7th Sunday after Trinity
Rev Tom Mumford
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was the earliest days of lockdown. My foot was still broken, still swollen. Sitting at any normal chair was uncomfortable, so my study moved into the living room, onto my sofa. From here I could see my garden. It’s better than the view from my actual study (where I stare at my driveway), but after each phone call I made to parishioners, in which they invariably told me how wonderful their gardens were now looking, I became more and more concerned about mine. I looked at my foot, encased in this big plastic boot. I thought of the weeks I would be laid up, unable to weed or mow. I looked out at my garden. There was no way I was going to win ‘Sudbury in Bloom’ this year.
As I gazed out at it though, becoming more aware of the new flowers, the increase in wildlife activity, I began to notice a pigeon strategically collecting twigs and bits of foliage, and transporting it to a spot, high up in one of the trees. ‘How wonderful nature is!’, I thought. ‘Look at this pigeon, carefully collected things to build a ne-’ Horror came upon me. ‘A nest?! More flipping pigeons?!’
Despair descended like a veil.…But once I had resigned the fear for my windows, car paintwork and garden furniture…my thoughts returned to the quite beautiful way in which new life was being grown in my garden. Not only were the spring flowers coming in to bloom, the trees flowering and bees doing their work, but my garden had become a place where new life could be safe. Where new life could have space to grow, to be nourished and to flourish, and maybe one day, eventually
As I look back, I think of the parable of the mustard seed, a parable of the kingdom of heaven. The tree in my garden, though not a mustard tree, would’ve begun as a tiny little seed. It would’ve been so small, so seemingly insignificant, that anyone might have missed it. But it grew, and it flourished. It grew and flourished in such a way that birds chose to build nests in its branches. It became a place, like the kingdom of heaven, where things of substance could be built, created. It became a place where new life could be nurtured, be born. It became a place that was safe for life to flourish, for the love between creatures to grow and bear fruit. This image, I think, blows a hole in what we normally think about the kingdom of heaven, which is really the place where God is most directly experienced and felt.
The kingdom of heaven is not some other realm built out of clouds, where angels sit and play their harps (I don’t know about you, but an eternity of harp music doesn’t sound especially appealing?). No, it’s somewhere, some-thing, much more tangible than that, much more real, much more immediate and present. And we can experience it right here, right now, when we create places, when we become places, where the presence of Christ is more obviously seen and felt. When our hearts are full of love, our stomachs hungry for justice, our tongues ignited with the fire of truth And because of this, we should not be deceived by the seemingly trivial, unimportant or insignificant. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed’, Jesus says. ‘It may look like nothing, barely even worth noticing. It may be the smallest of seeds. But it will grow into the greatest of shrubs, even into a tree, and the birds of the air will come and nest in its branches.’ So don’t be deceived by modest or humble beginnings, Jesus says. With God, that’s never the end.
And this is, for me, is one of the key truths of the gospel. It’s one of the best things about the good news of God in Christ. What looks small, what looks insignificant, looks ineffectual…like a failure, is often proved wrong. Though Good Friday looked as if it was the end, the resurrection happened. Though Peter denied Jesus three times, he became the rock on which the Church is built. Though Paul persecuted early Christians, he became one of the most prolific spreaders of Christianity in the ancient world. Though Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrated this week, were women in a male dominated ancient world, one became the bearer of God, and the other the Apostle to the Apostles. Never think that ‘this’ is the end of the story, that you’ve got it all sussed out, like you know how it’s going to end. God’s nature is to transform and to redeem and to reconcile. To bring all things into new life in him. Only God knows the end of the story.
So, if you’re in a period of life where things are starting to take root, or bearing fruit – if things are looking up – be excited! What an adventure you’re on. Who knows where it will lead. If you’re in a period of life where things are looking a bit grim, a bit bleak. If you’re feeling like you’re still living Good Friday all these months later, take heart. This is not the end. God isn’t finished with you yet.
To blend quotes from Julian of Norwich and John Lennon (not a sentence I ever thought I’d say!), I want you to remember this:
All will be well in the end, and if they’re not, then it’s not the end yet.
This is the Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you, O Christ.