It’s Pentecost again, time to celebrate and give thanks. We sometimes say that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. An argument can be made for that, certainly. But we could also say that the church was born in a manger in Bethlehem or dripping wet in the Jordan River when a voice declared, “You are my beloved Son, with you, I am well pleased.” Or perhaps it was born in gatherings of the crowds on the Galilean hillsides listening to teaching that seemed ancient and new at the same time. Or it was born when eyes were opened and legs were straightened and bleeding was stopped and even death gave way to a power and a presence. The church was born in a dark garden of betrayal and denial on a lonely cross on Golgotha. Or from an empty tomb early one morning when the sun rose.
Is Pentecost the birthday of the church? Maybe, or maybe that’s when the church learned to walk on its own. Maybe that’s when, empowered by fire and wind, the church spoke on its own, but used words learned from the one who gave it life. On Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to raise the church out of hiding and out of despair and to give the church wind at the back and fire in the bones and to encourage the church to proclaim; no—to live the good news of Jesus Christ outwardly and invitationally.
Pentecost is also the beginning of the long season we sometimes call Ordinary Time. The word ordinary comes from ordinal, meaning we count the Sundays—first Sunday after Pentecost, second Sunday after Pentecost, and so on. We don’t mean ordinary as in run of the mill and boring, same old, same old. No, in Ordinary Time, we are called; we are invited; we are equipped and empowered to live the Spirit life—a life first lived by the one we call Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. We take the reins, and we live for him, even as he lives in us. It’s Pentecost again, time to celebrate and give thanks. And to live the Spirit life.
It’s Pentecost! Go all out. Use red everywhere, depictions of flame, varieties of wind catchers—kites and streamers and balloons. It’s time for a celebration. That may feel over the top for many congregations, but there are ways to appropriately pull out the stops and enjoy worship this day. Of course, we believe worship should be a source of joy every time, even on difficult days—a quieter joy perhaps, a profound joy that undergirds even grief and overcomes shame.
But this day is exuberant joy. Look at the Acts text: Why do you think the skeptical passersby were questioning the people’s sobriety? Because the disciples were loud; and they were unrestrained; and they were inviting any and all to join in. Let the sound of worship leak out of the doors and windows of the church today. Startle some passersby with the singing and laughter and loud amens of worship.
Yet, this exuberant joy isn’t the only, or perhaps even the first, element that marks worship on Pentecost Sunday. The remarkable event of the story in the second chapter of Acts, after the brief depiction of the coming of the Spirit, is the connecting of languages and peoples in an act of worship and praise. Multiculturalism isn’t only for those ethnically diverse gatherings of worshipers on this day. It is a vital element of Pentecost worship for everyone. We need the reminder that the family that gathers week by week doesn’t all look like us, doesn’t all sound like us, doesn’t all worship like us.
There are two ways any congregation can move toward multiculturalism. Well, perhaps better to say that there are two directions for this move. One direction is to look within. What varieties of culture and history and ethnicity are already contained in your worshiping congregation? How can we coax individuals and families to share their history, their experience and expression, their culture in worship for the benefit of all? You might be surprised at what already exists within the body and new avenues of disciple making might be launched by doing a little research within.
The other direction, of course, is to look outward. And you don’t have to look far. Who surrounds the church building or the wider community where the church resides? Who has come into your neighborhood with rich and colorful languages and traditions that could bring depth to the relationships and unity in the place where the church works to make disciples? Invite another worshiping community, particularly one that worships in another language, to join with you on Pentecost Sunday for a true pouring out of the Spirit experience. And if there isn’t another community nearby, then look for videos and songs and prayers that come from a different tradition and different culture and bring them into your worship. Lean into the proclamation that our prayer and hope is that one day what seems to divide us—language and culture and tradition—will be the means by which we all grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, enlarging our understanding of the church and the faith. And then maybe we can overcome Babel by becoming one in Christ on this Pentecost Sunday.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.