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.

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