Sermon May 23 2021 – Pentecost Dandelions Rev. Betsy Hogan
Did you notice the dandelions this year? I recognize that not all of us have had the freedom of movement to have seen as much of our neighbourhood this year as in past years. But even with the much smaller amount of toodling around that I've been doing, it really has been quite striking.
The carpets of yellow that have been allowed to flourish. On big swathes of public and park land, but also on the properties of institutions like hospitals and schools, and on the lawns of apartment buildings, and on people's lawns of their own homes. The messaging about giving pollinating bees the full measure of the springtime season to sustain the irreplacable work they do in providing us with a food supply has obviously been heard loud and clear.
What I found especially interesting, though, is how long it took me to notice. That the dandelions had been left unmown. Because it actually hasn't been that long since a lawn full of dandelions looked to us, seemed to us, actually quite jarring.
Not quite right, not being cared for, sort of unkempt and untidy. And if left that way... in need of an explanation.
It actually hasn't been that long, a matter of a few years, for that norm to change sufficiently that the carpets of yellow everywhere in May now pretty much look normal.
Which is kind of delightful. And really quite uplifting, especially on Pentecost Sunday, because dandelions have LONG been a great symbol in climates like ours for the celebration of Pentecost.
Not just because they're yellow, and so sort of evoke the yellow "flames" of Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and set everyone's heads on fire... metaphorically...
But ALSO because like the Holy Spirit, dandelions just spread everywhere. They're ungovernable, they're profligate, they take over. Don't even try to keep up, don't even bother – just like the Holy Spirit, dandelions blow where they will, they take root where they land, in Canada they're the ultimate weed.
And then in perhaps the crowning glory of their symbolism for the Holy Spirit, children think they're beautiful and adults try to control them.
Or maybe you think all that sounds strange. After all, it’s true that in the church, when we talk about welcoming the Holy Spirit into our midst – not only at Pentecost but all the time – we always do so as though it’s something that we’re looking forward to.
And the thing is, it IS something we look forward to, in the sense of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, our Sustainer, the strength of God’s presence surrounding us, the courage of hope that bears us up as on eagle’s wings.
Which makes feeling the Holy Spirit with us or in our midst usually about this sense of joy or oneness, a buoyancy in our own spirits, an almost palpable breath of life around us and lifting us up. And so it IS something good. Something comforting and strengthening and joyful in the fullest sense. Sometimes even almost electric. A good energy full of possibility that we know is more than just us. More than just a gathering of us.
So of course it’s something that we look forward to, the presence of the warm wind of the Holy Spirit around us. Of course it is.
But here’s the thing. That warm wind? If it’s REALLY the Holy Spirit? It’s metaphorically FULL of uncontrollable dandelion seeds. And they’re blowing all over the place. All ready to take root.
We often call Pentecost the birthday of the church, because if there hadn’t been a Pentecost, there would never have been a church. And that’s true. Because after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the disciples, as exciting as that was for them, it was temporary. He was only back with them for a few short weeks. And then he was lifted up, away from them into heaven, until further notice. And they were alone again.
And it was not, to put it mildly, a fruitful time. They weren’t all sitting around making plans to change the world, to share his teachings, to proclaim his message of love. They were pretty much just… sitting around. Not sure what to do next. Probably considering ways they could maybe blend back into their faith communities, maybe make some contribution that would be worthwhile, make their experience with Jesus mean something in the grand scheme of things….
And then a week or so later it’s Pentecost – basically the equivalent in Judaism of our Thanksgiving Sunday – and the Holy Spirit swoops like a thundering wind into the place where they’re all just sitting and suddenly – in the immortal words of biblical scholar Dr. Anna Carter Florence – it's like everyone's head's on fire.
Pentecost is WEIRD. The story of Pentecost that we hear from the book of Acts is truly bizarre. Jesus had promised he would send them the Holy Spirit to be with them after he departed, but he hadn’t mentioned there’d be heads on fire. And he hadn’t mentioned either that they’d suddenly be able to speak in all different languages. And though we don’t know precisely exactly what ELSE the Holy Spirit was making them do, we DO know that whatever it was, it was possible to look at it and think they might be drunk.
Which of course they were not. I always think it’s rather endearing that they think saying it’s only nine o’clock in the morning is an adequate defence.
At any rate, Pentecost is weird and what makes it weird and ultimately wonderful – and the birthday of the church – is what the Holy Spirit does to them. Nothing comforting and sustaining. Nothing gentle and loving and nurturing and peaceful.
The Holy Spirit sets their heads on fire. Metaphorically, obviously, but it’s a pretty potent symbol. It fills their mouths with words they don’t understand, forces them out the doors to start speaking them, and then slams those doors behind them. No more hiding. No more reminiscing about what was, no more daydreaming about what might have been, no more pleasant afternoons together just whiling away the days like the good friends they’ve all become –
They’re blown out the doors by the Spirit with their heads on fire and their mouths full of new words, like dandelion seeds. Scattered by the Spirit wherever it decides, so they can be the sources of new life, in making the Way they've learned from Jesus matter in the world.
Spouting up like bright vivid yellow dandelions, carpetting green spaces, nurturing a season of pollination and new life and new growth.
So it's utterly delightful, in a context in which we've come to appreciate carpets of dandelions as sufficiently normal that we've almost forgotten that only a few years ago they were quickly mowed down as weeds –
It's utterly delightful to see dandelions now as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. With their actual weed-ness and ubiquity not only underlining our profound dependence on bees and pollination, but also kind of symbolizing on top of that the degree to which we've learned through the experience of this pandemic how much we need each other and depend on each other and are responsible for each other.
Because the caritas, the caring Jesus embodied and taught, it HAS spread and deepened over the course of this experience. We are SO much more aware of who's vulnerable, and who's struggling. We're SO much more attuned to what it's like to be each other – what it's like to be a small business owner, what it's like to be a rotational worker, or to live in residential care, or depend on busses, or work with kids at home.
And we've SEEN the vast majority of Nova Scotians, because of what we've learned, making sacrifices for each other, helping each other, caring about each other's well-being, and also advocating – sometimes loudly – for each other.
The Holy Spirit HAS been at work, spreading and deepening the caritas, the caring that Jesus embodied and taught, through us as a community. That has absolutely been manifest as surely as the carpets of dandelions have been allowed to take over all through this month of May.
We've been grieving and to some extent infuriated about this third wave, but broadly speaking we've been steadfast nonetheless – in knowing that it'll be taking care of each other and acting on behalf of each other that's going to get us through.
The way of Jesus, caring about each other, spreading like the dandelions that feed the bees on which we also depend– that now look like a new normal all around us.
So here's the thing. How far are we ready to let it go?
Because the Holy Spirit didn't just descend upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. That was the big event, that was the dramatic flourish – heads on fire and mouths full of words and scattered to the four winds to land and take root –
But the Holy Spirit also abides with us always. In the ways we identify as comforting and nurturing and uplifting, but also in the ways that continue to challenge us and shake us out of our old norms and open our eyes and our minds to new perspectives and new understandings.
I'm quite aware, as a person who fumbles about outside my house and likes to call that "gardening", that I celebrate the wonderful dandelions of May but I'm not NEARLY so generous of spirit with the ones that turn up in June. Or July. And they start feeling messy. And I dig them up with impunity.
So we ARE challenged at Pentecost... still. To be thankful for the Spirit and embrace the Spirit and let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, but also to lay down some readiness to trust and willingness to stay open...
...to a Spirit that's going to keep popping up. Defying our best laid plans. Provoking our efforts at tidiness and calm. Getting in the way of perfect with different.
The Spirit blows where it will, the Bible tells us. Sometimes it's an uplifting breeze and carpet of bright yellow life-affirming beauty, sometimes it's like our heads on fire and seriously? Enough -- it's only nine o'clock in the morning.
But the Spirit is always a Spirit of goodness, and it's always a gift. It's God within us, it's God around us, it's God challenging us, it's as life-giving as dandelions in spring and as relentless when they keep popping up. We are not alone. Amen.