is this: God’s choice is more important than our choices. When you reflect upon the witness of scripture, then I think you’ll discover it’s true:

  • Moses, a man who exhibits uncontrolled temper, a fugitive on the run for killing a man, afraid to speak to those in power;
  • David, a man who displays uncontrolled lust, mastermind of a plot to murder a loyal warrior;
  • Peter, impulsive, overly emotional, whose courage failed him at key moments;
  • James and John, whose ambition and pride led them to selfishly lobby for special favors;
  • Thomas, the doubter;
  • and a great company of other patriarchs, prophets, and apostles who made faulty choices that today might exclude them from an employer’s short list of candidates.

In each case, God loved them, chose them, and saved them. In the end, their lives were defined not by their unfortunate choices, but by the fact that God chose them.

From the perspective of a pastor, one of life’s great mysteries is why some people, when receiving the offer of God’s love, don’t accept it. Good gifts are placed before them, but they won’t reach out and accept them. A path that leads to wholeness and life is pointed out to them, but they walk down the path that leads to destruction and death. Sometimes, I think, the rejection of God’s love has to do with a misunderstanding, pursuing something awful while incorrectly imagining that it will turn out wonderful. Sometimes, the rejection of God’s love has to do with early life experiences in which something evil happened to them in the name of religion.  “If that’s heaven,” they think, “then I’d rather end up in hell.” If we could just love them enough actively, tangibly, perhaps they would yet believe.

At the beginning of this message, I described for you the conclusion of the second Star Trek film, and now I want to tell you, very briefly, what happens in Star Trek III. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise go on a search for Spock. They risk their careers, their ship, and their lives, to go to a life-giving but very dangerous place because there is a slim chance that Spock can found alive.

The dialogue in the closing scene hearkens back to the previous film, and in its own cinematic way, encapsulates the essence of today’s gospel text:

Spock says, “You came back for me.”

Kirk replies, “You would have done the same for me.”

Spock’s confused, not-daring-to-believe response: “Why would you do this?”

Kirk says, “Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

Jesus says, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

Wherever we are in life, God is actively looking for us, tangibly trying to love us. By God’s grace, may we be among the ones who are found.

Note: a video version of this sermon may be viewed by clicking on the following link:


~ by JohnH1962 on September 15, 2013.

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