The needs of the many and the one
Fourty years ago, one of the best Star Trek movies ever, if not the best ever was released: Star Trek 2: the Wrath of Khan
Captain Kirk faces his old rival Khan, and of course comes out victorious…
… but at the end of the movie the Enterprise is in danger of being caught in the explosion of the forming of a new planet by the Genesis device, unless the warp core can be repaired.
Spock makes his way into the engine room which is flooded with radiation, and repairs the warp core, saving the Enterprise and crew, but suffering a lethal dose of radiation.
Kirk comes to the Engine room which is locked and sees Spock dying of radiation and Spock says to Captain Kirk:
“Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” Kirk finishes for him, “The needs of the few.” Spock replies, “Or the one.”
It is a classic ending to many a story, or book or movie, where the hero sacrifices himself/herself for others.
Harry Stamper played by Bruce Willis sacrifices himself blowing himself up and the asteroid to save the world.
Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver dives into a gigantic furnace burning herself up and the Alien inside her, in order to save humans from the Aliens in Alien 3.
William Wallace is tortured and executed at the end of Braveheart crying out freedom, and is the inspiration for Robert the Bruce to lead Scotland to freedom.
And of course, all these stories are a take-off of one of the central themes of Christianity. That Christ died to save us.
Spock is an image of Christ, who himself said that he did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life to save many.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.
For many years I have kept those words in my mind and in my heart, about the needs of others and serving others.
Exactly four weeks ago, was the day of my mother’s funeral. I was in New Brunswick and according to my mother’s wishes I preached at my mother’s funeral.
And I reflected on this theme of Sacrifice.
My mother made many sacrifices for others and especially her sons.
And while my mother Phyllis did not give her life fixing a warp core to save the Enterprise, or did not give her life blowing up an asteroid to save the world… as in the movie Armageddon where once again a Harry saves the world.
She certainly gave her life and sacrificed her life. She just did it one day at a time in the service of others.
I was and am overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for a mother who sacrificed again and again for her boys.
So much of what she did, what she endured, what she suffered in times past was so that we could have a good life, and she hardly ever talked about her pain, her suffering and her sacrifices.
She didn’t live just to please herself but to please others. It was my mother’s greatest strength.
When we were younger especially, it was never about the needs of the one, Phyllis, but about the needs of the many – her sons.
And you know what, as a minister who believes in a God of unconditional love, I had no problem believing in a God of unconditional love, because I and my brothers experienced unconditional love our whole lives from our mother.
I have no problem believing in the reality of God, not some big male in the sky who controls your every move, but the God of unconditional love, who lives wherever love is, because that God lived in my mother.
And mom was a servant of others, and gave her life helping others. She gave to her children, to family, to students, to church members. She retired early to look after her parents.
And after they died, she volunteered at her church and was on staff without salary to do pastoral care, and she did that for many years.
Because for her the needs of others outweighed her own needs.
And so, I invite you to think and reflect on those in your life who sacrificed for you, who gave up on their needs and wants, in order to see that your needs were met.
I am sure for many of you, a mother or a father, or a grandparent or a sibling might very well be at the top of your list…
And for me, my mother is at the top of my list.
I remember about 19 years ago a mother in Alberta gave her life to save her daughter who was attacked by a cougar. The mother rescued the daughter from the cougar, but the cougar turned its attention from the daughter to the mother, and mauled the mother to death.
An act of courage and sacrifice.
Or maybe you can think of greats who gave their lives for others. Maybe Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind.
Maybe you think of one of the first Christians to give his life for Christ. Stephen. Or maybe you think of the apostles whom according to tradition all were martyred for their faith excepting John.
Through the many years I have been a part of church, I have to tell you that I have met many parishioners who gave their lives in service of Christ and really put others before themselves.
I don’t have the time to name them all, or to talk about them all.
Yes, I can tell you about the occasional parishioner who was mean or not Christlike, but truthfully those who were kind and nice have far outweighed the not so nice people.
And truly there were those who were extremely Christlike. People who I have looked up to…people who exhibited unconditional love, people who gave to the church and to others and to Christ in so many ways.
I can think of one lady in particular from this congregation who was the kindest, nicest, gentlest soul, whom to visit was to be in the presence of love itself.
She is now in the arms of Jesus. I will not say her name, hoping that you will think of several people from this church that might fit that bill, because she is certainly not the only one who was exceptionally kind and loving.
I can think of a couple of clerks of session from previous congregations who were some of the most Christlike men I ever met.
Me, I am just an ordinary shmuck, flawed and human.
But let us just pause and think of those we know that in their lives put the needs of the many ahead of their own.
But recently I have had to rethink the statement that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
I recently read a novel about a man who job it is to rescue girls and young women from sex traffickers, who in the book says this: The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.
The idea is that at times you just can’t think of the many. At times you have to think of the one who is in great need.
That caused me to come up short. That was not the mantra I had saying in my mind for many years.
But as I thought about this, I had a bit of a revelation. It is one thing to give your life in sacrifice for others, but a totally different thing, if the many, sacrifice you for their own gains.
I think the greatest knock against Communism is that while the ideal of Communism was that everyone would be equal…. …that everyone would have work, that all the income would be equally distributed, that everyone would have free education. The slogan was: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
The ideal was that there wouldn’t be the poor. There wouldn’t be a lower class.
The reality of Communism was never a perfect functioning society of equals, but a dictatorship of those who ran the party and basically saw every individual as expendable for the good of the state.
They believed that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. The needs of the state outweighed the needs of the few.
However, the state was controlled by a ruling class who got most of the benefits., so in reality while they preached the mantra of the needs of the many, the reality was that the wants of the few outweighed the needs of the many.
And so, I have to admit that I am a little uncomfortable with Remembrance Day and memorial type services,
not because I don’t want to remember the sacrifices of those who died for freedom, and pray that we never repeat the sad mistakes of war…
but I am uncomfortable with the state, even democracies, who treat ordinary people as expendable for the good of the state, which in democracies, like totalitarian states, is the rich and powerful.
Too many people have been sacrificed for the so-called needs of the many.
Too many women have been sacrificed by men.
Too many blacks, aboriginals, gays and lesbians, and other minorities have been sacrificed over the years for the many.
Too many times governments have gone to war sacrificing soldiers for the supposed greater good, and it is a great big fat lie that we need to sacrifice people for the greater good.
We need to stop wars.
What wars do is actually make rich people richer. World War I made over 20,000 new millionaires in the United States.
So, it is one thing when a good people sacrifice their lives for others, but a totally different thing when the state, or the many, want you to sacrifice for them.
Since I started with a Star Trek example, let me tell you about another interesting thing about Star Trek. The officers on Star Trek wore gold shirts. Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, and Lieutenant Sulu.
The ordinary crew members wore red shirts. And in the original series a Redshirt died on average every second or third episode. That was the start of using the term Redshirt as a tv term for a stock character who was likely to die soon after being introduced.
The problem with the phrase: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, is that the few who govern the many, use it as propaganda to keep their power propped us, and frequently use the masses as Redshirts. That actually any one of the many is expendable.
And when I thought about the ministry of Jesus, one of his basic concerns was that religion and government sacrificed the poor, the ordinary, the different and the peaceful for their own ends, and what Jesus said, is that every life matters.
And what Jesus did was reach out to all those whom society considered worthless and said they had value.
Listen to some of Jesus words:
‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
Let me riff on that a bit.
When you have a country and a government, or a church for that matter, do not think it is just for the rich, the powerful, your friends, family and those you like…
But make sure you invite to the table, the poor, those with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ community, people of colour, aboriginals, children, women and other minorities…
For while these people will not line your pockets, you will die to self and be born again to love.
Let me quote from a UNICEF report from 2007:
The true measure of a nation's standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.
The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children. How well it attends to those who have no power…how well it attends to the marginalized… how well it attends to the one…
their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it.
You are a shepherd 2000 years ago, before cars and ATVs and before GPS and before guns, and you are going to leave 99 big healthy sheep to look for one little lost lamb?
No, you don’t. You don’t leave your good fat healthy 99 sheep unguarded for coyotes and thieves to plunder while you go looking for some poor worthless lamb, because, the needs of the many sheep outweigh the needs of that lost sheep.
But Jesus does and Jesus did. He went on a mission to save those who were lost, sick, different, poor, hungry, needy, naked, or in prison. Different skin colour, different sexuality, different nationality, different faith… It didn’t matter to Jesus who said that each person was a treasure and had worth, so much worth that Jesus would die to claim you as pearl beyond human price.
I finished the funeral sermon about my mom by reflecting on the fact that though she sacrificed for others, and the needs of the many often outweighed her own needs, that paradoxically, she too often looked beyond the needs of the many to the needs of the one.
My mother ministered to everyone, sick, poor, different, black, white, or any shade of skin colour. It didn’t matter your faith or lack thereof, or your politics or your background, or your social standing or your criminal history. I didn’t know a person, she hated, or shunned, or excluded.
I don’t know a person, except Jesus, who better embodied the phrase. She truly loved everybody.
If you were with her, she loved you and was on your side.
My mother was not perfect. She did not always know the right thing to say, or to do. Sometimes she tried too hard to please, and sometimes she was too concerned about what others thought.
But the one thing she never did was give up on you, or stop loving you. She was always there for you.
Because when my mom was with you, the needs of the one, you…outweighed the needs of the many. Amen.