RCL Year A, Proper 12
Psalm 119:129-136, I Kings 3:5-12, Saint Matthew 13:31-33 and 44-52

It is good to be together again. We have been through it. Our last service together was March 8. We celebrated the Eucharist together with a special guest, Stephen Baker, who is Bishop Kevin’s Canon to the Ordinary. We served a Seasons of Love Dinner to scores and scores of people who needed the meal.

I would not have believed you, if you had told me that afternoon, that we would not have a service again for nineteen weeks, including Holy Week and Easter; that we would see 140,000 dead from a previously-unknown virus; that our country would suffer weeks of civil discord, rioting, looting, the destruction and occupation of private and public property, and the defunding of police departments, all ascribed to the murder of a black suspect at the knee of a white policeman; and, finally, that our return to public assembly would be under the conditions of wearing masks, refraining from singing, and offering Morning Prayer, and not the Eucharist, to drive out the virus. We have indeed been through it, and it continues, seemingly without an end in sight.

For all of this adversity and tumult, we find ourselves in an ideal circumstance to recall some of the basic attributes of our religion and the God we worship. Our religion prefers mercy and forgiveness to justice and punishment. Our God specializes in transforming adversity and tumult into reconciliation and redemption. The premiere example of this is the transformation of Jesus’ death into Jesus’ resurrection, an act of love so powerful and so communicable that every sinner, enslaved to sin, can be freed and redeemed, by God’s mercy and forgiveness, to be able to choose the good and to refuse the evil. In God’s hands, “and instrument of shameful death” becomes “the means of life.”[1] I quote a well-known hymn: “I once was lost but now am found, / was blind but now I see.”[2]

The author of those words is John Newton, who knew firsthand God’s transformative power. He escaped captivity by a slave trader in West Africa to become the captain of a slave ship. Later, his contrition, his heart’s sorrow, was answered by God’s mercy and forgiveness. He gave up the slave trade and became an ardent abolitionist in association with William Wilberforce and under the influence of George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley. Newton exemplifies God’s ability to redeem every person and every circumstance in any and all times. No one and no circumstance lies beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Our smallest effort to refuse the evil and to choose the good defines “the means of grace” and “the hope of glory.”[3] That smallest effort is like the mustard seed in today’s Second Lesson. It is “the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and makes nests in its branches.”[4]

For, you see, our present adversity and tumult is by no means the end of the story. No. None of it is the last word. For the last word is, and ever will be, God’s.

[1] The Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, BCP, page 220.

[2] Hymn 687, Stanza 1.

[3] The General Thanksgiving, BCP, page 125.

[4] Saint Matthew 13:32.