Glimpsing God Where No One Has Gone Before: Star Trek meets Les Misérables
Bible Text: Mark 9. 38-50 | Preacher: Reverend Helen Dean
A sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost
I don’t know whether any of you are Star Trek fans. I’m not really a fan. I watched some early episodes as a child but I see its influence and I recognise quite a few Star Trek references in contemporary culture. It became several tv series and quite a few movies, with a shifting cast list as the original cast grew older.
We know who Captain Kirk is. He is . . . ? Captain of the Star Ship Enterprise, originally played by . . . William Shatner, born in 1931. The movie Star Trek Beyond came out in 2016. In it, Captain Kirk was played by Chris Pine, born in 1980.
From 1966 we heard the phrase, To boldly go where no man has gone before. Times change and in 1987 this changed to Where no one has gone before.
Like Jesus’ mission, Star Trek and the crew of the Enterprise had become more inclusive.
In the beginning of the more recent Star Trek Beyond, Captain Kirk’s log entry says, If the universe is truly endless, are we not forever striving for something out of reach?
Although the end of the universe remained forever out of reach, nevertheless the crew of the Enterprise continued their voyage of discovery, encouraged by the glimpses they did gain.
We are also on a “now and not yet” journey to the knowledge and love of God, ultimately unknowable, beyond the reach of starships, beyond the reach of our minds and hands and feet, but perhaps not beyond the reach of our hearts. And on this journey, we can glimpse the glory of God.
The glory of God is the physical manifestation of God. How is God manifested in our world, in our time, in our sight and sound and experience? How can we see God?
Most of you will know this quote: To love another person is to see the face of God. Who said that? … Jean Valjean, character in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
We can glimpse the glory of God through the love of God, poured out for us and through us to others. Jesus gave us quite a few glimpses of this.
At the beginning of his ministry he read from the scroll of Isaiah.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4. 18-19)
Who did he come to favour? The suffering, the vulnerable, the hurt, the disadvantaged, those who were not favoured by the world. He came to be and to bring Good News to them. Not the rich, the advantaged, the favoured, the ones who are doing OK. No, it was the others.
We find God (Father, Son or Holy Spirit) in many places. We seek God when we read the Bible. We seek God in the beauties of creation, in the joy of human relationships, in the spiritual community of believers. On Sundays we seek God also in Word and Sacrament, in prayer and praise, as we worship. All this is good and true and worthwhile. But Jesus asks much more of us. We are to seek him in the poor and the vulnerable, including children.
Children can be seen as representative of those without means or power or autonomy. They are the epitome of the vulnerable, those who apparently do not need to be considered too much.
Jesus, the unique manifestation of the glory of God, stood all the wisdom of the world on its head. Sometimes we miss some of the biggest themes in the Gospels. In Mark 9 and 10, Jesus has come down from the mountain following the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John heard the voice of God saying, This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him! Then they come down from the mountain, rejoin the other disciples, meet the crowds and then go to Capernaum. Now they are in a more intimate setting, in someone’s house, and Jesus is teaching them.
It must be a mixed crowd. We hear Jesus being asked a variety of questions and in amongst all this questioning and teaching there are children.
In chapters 9 & 10 there are 3 references to children. The questions and discussions that interrupt Jesus’ interaction with them can mask the power of his messages about children.
We need to look at these messages together.
There are 3 basic messages about children. Jesus said that little children are great; don’t give them a hard time; and they should have at least as much priority as anyone else.
Before we explore these 3 messages, we need to see them in the bigger context. When Jesus spoke about children, he was also speaking about all the other vulnerable groups in society. In his contemporary world, the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed. You could add others that you know he favoured in his ministry.
Who is considered of little or no account in our culture? Try to have a specific person of group of people in your mind. Who has less because they are considered less? Who has less public space, less say in their lives, less choice in how they are treated. You could go on. Now, Jesus has said that they are great, don’t give them a hard time, and they should have at least as much priority as anyone else.
Let’s get more specific about what Jesus said.
In last week’s reading, the disciples asked, Who is the greatest? Jesus said it is not the one who looks as though they are in charge. It is the one like this little child. Jesus brought the little child in amongst them and picked it up. and said, Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
If you welcome the person no-one else thinks much of, the one who is unwelcome, you are welcoming Jesus and welcoming God into your life.
We are not told that Jesus put that child back down so picture Jesus holding that little child close for the rest of this conversation.
In this week’s continuation, Jesus said, If you put anything in the way of these little ones, it’s not good for you. No matter what tempts you to be give someone a hard time or to obstruct their path to something better, get rid of that thing. It’s not worth it. Be who you are meant to be. Be at peace with one another.
And from next week’s reading, and don’t you dare try to stop these little ones coming to me, coming to the love of God. They know how to receive the love of God better than you do. And he took those little children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
You will hear more about that, about next week’s reading next week, but let’s go back to something incredibly significant. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.
This is a sacramental way of seeing God and neighbour in the same space, the same time and place. You have heard that First of all, a sacrament is a physical sign that communicates a spiritual reality. The disadvantaged one is sacramental. We meet God in the disadvantaged, in the vulnerable, in the unexpected, in a little child.
By being who we are meant to be and loving as we are meant to love, we will sacramentally see the face of God. As we meet Jesus in the scriptures, in Christian community, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, so we will also meet him when we love and care for those considered of not much account in the world.
So, let us boldly go where no-one has gone before, to catch a glimpse of the face of God through unconditional sharing of the limitless love of God.
May it be so. Amen.