SERMON ON THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY 2021
Rejoice with me
[A happy Father’s Day to all who qualify. That includes godfathers, and of course grandfathers. For us Christians every day is “Father’s Day,” because we have so much reason to love Our Heavenly Father and to be grateful for his blessings and mercies.
Although Jesus calls us to rejoice in the course of perhaps his most famous parable, those of us who have had good fathers here on earth can rejoice that we were blessed with their paternal care and love.
In my case there are so many good memories: of a father who sang his son to sleep after a busy day, and would take his boy on long leisurely walks in order to talk over important matters, smooth out any problems….a father whose comments in moments of upset would soon have one laughing….but also a father who was very much his own man, attempting to reach his own goals, making life interesting for those around him, a man among men, tall and strong, but with a gentle heart.]
For those who think of God as some remote impersonal force or intelligence, then these words of our Lord—rejoicing over finding the lost sheep– would not make much sense. A “God in the machine,” a remote Supreme Being, would not be overly concerned, or might even be responsible for the situation. But that is not the God we know, the One whom we have met through the Prophets and above all in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. He, in his infinite wisdom and knowledge, Jesus says, has his eye upon the sparrow, and He observes us all and cares more for us than we do for ourselves.
So when Jesus spoke of the joy of our heavenly Father, He was describing the real God. He knows this Being of infinite love at first hand, because He is inseparable from Him. His knowledge springs from his personal communion with the Father. But also, He knew our human experience from the inside. From childhood on he would have seen these little dramas of daily life enacted. And He Himself was the cause of an anxious search when He was missing from his family returning home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We hear this account each year in Epiphany season.
Perhaps Mary lost a coin, and Jesus remembered the incident from childhood. He undoubtedly tended sheep at some time in his youth, like his ancestor David. The citizens of Nazareth kept little flocks in the fields that separated them from the Roman city of Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. So He must have had the experience of helping to look for one that had gone missing.
And when He sought to help the Apostles understand his mission in this world, He explained it with such a simple and understandable example, with one of those revelations, “I am the good Shepherd.”
Never did Jesus get closer to our heartstrings than when he told his parable of the Prodigal Son. We are all familiar with that story of the son who had left home with his inheritance advanced to him, because he was determined to be on his own. And we also know what a mess he made of his life. Jesus shows us the joy of that father when he saw his son coming up the road. He has given us a word picture of the excited greeting, the robe for his son, the ring, the fatted calf prepared for a celebration at supper that night. “This my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found!” And we can rejoice just putting ourselves in the father’s shoes.
God cares that much, and He has searched for each one of us—not that we are ever out of his sight, but out of his loving presence, when we have gone off on our own, to do our “thing” as the idiotic idiom goes. To have one’s beloved child become a spiritual stranger, like Adam became by his own choice, would be heartbreaking indeed. But Jesus assured us that the heart of God cherishes every child, and is moved by every missing child, every sick child, every wayward one, and every grieving, worried or frightened mother and father.
The image of motherhood is a very powerful one for each of us, because a mother has the most significant role to play in anyone’s life. And yet we can remember how we have been blessed by a good father, or a good father-figure, in our lives. We human fathers have been privileged to share in the raising of another generation, and we hope that we have not failed, though we are keenly aware of our limitations.
And we clergy, who from the early days of the Church were called “Father” know how far short we fall of the standard. We must be glad that our heavenly Father through his Son has shown the world what fatherhood is meant to be; and though we cannot reach that mark, at least we can strive to fulfill our parenthood in the most caringway.
These parables make clear that the Father wants the lost to be found. The sinner who needs repentance may be uppermost in his mind; but the ninety-and-nine who need no repentance are very much there in his heart. Remember what the Loving Father said to the indignant other son, jealous of the attention paid to his wayward sibling on his return. “Son, I have you with me always, and everything I have is yours.”
The son had compromised his relationship with his father by his ungracious and envious outburst, but his Father still cared for him. Whether we have spent our days among the ninety and nine, or have also had times when we have very much needed repentance, we have been secure in the heavenly Father’s love.
But in all honesty, is there one among us who has not at some time, if only very briefly, been missing from our spiritual home? There are those who are missing from the Church for years, before coming back; those who have never known life in Christ, who then find it, because they have been found of God. There are times when nearly every person on earth forgets to pray, or rebels against the ways of God, if only a little. God does not want us to forget Him nor rebel against Him, but He rejoices on our return. We have not been lost completely to his sight; and we have regained ours.
Lost and found: what a powerful impression these two have upon us! And we certainly rejoice when we find what we have lost. If we were to gather to discuss the matter, imagine the fund of stories we could tell.
It is fitting to sing about the joy this has given us; this, and all the other blessings of our Lord.
We have each other’s good company. And it will be possible very soon to gather again not in just virtual, but actual, company.
We have been blessed to find again the joy of being in the Church, the Church as we have known it, and as it was known down the ages, the Church we love, that most reflects the goodness and glory of God for us! There is a lot of rebuilding to do, but by the grace and providence of God, it will eventually be done. We have set our hearts upon it.
So let us rejoice: We have found a home for our hearts and souls, spiritually and symbolically; and once again we will find a place where we may carry on our Church’s gentle and heavenly ways.
We share a love of those heavenly ways of the Church with faithful souls the world over, who have not agreed to the demolition of the old house for the sake of something new. The lost, or what seemed to be lost, has been found!
Forming a traditional worship community, we have not only found the Church again; we have found each other. And let us never lose our connection; but here find our spiritual home and family all our days. So we have found what we had lost. The question is whether we will hold on to it, no matter what the temptations, the distractions, and the problems we still must face.
Above all, let us rejoice that we have been found by God our Father. Of course we have never been out of his sight, nor overlooked by the angels. Even if and when we have strayed, our good Shepherd has never let us out of had his sight. But He, like the prodigal’ father, has not forced us into his presence, but our eternal Shepherd, the Son of God, has guided us, so that we have been able to know Him and find Him, and so we live and move and have our being in the atmosphere of faith and love provided by the Holy Spirit.
Let us always rejoice in the knowledge that we have found Him and been found and accepted by Him. That even those who seem to be completely out of touch with God may still return. So we need not give up on the possibility that anyone may be restored and brought back from the dangerous precipices and the empty deserts of life without Him.
O good Shepherd of the sheep, with thankful hearts we do rejoice in Thee. Amen.
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.