Sermon June 5 Pentecost Rev. Betsy Hogan
Has the grass near where you live been mowed yet? I've sort of being enjoying, this past ten days or so, noticing people kind of hitting the wall on No-Mow May. As the carpets of yellow dandelions that we're purposefully leaving for bees and other pollinators began to degenerate into chaos –
And it was like, maybe instead it could be No-Mow Most of May. Before everything's a foot tall and all those carpets of yellow that we've actually gotten used to and they're kind of bright and cheerful and a lovely sign of springtime... all suddenly go to seed in a white-ish grey mess.
And ENOUGH, people started to say – we've done our duty, we have happy bees, but this is not restful. It just looks a mess. And out came the mowers, first a trickle, then a flood, restoring it all to calm.
We have our limits. Carpets of yellow and happy bees, yes. The rank chaos of dandelions gone to seed? Not so much. There's a reason why in climates like ours, dandelions have long been a symbol of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In the passage from the book of the Acts of the Apostles that we heard just now, after all, the way things all unfold on the day of Pentecost is NOT, as it happens, exactly what any of Jesus' followers might have anticipated.
Or even hoped for. Or certainly planned for. Because Jesus had told them that he would send to them the Spirit -- a comfort and an inspiration and an advocate. His Spirit, to accompany them forward. To give them strength, to drive them along, to work in and through them in shaping a faithful and holy community.
He'd told them the Spirit was coming. They knew enough to anticipate its arrival. But, you know, the LAST time the Spirit turned up -- at least so far as his followers know -- the LAST time the Spirit turned up, it descended from the heavens as a dove.
A gentle and beautiful dove, sailing on the wind, gracefully alighting on Jesus' shoulder in the moment of his baptism, sign and symbol of God's blessing and God's presence --
So lovely, so holy -- presumably it'll be like that again.... Maybe like carpets of yellow, bright reminders of springtime: uplifting and expansive and energizing.
But what happens instead on the day of Pentecost, when Jesus' followers are all gathered together? Thunder, lightning, hurricane wind and an earth-shattering roar -- and everybody's head on fire??!
This is NOT what they thought was going to happen -- this is NOT how they thought the Spirit arriving would be.
Because it should have been, I don't know, gentle. Shouldn't it? Holy. Lovely and worshipful. Solemn but grace-filled. A moment of beauty, with angel chorus. And fall on your knees in a carpet of yellow flowers. Receive the holy spirit.
So thunder and wind and everyone's head on fire? This is not the Holy Spirit they were looking for. And it's not just that it's unexpected, it's also embarrassing.
Because everyone around them now thinks they're drunk -- it's nine o'clock in the morning for heaven's sake, but everyone around them now thinks they're drunk, and frankly, if they could just get past the part where their heads are on fire, they could probably admit they can pretty much see why.
Because, the truth is, they're not exactly behaving like they're sober. Like, with any kind of appropriate decorum. In fact, they're pretty much babbling like they can't keep it together, like they're completely out of control. Like they don't know how to behave in public, and sheesh, didn't anyone ever teach them manners???? It's embarrassing. They're just a complete MESS.
But meanwhile.... in the midst of all this chaos.... "Perfect," says God. "That's exactly how I wanted that to go."
Last weekend was sort of the Annual Meeting of "Maritime Conference" – even with the new "Region" 15, it was still the same gathering of all the ministers and lay representatives from United Churches in Nova Scotia and Bermuda.
But of course it was on Zoom. So it was a bit poignant, not to be together. Because in the before-times it WAS hundreds of people of all ages, singing together, and talking together, and being together. Which is pretty uplifting.
But at the same time, it's true: the Annual Meeting often kind of makes my head want to explode. Because it's often so NICE, the Annual Meeting. It's often so lovely and so peaceful and holy and spiritual – it's often so beautiful and poignant and soulful and moving --
Not that there's anything wrong with that, and I know it's exactly spiritual lifting-up that a lot of us -- by the time May rolls around and we're AT the Annual Meeting -- really need and respond to.
But it's a reason that there was one address that was given at an Annual Meeting years and years ago, maybe fifteen years ago, that I think of every year at this time. Because, that year – thanks be to God – in the midst of all the nice, it kept my head from exploding.
It was a colleague who got up to share her story of faith -- and yes, she said, comfort, and strength, and peace, and life --
But then "What's this life of faith really about for me?" she said to us -- "It's about this."
"It's that I am not satisfied that some people don't have clean water to drink. I am not satisfied" she said, "that people are going hungry in this day and age, that the mentally ill and addicted are increasingly being 'housed' in our prisons while treatment programs are getting cut. I am not satisfied with our leaders putting profit before the environment, and I am not satisfied that the wealth of a few is battering into poverty the rest."
"I am not satisfied with any of this, and with more. And for me," she said, "that's what faith in God and God's goodness is also about. Yes, it's comfort and strength and peace and life, but it's also looking around and saying to the way things are that I am not satisfied: this is not good enough."
And just like that -- and we could practically see it happen -- that nice nice pretty pretty Holy Spirit as dove that had been soothing us all at Conference in a warm bath of comfort and peace, gave way, however briefly, to the Holy Spirit that is NOT interested in behaving itself, that does NOT have a proper sense of decorum, that is NOT a beautiful carpet of yellow but instead is the absolute mess of dandelions gone to seed.
Because it's chaos, that Holy Spirit. It's thunder and it's wind and it's everyone's head on fire -- and it is NOT satisfied with the way things are because the way things are is not good enough. And we can do better.
That's the Holy Spirit that comes blasting down from heaven to fire up the faithful on that Pentecost long ago, on that day recorded in the passage from the book of Acts. And it is really not what they expected. It is really not the transcendently beautiful and restful holy experience they might have thought it was going to be, and it might even have scared the daylights out of them.
Until they realize, in no small measure thanks to the Apostle Peter, that God has sent them -- of course -- exactly the Spirit they need. Exactly the Spirit it'll take to fire them up enough to finally get OUT of that nice safe upper room they've been holed up in, and out into the world to actually be the change that Jesus inspired for them, embodied for them.
To figure out how on earth, in the real world, to be kind, to be understanding and forgiving, to go the second mile, to keep themselves from wanting revenge, to believe that better is possible, and not to give up on that -- when the real world of the disciples' time did not exactly make that easy.
Any more than our own time does. Because truly, unless we're not satisfied as people of faith that the way things are is not good enough, we're not paying attention.
And God's Spirit needs us to pay attention. To lean into the deeply unrestful chaos and see not a MESS that just needs to be mowed down, but instead the seeds of something new.
I think we can do it. I mean, in just a few short years we've learned to appreciate masses of dandelions, carpets of yellow, we'd NEVER have let go. We paid attention, we leaned into that chaos, and we can do it again – and let the Spirit carry us. Amen.