Monday, September 27, 2010

Data, Lal and Lazarus

This is my opening illustration and my closing from yesterday's sermon on Luke 16:19-31:

One of my favorite TV shows ever is Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I liked the original series, too, of course, with Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. But I really love the second series in the franchise, with Capt. Picard, Commander Riker, Mr. Worf, Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, Mr. Data and the rest of them.

Some of you may know that show, some may not. Production ended years ago, but for those who are willing to stay up till midnight—or who are able and will program their TiVo’s or VCR’s—there are daily opportunities to boldly go where no one has gone before.

The character named Data is an android. He is not so much a robot, but an artificial life form, a kind of living, walking computer. He does not feel, which is to say, he does not have feelings, exactly, but he wants to, is all the time trying to become more human. In one episode he decides that he wants to be a father, and so he goes into his lab and creates another android, a smaller version of himself. She is female and Data gives her the name Lal, which is Hindi for “beloved,” and he begins to teach her about… life. Eventually, sadly, Lal suffers a cascade systems failure…she dies… but before she does she enriches Data’s life, and the lives of all the others.

I tell you that because I want to recount one remarkable scene in that remarkable episode. Data takes Lal to Ten Forward. Ten Forward is like the officers club, the gathering place for the crew, a place of conversation and socializing. Sitting at the bar Data invites Lal to eat something. She does not require food—but Data has learned, and he is trying to teach her, that eating, and not just eating but eating together, is a really big part of what it means to be human.

“Order something,” he says to Lal.

“What should I order, father?” Lal replies.

“Whatever you like,” says Data.

“But how do I know what I like?” asks Lal, and Data the living computer does not know how to answer.

It is a remarkable question, I think. “How do I know what I like?”

We each and all of us might likewise ask, “How do I know what to think? How do I know what to believe? How do I know how to behave?” How do I know what it means to be not only human, but Christian? How do we learn that, for ourselves, how do we teach it to our lals, our beloved, our children? How, indeed.

The key to this text is at the end: they have Moses and the prophets. Let them read them. Oh, no, Father Abraham. They don’t read their Bibles, but if someone goes to them from the dead…

Just as we have the Bible. Let us read it. Together. That is how we know what we are to like, and be like. That is how we know what is just and right. That is how we know what’s wrong with this picture of Lazarus and the rich man. That is how we know there are consequences, blessed and dire consequences to our actions. That is how we know what we know, and how we believe what we believe. That is how we learn ourselves and teach our kids: we have the Bible. We should read our Bibles. Together.

Oh, no, Father Abraham. We don’t read our Bibles. But if you send us a miracle, a financial miracle, a healing miracle, then we will believe and be changed!

If we do not read the Bible that we have, if we do not study together, Father Abraham say to us that we will not be changed even if someone should rise among us from the dead.

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