The Prime Directive

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

I. Beginnings

Space – the final frontier – voyages of the starship enterprise to explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilization, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.  So I have a confession, for some of you that may be sci-fi fans, based on the first few statements I made a moment ago, by now it may be no secret that I am a bit of a Star Trek fan.  I am a bit of a science fiction fan,  which include both Star Wars and Star Trek, which is probably a little known fact about me. However, my previous life of mechanical engineering and science fiction fan parents, sparked an interest in the action of science fiction dramas. And when it comes to the Star Trek Franchise, I must admit I am more familiar with the next generation than the original series, although I have seen both. But as I reveal a hobby of mine, I admit that exploring the new worlds, mechanical structures of spaceships, and even the political exploration of these fictional places are a specific interest of mine. 

 II. The Prime Directive

On Star Trek, the main goal of Starfleet, this fictional military-like team within the context of space, is to explore new worlds, gain information, and generally scientifically explore a field that is quite unknown and vastly yet to be explored.  In their exploration they can learn and process information about civilizations: how they function, how they see the world, what type of government they implement, what discoveries these unexplored worlds have found.  However, as Starfleet is out exploring this brand new frontier of space that has mysteries yet to be found, they are not allowed to interfere with the internal and natural development of the civilizations of these new worlds that are encountered.  This is the Prime Directive.  It is the instruction for all of Starfleet that dictates how they function and conduct themselves within their journey and exploration endeavors.  The prime directive is meant to be understood and internalized, so much so that it patterns the actions that Starfleet officers take. It is the most paramount instruction, it is the Prime Directive. 

If you were to watch the show, while not specifically stated, yet quite often referenced, you might see that the Prime Directive essentially dictates how people respond in concepts of morality and judgement.  There are variations in response to the Prime Directive, for example Captain Kirk is a bit more cavalier and not as much for a stickler for the strictness of the Prime Directive, however he is still guided by the Prime directive just maybe a little more loose on the strictness of its bounds. Captain Picard on the other hand was a little more tied to the prime directive and strictly followed its instruction. But overall the Prime Directive was given that it might shape the actions of everything that Starfleet does within its exploration, that it might give direction, that it might give them a moral compass to direct their work and their lives, but again some are better than others at incorporating it into their daily life.

            Just like the members of Starfleet were given the Prime Directive, the most important direction, we see here in our scripture this morning that the people of Israel were also given, a very important direction, the most important direction, if you will,  a Prime Directive.  They were tasked to keep these words on their heart, to bind them as a sign on their hand, to fix them as a symbol on their head, they were to write them on their doorposts, and they were to share it with not only their children, but their children’s children.  This was a decree that was so important that it must not only affect the lives of those who heard it in the moment, but it was supposed to transcend to future generations, generations of the old and young, generations that are yet to be, generations that have not yet be conceived of.  It was one of the most important points of instruction, it was the Prime Directive. It was a point so important that it was supposed to shape the way that the people did life, it was a decree that was meant to touch the heart and move the soul, it was supposed to last for many generations and it has even lasted into the present in that you will find that many Jewish people have fixed this statement within Mezuzahs on their door posts of their homes. It is just that important because it is in a sense a Prime Directive – something so important that it guides our concept of faith and transcends the concept of time, to love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, and might.

 III. The Shema

This prime directive, in Hebrew terms, is called the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” These words are meant to be internalized, written on the heart of the faithful and carried out.  There is but one God, and you are to love God with everything you are.  It is the Prime Directive.

You see much like Starfleet, who were exploring the final frontier, the people of Israel were about to embark on a new journey.  The people were in the place where they had come to the conclusion of their 40 years wandering in the desert and they were about to embark on entering in the Promised Land, this land of milk and honey, this new place that had been given to them by their Lord. For some reason the Lord had chosen them to be God’s people, God had brought them out of the bondage of slavery, God had taken care of them out in the desert, God had provided them food that appeared as the dew for them daily, and now God was ushering them into the Promised Land.  What had they done to deserve such grace? Absolutely nothing, yet God chose them anyway, much like God extends grace to each of us.  But as God has chosen them, God enters into a covenant with them and says, “Love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and with all your might.”  – in exchange for God’s grace and provision the people of Israel are asked to love God and God alone. It was the main instruction for their lives, it was to be embodied, it was the Prime Directive, it was to shape everything they do and everything they are.  It was the Prime Directive.

And as the people are entering the Promised Land, this new journey that brings great promise and new possibilities, the writer of this passage is concerned that the people will lose their way.  There is a concern that if the people of Israel were to enter into this land of milk and honey that they would be so comfortable that they forget the main covenant, forget that God had chosen them, forget that God had brought them from a mighty long way, forget that God had brought them out of the great tribulation of slavery, that God had made provisions for them – there was a concern that they would get so comfortable that they would be swayed by surrounding polytheistic nations – there was a concern that in their lavish comfort they would forget the mighty God that got them there.  Therefore, forgetting the Prime Directive to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might.  And if the trajectory of the Israelite People were any indication, it was clear that the author had need for worry because eventually, after quite sometime, the people of Israel were led astray and forgot who their God was, the one who had brought them out of tribulation and claimed them as God’s own.  They had forgotten their God and essentially who they are as the people of God and were cast out into exile.  But if they had just held to the Prime Directive, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might, they would have been able to see their identity that is shaped by God.

 IV. Our Task

We too are embarking on a new journey as a church, both this specific church and the church at large, a new frontier, if you will.  A journey that requires us to transcend our circumstances and do new things.  We are called my God to reach the world, to feed the hungry, welcome the outcast, protect the defenseless.  In the midst of a world of COVID we have to find new ways to genuinely spread the gospel, which may mean stepping out of our comfort zone.  In the midst of situations around us, we are to become involved in the communities in which we serve and extend the love of Christ to those around us – but that requires us to do things in new way than the ways we typically do church and that’s not just because of the limitations that COVID has placed upon us but because we live in a world that is ever changing and ever evolving and the ways to reach people are changing with the same trajectory of the world.  But that does not change that nothing, not COVID, not racial injustice, not poverty, not a political season, nothing, has stopped us from the call God has on us, which is to share the love of Jesus Christ to the world.  And as we stand to our call we must hold to the Prime Directive – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might. As we embark on the new journey of ministry the path in which we take may be different than previous generations, it may require us to stretch ourselves, it may require us to do brand new things.  And on top of that, as our surrounding environment and society have the ability to influence us,  it may become easy to lose sight of the what God has called us to do, and sometimes it may even feel like we have lost sight of God.

However, just like the Israelites and Starfleet, we have been given a Prime Directive.  A piece of information that keeps us focused, a directive that allows us to internalize God’s love within us, a direction that allows us to pattern our lives in ways that bring about God’s love, peace, and justice.  And we get it from our scripture, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, and all your might.” 

This passage, this prime directive, is called the Shema. Shema being the Hebrew word for listen.  However, we can take a lesson from our Hebrew this morning in that Shema means to listen and it means to obey, to take action toward.  You see in our English term to listen, it is possible to passively take in the words spoken to you, but in the Hebrew tradition to listen was not a passive response, it was something that you had to act on, it was an internal process that shaped your being to then take on a response.  So you see as we listen, Hear, the Word of God, this Prime Directive, we are tasked to not just hear the words being said to us, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, and all your might.”  But we are called to internalize it, to allow it to take root in our heart, to transform our every action that it might become a part of who we are, and then take action upon.  To hear doesn’t mean to just allow the words to enter your ear, but to hear and obey.  To do and act.  You see we are to fully love God to the point that people are able to see the devotion in us, we are to fully take on this act of loving God with our whole heart, soul, and might that it transforms our being to love our neighbor.  You see we should love God so much that that the one who is love, the one who proclaims justice, the one who brings peace into the world,  the one who proclaimed victory to the oppressed, the one who brought healing to the sick, the one who offered himself on a cross, the one who was resurrected and brought new life might be experienced through our actions, and people might be led not to us or even our church, but genuinely led to God in relationship, and transformed by God’s mighty acts, that they might receive God’s grace, and experience the goodness that comes from living in the gift of the Prime Directive.  To love the Lord your God, the only God, with your heart, soul, and all your might.

When we internalize the Shema, the edict from God, the prime directive – not passively – but fully embodying it in ways that transform our lives then we can effectively respond to the call that God has given to us as the church.  To listen to the directive is not for it to go in one ear and out the other, but to hear and cause us to act and obey, to dedicate our lives to God as our Lord, to give God our all, and to allow God to lead our direction on where to go, what to do, and how to build ministry that creates God’s will and brings people to God. So in the midst of turmoil and stress, in the midst of heartache and pain, in the midst of a world that makes no sense, in the midst of a brand new season, in the midst of COVID, in the midst of a political season that tears people apart, in the midst of comfort, in the midst of sunshine, in the midst of rain, in the midst of ups and in the midst of downs, we must always Love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, and all of our might – for it is the Prime Directive and it should shape our very being.