Today is not actually the feast day of the Rev. Robert Hunt (Tuesday was) but one of the things I like about preaching about saints and other notable Christians outside the Bible is that we see how God works through people in all kinds of situations. Robert Hunt was the chaplain of the first successful English colony in America. He preached the first Protestant sermon on this continent and celebrated the first holy communion. But what interested me was the prologue to all that. He had to leave his first parish because his wife committed adultery. He moved; she and their 2 children did not. Then he had to leave his second parish because of an accusation that he had committed adultery with his servant. He was also accused of absenteeism and neglecting his congregation. Not a promising start to his career as clergy.
So why was he chosen by the Archbishop of Canterbury to be the chaplain on this expedition to the New World? I don't know. Maybe the Archbishop thought Hunt wouldn't have the same problems since everyone on the trip was male. Maybe he thought he was expendable. But whatever his deficiencies in his first 2 parishes in England, Hunt rose to the occasion of his position in America. He was praised for resolving numerous disputes among the colonists and keeping the peace. A fire destroyed his library and all his belongings and he didn't complain. The colony suffered disease and starvation and attacks by Native Americans and yet his parishioners recalled Hunt's courage in the face of all these hazards. Most of the inhabitants of Jamestown died that first year. Robert Hunt was one of them. He was only 39. They buried him in the chancel of his church and recently archaeologists have found his bones. Today there is a shrine at the spot in the Historic Jamestowne National Park.
Saints are not perfect people. Jacob was a conman; Noah was a drunk; Moses killed a man and hid the body; Peter denied Jesus while Christ was being tried; Paul was complicit in the murder of the first Christian martyr, Stephen the deacon. God doesn't work with perfect people (not that he has any other kind to choose from). We're all sinners. But God is gracious and though he doesn't need us to accomplish his purposes, he chooses to include us in his plans. He gives us his Holy Spirit and works through us to bring his good news of healing and forgiveness and reconciliation to the world. Jesus even said we would do greater works than he did! How? For one thing, through the sheer number of his believers around the world. Jesus healed hundreds, maybe thousands; church-run hospitals and clinics have healed millions. Jesus fed thousands; Christian food pantries and soup kitchens and charities have fed hundreds of millions. Jesus preached to thousands; today billions have heard the gospel preached.
And, yes, in our churches we have sinners, people who do and say bad and sometimes terrible things. Some are hypocrites. But some are just people who are trying to follow Jesus and stumble. And what do we do when someone falls and repents? We are commanded to forgive them. Heck, Jesus asked God to forgive those who were in the process of crucifying him and they weren't even asking for forgiveness. How can we act less nobly than he?
None of us is perfect. And yet in the New Testament we are all called saints. We are not holy because of what we do. God sanctifies us through his Spirit. God can take an ordinary sinner and do extraordinary things through him or her. All he asks is that we trust him and follow his son wherever he leads us. It may be across an ocean or it may be across that great distance that often comes between us and a fellow human being. Whether we have wronged them or they have wronged us, Jesus calls us to reach out and be peacemakers, like Robert Hunt. And then we too will be called children of God.