If you believe the author of Luke and Acts,
surely when Saint Peter woke
early that Pentecost morning,
he knew he had a problem.

Fifty days before,
Jesus had risen from the dead
after suffering a horrible, public, embarrassing death.
For forty of these fifty days,
Jesus would,
from time to time,
show himself to his disciples
in the flesh.
And hungry.
Eager to converse at an empty tomb,
on a road to Emmaus,
in an upper room,
and at an early morning sea-side camp fire.
His disciples had become accustomed
to these occasional occurrences,
delighted in them,
probably even thought
these occurances to be the way they'd continue
to rejoice and praise God
in this Easter, this resurrected life.
To comprehend the source of Saint Peter's problem
early that Pentecost morning,
recall that
on the fortieth day,
Jesus gathered as many disciples as he could
and went with them as far as Bethany,
blessed them,
and, without further notice,
was taken up into heaven.
Not to be seen again.

He had left them a parting promise:
stay here in the city and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit;
will be baptized with the gift of the Holy Spirit;
"power," Jesus called it, "power from on high."
Yet another thing to figure out
on this road from the Judean countryside,
botched royal entry into Jerusalem,
crucifixion outside the city gate,
and now this.

The timing for this "power from on high"
was said to be "only a short while."
Yet, two Sabbaths and one Sunday had already passed,
which, in this counting system, is more interminable
than three days dead in a tomb.
Ten days without Jesus in the flesh.

Saint Peter was keenly aware
that if he and others were to
keep this early, nascent church charged to their care—
—keep it together—
another Sunday could not possibly pass,
without Jesus in the flesh or without this "power from on high."

All in all he was facing a eleven other apostles
(the latest chosen by, bold and confident casting of lots).
Countless disciples.
And disciples in the making.
A rapidly growing church.
All feeling, let's be honest, a bit abandoned,
all waiting, and waiting some more
for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

When Saint Peter woke early that Pentecost morning,
he knew he had a problem.
And he knew there was nothing he could do to change it.

Maybe he prayed.
Or, paced about in nervous anxiety.
Created lists and lists and some more lists.

Perhaps he went back to bed,
hopeful that Sunday, that Pentecost Day, that Fiftieth Day
would come and go without anyone's notice.

I wonder if he thought
he'd give this whole church thing a go
without the Holy Spirit.
Lone ranger syndrome is, after all, prominent among clergy,
and among churches.

Five A.M. sunrise: nothing.
6 o'clock: coffee and a bagel. Nothing.
7 o'clock: start in on the Jerusalem times. Still nothing.
8 o'clock: a leisurely stroll.
Running into the other eleven: still, nothing.
9 A.M. And then, suddenly the Holy Spirit is there.
No advance warning.
No particular fanfare.
Just a rush of violent wind.
Which sounds impressive.
Yet is actually a gust ever-so-common on city streets.
There is one thing no one expects:
the ability to speak to the faithful each in their own language.
Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia,
Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene,
and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."

Not your typical Sunday morning sermon.

Yet, typical Sunday morning sermons since
wax eloquently about the spread of the early church
around the globe,
marvel at this this fantastical speaking in tongues,
thank God for the amazing new things God is doing.

On to the hymn.
And the Creed.
Pray some prayers.
And head home.

It might be entertaining,
but it is not the point of Pentecost.

Pentecost is not so much about flashy, in-your-face,
or over-your-head tongues of fire.
Pentecost is not so much about this amazing,
almost in an instant translation of the Good News
to all the ends of the earth.

As it is about those days of waiting.
And the days that will come.

As it is about all our days.

For the Holy Spirit doesn't so much knock us over the head and say "I'm here."
As the Holy Spirit is always here,
patiently waiting for us to discern the Holy Spirit's presence.
And what the Holy Spirit is up to in these days.

Discernment, which is the true gift of Pentecost.
For discernment is what truly, and sustainably
opens us to something we did not before perceive.
Andm as with all perception emerging from
true and sustainable discernment,
that could mean
a sense of future
as well as a sense of accomplishment in the past.
A sense of vigor,
as well as a sense of calm.
A sense of new formation,
and a sense of confirmation.
All of this a sense of mission.

These Pentecost multitudes are fantastic!
Something to celebrate.
Yet, the task of discernment is to get outside our comfort shells,
to figure out what it will mean to have in our midst
faithful people as many and as broad as all these.
All these who are not as homogenous as us Jerusalemites.
Or in our own day and age,
not as homogenous us of European descent,
or us of Lutheran heritage,
or us of any particularity
coming in sustained contact
with another.

New activity in the church is a tremendous blessing.
It is precisely what we'd all pray for.
The task of Pentecost is
to discern a spirit of thoughtful leadership,
that responds to the work of the Holy Spirit
not out of fear or anxiety,
but out of creativity and promise,
as all manner of things change
—as all manner of things must change
to support growth.
Or, put theologically:
to live in the spirit of the resurrection.

No wonder so many churches fail.
They pray for growth.
But never embrace the changes they discern
they must make in order to support the growth they pray for.
Which turns the whole idea about
church dying and church growth,
on its head.
In the light of Pentecost,
to cease to be relevant, to cease doing mission
actually takes energy and commitment.

Instead, watch the margins of any movement;
that's the Holy Spirit.
Those of us in the center simply and joyfully
are tasked with
inviting, shepherding the movement to the center.

Or to use my favorite image for church:
join it, graft it into the branch.
And watch the branch grow more fully
and more beautifully
and more fruitfully than ever before.

We capture this spirit of Pentecost here at Saint Peter's
in our Vision Statement, which at its core reads:
Together, cultivating the church today for tomorrow.

That single word points to a critical idea of Pentecost.

When we see and delight in what the Holy Spirit is doing,
and we're not a part of it,
that's a certain privilege.
If the Holy Spirit is up to something
and we're consuming that gift
but not actively participating in it, together,
that's not Pentecost praise,
that's not the glory, laude and honor we sang about in Holy Week,
that's not praising God.

is one of the things I delight in seeing
more and more and more
at Saint Peter's.

We are growing exponentially.
Our liturgies are not simply full,
they are vibrant and lively and faithful.
Not because any one of us is all that good,
but because an increasing number of people
are giving of themselves in this place.

Our choir sings and sings some more.
We have more albs in the Sacristy than ever before.
A cadre of liturgical assistants for 8:45, 11:00, 1:30 and 5:00 jazz.
Dancers; proclaimers.
A great new children's choir at 1:30.
And a heavenly "jazz for all" band,
making a joyful noise together
the first Sunday of every month since September.
Which this month—this very day—
in less than 7 months time
has become twice a month.

In one year's time
we've increased pledging
to our stewardship ministry and stewardship property fund,
by $110,000.
Up 40% since 2013.
With some two dozen brand new pledges.
Some from newcomers.
And some for people who have been around for a while,
and for one reason or another had never pledged before.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well,
and is alive and well in us here at Saint Peter's.

If someone tells you otherwise.
Or, if you are telling yourself otherwise.
You're having a truly Saint Peter's moment.

Give yourself a day or two.
Or, ten.

Pray to perceive.
Pace around asking yourself what's going on.
Study the times to help discern it.

And suddenly, you'll see that we have not
simply been given "God's deeds of power,"
but have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit
to do something with it.

Saint Peter,
that entire band of twelve,
and the whole growing church,
who thought they had a problem on their hands,
finally on that Pentecost morning,
received the Holy Spirit.

Just as we receive it this morning.
Every morning.
To discern the mission of the church.
To support and enable and engage in the mission of the church.
In this and in every age.
Because the Holy Spirit is at work in you.

There's no way to know
quite where Pentecost people are headed.

As the prayer puts it:

"O God,
you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us."

That Pentecost Day the disciples did not know
all the fantastic ministry they'd do
(which we can read about in the rest of the book of Acts.)

Maybe some of them
thought the people they talked to that day
would move to Jerusalem,
and worship continuously in the temple there.
Maybe they thought everything would fizzle and die,
much as their ancestors thought
in that valley of the dry bones.
But see, God still has breath.

I can't imagine many of the disciples
perceived on that Pentecost Day what would actually transpire:
that they would go out to that diverse crowd.
Some to Rome.
Some down to Antioch.
Some deep into the near east.

And in those places, have experiences
they never dreamed of having.
Barnabas and Paul found themselves in Lycaonia,
worshiped as Zeus and Hermes.
The ever so Jewish Peter
found himself supporting a ministry to Gentiles.
They experienced all manner of things.
And said yes to it all along the way.
Even if that meant some hard times:
something they had worked so hard for turning belly up
having to start all over again.

Thank God for them.
Otherwise none of us would be here today.

Which is really the task of the church in every age.
To discern what the holy spirit is doing
and then figure out how to cultivate
that which the holy Spirit is doing.
To go along with that great big breeze.
To be part of it.
To celebrate what has been.
And to what is coming to be.

And together,
together cultivate the church today for tomorrow,
so that in every generation God's people proclaim:
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ezekiel 37:1–14
Acts 2:1–21
Psalm 104
Saint John 15:26–27; 16:4b–15

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York