Adapted from a June 6, 2004, sermon delivered at All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC. Used with permission.
Tell the group this story, "The Day of Pentecost," comes from Christian scripture. It is in the Book of Acts, 2:1-13. While God is mentioned in this story, the Holy Spirit is also mentioned. Ask children to notice the role the Holy Spirit plays in the story.
A group of Jesus' followers gathered together in Jerusalem, after Jesus' death. No sooner have they met than the wind starts kicking up, with a loud rushing sound. Then fire flashes down from out of the heavens, in the form of forked tongues, and a fiery forked tongue comes to sit and flicker on the head of everyone who is there. And they start to talk in strange languages. Languages no one ever heard before. Languages that should not make any sense.
Now, all this ruckus begins to attract attention. People from different cultures and languages start to gather 'round to see what is going on. They hear Jesus' followers talking in a strange language, yet they can each understand what is being said. Each and every one is bewildered, because each one hears the words in their own native language. Parthians, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, people from Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to the Cyrene, Cretans, Arabs and visitors from Rome "It is a miracle!" they say. "What does this mean? Is something magical translating the words so we can all understand?"
Some Christians call this story "the miracle of Pentecost." This story inspired a religious movement called Pentecostalism, whose followers see speaking in tongues as a gift from God. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you might hear worshippers utter ecstatic, unintelligible words. This is a way of showing that one has the Holy Spirit inside of them. Some believe the gift of tongues makes people better able to communicate with God, and with others.
Unitarian Universalists also care about understanding every person, no matter what language they speak. We do not want language barriers to stop us from bonding with others and sharing our love and care for our world. A Unitarian Universalist might say, "The wind and the fire and the strange languages are not the real miracles of Pentecost. The real miracle was that here you have all these people talking about what they believe, each in a different language, but EVERYONE who is listening hears them in their OWN language. They all ask: 'How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?'"
What happened at Pentecost is sort of like what happens at the United Nations building. You know, one person gives a speech, but everyone else has those little earpieces on so they can hear in their own language...thanks to those frantic translators sitting in the glass booths. But in THIS story, it's the Spirit that's doing the translating. That's the miracle. The miracle of Pentecost is that a diverse group of people started talking about their faith in different languages, but they all understood one another. The miracle is the understanding. Not the tongues, the understanding.