Tuesday, January 9, 2018

To go boldly

Mark 1: 1-14
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 7, 2018

         Star Trek is a television and movie phenomenon with second chances woven into its fabric from the very beginning and throughout its many incarnations. It was the first show in television history to have its pilot episode rejected and then a second pilot commissioned. Much of the original cast was replaced with other characters. Even the now beloved Mr. Spock was thought of as too inhuman, his character not very likable, and was almost dropped but for Gene Roddenberry insisting that Spock was the very likeness of what Star Trek is all about: exploration of the unknown.


         After the show had been on the air for only three months it was in danger of being cancelled. A group of science fiction writers, including Robert Bloch who wrote the book Psycho, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison—each of whom would write an episode for Star Trek—wrote a joint letter to the mailing list for the 1966 World Science Fiction Convention, urging Star Trek fans to write letters and complain loudly to sponsors and television stations. NBC heard the noise and renewed Star Trek for another season. Fans saved the show again for a third season but that was as far as it could go, given the ratings. The original series aired from September 8, 1966 to June 3, 1969. But Star Trek would continue to have second chance after second chance, from continuing into syndication and an animated series to movies, to a succession of Enterprise crews, ships, and many other adventures.


         The episode “The Naked Time” occurs early in the first season. In the trailer we saw the effects of a virus communicated through water and sweat: revealing hidden fears, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and fantasies of the ship’s officers and crew. In his fear a junior officer asks a question that some still ask today: Why are we out here, anyway? We have no business out here. We bring pain and trouble with us. Going boldly into space and into this world means we take these very human parts of us with us, risking as we go. Going boldly means we can’t hold these hidden aspects of ourselves against each other if we’re going to survive and explore the unknown. Going boldly means second chance after second chance.

         For John the Baptist, going boldly meant making that way in the wilderness with his voice and his passion, “proclaiming a baptism of the heart’s transformation, for forgiveness of sins”.[1] With his clothing of camel’s hair and leather belt, eating wild locusts and honey, he would have fit right in on this Star Trek episode, except John’s wildness was caused not by a virus but by the Holy Spirit and the conviction of his beliefs, his prophetic voice overwhelming any need for propriety.

John and Jesus they were not.

         For Jesus, going boldly meant siding with those who were coming to the Jordan for John’s baptism: the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, those whom empire stepped on, who could not afford the ritual bath of purification in the temple. Going boldly meant there was no question who sent him, in his vision of the dove and a voice declaring him beloved. Going boldly meant heading immediately into the desert to be tested. Going boldly meant following John’s arrest with Jesus’ own proclamation of the good news, risking that the same might happen to him. Going boldly meant offering grace—second chance after second chance—to everyone.


         It’s up to each of us to figure out how our hearts need transformation; how it is we will go boldly. Going boldly can be getting out bed in the morning and living another day. Going boldly can be getting through the day without cutting or drinking or smoking or shooting up. Going boldly can be a loss of interest in judging others or oneself. Going boldly can be giving ourselves or someone else or a whole group of people a second chance. Going boldly can be approaching this table as we are—our weaknesses and fears, our gifts and hopes. Going boldly can be opening ourselves to whatever it is we need to be a whole human being. Amen.

[i] Mark 1: 4, Hart, David Bentley (2017). The New Testament: A Translation. New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press.

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