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"Preparing for Pentecost" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

Preparing for Pentecost

A sermon for Northminster Church

Preached by Rev. Jillian Hankamer

May 19, 2024

Acts 2: 1-21


            As I told the kids, today is Pentecost. The birthday of the church. The day Christians around the world celebrate and remember the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and those gathered in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension. 


This is a day of tongues of fire, the color red, and the hot, blowing breath of the Spirit, this element of the Trinity that we understand the least. Etymologically the word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek for “fiftieth” as this celebration falls 50 days after Passover. But it’s important to keep in mind that the “devout Jews from every nation” we heard Bonnie read about in Acts are gathered to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavuot or “Feast of Weeks” which is one of three major pilgrimage festivals in Jewish life.


So with this being a celebratory morning, here’s my question for you: how did you prepare for Pentecost? Because as Dr. Jack Levison points out, we don’t know how to prepare for Pentecost.


We’re good at prepping for the other big church holidays. Christmas is preceded by Advent, a time to anticipate the birth of Jesus. There’s shopping, carols, and maybe an Advent calendar. Advent gets us prepped for Christmas, so it’s hard to miss the holiday. Easter is preceded by Lent, a time for introspection, culminating in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when we recall Jesus’ gruesome death. Lent gets us prepped for Easter, so it’s hard to miss the holiday.”[1]         


But the problem with Pentecost is that it’s not preceded. “I know that doesn’t sound right grammatically…It doesn’t sit right theologically, either.”[2] Because it’s like we’ve sprung a leak after Easter and all the air goes out of us and we don’t have any energy left for Pentecost. We’re craving the rest and relaxation of summer. The slowness of a cold drink on the back porch. The delight of dipping in the pool on a hot day. So yeah, we might not have energy or attention for Pentecost because “nothing precedes it. No Advent. No Lent. Most of us, then, don’t know how to prep for Pentecost.”[3]


Well, to be more accurate we don’t know how to prep well. Now you might be wondering, how can that be? We’ve changed our paraments, you’re wearing a red stole, there are fabric flames on baptistry doors, and we’re singing Pentecost hymns this morning! What more should we be doing?


How should we celebrate the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit?

How should we celebrate the cosmic shift of this moment? When rushing wind somehow fills whole houses? whole houses?

How should we celebrate the communal shift of a crowd of people suddenly being able to speak in different languages and yet somehow be understood?

How should we celebrate the burning but not consuming power of the Spirit?

How should we celebrate the mission shift that happens in this moment for Jesus’ followers?


We begin by recognizing that though Pentecost seems to come out of nowhere, without being proceeded by those lovely seasons of anticipation like Advent and Lent it is vital to who we are as people.


I’ve preached in years past about us being Advent people and Easter people, but I’m going to suggest once again that we work toward being Pentecost people. To be defined by our engagement with the Holy Spirit, even if that means going through life with our own tongue of fire above our heads. To be marked as those who understand everyone we encounter because we make a conscious effort to embrace, accept, and understand. 


Secondly, we can also prepare for Pentecost by noticing that this day is marked by God, through the Spirit, choosing to meet people where they are: “in the midst of a multitude of languages and experiences.”  God chooses to not only be among the intricacies of words and slang, idioms, and cultural connotations; God chooses to be in the messiness of people. And through the Spirit God is with Her people without demanding that they speak different languages. Nor does God “speak in a divine language beyond [peoples’] comprehension.” At Pentecost, God makes a clear choice by joining the people in Jerusalem just as She joins us here, today smack in the middle of our messiness, imperfection, and shortcomings.


Finally, we prepare for Pentecost by working to remember that church isn’t about perfection and propriety but connection and genuine worship. Again as Dr. Levison notes, “There was a state of emergency in the early church. Jesus was gone! It was no time for propriety…”[4]  And while we’re not in a state of emergency we are facing a time of transition and change. And in this time I’m sure it’ll be tempting to focus inward, to do the very human thing of trying to keep the ship afloat without too much rocking. To streamline things and hang in there until a new pastor comes.


But you, my good people, are capable of more. And yes it’s easy for me to say this as I prepare to leave, but the Good News this morning is that you are capable of more than proprietary and the status quo.  You’re capable of more than keeping the ship afloat. You’re capable of more than simply existing.


You, my dear ones, are capable of preparing for Pentecost and beyond because you’re willing to listen for the warmth and whoosh of the Spirit. You’re determined to open your arms to everyone who comes in these doors without requiring them to speak just like you, look just like you, love just like you, or believe just like you. And most importantly, you are capable of preparing for what’s to come because you’re committed to each other and to this place even when things get a bit messy.







[1] Jack Levison, “How to prepare for Pentecost,” from Baptist News Global.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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