Guest Sermon: Be a Bother!

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Written by the Reverend Dr. Jill Rierdan
Guest Preaching at Our Savior’s
June 25, 2017

Matthew 10:24-39 (Proper 7)

Some years ago, an Episcopal priest, and friend of mine, was asked to give the benediction at a local public meeting. At the end of his prayer, someone called out, and pray for the Red Sox to win the pennant! To which my priest friend said, God doesn’t care about sports. Well! That comment was controversial enough to get reported in a newspaper article in the Springfield Republican.

And whether you or I agree, my priest friend’s comment raises a wonderful question: What does God care about? Are some of our personal concerns too trivial or too simply personal to bring to God?

The Gospel this morning helps answer this question when Jesus says, 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

And even the hairs of your head are all counted.

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

God loves us, down to the hair on our heads. And if God cares about the hair that grows on, or falls out from, our heads, so much more would God care about what grows and takes root in our hearts. And so we may ask God to bless our gardens and our pets and our stuffed animals and our sports teams and we may pray for health and forgiveness and rain or no rain and even parking spaces, and we may bring to God’s attention the healing of sick friends and the repose of souls, without having to be concerned with bothering God.

In England, some people are called God Botherers. This is a slang term for people who talk about God when people don’t want to listen. Jeremiah might be called a God Botherer as he cries out the word of the Lord that the people don’t want to hear. Now, Lutherans and Episcopalians are NOT known for being God Botherers in this sense—we don’t usually go around from door to door or stand in the market place talking about God. Our issue is not that we bother other people with our talk of God but that we worry about our bothering God with our prayers and concerns.

There is no prayer request too small or too large. At the Easter Vigil service this year, during the Prayers of the People, I found myself asking for prayers for Vladimir Putin! Is this because I love and approve of Mr. Putin or his politics? Not at all. It is because I wish for his sake and that of the world that he be brought into the orbit of God. And I knew God would not be bothered by my prayer request, by the immensity of a request for world peace. Quite the contrary. 

God invites us to bring our loves and fears and hopes and concerns to God in prayer, no matter how small or how large.

At this time, when many of us are afraid about the state of our nation and the world—we need to know that God wants to hear our fears so the we might hear again God’s message of love.  Jesus kept saying Be Not Afraid because he knew how afraid the disciples were; we still need to hear that Gospel message—Be Not Afraid—because we still fear in the midst of our faith. 

God even invites us to bring our hates to God. Even our wish for someone else’s failure or loss or suffering or death or destruction can be brought to God in prayer. If you don’t believe me, think of some of the psalms that we used to read before the lectionary was revised. Texts of terror is what one theologian called them.

God invites us to bring our anger and rage and hate to God. NOT because God will gratify these prayers of hate, not because God would ever become a force of hate as we humans sometimes are, but because through bringing our deepest desires to God in prayer—even our anger and hatred—we open ourselves to God, invite God to affect us, to shape us, to provide an experience of love and light which can transform our hate and hard-heartedness as God counts the hairs on our heads.

We cannot change God (Thank God!) but God can change us if we bring all our concerns, without censoring, without judging and declaring some too selfish or trivial or terrible for the heart of God to hear and hold and transform.

All of us are created in the image of God and through approaching God we will more and more conform to God’s image, becoming people of love, not hate; mercy, not revenge; one human family of cherished diversity united in prayer. 

This is what God cares about.

Camp Calumet Sermon: “No John Trumbull”

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Matthew 10:24-39

And that’s your Gospel reading. When I’m all ready to preach some peace and love for staff week and confirmation camp at Calumet, Jesus goes all “not peace but a sword” on me. Whoa Jesus.

’Til I moved to New England, I lived most of my adult life in Atlanta, the capital of hip hop. So naturally, when I need a little help, I turn there.

So – some of you may be familiar with a little musical called Hamilton. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a hip hop musical based on exactly what you’d expect a hip hop musical to be about: the life of a real OG, our nation’s first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. Written by American actor, rapper, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s all at once dream-like and a painfully realistic, clear-eyed journey through the Revolution and our nation’s founding.

Now, those of you who are Hamilton superfans will know of another release called the Hamilton Mixtape, in which legendary hip hop and R&B artists had all kinds of fun performing the numbers, adding lyrics, adding their own spin. And the Mixtape also included some deleted numbers from the show.

The first track on the album is one such number. Called “No John Trumbull,” the number was supposed to open the second act, after the Revolution has been won, and after the audience has been left with American pride running through their veins, thinking of how nice and romantic that whole Revolution thing was, similar to a painting by John Trumbull, the artist who captured the famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

After the Revolution, the real work of governing begins for Alexander Hamilton and the other Founding Fathers. In what was originally meant to open that second act, legendary artists the Roots give us this short number:

You ever seen a painting by John Trumbull?

Founding fathers in a line, looking all humble

Patiently waiting to sign a declaration, to start a nation,

no sign of disagreement,

Not one grumble?

The reality is messier and richer, kids.

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids.

Every cabinet meeting’s like a full on rumble.

What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull.” (1)

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John Trumbull’s depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

We romanticize history, but history is messy. It’s no romantic painting, No John Trumbull. Living together is hard. Governing and leading is hard. Messy. I’m from Alabama. I’m not sure, but there’s a decent chance that my ancestors may have owned and abused other humans in the horror of American slavery. Then there was segregation and the KKK. American history, as any Alabama student who’s paying attention knows, is not pretty. It’s complicated. It’s messy. It’s real.

Good thing we have the church, right?


We spend a lot of time talking about peace and love in the church, and so we should. But we get to feeling too good about ourselves and we often confuse love with being nice. We paint ourselves a John Trumbull — clean lines, nice. Always getting along.

No sign of disagreement, not one grumble.

The reality is messier and richer, kids.

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids.

We try so hard to make out like the church is nice. We like being nice. We’re in New England, for God’s sake, the most polite place since… well, the first England, where the Founding Fathers came from. Being nice seems uncomplicated. Everyone likes you, and people don’t get mad at you too often. And we imagine the early church as this nice place where people shared everything and people loved each other and there was no conflict, no sign of disagreement, not one grumble.
The reality is messier and richer, kids.

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids.
Then there’s the stereotypes about Jesus: meek and mild, nice guy, carries sheep, stares peacefully into distance. We see it in paintings a lot.

But this Gospel reading is no John Trumbull.

Jesus, meek & mild, and talking about how he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.

And try as we might, the modern church isn’t always nice either. Some of you, unfortunately, know this first hand. If you don’t, ask your pastor their craziest “person who wasn’t nice in their last call” story. Or don’t. Because it’s similar to opening Google and typing “my dog swallowed ….” and waiting for Google to fill in the predictive search. The possibilities are endless and pretty gross.

Some folks think we’ve fallen from grace since those first days of the early church as described in Acts. As nice as that is to think, you’d be wrong there too. Paul is all over the Corinthians for being first century jerks, where everybody had their favorite teacher and they wouldn’t listen to anyone else. “I follow Paul! I follow Apollos!”

If you read those epistles closely, you’ll see that, long before Ms. Beatrice came for the property committee over the color of the carpet, Theomestros came for Agatha over eating meat dedicated to idols.

The reality is messier and richer, kids.

The reality is not a pretty picture, kids.

‘Kay. I get it. No more Reverend Nice Church. So if we’re not a nice church, what kind of church are we?

Assuming Jesus really meant all of this stuff, which I feel like is generally a good idea, it would seem that being nice isn’t an option, but we know that Jesus has also called us to love one another.

And real love is no John Trumbull. It’s messier and richer, kids.

Love often isn’t nice. Love is hard.

Sometimes you have to deal with difficult people or tell people what they don’t want to hear or speak your truth and trust the other person to still love you anyway. Love can get messy, but it’s also real — more beautiful than any painting.

In the church, you will find bickering and anger, but you will also find people who are trying their hardest to follow Jesus and to welcome everyone in and to seek justice and really love one another. And that’s hard stuff.

The truth is that real love, real justice, takes work. Too often when we’re nice, we don’t want to rock the boat. But the truth is that sometimes that boat needs rocking. The world is imperfect, and people are getting hurt every day, and we’re called to stand up and do something about that, because defending vulnerable people is what love looks like — and that can be hard. We’ll disagree on who and what and how to rock what boat and when.

Every council meeting’s like a full on rumble

What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull.

The difference between niceness and love is the difference between a painting of a nature scene and the beauty you see around you in this place. One is beautiful, with no bugs or humidity, but it’s also only a shadow of the real thing. The other one is actual wilderness, where the weather isn’t always nice and where you can be uncomfortable and sometimes even get hurt — but it’s deep, and real, and beautiful, with real water and real trees and real fresh air. You can touch the trees and feel the breeze. It’s difficult for me to stand on the shores of Lake Ossipee and not feel something, even if it’s hot, or there are bugs. It’s real.

This week in confirmation camp we’re talking about the ways that God shows up here at camp and back home in your church — we call it Holy Things, things like water and fire and and table —  the ways that God shows up in the midst of our mess and still calls us beloved, makes us new, makes us whole.

Paraphrasing Martha Whitmore Hickman, we are not perfect. [We’re not even always nice.] Instead, we are loved. And that’s real.

If you want, I can talk to you about the mess and the pain that I’ve seen in church and the ways I’ve gotten hurt. I’ve had my heart broken by church people a few times. But I can’t talk about that without talking about the love I’ve found in the Church, and not just in some far away spiritual sense, but in a real sense, the kind I can see and hear and touch and taste: in Bread, Wine, Water, and Words, and in these messy people we call the Church. In real people who wrapped their arms around me and told me that I was loved and good enough when the world had told me otherwise. Those who made my baptismal promises real, more than just words on a page. I am loved. So are you.

We’re not perfect, but God keeps showing up among us.

The reality is messier and richer, kids. And it’s more beautiful than any John Trumbull.

It’s messier because we’re sinners. It’s richer because God has made us saints.

And so let us, beloved, gather around this table where God shows up and makes all things new. It’s no picture perfect painting. It’s much messier, and richer, than that.

What you’re about to witness is no John Trumbull. It’s better. It’s love. Amen.

1. “No John Trumbull,” Hamilton Mixtape, 2016. If you’re a Spotify user, you can listen here. [Caution: some songs may not be appropriate for small children.]

Going Green: “Tell Me Something Good!”

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Flashback to 1974.

Matthew 9:35-10:8

I just want to go on record and say that I hate almost any statement that starts with “these days.” Because quite often, people, no matter how old they are or aren’t, are just speaking for what they’ve seen as adults, not the actual reality and scope of human history.

For example, no, we are not more violent these days. That is a ridiculous statement if you’ve ever read a history book. Violence is a human problem, not a modern one.

I’m willing to make an exception for substantive claims based on big changes to the way we relate to each other — and the 24 hour news cycle is one of those changes, exacerbated by the immediate availability of breaking news information right on our smart phones.

We hear news, all day, every day.

Just this week:

A man opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. Steve Scalise, House majority whip, was among the injured.

We learned from the President himself that he is personally under investigation.

The police officer who shot Philando Castile was acquitted of manslaughter charges.

A fire in London claimed the lives of many people — the exact toll we don’t know yet, but it’s now soared to over 50.

A US warship collided with a much larger merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Seven US sailors are presumed dead.

And finally, just yesterday, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial is declared a mistrial, while another trial in Massachusetts has landed a young woman behind bars for encouraging the suicide of her friend.

There is so much pain, and many of us are getting it all in real time, right on our smart phones. Every time I hear the telltale :do do doop: alert, my stomach drops. It’s rarely good news.

In all of this bad news, I’m reminded of the 1974 hit by Rufus and Chaka Khan:
“Tell me something good!”

And then you come to church. We all come here for a wide variety of reasons: some of you have been coming here for years because you love this church, its mission, and its people. Some of you have been coming here for only a short while, but you come because you love the liturgy and you love the warmth of the people here. But hopefully you all come for the same primary reason, whether you’ve been coming here for decades or whether you only just started:

You need to hear some Good News.
“Tell me something good!”

:dododoop!: News alert:

“New rabbi, Jesus, going about all the cities and villages, teaches in synagogues, proclaims the good news of the kingdom, and cures numerous diseases.”

These days, we don’t much hear good news. Those in Israel in the first century didn’t either.

Jesus shares some Good News with people in another age where good news was sorely needed: the Israelites were oppressed by Rome. They saw their neighbors killed for no reason in their occupied homeland. They often feared for their own lives. And they reached out to Jesus with the same cry we have today:

“Tell me something good!”

And he did. He healed their sick and he proclaimed the coming kingdom — fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.

We’ve heard the church described as a filling station, a place where we can refresh ourselves for the week to come, where we can dare sit in our divided world with people of multiple political persuasions and leave with good news of God’s good grace for all of us, and with hope for the world — that the pain we see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.

Summer is when the church goes green and stays green for quite awhile: my stole, the paraments. We call this “ordinary time.” You may assume that we call it ordinary time because it stands in contrast to the seasons of the church year: it’s not Advent, it’s not Lent, it’s not Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. It’s just ordinary. Plain. Nothing happening here.

But you’ll notice in your bulletin that each Sunday from here on out will be numbered — “second Sunday after Pentecost.” “Third Sunday after Pentecost.” Through the summer and deep into the fall, we will count: “Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.” “Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.”

And so on.

What “ordinary” actually means isn’t “plain.” It means “counted days.” “Ordered days.”

Pentecost was a big day for the disciples and a big day for us: the Holy Spirit made its appearance. We added new members and confirmed one of our own in a beautiful service. We finished up our yearly telling of the story of Jesus and today, we begin to tell the story of the church in ordered, counted days.

There is no longer a followable story of Jesus to tell. Now we hear the teachings of Jesus and we begin to imagine what they mean for our story. Our story, together, week by week.

Because the truth, beloved, is that we don’t live most of our lives in Advent, waiting for something to happen, or in Easter, when we celebrate. Most of us live the majority of our lives in counted, ordinary days, when we get up, we do what must be done, we hopefully grow, and we go to bed.

But most of you know that it’s in the ordinary days, at least as much as in the high and low seasons, that we begin to figure out who we really are. It’s in those times that we focus and we order our days and we hopefully grow as human beings. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to really grow as a professional or a parent or a human being during the hectic seasons of our lives. When things finally settle down and become ordinary, we say, “Okay, now I can focus on personal growth.”

Maybe that’s why the church, in all its wisdom, painted this season green, the color of growth. This is when, week in and week out, after a week of hearing horrible news in the headlines, we come together and we all say to the church together:

“Tell me something good.”

In today’s Gospel story, the church in all its wisdom includes this story: one where Jesus tells and shows the good news — fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.

And that’s not the end of the story. Because you see, the Gospel would be boring and cheap if it weren’t participatory.

It’s natural to hear news and then spread it. For every recent big story that has broken in recent years, I have heard phones go off and immediately, people begin to turn to their neighbors and face the screens towards them or whisper what just happened. And if the story is big enough, people get on their feet to react: depending on what the story is, there are protests, or vigils, or service days organized immediately. News is meant to be shared — in word and in action. If it’s not shared, friends, it’s just not big news.

Obvious statement of the morning: we are not the only people who need to hear Good News these days. We’re not the only people getting more depressing news by the minute on our smartphones and tablets and laptops. We’ve got the whole world crying out:

“Tell me something good!”

So let’s tell them: Fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here. You just have to look.

This summer, our liturgy is explicitly for beginners, and for you. Each piece, you might have noticed, is explained: what it is, why we do it, and why it matters. So that we can, in these ordinary days, grow. So that we can hear the Good News and be sent out by our assisting minister each week: “Go in peace, share the Good News!” and the congregation responds: [wait]

And the sign outside beckons for people to come share life with us. The slogan, shamelessly stolen from a Lutheran church in Atlanta, is pure good news and invitation: a message to the community that we exist for them, with an open invitation — come hear some good news. Come share life with us.

And so, during these ordinary days, when things have slowed to a summer’s crawl and we are no longer tied up in the obligations of winter and spring, let’s grow, as creation outside deepens its green. Because, and I mean every word of this: God knows people need to hear some good news these days.

So let’s go — tell ‘em something good. Amen.

Trinity Sunday: The Doubting Faithful

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One of my friend Jessie’s many Katahdin photos.

Matthew 28:16-20

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

My friend Jessie hiked the Appalachian Trail last year. This year, she ventured to Nepal to hike. In a few days, she’s headed off to Burkina Faso to serve with the Peace Corps.

As I was hiking briefly along the Trail in the Berkshires with her last summer, I began to feel the weight of my day pack and the incline of the hill and it occurred to me: why do we like discomfort? We were making ourselves uncomfortable on purpose. In Jessie’s case, it was for the cause of walking all the way from Georgia to Maine, a venture some might say was foolish. She had some serious doubts about whether she’d finish, doubts that every AT hiker has — as they say, “no pain, no rain, no Maine” — but she did it. When she reached the base of Katahdin, the northern terminus of the trail, she signed the camp log with her trail name, Thin Mint, saying “Thin Mint never thought she’d make it this far.”

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

Now a Southern Baptist youth group assembled in Alabama in the early 2000s and professed faith in Jesus. They raised their hands and worshiped Jesus, but some doubted. Fifteen years later, one of those teenagers knelt as her bishop and her community laid hands on her and ordained her. She thought she’d never make it that far.

That was me.

Now the people gathered together in South Hadley, Massachusetts, to worship Jesus. But some doubted. Some were hurting from things that were happening in their lives. Some had intellectual doubts. Some weren’t sure what they believed anymore. But they still came, even though a few of them didn’t know why.

Doubt is uncomfortable. It’s been cast down by the Church for years as a lack of faith, as dangerous to our mortal souls. Others have been shamed for it: “If you would just pray and not doubt, you would be healed.” Still others have been accused of betraying Jesus simply for asking questions.

But if we cannot ask our questions and express our doubts in church, where can we?

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Church in all its wisdom put this day on the calendar one week after the Holy Spirit makes its appearance in our yearly retelling of the story of Jesus.

The Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Trinity: Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.
The Trinity: Parent, Child, and Special Effect.

The Trinity: an impossible doctrine to explain to anyone who is not a Christian. It’s just bad math, quite frankly. 3=1 and 1=3? God is one, but three, all at the same time?

My Episcopal priest friend posted on Facebook this week that she’s sick and has been prescribed cough syrup, and she was honestly hoping that codeine it would make the Trinity make a little more sense. As far as I know, she had no luck.

A favorite professor of mine in college, who taught a class on world religions, would do her best to answer our questions on religion and even theology. A faithful Episcopalian, she was the first person I ever met who claimed to be both a Democrat and a Christian. Up to that point, to quote King George in the musical Hamilton, “I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.”

This professor fascinated me, not simply for claiming what I once thought were competing identities. She fascinated me because she was the first Christian I met who was willing to say, as an answer to questions about theology, that she didn’t know.

Pastors everywhere are tasked with explaining the Trinity today. How does it work? How is God one, but also three, but also one?

I don’t know.

You might as well ask an educated anteater to explain astrophysics. Do I believe it? Yes. Can I explain it? Well, I can try, but every metaphor you try to give to the inexplicable falls apart rather quickly.

Do I sometimes have my doubts simply because there’s no perfect way of explaining or understanding an infinite and inexplicable God? Of course. And I think it’s about time we got more honest about that — I’m no better at this whole faith thing than you are. In fact, I have had the privilege of being the pastor to countless people who have far more faith than I do. I just happen to be okay with the discomfort of leading and doubting and following all at the same time. And to be honest, I never thought I’d make it this far, but here I am.

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

This weekend, while many of you enjoyed the nice summer weather, Bob, LauraLee, and I ventured to Springfield for synod assembly. There was someone there from LEAD, an organization within our denomination that provides materials for study and spiritual formation. The presenter said that the biggest thing standing in the way of people being active in their churches, of talking about faith with their neighbors, and of serving is this: they don’t feel confident enough or articulate enough to explain doctrines. Like the doctrine, I suppose, of the Trinity.

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

Some doubted. We don’t know who. Could’ve been any of them. Could’ve even been most of them. Matthew didn’t say it was only a few.

But all of them received the charge and promise that followed: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is where it occurs to me that if Jesus had wanted to single out the doubters and send them away, he would have. He didn’t.

Instead, the doubters get sent with everyone else. Go, doubters. “Preach faith until you have faith.” (1) And remember: I am with you always, to the end of time. Jesus draws no lines between those who are certain and those who doubt on that day, and neither do we. We draw no lines between those of us who can accurately explain and expound upon theology and those who just know there’s something about this Jesus guy that keeps them coming back, but for the record, I’m in the second group.

Doubt is uncomfortable. Faith is uncomfortable. This whole church thing is uncomfortable. And maybe you think you could never be a leader, but I can tell you that there’s at least one person in this room — me — who’s felt the same way. But here I am. And here you are.

When my friend Jessie finished the Appalachian Trail, she wrote, “So many people have told me that they themselves couldn’t do a thru hike or something like it; that it’s unattainable for them. The point I’d like to drive home is that I am not exceptional, and this hike, while difficult in certain ways, does not make me special. The hardest thing about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for me was deciding to go; after that it was no more dangerous than walking down the street in Atlanta. …When it came down it, all I did was walk for my allotted number of hours each day, stubbornly. Anyone can do this, and they have. Sometimes when I was unhappy with how my walking was going I would remind myself that blind people and 4 year olds have done this.” (2) 

We all have doubts. We have doubts about whether we should be here and whether we’re faithful enough and whether we believe hard enough. But the truth is that all we have to do is show up, and even when we don’t do that, the Holy Spirit still has a way of finding us. So don’t worry if you’ve got doubts. Look around. You’re not the only one.

Doubt is uncomfortable, but discomfort is how we accomplish things and it’s how we grow. It’s the only way Jessie got from Georgia to Maine — a stubbornness and a willingness to just keep walking and a high tolerance for discomfort.

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

May God bless you with both doubts and the assurance that you are not alone. I’d like to leave you with a Benedictine blessing posted on Facebook by a friend this week:

“May the Creator bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you will live deep in your heart.

May the Son bless you with anger
at injustice and oppression, and exploitation of people and the earth, so that you will work for justice and peace.

May the Spirit bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them.

And may God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you with foolishness
to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do all the things which others say cannot be done.” (3)

Discomfort is part of doing difficult things, just as doubt is part of faith. But take heart, my friends: discomfort has its own advantages, and doubts or no doubts, we are all loved, we are all called, we are all sent: doubters too. Amen.

(1) Quote attributed to John Wesley, founder of Methodism.
(2) You can read more about Jessie’s adventures here.
Traditional Benedictine blessing, lightly edited for Trinity Sunday.

Pentecost: Life is a Team Sport

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“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place…”

Acts 2:1-21

Today, like last week, is a special day: we welcome Shianne, a person of musical talent and keen insight on faith — who will claim the promises made for her in baptism for herself in confirmation. And we’ll welcome Mary and Faye, who’ve been joining us for awhile now, as they affirm their baptism and officially join our fold.

Not only am I overjoyed to welcome these beloved people, but I confess, I’m overjoyed for their many gifts too — Faye’s keen theological insight and bent for mysticism, Mary’s warm smile and steady resilience and accordion playing, and Shianne’s mad flute skills and infectious laugh (and she’s a budding theologian herself) and her deep love for and commitment to her friends, family, and church.

Each of these people can do things that no one else here can do. Each of you can do things no one else here can do. It takes all kinds.

I saw a story this week, here in the height of graduation season, about how high school valedictorians don’t often grow up to become millionaires or the world’s innovators. Though 90% of them end up in professional careers (like doctors and lawyers) and a little under half go on to get graduate degrees, they don’t usually grow up to become famous innovators. Because, apparently, academic success encourages conformity rather than free thought. Real geniuses, the video posited, tend to struggle in school. (1)

I couldn’t help thinking, “That may be so, but thank God someone is really good at learning the rules and playing the game well! We need ordinary doctors!”

We need ordinary doctors and lawyers and accountants and teachers. We need ordinary construction workers and mechanics and plumbers and factory workers and farmers.

Society wouldn’t run without all kinds of humans.

Life is a team sport, people. Let’s stop figuring out who’s inferior to whom.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Blink twice and you might miss that opening as if it were some insignificant detail. But then you remember that Luke, the guy who wrote Acts, was probably a physician, and doctors don’t tend to give insignificant details.

This was for all of them. No one could be missing.

They all get the same gift, but at the same time, they don’t. There’s a reason we talk about the Holy Spirit in terms of fire and wind. These are not things that we can control. These are not all things whose forms, intensities, or effects always look the same.

It won’t take long before Paul will start writing of the fruits of the spirit and the different gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians, a letter Paul wrote to church folks who couldn’t stop bickering, Paul wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NRSV).

He’ll write to the folks in Rome about how it’s the Spirit who makes the church work. It’s why we’ve got folks willing to preach, others willing to teach Sunday school, others who are good at serving others or providing hospitality or visiting people in the hospital or cleaning out the gutters. The Holy Spirit makes this whole messy church thing work. Our differences make the world work.

Life is a team sport, people.

I talk about it all the time, as do all of us: we are a deeply divided nation. I find myself continually deeply disturbed at how we don’t just disagree between parties anymore — we occupy entirely different realities.

I read a New York Times article this week about how we assume, politically, that we are so divided because of filter bubbles and what we call “confirmation bias”: we gravitate towards opinions that are already the same as ours.

This article posited that maybe we’re conflating confirmation bias — wanting what we think to be confirmed —- with the related desirability bias — wanting to be told what we want to hear. Confirmation bias and desirability bias usually are the same for us in our politics: what we want to believe is what we believe. But it’s not always true of life: quite often we think bad things will happen even if we don’t want them to. In other words, a pessimist doesn’t want to believe that the world to burn, they just believe it will.

But in order to change your politics, you have to want to believe something different. It doesn’t usually matter, if the facts presented contradict our beliefs — we cling ever more tightly to the reality that we want to believe. The article was pessimistically entitled, “You’re Not Going to Change Your Mind.” (2)

But we’ve all changed our minds on something hard before. We all have things we used to believe strongly that we don’t anymore. At least for me, it’s always been because I knew somebody — somebody who was affected directly by whatever thing I had an opinion about.

As Harvey Milk, the first openly LGBTQ elected official, and how he used to say “They vote for us 2 to 1 if they know they know one of us.”

Things change when you know someone.

We all agree that we don’t like the state of things. But if anything’s going to change, as much as we hate it, we need each other. We need someone who believes differently and has a completely different experience than we do.

Life is a team sport, people.

I’m not going to say something trite about how if we all just talked we’d work our problems out. I hate it when people do that.

Talk!? Why didn’t we think of that?!

But you know, maybe things might get better if we stopped yelling at each other on the Internet and over the dinner table and started meeting with a common identity to ask and answer questions we can all wrestle with:

Why are we here?
What keeps you up at night?
What keeps you going?
What is precious to you?
And finally,
What can we do together?

There are many places this can happen, but it’s been happening for centuries in places of worship. Religion has for sure been a destructive force in the world, but it also has a way of helping us get real. It asks us who we are and why we’re here and where we’re going and it doesn’t work if we all have the same experience and gifts and opinions. We need each other.

Life is a team sport, people.

Of course, it’s not easy to do life together. The Holy Spirit is wind and flame: it can be comforting, like a campfire or a gentle breeze — or it can be highly uncomfortable.
The same is true of church.

But “when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”

We are here together. You — Shianne, Mary, Faye, and all the rest of you — you are part of us. You have experience that no one else here has. You can do things no one else can do. And it won’t always be easy, but we’re here, and we’re together. And I’m glad you’re on our team. Amen.

(1) The study referenced is outlined here.
(2) Read the Times article yourself here.