Drew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

How do you know that you belong in a community? What are the signs from a community that indicate you might not belong there? 

Noticed, Named, and Known

Recent research about Gen Z from the Springtide Research Institute suggests that a combination of three things leads to young people, aged 13-25,  feeling like they belong in school: being noticed, named, and known by a community. Paying attention to someone, noticing  rather than ignoring them, increases that person’s sense of connectedness. Greeting someone, holding the door for them, blessing them after a sneeze—all are simple ways to notice.

Naming someone accurately, as well as  using the pronouns they’ve asked you to use, deepens that connection. Think of the way that positive nicknames function to increase community. In sports, people called me “Tuck,” short for my last name. My grandfather affectionately called me “Drewser.”  These namings showed me I was not just noticed, but appreciated.

The Springtide research refers to the third dimension, being known, as “unreserved acceptance.” Even more than being noticed and named, being known in  a community gives reassurance. This might happen when I recall details a Gen Z student shared with me, or  trust them to use their passions to contribute to the community’s work. 

There are some troubling statistics in this work.  72% of male participants felt most adults openly supported them at school.  Only 66% of female participants and 51% of nonbinary participants felt that way. In other words, half of nonbinary students don’t feel like they belong, and more that a quarter of male and female students agree. Further, only 18% of all respondents felt safe enough to talk about things that matter most to them at school, and even fewer Black or African American students, 11%, felt safe enough to do so. 

Clearly, we have holy work to do in our schools to notice, name, and know Gen Z students.

Discussion Questions

  • What are ways that you can notice, name, and know people in your life who might not get the attention they need to thrive? 
  • What do we need to change about our schools to ensure that all people can feel like they belong?

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Reflection on Festival Lesson

Much happened on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. Most notably, tongues of fire appear upon the disciples heads. I’m sure that must have been a startling sight! Just as surprising, though, was the gift of speaking different languages, also called tongues. Clearly the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor. People from all over the Roman empire arrive in Jerusalem for the festival.  They bring their native languages and expect to hear only Greek (the empire’s common language), along with Aramaic and Hebrew (the local languages of Jerusalem at the time). Instead, far from their home, they hear a message of good news in the language most familiar to their hearts. 

The Book of Acts  doesn’t say the listeners felt like they belonged.  It says they were “amazed and perplexed.” They didn’t expect to hear Judeans speaking languages common to minority peoples throughout the empire. In this short story, they’re noticed by the disciples, named by the author, and known with words that speak directly to their experience. Rather than requiring a translation, the good news comes to them naturally, through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t force the miracle of tongues.  That’s God’s work. But this sign of the Holy Spirit reveals a divine priority we can practice.  We can do the hard work of translating the good news into the lived experience of those we encounter, rather than forcing them to adapt to our ways. In fact, we should do that. Our work—how we worship, how we preach, how we teach, what we study, who we invite, where we budget funds to be spent—should be shaped by the people God calls us to serve. Disciples unwilling to speak the language of other nations would have done the gospel no good on that first Pentecost. Similarly, a ministry unwilling to adapt in order to meet the needs of the people God brings to them refuses the work of the Spirit in their midst.

Discussion Questions

  • Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift which still happens  in different parts of the church. Have you or someone you know ever been given that gift? Share your experience. 
  • What’s the difference between a miracle that God has done in the past and work that we’re called to do in the present?
  • How do you imagine those early Christians developed a sense of belonging with those who first heard the Gospel on Pentecost? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Play a game intent on decoding. Decrypto is a table-top team game that requires two teams.  It can be played with a few as four total players but can grow without limit. For individuals, try Draw Your Words, similar to Pictionary. Gather a set of simple words that aren’t as simple to draw. Have participants take turns trying to draw one of the words (without using any language) while the rest of the group tries to guess the intended word. Then follow with a discussion on the importance of sharing knowledge in ways that everyone can understand. 
  • Use U.S. Census Bureau data (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045221) to better understand the communities in your Zip Code. Have participants free write for five minutes to envision what kind of adaptation, translation, or innovation God might be calling your ministry to undertake. 
  • Community Mapping asks people to draw a map of their community that highlights the places of power or value. These could be banks and barbershops, grocery stores and city parks, government buildings and historical landmarks. Have each participant draw their own community map on a presentation-size sticky note. The point isn’t to be geographically accurate, but instead, to visualize how different people understand influence at play in your communities. Consider each person’s map and then discuss how you might engage those parts of the community to better understand the people your ministry serves. The Highlander Research and Education Center has a fuller description of community mapping available in their “Mapping Our Futures” curriculum, available here: https://highlandercenter.org/our-impact/economics-governance/.  

Closing Prayer

God of Welcome, send a spirit of generosity upon your people. When we resist giving up things that no longer serve your good news, soften our hearts in ways which open us to your mission. Inspire us to adapt to the people you bring into our lives, so that all know they belong to your beloved community. We pray this in the just and merciful name of Jesus: Amen.