Recent events have yet again reminded us that diversity is seen as a threat by some. Fear and anger over differences have led to violence. But these beliefs and actions are not God’s. Diversity is part of God’s design for creation and it is the point where God unites us. Pentecost is a reminder of this. As the Holy Spirit descends upon the diverse group of people in Jerusalem, they are united and able to understand one another. In this lesson, children will explore the story of Pentecost noticing the way the Holy Spirit binds together a God’s diverse creation.
Begin your time with the children by sitting together with them in a circle. Ask each person to share something unique about them. Encourage them to come up with something they think they may not have in common with anyone else in the group. After each person shares, ask the rest of the group if anyone shares that trait. Continue going around the group sharing until each person has said something that they do not have in common with another person in the group. Note that every member has at least one trait that no one else in the group shares. Have the children wonder about how these differences affect them as a community. Do their differences divide them? Do they unite them? Do they make the community stronger or weaker? Why?
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Acts 2:1-21. Provide some context for the reading. Tell the children that this story takes place after Jesus returns to be with his parent God. Before he leaves earth, Jesus calls on the disciples to share his teachings and the story of his resurrection so that others may come to know God and be part of the community of believers. At the start of the story, Jesus’ disciples are in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, a day where the Jewish people remember God giving Moses the law that guides their lives. People of God from all over were gathered in Jerusalem. It was filled with people who spoke different languages and who had different cultural traditions. Ask the children to notice what happens in the story that helps this diverse group of people understand one another.
Read aloud Acts 2:1-21. After reading the text, ask the children to recount how the people of God were able to understand one another even though they spoke different languages. Note that the Holy Spirit moves around them like a wind and fills them with the ability to “speak in other languages.” Then ask the children to share how the people react when they realize they are able to speak to one another. They are “bewildered … amazed and perplexed” and some even think they have been drinking wine. However, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, tells them they are experiencing the Holy Spirit, which God promised would allow them to know and understand God and one another.
Next, give the children an opportunity to wonder about the events described in the story. Encourage them to wonder what it was like to be one of the people in Jerusalem that day. How would it feel to be able to understand people you couldn’t talk with earlier? What might you learn from them? Would you become friends? Also, have them wonder about why God chooses this moment to send the Holy Spirit. Why does God make the Spirit know when lots of different people are together? Why doesn’t God send the Holy Spirit only to Jesus’ disciples? What is God trying to show the people? Note that God uses a moment when the differences between the people in Jerusalem are most obvious. They cannot communicate with one another because they don’t speak the same language. The Holy Spirit brings them together in ways they couldn’t be before. Now they can understand one another and can become friends.
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect the Pentecost story to their own lives. Ask them if they think the Holy Spirit still exists today. Can we experience the Holy Spirit? Share that the Holy Spirit that arrived that first Pentecost is still in and among us. We may not be able to suddenly speak new languages because of the Holy Spirit but it does connect us to God and one another. One of the ways it brings us together is by helping us to become friends with people who are different than us.
Prepare to lead the children in an art activity that explores this idea. Gather the materials you’ll need for the activity: printouts of paper people, a large sheet of chart paper or butcher paper, crayons or markers, scissors, glue and multicolored yarn. You can download this template for the paper people or use another. You will want to print enough paper people so each child has three or four to decorate. Hand out the paper people to the children. Ask them to decorate each person using crayons or markers so that she looks like someone they are friends with who is different than them. Encourage them to not only focus on physical differences but also on cultural, ethnic, socio-economic and family differences.
After they have decorated their paper people, ask them to cut them out. If you’re working with younger children, you may want to pre-cut the figures. Then ask the children to glue the paper people on the chart paper in a random pattern. There should be ample space between each paper person. Next, ask each child to cut lengths of yarn that will fit between the paper people. Encourage them to use a variety of yarn colors. Note that the yarn represents the Holy Spirit. It unites people who are different from one another. All of the people represented on the sheet may not be friends or may not even understand or respect one another. But if they listen to the Holy Spirit, they can connect with each other. Have the children glue the lengths of yarn on the chart paper so that they connect the paper people with one another.
Conclude your time together by offering a prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to continue to help us understand one another so that we can embrace our differences and allow them to make us into a stronger, more loving community.