Pentecost! That liturgical holiday when even the most non-emotive & undemonstrative of Christians acknowledge that God as Spirit moves, shakes, shimmies, expresses, exclaims, shouts in many voices, and makes a scene. Even before you engage this Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary texts, you might already have plans & ideas for how to enact a Spirit-filled Pentecost in your congregation — plans that you’ve likely been holding onto since last year’s Pentecost when you thought to yourself, “If only we had… red balloons, huge fans, a brilliant-but-low-risk fire, fill in the blank.”

But don’t forget the texts. And while you consider the texts, I invite you also to pause in your brainstorming to consider Maren Tirabassi’s suggestion that the liturgical celebration of wind & fire potentially overlooks very real devastation being wreaked by wind & fire right now in Alberta, Canada. Just as many of us in the U.S. took great care this past Sunday to be mindful of the pain & sadness that can accompany Mother’s Day, likewise stories of fire can be both treasured (e.g. s’mores over the campfire) and tragic (e.g. a fire that consumes a family farm).

When I look across all of the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Pentecost, what stands out to me is not wind or fire at all, but rather language and tongues:tongues

  • the common language in Genesis 11:1-9 that contributes to (or at least accompanies) a common vanity among the people who desire to make their mark on history by building a tower to the heavens;
  • the tongues full of praise in Psalm 104 — of God celebrating creation, of the psalmist praising the Creator, of the whole earth seeking God’s face & breath for life;
  • the language of the Spirit in Romans 8:14-17, testifying on our behalf and calling us children of God, and again in John 14:8-17 & 25-27 as She teaches us in truth;
  • and of course the tongues speaking in Acts 2:1-21, no longer in one language but in many languages & dialects so that the Gospel can be understood and the Spirit poured out across many contexts.

(For a poetic reflection on the power of the tongue to harm or heal, I recommend one of my favorite songs, “Speaking of Tongues,” by Michael Franti.)

How is the Spirit moving within you toward Sunday’s sermon? Share your thoughts, brainstorms, questions, and encouragement in the comments!

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Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ (US) minister, soccer mom, blogger, and author. Her latest book is Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian.

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17 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Pentecost without Fire

  1. Pentecost is my favorite church holiday! It is the story that tells me that I, too, can be a pastor – God’s Spirit was poured out on young and old, male and female. It is the story that reminds me that God is still active in the world – we may not understand another person, but that doesn’t mean that their words or actions are not divinely inspired. No idea where I’m headed with the sermon yet, but I’m excited about it! Looking forward to hearing others’ ideas.

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  2. I’m excited too! Confirmation of three students on Sunday too – and they each chose long verses to memorize that fit very well for who they are and who they want to be. I am making a framed picture with their verses on it for each (as if there wasn’t lots of other stuff to do this week… confirmation banquet etc.) Not sure where I am going with sermon either but I hope I can encourage people to know and feel the Spirit. Not going crazy with decor this week but hope to have accessible depth in my preaching.

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  3. I’m admittedly disappointed that this is our Music Sunday. I love to plan Pentecost worship. I did get to contribute liturgy, and since my daughter is home from her Junior Year Abroad, she is going to read part of the Acts passage in Japanese. So there’s that!

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  4. I don’t have any real formed ideas yet. I am focusing on the hearing aspect. Each heard in their own language and the HS was the interpreter. How do we hear the good news? Are we open to the spirits interpretation?

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    1. I’m thinking about hearing too, revhd, as well as communicating and understanding … and thinking (or wondering) particularly about how the variety of hearing/communicating/understanding the good news is a necessary element of its embodiment. Hearing/communicating/understanding only in one language or one method (e.g. Tower of Babel) runs contrary to the Gospel. Hmm….helpful for me just to think aloud by typing!

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  5. We will be celebrating the graduation of one of our EfM (Education for Ministry) students. Four years in this lay ministry program! She is the first in many years, but there are more to follow. I want to weave this in somehow–it should not be an ending but a beginning just as Pentecost was for the disciples.

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  6. I’m reading the Genesis lection in Spanish at 2 services. Interestingly, there are quite a few words with which I’m not familiar, so I’m working extra hard on my rusty Español. 🙂

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  7. I am not preaching this Sunday, but I preached on it 3 years ago, and we blew bubbles, I remember! And blew windmills (pinwheels) and ate cake (afterwards) because what is a birthday without cake? And I commented on how many languages the people in the congregation spoke (they are largely Ghanaian and all of them speak AT LEAST three languages, fluently, not always including English)….
    http://mrsredboots.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/party-like-its-33-ad.html

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    1. …and now I’ve read your sermon, and I like the whole thing, not just the title! I especially appreciate your description of Peter’s surprising eloquence, and may need to do something similar in my sermon. Thanks! 🙂

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  8. i am thinking about what was the outcome of the Spirit – people heard the good news [Acts]; Peace and truth [John] and the good news of Romans that we are all heirs of God. and I will make popcorn over the flame of the Christ candle -. the spirit changes us.
    Friday evening family worship is all about wind – kites, windmills, and paper planes. and i hope to find one of my tin whistles by then, without wind/breath it doesn’t do what it was made to do.

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  9. This Sunday will be the last day of Sunday School for the year, so we’re making it an intentionally cross-generational service. We’re using several resources from “Spill the Beans” (the earlier issues, based on the RCL), and we’ll have ribbon streamers for kids to wave whenever they hear the word Spirit. After worship, we’ll have a pancake breakfast and several cross-generational service activities.

    As far as the sermon, right now I’m caught by two verses from the Acts text: Verse 4 – All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. And verse 6 – each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. It sounds like the Spirit rested on “all” of them, more than just the twelve, maybe more than the seventy, maybe ALL of them. And if all of THEM, then perhaps also all of US. So I may propose that we all are, and must be, both hearers and speakers of the good news.

    I think that means that I am given words and voice, not for my own benefit, but because my neighbor needs to hear the good news. And my neighbor is given words and voice because I need to hear the good news. Without one another, without that interdependence, we are incomplete. We fall short of living as children created in the image of God.

    Or maybe it will all turn into something else by the time I start putting it on paper.

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