In many ways this Eastertide seemed endless with physical distancing and all church activities online in one way or another. Yet, here we are at Pentecost. As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church, we need to be a bit creative this year. Flash paper, red balloons, and other Spirit-inspired décor isn’t really possible. How are we going to inspire people, move them to a place where they can feel the Spirit moving in and among us? We are going to trust that Spirit as we have in previous years. The Spirit can move in and through our people even when we are gathering on YouTube, Zoom, or some other digital platform. We can let go of those concerns and focus on the texts for Pentecost which are rich in images of the Spirit of God moving in the world in spite of the odds of anyone noticing.

In Acts we have the Pentecost story. We have mighty winds and tongues of fire dancing on heads. We have people hearing their own languages. We have Peter preaching and pointing toward the power of the Spirit. On the flip side, there are those who do not understand. Those who did not feel the winds blow or see the flames dance. They saw pandemonium and suspected drunkenness. These responses make me wonder what we are expecting on Pentecost this year. Are we anticipating the Spirit showing up and rocking our world in spite of the very different ways we are gathering as Church? Or are we assuming the Spirit can’t do her thing because we aren’t in our buildings? If those winds blew through that ancient house and holy heads were set on fire and ears were opened, then surely it is possible that the Spirit is with us still. Perhaps she is waiting for us to notice that her winds are still mighty and her flame is still bright…

Maybe you are pairing the traditional Pentecost reading with the passage from Numbers. I love this story! Moses gathers the elders and the Spirit comes upon them and they prophesied just the once. That’s pretty cool in and of itself. However, the surprise in the story is the two who were left in camp who also had the Spirit come on them. And the people were upset. It’s not hard to imagine that people were bothered by God working in God’s own way and not going along with their procedures and rituals. Where is God doing a new and unexpected thing in our congregations, in our communities, in the world? In the midst of pandemic where is new life showing up? Are we able to embrace it or are we rejecting it because it is not what we planned or anticipated? Do we share Moses wish that all God’s people were prophets?

If this feels a bit intense, Psalm 104 is a beautiful tribute to God’s work in the world. Pentecost could be a great day to celebrate the wonders of Creation, especially those re-emerging as human activity has been slower. Maybe inviting folx to think about the wonders of the sea, the skies, the earth, and the crops, and so much more. How are we continuing to give God glory for all that God provides? Have we forgotten to offer our praises during the pandemic? Have we let our fear, anxiety, and grief overshadow the wonders and gifts of Creation?

Speaking of gifts, the 1 Corinthians passage reminds us that we are all gifted differently and part of the same body. How are we celebrating the giftedness of our congregations this Pentecost? Maybe it is a good day to celebrate the teachers, the doctors, the nurses, the trash collectors, the retail workers, the restaurant workers, the delivery people, and all those who continue to work to ensure that our needs are met. Then we can give thanks for the members of our communities who pray without ceasing, the ones who call the lonely and isolated among us, the ones who deliver supplies to those unable to go out, the ones who help with technology, the ones who continue to lead small groups, the ones who gather every Sunday… you know all the “ones” who keep our congregations alive… Different gifts, and all necessary and vital to our communities.

If none of these texts work for you, Pentecost remains a “choose your own adventure” with the text options. There are still two Gospel readings to choose from. You can focus on the John 20 passage where Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples offering them peace, and the power to forgive or retain sins. Do our communities lean more toward forgiveness or retention? It’s an interesting question to ponder.

However, if you went over this a few weeks ago as it pertains to Thomas, then there is the John 7 text. I’m wondering what it would take for “rivers of living water” to flow from all of our hearts. What might that look like if we trusted the Spirit more fully? Can the church be those rivers for those in need around us? Can we be the voice of hope in a world living in fear right now? What might we be doing differently so the living waters can flow more freely?

Whichever adventure you choose for Pentecost, please join in the conversation so that we can share this preaching journey. We need one another.

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann


Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.


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10 thoughts on “RCL: Choose Your Own Adventure Holy Spirit Style

  1. Pentecost 2020 is calling me to try something radically different. I’ll be live streaming a “COVID Interpretation” of the Pentecost story beside a fire ring in the church parking lot.

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  2. Wow, Rachel! You make me want to use all the texts! The first time I preached on Pentecost, 4 years ago, I was guest preaching for the congregation that I was hired by 3 weeks later. They’re a tiny, traditional, stay-in-the-building congregation, and I talked about how the Spirit drove the disciples out into the streets to meet people where they were. Well, that’s a nope this year. I’m leaning toward the John 7 text, about thirst and living water. But what you say about the story in Numbers is also intriguing. As for visuals: 3 years ago I taped some red and orange ribbons to a strip of paper and fastened them to the red altar cloth, then set a fan behind them so they fluttered. These days I’m pulling the white curtain across my patio door behind me. I think I can fasten the ribbon arrangement to the curtain rod and add the fan, provided I don’t wait until the last moment.

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  3. Joann, I hope the Spirit guides you to something useful for your congregation and doesn’t wait until the last minute 🙂 I also like the visual of you sitting in front of your patio doors with red and yellow streamers fluttering in the wind.

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  4. Had plans to do something with the languages…the call to listen to the voices that we are missing in this covid time but now am following the news of a man being murdered by a police officer and the subsequent protests in my community. Now I feel directionless….

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    1. I understand. George Floyd was murdered 2 miles from the church I serve. I am thinking there is a powerful connection between the image of white churches celebrating the coming of the very Breath of God while a black man’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” I am not sure where I am going with this thought, but somewhere for sure.

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      1. Rachel,

        I’ve been pondering the connection between the breath image of Spirit and the events of this week for the small bicultural (Anglo/Latino) parish where I serve. Not sure where I will land with this, but it feels too critical to ignore.

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