What are you looking for this Pentecost Sunday? I know, not much really. Another Sunday, hymns and prayers, people in the pews, maybe an attempt to bring a smile or to boost people’s spirits. It’s another opportunity to give people a little bit of encouragement to face whatever is in store for them in the week to come.
It’s a nice place to be. A good place to be. And if people must miss, no big deal; they can catch it the next time around. It’s like a soap opera; you stop watching for a while and then come back only to find the characters in about the same place they were when you left. Not much has happened, same issues, same stories. Just a warm feeling that you did a good thing before getting back to the really important things in your day or your life.
Maybe I’ve undersold it a touch. But our expectations are understandably low. I say “understandably” because we never really see much happen in our worship experiences week by week. And so, we have learned to come with everything on our minds but the possibility that we just might encounter God one Sunday morning. We’ve come to fix a problem, or to tweak a lifestyle, or to get a pat on the back or a push in the backside to keep us moving on the right track. And any and all of those things just might happen and are good outcomes for our investment of an hour of our time. But they seem so much less than what might be.
This is a story of worship gone awry, at least from a human perspective. This is a story of the Spirit poured out—like water from a pitcher or from a hose. Yeah, from a hose, with a thumb pressed against the opening so it shoots across the yard and soaks the giggling, screeching children who are running with glee from the icy spray but basking in the relief from the scorching heat of the day. This is worship that refreshes, that transforms, that makes new.
So, how do you capture that moment, that doused-with-a-hose moment, that shock of cold that causes you to catch your breath at the wonder and the glory of it? That’s what we are after on Pentecost Sunday—a shock, a blast of Spirit that thaws the bones and loosens the tongue. How will you pour out that Spirit online? How will you get through the mask and into the lungs of the worshipers still physically distant from one another today? Maybe it is images of children laughing and running through a sprinkler. Remember, even Luke struggled for metaphors to describe this event. We don’t have to stick to the fire and the wind. We can move to the water and the waves. We can capture the kites flying in the air, the birds soaring on the wing. You’ve seen those videos of a murmuration of starlings flying together, shapes of feathered bodies flying in formations that shift and change in the air. As the Spirit is poured out, the body of Christ moves and shifts and brings an amazing beauty to the world around us. Pentecost is an invitation to take flight, to cast off the bounds of earth and to soar on the winds of hope and promise, to bring together a broken world, to connect with others who seek to fly into a kin-dom way of living.
Pentecost worship is about joy, and the invitation is to let the Spirit be poured out on you. But remember, that “you” is plural. Let the Spirit be poured out on all y’all. It was because they were gathered together that this happened. So, what if we can’t be gathered? What if we have to keep our distance? The Spirit can still be corporate. The technology is difficult, to be sure. But every time someone speaks for the church, remind people that all are included. Remind people that all are invited. This gift, the Spirit poured out, is for the whole body, not just for a few.
Find ways to let the people tell their many and various stories. Find ways to speak a variety of names, to describe a variety of settings, to relate a variety of experiences. Then we can find resonance, your story with my story, your experience of the Spirit with mine. Find ways to connect, even when apart. Pentecost is a unifying time, regardless of the environment in which we live. Let the stories of the body be told. Tell what happened when the Spirit was poured out.
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.