Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
This was a big week for news here in BC and around the world, from floods, volcanos, royal weddings, and a woman who decided to use her own feces as a projectile weapon. But there was one story seemed to have taken at least my world by storm. And if it hasn’t taken your world, it is about to…
What did you hear? A guy saying “laurel”? Or a guy saying “yanny”? Feel free to listen again and again and blow your mind over and over.
The difference in what people hear has sparked this global debate as team laurel battles team yanny with every breath of their being. Even in my own home, being the sole member of team laurel, I had to explain to the infidels of team yanny of how all this science works.
I know, perhaps with all the mature minds here in the room, you might just think, “meh who cares” but as you hear more and more about this debate it seems the more and more we get sucked into it and we want to figure out what is really going on. I say this because that is exactly what happened to me. At first I couldn’t care less about what you heard. And after I put an ounce of thought into it, it was actually kind of interesting. Shortly after I did go back to “who cares” and carried on with my day, but the phenomenon around this is what was really interesting to me. The phenomenon of the “us vs them”, the “I’m this and you’re that”, the “so and so hears this, be like so and so”. This mentality that is brought out so clearly by this laurel/yanny debate caught on as celebrities, newscasters, and even preachers are all jumping onto this bandwagon. I even found this on social media and I thought it was hilarious:
So what is going on here? Why do people care so much about what is being heard? What difference does it make if you hear “laurel” or “yanny”? Well, I think we subconsciously look for something to unite us. We look for ways in which we can belong and feel welcome. We look for commonalities that we share with others so we can say that we’re a part of that particular demographic and say “yeah, that is who I am.”
Birds of a feather flock together, right? Once we find out what definitive traits we have in common, then we gravitate to each other. It is about identity. Be it your ethnicity, your first language, what town you grew up in, what school you went to, or even what denomination you belong to. There is no shortage of markers, checks, and balances that tell us who really belongs and who doesn’t. And if we think there are, then we just make up new ones and fight tooth and nail to continue drawing those lines and building those walls between us and them.
What, you hear yanny or laurel or whatever it is that you hear that is different than me? You’re weird. Wait, you hear what I hear? Then you belong. Wow, such and such a celebrity hears what I do? I am more like they are then. Whoa, that celebrity doesn’t hear what I do? Then I guess I’m not as big a fan anymore. And so forth.
This isn’t a new thing whatsoever. People have been included and excluded for the roles they play in society and the traits that define them since the beginning of the recorded history of people. Tribes, clans, kingdoms, allegiance, all of it both brought people together and split people up. Mostly split them up though, as the more elite and exclusive your tribe or clan is, the better it would be seen.
Why do you think Jesus was so unpopular? Jesus’ message of inclusion and welcome didn’t sit well with the cultural elites, because their being special would be threatened and perhaps even eliminated if people would adhere to Jesus’ ideal of how the world should be. They would lose their respect, their authority, their power. And no one wants to lose their power.
So they did what any one in power would do to someone who threatens their power: they discredit them. They try to poke holes in their credibility. They declare anything that goes against their narrative as fake news and not worthy of even being listened to. And at the first opportune chance they get, they would eliminate them.
Jesus knew this was going to happen, so much of his farewell discourse, his “goodbye speech” so to speak to his disciples before said elimination, is dedicated to the work of this Holy Spirit, who will come to them after he leaves. He spent time preparing them for what to expect, for what to do, for how things will evolve once he is gone. I mean, just because Jesus is no longer physically with them doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t with them. Just because they can no longer hear his words doesn’t make them any less true. Just because the opposing powers that be seem to have won in eliminating the ideals of inclusion and welcome doesn’t mean that we just stop trying.
See that is what this Holy Spirit that Jesus promised is all about. This what the Holy Spirit breathed into us does. This is what the Holy Spirit leads us to, calling us, and empowering us to act. All these things that we learned about Jesus throughout the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and then Easter, all these things we heard Jesus teaching, all these things that we read Jesus doing, all of that is pretty much to prepare us to receive this Holy Spirit, that in a world so full of exclusion, segregation, and division, that there can be hope of inclusion, connection, and relation. I mean think about it, what was the Holy Spirit’s first act as it descended on the disciples? It broke down even more walls. Broke the down the walls of whatever place they were in, broke down the walls of language and culture, broke down the walls between who is in and who is out, revealing to all not that everyone is in, but that there isn’t even any longer an “in” or an “out”.
By the Spirit, we are called to inclusion. We are called to live among God’s faithful people. We are called to embody the teachings and truth of Christ, not that the world will believe what we believe but that the world will see that it is equally loved and valued and called children of God, regardless of culture, tradition, faith, or even what their ears tell them around laurel or yanny.
But I get it, that even in circles of inclusion there are places where we can draw lines and build walls to make people feel in and out. We can still draw lines wherever lines can be drawn, and we can still come up with reasons to exclude others. But this is what Jesus means about sin and righteousness and judgement, that while we might think that we are justified in drawing lines, the Spirit will show us that regardless of what line we draw, God will be on the other side. The Spirit will teach us that regardless of what kind of wall we build, God will show us how that wall cannot stand. The Spirit will empower us to see that regardless of who we want to exclude for whatever reason, that all are included, all are welcomed, and all are loved.
The Spirit then doesn’t just lead us, but changes us. The Spirit might point us in the right direction, but it isn’t as much a destination as much as it is a transformation, as we are strengthened to proclaim truth, empowered to preach justice, and energized to unconditionally love just as we are loved. As the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision are brought to life, so are we lifted up out of our valleys of judgement and isolation to embrace life in community and right relationship.
So all the teachings of Jesus, all the learning we had in the seasons leading up to this, everything that has brought us up to this point, this day of Pentecost, is manifest in us by the Spirit. It is the Spirit of Pentecost that leads us into our future. It is the Spirit of righteousness and justice that empowers us to live lives of inclusion and welcome. It is by the Spirit of holiness that we can see God’s love for us and all people, breaking down any wall that we might put up, and joining us all together in a world free of lines and borders.
And now? Now we talk about how we do that kind of thing. How can these teachings, these truths, this change help us in our faith and growth? And how can we as a church be helped in its presence in and service to the world? And thus how can the world be helped in justice and peace, that the world might see just how much God loves and how much God wants this peace and justice for all? See the Christian life doesn’t stop in just belief, but we are also called to act.
Today is a good start, not just in that it is Pentecost Sunday and all the themes that come with it, but we are confirming two young people in their faith for the first time in a while for our congregation, and we are also welcoming two more members to congregation at the same time. Slowly, together we are seeing the change that God is bringing to our community and neighbourhood. Not in that we were in dire need of change, but that as we grow together in faith and in number, we together see God working in us and around us, inviting us in on the work and mission of the gospel for the sake of the world.
So may we, as an Easter people growing into a Pentecost people, be empowered and energized to embrace life, full of blessing and love, that we might together change our community, our neighbourhood, and eventually the world with inclusion and welcome in the name of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.