Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.

When I was in my junior and senior years of high school, I was in a choral group called "The Dozenaires" (there were 18 of us, but that's the way we did math back then in Northeastern Pennsylvania). Every time we began to learn a new piece, our choral conductor used to proclaim "nineteen more times and you'll have it!" Her words have echoed in my ears every time you've responded to Easter's festal shout. By my count, we've only got three more times to repeat it this year β€” all of them today β€” and I think by now we "have it." I also think that for most of us this proclamation, along our weekly song β€” "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again" β€” is adequate shorthand for what we mean by "Gospel." But today reminds us that that's not quite accurate. Today reminds us that the Holy Spirit is Gospel. In fact, today reminds us that God's primary purpose in sending Jesus Christ into the world to live, die, be raised and ascend to God for us is so that God could gift us with the Holy Spirit. Put another way, Christ's death and resurrection are not solely about "the forgiveness of sin" and "the life everlasting"; they are also about β€” I would say, they are chiefly about β€”
the gift of the Holy Spirit without whom we would not be able to trust this God in the first place. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther puts this yet another way:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins β€” mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

Today's readings also tell us something else about the Holy Spirit that is also "most certainly true"; namely that the Holy Spirit propels us in two seemingly contradictory directions. The first, outward β€” centrifugal β€” driving us to include everyone in, and exclude no one from, the "wide embrace" of God. The second, inward, toward the center β€” centripetal β€” driving us all closer to
our center, to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Here at Saint Peter's and, indeed, officially in our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we've become very good at responding to the centrifugal force of the Spirit's power which drives us toward all at each human-made margin. We've had to work at that, we have to pray for that and often we've tried to resist the Spirit's inclusive urging. Yet from the gender spectrum to social status, race, language, economics and culture, we've consistently responded to the Spirit's pleading and applied God's YES, that is to say, we've proclaimed the Gospel, to all who've been marginalized and any who are living on the margins. One look at our community's Sunday liturgies confirms this. One look at our weekly calendar and our annual budget also confirms that, energized by the Spirit, we put our money where our faith is.

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 β€” in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power.
That welcoming inclusiveness β€” that response to the Spirit's centrifugal expansiveness β€” is precisely what our current controversy with our corporate partner is all about: not real estate but people. Not money but mission. Not "our Church," but our wider community or, as I like to put it, "the Church, the city and the world."

Yet our response to the Spirit's centripetal energy is of equal importance too, for that's the force that drives us to the center which is the springing source of energy for all that we say and do. That font, this table, that water, this food β€” the means by which God gives the Holy Spirit β€” is essential to our well-being too. And Christ's cross, through which God releases the Spirit, must remain for us the lens through which we see both the center and the margins and must shape our strategy and our tactics as we deal with all the negatives, the insistent "No's" of this world. The cross, through which we experience "that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ β€” if, in fact, we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ."

It is the Spirit's energy, centering us in the cross
of Christ, driving us to see and include all who are at the margins of the world, pleading to God from within and among us that enables us to experience Christ's resurrection promise that we will "do the works that [Christ does] and, in fact, do greater works than these." That is Christ's Promise. That is what happens when we respond to the Spirit's centripetal and centrifugal energy and power. And that is why it is always Good News for the Church, the city and the world when we joyfully proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York

May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17; Saint John 14:8-17-27