Overcoming Babel

Living the Spirit Life

Pentecost, Year C

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.

Note to the Teacher

The focus of the lesson is on the way the Holy Spirit helped the disciples to talk to others in a way that could be understood. This conversation can go deep without the reference to the Genesis reading, but you may want to include it to help students make a further connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

1. Ice Breaker: ‘Taboo’ (10 minutes)

We are going to take the ideas behind the common game “Taboo” and create a quick, simplified version to be played with two teams (if you have four or more youth) or as a group (if you have four or fewer youth) to help illustrate the point of this week’s lesson.

If you are playing with teams:

Divide into two teams. One player on the team is identified as the reader and given a stack of six to ten 3x5 cards on which are written: “key words” that they want to help the other player(s) guess (see list below). There is also a list of “Taboo Words” on each card (also below). See how many they can get their team member(s) to guess in two minutes. Be sure to give each team a mix of words from easy, medium, and hard. Compete for the highest score.

If playing as one group:

Youth can take turns as the reader, but be sure to give each reader enough cards that the reader includes a word from each category (easy, medium, hard). See how many words your group can get correct in five or six minutes.

This game can be played similarly in person or online. To modify for online, the leader can message the key words and taboo words directly to the reader.

Here are some possibilities for the words that you can write/type on your 3x5 cards. You may also want to come up with some specific to your group. For each list, key words are bold; Taboo words the reader must avoid are italicized. On your cards, you may want to use two different color markers. (Some definitions are included for your benefit.)


  • table / chair, legs
  • chair / legs, table
  • teacher / student, class
  • phone / text, call, surf
  • Bible / scripture, book
  • window / door, glass
  • wedding / marriage, husband, wife
  • graduation / graduate, ceremony


  • worship / sanctuary, song, prayer
  • pulpit / pastor, sanctuary
  • Pentecost / today, Bible, disciples
  • Acts / apostles, gospels, Pentecost
  • soda / Coca Cola, Coke, Pepsi, baking
  • spirit / Pentecost, ghost, holy
  • flame / fire, Spirit, Pentecost
  • sombrero / Spanish, Español, hat
  • croissant / French, pastry


  • narthex (entrance to a sanctuary) / sanctuary, bulletins, entrance
  • Gesundheit (German, “God bless you”) / German, sneeze, God
  • Dwight Shrute (character from The Office) / office, character, Dunder Mifflin
  • pneumatology (theological study of the Spirit) / pneuma, spirit, study, Greek
  • affen hintern (German for “monkey’s bottom”) / German, monkey, bottom

The last few suggestions are intentionally difficult (and ridiculous); it is likely no youth in your group will be able to interpret or guess them! That leads in to the Scripture and story for the day…

2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)

Our scripture reading today happens more than a month after Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples have gathered together, and something loud and strange occurs.

Read Acts 2:1-17.

3. Discussion (15 minutes)

  • This scripture lets us in to the moment of “Pentecost,” which is traditionally celebrated fifty days after Easter. (“Pente” comes from the Greek root word of “fifty.” You’re welcome. Additionally, the crowd gathered was at least in part to celebrate the “Festival of Weeks,” which in the Jewish tradition takes place seven weeks plus one day after Passover. This helps us understand another link to the Old Testament. You’re double welcome!) In your own words, what do you think the big events of this Pentecost moment were?
  • A crowd of people from many nations and languages gathered around the disciples. What did they hear? Why do you think they gathered around?
  • What do you think the people thought of all they were hearing? What would you have thought if you were there?

Clearly, some of the people were cynical about what they were hearing, thinking the noise of the disciples—be it what they said, or how they said it—was because they were drunk. Peter assures the crowd that the disciples are not full of alcohol, but instead full of the Holy Spirit, and gives a sermon about Jesus.

We often celebrate the coming of the Spirit that Peter preaches about, but part of the wonder of Pentecost might also be how this is a story about healing old problems between people.

Read Genesis 11:1-9.

Whether or not God directly caused it, which could be a long discussion another day, the Jewish people remembered this story because it helped explain why there were differences between people and languages.

  • Have you ever been in a situation where multiple languages were being spoken? How did it feel?
  • Does it ever feel like youth and adults speak different “languages” and misunderstand each other? Are there any kinds of Pentecost moments that could help older and younger generations understand each other better?
  • How might Pentecost be a response to what happened in the Tower of Babel?
  • Why might God want to temporarily fix the problem of different languages in Jerusalem that day of Pentecost?
  • In what ways do we in our church still sometimes speak different languages and not understand one another?

In this season of Pentecost, we are emphasizing what it means to live in the Spirit. Part of that life is helping to build bridges and understand one another.

4. Activity and Discussion (15 minutes)

Option 1: “Help Me Understand”

Invite each youth to take two minutes to think of something they know how to do that others in the room might not know how to do—this might be dismantling a motor or getting past the end boss on a video game level, or playing oboe; whatever they can think of.

Ask them to come up with a simple way that they can both explain how to do it, and why it is important to them. Spend time teaching and inspiring one another. This activity works the same in person or digitally.

Option 2: “Helping Hands, Part 1”

(Do this activity only if you are going to follow it up with “Helping Hands, Part 2” next Sunday!)

Have the youth trace their hands on a half sheet of paper in pencil or a light marker. Over the outline of their hand in a darker marker (that does not bleed through the paper), invite them to write down a question they have about their church. Ask them to think about something they don’t know or would like to know more about. Tell them to be sure to add their first name to the drawing.

Share the questions with one another, but do not answer them yet! Explain that you will forward the questions on to other adults in the church—perhaps the pastor, or youth leaders, or long-time members—for answers, and will bring those answers back next week.

In the week between lessons, be sure to share these questions with other church members and leaders you think can answer them. Have them draw their own handprints, write their answers on the backs, and include their first name on the answer. If this activity is done virtually, make sure to record the questions before the conversation is over. Church members can answer questions directly back to the leader, and the leader can share them with the group next week.

Make sure to credit church members for their answers and encourage youth and those folks who gave answers to connect and see what relationships might start to develop!

Close in whatever manner is typical for you, be that organized prayer or continuing the activity until your time is over.

Total Time: 50 minutes

Needed Resources:

  • For “Taboo”
    • Twenty or more 3 x 5 cards, prepared with potential words for “Taboo” written on them
    • Something to track time (stopwatch, phone app, etc.)
  • For “Helping Hands”
    • Half sheets of paper
    • Pencils and/or markers

In This Series...

Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Trinity Sunday, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes