I preached this sermon at the Easter Vigil at Fourth Church last week. A full list of the scriptures readings can be found here.
When we immerse ourselves in a story—really immerse ourselves by reading it over and over, by watching it over and over, by telling it over and over—when we immerse ourselves in a story, it shapes the way we see the world. It influences the way we think. It becomes a part of who we are.
I was reminded of this not long ago when I was discussing a situation with some friends. It was situation that was frustrating and disappointing to many of us. Things hadn’t played out exactly the way we wanted them to. And I could tell my friends thought the matter was settled, that the book was closed and that nothing more could be done.
Without really thinking about it, I responded that I don’t believe in no-win scenarios. After all, I said, even Spock came back to life.
I hadn’t really planned on dropping a reference to a 32 year old Star Trek movie. The words just came out.
But that’s my point. Star Trek was one of the mythologies that I spent a lot of time with as a kid. It has clearly shaped my worldview. Among other things, it helps me understand and make sense of the world we live in. Through repeated viewings of television shows and movies, it became a part of who I am.
If you’re not a Star Trek fan, let me give you a little bit of background. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan begins with a Starfleet cadet taking the dreaded Kobayashi Maru mission simulation. Without boring you with all the details pertaining to the Klingon neutral zone (you’ll thank me in the morning), suffice it to say that the Kobayashi Maru is designed as a no-win scenario. You either let the crew of a stranded space ship die or you yourself die trying to save them while simultaneously starting an interplanetary war. Since there is no good choice, no solution, and no way to succeed, it’s a test of character, a way to see how a potential Starfleet captain will handle a no-win situation.
When the cadet fails miserably, she protests to Admiral James T. Kirk that the test is not fair. He responds with a line that has no doubt informed my personal philosophy and belief system: “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”
As the film progresses, we learn that Kirk was the only student to ever succeed at the Kobayashi Maru test, but only because he cheated. He reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to win. “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” he says, and jumps into action to once more save the day.
Except that this time, it takes a remarkable sacrifice to save the day. Kirk’s first officer and best friend, the half-Vulcan half-human Spock, makes the heroic decision to give up his own life to save his friends. “I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now,” says a dying Spock. “What do you think of my solution?” (It makes me cry every time. Seriously, I watched it this morning and got all choked up.)
The death of Spock forces Kirk to realize that he’s never really faced death before. He’s cheated death and tricked his way out of death. But now he must confront the bitter reality of his closest friend’s demise.
Yet this wasn’t the end of the story. In the next movie—there’s always a next movie—Spock is resurrected. You see, Star Trek doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Even Spock gets resurrected.
A movie I probably first saw when I was seven or eight years old has stuck with me three decades later.
When we immerse ourselves in a story, it shapes the way we see the world. It influences the way we think. It becomes a part of who we are.
Each year we gather here on this night to immerse ourselves in the sacred story of scripture. From creation to the empty tomb, we tell and retell this story that shapes the way we see the world, influences the way we think, and becomes a part of who we are.
And here is what my heart and mind were primed to hear this time around: God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. With a relentless tenacity we hear it over and over again in these stories.
The perfection of creation is ruined by human sin, but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
All of humanity becomes evil and God even regrets making us in the first place, but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
God gives Abraham an impossible test that cannot end well, but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
The ancient Hebrews suffer for centuries under the oppressive burden of Egyptian slavery, and their escape is so bad that they think it would have been better to die in Egypt, but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
Their holy temple and sacred city are destroyed—burned to the ground—and the people are sent into exile where there wonder how they can worship God in a strange land—they wonder if even God has been destroyed—but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
God sends us Jesus to show us the way and instead of following him we kill him on a cross and bury him in a tomb, but God doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario.
Throughout these stories we are reminded of this timeless truth: there is no danger, no disaster, no tragedy, no mistake, no sin, no failure—nothing—that is beyond the redemptive power of God’s love.
For some of us, this is hard to hear. These miraculous stories are hard to believe. The realities of life get in the way. The despair of our situations are sometimes too difficult to overcome.
But maybe, just maybe, if we hear these stories enough times, if we tell them enough times, we’ll start to believe them. Maybe they’ll start to shape us. Maybe, when we least expect it, one of them will pop into our minds and help us see things in a new way.
Friends, I don’t know what you’re facing right now. Maybe it feels like a no-win situation. But don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.