SERMONS OF THE REVEREND CANON STANLEY SINCLAIR

Fr Stan is the spiritual mentor of Mr Berkeley Stewart, who is a member of the congregation at All Saints.

With his permission, Berkeley has been forwarding us Fr Stan’s sermons. They are published here, as well as a brief biography of this remarkable priest:

The Rev. Canon Stanley R. Sinclair

The Rev. Canon Stanley R. Sinclair of Church of Our Saviour, Victoria, was born in 1931 in Ross, California, across the north bay from San Francisco. In the coming years his family lived in the Sierra Mountains and later in the Napa Valley. At an early age he felt called to the ministry and after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956 he fulfilled his vow and entered the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, also in Berkeley, under the authority of the Bishop of San Joaquin (the central valley diocese of the Episcopal Church in California).

In December of 1953 he married Sonja Swinnerton von Savoye in the historic church of St James’, Sonora, which was “family church” to both the Sinclairs and the von Savoyes. During these years he was employed at the University Library and he graduated as Master of Divinity Cum Laude in 1956. He was ordained Deacon in the family’s parish church in Sonora, CA, and later priest as Curate in St John the Evangelist, Stockton, California.

In the Stockton years Sonja and Father Stan became the adoptive parents of baby Erik Alexander von Savoye Sinclair, and of Grace Amy and Sarah Mary-Elizabeth, the two girls who had come to them as foster children—all within one year!

The following decades took the Sinclairs to various parish assignments, which included new fledgling congregations, fading parishes in need of a “lift,” from less than a hundred faithful up to 1300 in one parish! It involved building churches, starting two parochial schools, and working with many wonderful people, both clergy and laity; and finally moving all the way to Canada. After 15 years in Victoria and Calgary, since 1991, Father Stan has served as rector successively of two churches in Victoria. Although now officially retired, he is still serving as best he can at the age of 89.

Although now unable to travel, both for reasons of the pandemic and old age, the Sinclairs have previously enjoyed spending a good deal of time both in their ancestral homeland of Scotland and seeing many parts of the United States, Canada, and on the continent of Europe.

It has been a full life, with many sorrows but also many joys.

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THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY 2017

Before we consider the Gospel, we must not overlook the Epistle text which reads:

He that is faithful in little is faithful in much….Those words of our Lord are from a teaching with which many Christians have struggled for understanding, because it is about an unscrupulous man who manages to outwit his boss’s creditors, and is rewarded for his misdeed. Jesus seems at first thought to be praising the crooked steward. But his words are loaded with irony, leading to his conclusion, that by our actions we are establishing a life pattern of faithfulness or unfaithfulness. In the end He wants us to realise that this will fail us in the end. We can only rely on the faithfulness of God.

And this is what Saint Paul set forth so well in the Epistle: that faithfulness to God is always rewarded by his love and care for us, no matter what we know as “the changes and chances of this mortal life.” He describes Christ as our “rock,” who will never fail us. And that leads him to his theme – how we can rely on the goodness of God, and how He has showered his blessings upon us. In this Epistle he tell us:

For we being many are one bread and one body

The theme of Holy Communion is woven all through the recent Sundays after Trinity. In the summer months especially, we are very aware of both the creative hand of God and of the human hands who have planted and tended what God has given. When we speak of our Creator, we generally think of the over-all magnificence of what He has brought into being, and see it as one glorious canvass. Yet we know how intricate and painstaking the design and development of the Creation has been, when we think of every bee, every flower, the life that goes on below the surface, and fills the seas and the skies.

He gives us a striking conclusion about what this reveals: If God can take his most basic creations, the grains, the eggs and milk, the leavening and salt, and make it possible for us to combine them into a loaf of bread, then He can make us all one.

And if He who devised the plan by which living things from millions of years ago are eventually transformed into shale and oil, or hot lava becomes stone, then He can also transform bread and wine into the spiritual essence of his body and blood.

We know that the foods we eat to satisfy our hunger and please our palates are in reality atoms and molecules of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals transformed by God into plant and animal life, that nourish our bodies. And so, using the bread and wine, He nourishes us with the life of Christ.

He made the cells, bones and tissues which constitute a single human body, which is a work of remarkable engineering; and He can also make us one Body in Christ.

Through the years the studies of nature have revealed that under his creative control, life developed from the basics, water, air, and earth, into the whole complex that we know. And slowly, one person at a time, what He has done materially He will also do spiritually.

St Paul, having given this teaching, warned us against idolatry. When we receive the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are not to worship the Sacrament, but

only the Lord of the Sacrament. Just as God did not want the Children of Israel to worship idols in place of Himself, who is pure Being [“I am who I am.”].

The Children of Light are not to make a golden calf of this Sacrament, but honour the presence of the living God, under the form that He has chosen, and given to us by Christ at the Last Supper, to represent his sacrificial offering. [Luke 22.19-20; John 6.49-54]

When Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone, inscribed with the laws of God, he was furious to see the Children of Israel at their revels with a god of their own making, which his brother, the first high priest, had permitted them to fashion. He threw down the tablets of stone, so they broke apart, a symbol of a broken relationship with God.

Far more important to the story of that long trek through the wilderness were the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud. God was always there overshadowing them, just as God is with us today, overshadowing us, by an unseen cloud.

When the people thirsted, God directed Moses to the rock which contained the spring. When they were out of food, he gave them a temporary food supply, the manna and the quail. So it is entirely consistent with the whole history of God’s relationship with his people that He continues to supply us with the food and drink of eternal life.

Like the Children of Israel, we Children of Light have to rely on God, as we have prayed in the Collect*–not on worldly cleverness, as the crooked steward did. He cooked the books to save his job, conniving with the tenants. He thought he would outsmart the landowner, his boss, but in the end he outsmarted himself. So, as we have noted, Jesus ironically labelled this “prudence,” and He meant worldly wisdom. “Unrighteous Mammon” was the name he gave to craftiness, dishonest, and self-serving . But Mammon always fails its friends, as Jesus said.

We Children of Light have the unfailing grace of God, when we rely on his Word, his sacraments, his guidance, his protective care. To live in the Spirit, and to be together in the Body of Christ, with one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Hope of our calling, one God and Father of all.

In the same way we are “one bread, one body,” one people: individually tiny cells of that body, and only a morsel of that bread; our parish, the Church, in miniature, and a very small loaf of that bread. But that is enough. When you put us together, all of us, the world over, what a bread and what a body!

O Lord, may we always desire Thee and thy heavenly gifts above all things. Amen.

“I don’t get it!” Those were the words of a parishioner some years back, who thought Jesus had said that the worldly were smarter than the righteous, the children of light. But he actually said they were more prudent, and the word was used ironically. Because the children of this age, as Jesus told this parable, outsmarted themselves. They are prudent, all right in an utterly self-serving way. The crooked steward was looking out for number one. He even won the grudging respect of his employer, the landowner whom he had defrauded by cooking the books to gain the goodwill of the tenants. Maybe the landowner was not above shady business dealings himself. But read on, and Jesus assures us that the “Mammon of unrighteousness”—the unethical world of sharp practise—fails those who make friends with it.

This Gospel story could have been written in our time. Is this not the story of the Wall Street bankers, of dishonest financial consultants, who dominated business news until the latest stock exchange crisis? Or the corporations which manage to evade billions in taxes by setting up a mail-box drop in a foreign country as the company location? In Jesus’ parable the crooked steward, who runs the estate, colludes with the tenants to hide his crime. It is just a matter of paper work to cover up the deception.

Jesus had no illusions about humanity, and how people can get by on their cleverness and lack of moral scruples for quite a while, but not forever.

That is why Jesus said another ironic remark, which I have paraphrased, “Make friends of Unrighteous Mammon; and when it fails you, you can turn to those who can admit you into everlasting habitations.” Mammon sums up everything today which is meant by consumerism, “slick operators,” “scam artists,” those whose ambitions outweigh their morals. “The friends of Mammon” turn out to be nobody’s friends at all. Not even their own.

Jesus contrasts them with the Children of Light, who rely upon the Lord. We have chosen to be among them. We seek the light rather than darkness. The Children of Light may not

be as worldly clever as the friends of Mammon, as Jesus said. In the Collect, we admit that we can do nothing good without the grace of God. And Jesus tells us that if we are faithful in what is least—if day by day we are trying to do things His way–then we will find ourselves making the right choices about the big things, too. Because, as He has said, if our small, daily choices are wrong, there is not much chance we will be faithful to God in the larger matters of life. Little things are always the indicators of just how we respond to God.

Here we are in the outdoors like the Children of Israel, but whereas they went through desert places, we have this lovely woodland setting to consider the importance of accepting God’s direction. That has never been our strong point, and on a lovely day like day perhaps an unwelcome thought. But after all, what both our Lord and St Paul want us to understand is that when we stay together, under the guidance of God, then we are, as we prayed in the Collect, “enabled to live according to” his will, and enjoy the happiness which comes to the children of light.

If we look back at the children of Israel in the wilderness, as St Paul invites us to do, what do we find? Moses had gone up the mountain. He was in a kind of trance, and there on the top of Sinai he received the law of God, and heard that divine assurance, “I Am Who I Am.” This was his assurance that God himself was talking to him.

Meanwhile down in the camp ground the people got bored and rebellious. They moaned and groaned that they had ever left Egypt. Suddenly all those years of slavery to the pharaohs, cut off from their own religious and territorial roots, took on a rosy glow. They were angry with Moses, who, as they saw it, had gotten them into all this, when the truth was, they had happily set off across the Red Sea, thrilled at the miracle of God, and glowing with a sense of adventure, heading for the Promised Land.

Aaron, the brother whom Moses appointed the first high priest, had given in to the people’s desire for escapism and some tangible, manmade deity. Jewels were melted down, a golden calf emerged from the fire; the Hebrews worshipped this god of their own making. And before you know it, the revelry in the camp was completely out of hand.

Then Moses came down from the mountain. He was angry at what he saw and hurled the tablets of stone at the people. The tablets broke, but then no more so than the people, who had broken the commandments written on those stones.

The scene that followed was horrendous. An earthquake split the very ground they walked on, people fell into the abyss. A fight arose, and many were killed. St Paul saw this disaster as a sign of the spiritual death and destruction that result from ignoring God, from insisting on our own way. And all the while, as the Apostle tells us, God will help us escape from temptation.

Though they were sullen and rebellious, all the while on their long trek God overshadowed the Children of Israel like a cloud, and He is overshadowing us today. And I don’t mean the rainclouds—although at times they are very welcome indeed. This is what a long-ago saint called “The Cloud of Unknowing.” We can’t see it, but it is there.

Wherever we go the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire are with us, indications of the watchful providence of the Lord.

He had not deserted them, nor would He allow them to starve. Moses was able to tap the Rock and release a stream of water hidden within it. But the living water of eternal life is ours always. They received quail and manna, a temporary response to their hunger. We receive Holy Communion in answer to our thirst for righteousness. St Paul lets us know that it is not idolatry to regard the bread and cup in this way. They really are the Body and Blood of Christ, the spiritual life and presence of God. And we have this wonderful source of spiritual strength, because we are together. Our unity with Christ and one another give us access to the grace we need.

He masterminded Creation, its grand design and its intricate workings as well. We can certainly rely on Him to get us through, to make things work out for the best without any connivance on our part. This is Plan A. There is no Plan B.

When I was a little lad of four, my sister and I decided to run away from home. Why? I don’t remember, but our parents did cooperate. When we got outside into the snow, I said I would build us an igloo. It never got built. My excuse for going in was it was getting dark, but of course I had not a clue how to build it.

God has the plans, the only plans that work. That is what we have to remember, in the life of the Church as well as in our homes and in ourselves. God has the plan. He will lead us onward; He will keep us spiritually fed. And if we can manage the small things, He will help us with the big ones. We will one day have to make an account of ourselves as the steward did. We cannot rely on the Mammon of unrighteousness, only upon the Lord.

That is why, when all is said and done, “Blessed are the meek, the gentle folk who live in this world, but are not really of it.

Who are they but the Children of Light? And by the grace of God, we are those children.