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Preaching on Pentecost Sunday

The payoff for Easter is Pentecost.
Preaching on Pentecost Sunday
Image: rparys / Getty Images

Pentecost Sunday is the most important Sundays that most pastors miss.

Yes. You had a great Easter service. Maybe you even hosted Maundy Thursday and Good Friday gatherings in the lead up to Easter, and then Easter hit. It was a big success! Churches had full pews, lively music, and many pastors spent more time than normal preparing their messages for Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday is a preacher’s Super Bowl. Most of us go all-out for that Holy Day.

Then it’s over!

Now what?

Too often, after Easter, out of exhaustion and as the school year begins to wrap up, many churches downshift. It’s natural, but in doing so, pastors may be missing the best chance to shape the future of their church. What’s the opportunity: Pentecost Sunday.

What Is Pentecost Sunday?

For those of us unaccustomed to liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2024) is not one that we typically recognize or celebrate. It occurs 50 days after Easter, and celebrates the Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles in Jerusalem as pilgrims from around the world are gathered.

Through the Spirit’s empowerment, the gathered masses hear the story of Jesus in their own languages and dialects. At the same time, the Apostle Peter, reminds the gathered masses of the events of Jesus’ life, invites them to repent, and to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).

Pentecost is the inauguration of the Christian church, an invitation to be an alternative kind of human inside an alternative community. This community is described by Luke as those,

“… who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts ….” (Acts 2:45-46)

This is the expansion of God’s covenant community, no longer a community bound by birth, but one bound by God’s Spirit.

The Payoff for Easter Is Pentecost

If our Easter messages are important, Pentecost is why they are important. God created a universe where causes have effects. The effect of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is a church which invites all people everywhere into a caring and sharing alternative community which is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ resurrection, and only Jesus’ resurrection creates—or even attempts to create—this kind of community.

In the history of the world, human communities have attempted to gather people around external signifiers—common law, language, skin color, gender, and other exteriors. All of these are dependent on what is outside of people. The church is convened based on what is inside them—God’s Spirit. This Spirit, according to Acts, is available to all who call on the name of the Lord.

What if this was the church of your future? A church where, as Peter testifies, “sons and daughters prophesy,” and “young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams,” and all of these people, as is the case in Acts 2, are from every nation.

This Pentecost, we will be preaching Acts 8, and the stoning of Stephen. Why? Because Stephen gets what Saul does not, that faith in the God of Abraham has broken free from Israel’s borders.

In the past, I have asked our band to play gentle while I invited multiple members of our community to come forward and read from Acts 2 in their native or learned languages—Spanish, English, Swahili, German, French, and whatever else we have. This is a homiletic demonstration of the future we are trying to create. In our church, these readings were done by young and old, male and female.

Like Easter, whichever text you may choose, the message of what Pentecost is and the invitation it offers, are set.

Pentecost Sunday is an outstanding opportunity for preachers to shape the imagination of their church and paint a picture of the inevitable future in a multi-ethnic, multicultural world. Absent this, too many Christians will inadvertently drift into the anti-Pentecost arms of partisan politics, cable news vitriol, talk-radio vehemence, aimless violence, and consumerist-driven divisions.

What Christians need to know is that the payoff for Easter is Pentecost, making a heterogeneous church counter to the cause of the Cross. Let’s not miss this chance to preach our churches into a new way of living.

Sean Palmer is the Teaching Pastor at Ecclesia Houston, speaker and speaking coach, and author of several books including--Speaking by the Numbers: Ennegram Wisdom for Teachers, Pastors, and Communicators.

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