Friday, May 1, 2015

Dandelion Wine (Easter 5, 3 May 2015)

RCL Easter 5B
3 May 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         In today’s gospel Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches to describe his relationship with each person who believes in the good news he proclaims.  The image is an ancient one used throughout the Hebrew scriptures to describe the people of Israel and God’s relationship with them.  For a people linked closely to the land and who tended crops that included both fruits and vegetables that grew on vines, Jesus’ image spoke powerfully of their relationship to God and to each other.
         Over the centuries the image of Christ as the vine and Christians as the branches has been painted on our walls, fused into our stained glass, sung in our hymns and embroidered on our vestments and hangings.  For British Columbians who live in a province where we produce many crops grown on vines and wine from our grapes, the image still has some resonance for us.  But I want to offer you a different image.
         I spent most of the summer of 1980 in Fort Wayne, Indiana serving as a seminarian intern at Trinity Episcopal Church.  The Rector, Cory Randall, was anxious to give me as extensive an experience of parish life as possible in those months, so it was a rare day that did not see me with him.  I remember one parish visit with particular clarity.
         We went out to visit two older women, unmarried sisters who still lived in the family farm house set in the midst of a considerable acreage.  Although neither of the ladies farmed, they leased the land to their neighbours and made quite an excellent living.  Both sisters were very active in the parish and in the wider community of Fort Wayne.  Cory wanted to visit them for two reasons:  they loved meeting seminarians and they were possible donors to a particular project Cory had in mind for the parish.
         I had come down with a particularly nasty summer cold the evening before, but Cory would not let me rest.  So off we went to see the sisters.  They were charming and Cory was able to achieve his goal of getting them to donate to his project.  I was a bit more disappointing.  The cold meant that I really was having a hard time keeping up my end of the conversation.  At first the sisters thought that I was a bit dull, but when they realized how badly I was suffering, they turned their ire on Cory.  “How could you bring that poor boy here in such a state?” one of them asked.  She said it with such intensity that I’m sure Cory thought he was about to lose his donation.
         The other sister stood up and said, “I’ve got just the thing for you.”  She went into the kitchen and came back with a tumbler full of a light yellow liquid.  “Drink this down all at once,” she ordered.  “What is it?” I asked.  “Dandelion wine,” she replied.  Her look told me that resistance was futile, so I drank the whole glass in a single movement.  Within two minutes I was dozing on their chesterfield.
         Cory managed to get me to the car and back to my abode.  I went straight to bed, slept for twelve hours and woke up cured.  Since then I’ve always had a sweet spot in my heart for dandelions.
         When Paula and I came to Vancouver in 1987, we were both struck by the beauty of the lawns and gardens, whether those around multi-family dwellings or single-family homes.  Every park was a wonder to behold.  True, there were a few wild things here and there, but they rarely stood a chance in the face of the onslaught of outraged gardeners.  The restrictions on the use of herbicides that came into effect over the last few years were greeted with mixed feelings by those who valued the beauty and order of their lawns and gardens.
         But the dandelions, those crisp and hardy yellow demons, now had their chance to re-establish themselves in places from whence they had been earlier banished.  Wherever I look these days, little yellow heads peek above the trimmed lawns of our neighbours and disrupt the uniformity of green grass.  If the truth be told, I find myself on the side of the dandelions more often than the grass.
         Now I know that many of you are devoted gardeners.  Your homes are oases of beauty and dandelions are not among the crops you wish to cultivate.  But bear with me for a moment.  In such a time as ours, I think that Christians, especially Anglican Christians who form a minority within the spectrum of Christian traditions, have more to learn from dandelions than from vines.
         Just as the dandelion will take root in almost any soil, so must we find ways to take root in soil that is very different from those who built this place and many others like it.  One hundred years ago, fifty years ago, building churches was easy; being a member of a church was considered the norm; Christianity was understood to be the foundation of our culture.  That soil has been worked out and we now live in a time when we struggle to maintain buildings, when having no faith or belonging to another faith is the norm, when there are those who see Christianity as a problem. 
         Just as the dandelion sends out its seeds with every pulse of wind, so we must use new ways to share the good news of God in Christ.  First and foremost among those ‘new’ ways is a commitment on the part of each one of us to share our ‘good news’, our testimony to how our faith in Christ has enriched our lives.  Websites, Twitter, YouTube have their roles to play, but none of them can replace the simple act of talking with a friend, a neighbour, a family member about how knowing Jesus has opened doors into a new way of living, a new way of hoping, a new way of acting.  Using prayers and hymns in contemporary English has a role to play, but neither can replace our witness in deed and word to the new life that is among us.
         God sends each one of us out like a dandelion seed on the wind of the Spirit.  We find ourselves in new and challenging soil and then we dig in.  We send out our roots, raise our heads and then, when the time is right, send out our own seeds:  our words, our actions, our hopes, our living.  We dare to break into the order of people’s lives and offer them a touch of colour, a glimpse of disorder, a taste of sweet wine.  And their worlds and ours are transformed, bit by bit, into fruitful abundance, into life-giving relationships with one another and with the One who created all things, weeds as well as grass, and who rejoices in them all.

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