Sermons by Bishop Rob

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2022 Trinity 2, 26th June

Nearly 100 years ago Philo Farnsworth was plowing a straight line on a potato farm. At the same time his mind was thinking about the possibility of transmitting moving pictures through the air. He had no electronic or engineering background, nor was he a scientist. No one in the world of science would have considered him a serious contender in the chase to find the answer to photographic transmission without the aid of wires. Scientists from all over the world had been struggling to solve this dilemma and although many had been aided by research grants, no one came up with the answer. So, what chance did Farnsworth, a potato farmer with little education, have?

But while plowing, he imagined a different approach. He imagined dividing a screen into long rows just like the field he was plowing, using electricity to create areas of light and darkness at each point along the row. Then stacking the rows on top of each other, he imagined that they could bring to focus a picture. And Bingo!  The results were better than anything the world of science had ever conceived. Farnsworth invented. Television.  It was his vivid imagination coupled with a propensity toward science that changed the world of communication. Unfortunately, he was not credited with the idea since he was only 14 years old. Two business men, George Everson and Les Gorrell took an interest in Farnsworth and invested their life savings in his research. In spite of his age they had faith in him and on September 7, 1927, Farnsworth transmitted history’s first electronic television picture.

Many would say he was ‘just a’ farmer and a boy!  But from a young farmer’s inquiring mind and a child-like fascination came the logic needed to create the television… So let me ask: Do you see yourself as a ‘just a’ – Just a farmer, just a secretary, just a pastor? Just another graduate, just a retiree?  The world changed because a so called ‘just a’ Philo Farnsworth set his face, kept his hands on the plow and never looked back.

Jesus knew who he was and whose he was. Secondly, he knew where he was going and, as the Scriptures tell us, He set his face toward it.

In the 1960’s movie “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman played a college student trying to decide what to do with his life. There is a scene where he is floating on a rubber raft in a swimming pool. His father comes out and asks: “What are you doing.” He replies. “Drifting. Just drifting.” I fear far too many people could give the same answer, just drifting

Jesus set his face, he knew where he was going. Literally, of course, to Jerusalem, but ultimately to Calvary, an appointment with a sacrificial destiny that was uniquely His. What about us?

Albert Einstein, the German born mathematician, slowly watched his homeland give in to Adolf Hitler’s fascist dictatorship. Einstein wondered if any were going to stand up and oppose Hitler. He said, “When Hitlerism came to Germany I expected the Universities to oppose it. Instead they embraced it.  I hoped for the press to denounce it, but instead they propagated its teachings.  One by one the leaders and institutions which should have opposed the Nazi philosophy bowed meekly to its authority.  Only one institution met it with vigorous opposition and that was the Christian Church.”  Einstein confessed, “That which I once despised, I now love with a passion I cannot describe.”   The commitment of the Church in standing against evil in Germany and beyond made a profound impression upon Einstein. Those individuals in the 1930’s understood the cost associated with their actions, they set their face to the task and did not back down.

God’s righteousness will cost you dearly. When Jesus set his face and headed off to Jerusalem he knew where he was going and he knew it meant danger, and would cost him his life.  The Jesus life is tough, and make no mistake many give their excuses and drift away, like those in the Gospel today.

Third, Jesus knew who walked with Him. Far more than the disciples accompanied Him. He walked with the great “I Am,” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And like us, He walked with those ancient men and women of faith, that great cloud of witnesses, calling out their encouragement. We can hear Daniel, “He was with me in the lion’s den.” Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego join in, “He was with us in the fiery furnace.”  Moses says, “When the Red Sea was in my front and Pharaoh was in my back, He was with me.” And then David joins in: “Great is the Lord God of Israel His mercy endures forever.” Wherever you go, the myriad of saints all attest, ‘Yahweh goes with you’.  The greats, like Esther, born for such a time as this, set their face in challenging times and did not find God wanting.

Now, granted, very few have the calling to live the life of the Biblical greats or have the influence of a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King or even a Billy Graham.  People who have influenced whole nations for good, let alone countless individual lives, mine included.  But make no mistake, all of us can be significant and truly make a difference with this life God has given us, if we set our face and faithfully put our hands to our plough and do not look back.

Think for a moment of some of those whose influence has made a profound impact on your lives in Godly and transforming ways.  Perhaps some who have worshipped here or have ministered in this church. They made a difference because they recognized their need for Jesus; had been guided by the Holy Spirit (as it said in Galatians) and they set their face and followed Him.

In the 16th century, someone once asked Martin Luther what gave him the courage he needed to challenge the Roman Catholic hierarchy and unjust principalities. His answer was simply: “I have been baptized.” His identity and calling came through his relationship with God. When we understand whose we are, it gives us courage to accept our calling, in such a time as this, and in our walk with Jesus, leave a legacy that will live on beyond our earthly life.

So, beloved of God, take hold of your plough, and no-one else’s. Set your face (as the Psalmist urged and Jesus and the saints have exemplified) and be strong and courageous, abounding in the work of the Lord, for as the psalmist also attests today, the great I AM will be at your right hand and you will not fail.

2022 Fathers Day, 19th June

The Scriptures today are full of loving parental imagery. In the OT reading we heard of God’s compassion and dogged refusal to leave Elijah, on his own, in the depths of his deep depression, remaining with Elijah until he is revived and renewed in mind, body and soul. In the Psalms we find the psalmist like Elijah equally troubled 43:5 ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?’ And through his prayerful refrain he is repeatedly drawn back to his heavenly parent in hope, assured by the knowledge that he will return to God’s holy hill and to God’s dwelling and there once more praise the one, who is his help and his God. In the Gospel we see the Lord full of compassion going to the other side of Galilee. To a place where even the outcasts don’t go, to bring a much troubled man, called legion, a long lost prodigal son, home. And in Galations, we read 3:26 that in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith. One in Christ Jesus. 3:29 Offspring of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise.  Amazing!  If we want to know how to parent someone in the faith or in a family we should look no further than to the Scriptures for our guide and to the one whom Jesus taught us to pray ‘Our Father’.

As another guide, today being Father’s day I thought I would share something that this Father struggles with, yet enjoys – and one thing I used to enjoy doing with my Father – though my son has my Golf clubs. Sadly, some people’s fanaticism for golf gets in the way of their attending church.  Some people have actually told me that during the summer they prefer to worship God on the golf course. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion that they actually worship golf, on God’s course.  So, in case you were tempted to miss church and pull in a round this morning, I thought I would arrange to have golf clubs in church to make you feel at home, and in the hope that they might help us to learn something about ourselves, about God and about our shared mission in life.

So, what can we learn from this bag of golf clubs? Well first, you will notice that just like there is one golf bag, there is one church and yet within that bag there are different clubs, just like we are different.  Some are taller,  some smaller, some heavier,  some lighter, some more rounded, some flatter, all have differing angles and all have been made for a reason.  Just like us.

Some golf clubs are used just in case, (LEFT HAND CLUB. And some of my clubs are used quite regularly,  (BALL  SCOOP & 7 WOOD).  But all the clubs are needed if the course is to be completed. Think for a moment, if you arrived at the first tee and had left your No1 wood, your big bertha at home.  Sure, you could make do with another club, but it would not be the ideal club.  Or think how you might feel if your ball went in a bunker and you had forgotten your sand iron, or arrived at the first green and realized you had left your putter in the club house.  Very quickly you would realize that your game will be seriously impaired.

The set of clubs are there for a reason – to be available and to be used when required. So are we!  As members of God’s church, we have a joint mission – we all have a purpose – we are not here to go rusty, or to be stored away in the shed, or refuse to be used.  Nor are we of any use if we like a golf club have clumps of earth or dirt or sin covering us.  We are here to be clean, ready and available for God in his mission field, the world. And just like every golf club needs to be held firmly in the golfer’s hands, so each day, we need to give ourselves into the hands of Our Father.

What other comparisons can we draw.  Jesus sent 12 disciples out – interestingly the same as the average number of clubs in a golf bag. Later he sent out a group of disciples two by two – 70 or 72 of them (the Gospels vary on this) – Interesting though that 70 or 72 is the par score for many Golf courses around the world. There are 18 epistles in the New Testament that shape our lives and there are 18 holes on most golf courses and just like we have to take note and act upon the 4 gospels we too have to take heed and act upon the warning when someone on the golf course shouts ‘four’.  We would also be wise to note a perfect round only occurs if (1) we are prepared to put into practice what we have been taught by God – our great professional if (2) we are willing to be used in the sweet spot of our calling and if (3) we are willing to follow the rules and etiquette found, not on the score card, but in the Bible. Some stubbornly resist, of course, and end up playing the alternative life game of ‘flog’ instead?  the reverse of what we know we are called to play?

As a church, as people who make up the body of Christ, we have a mission, a calling in life to fulfil and we neglect that calling, to the detriment of everything else.  So if you are not in the bag, hop in. If you are in, and do not think you are being used, be patient, for even the way I play the game, eventually the putter is pulled out of the bag.

We all have a part to play is the simple message this Father’s Day.  And there is much to attend to if we are to improve our game, or become a ‘0’ handicap church.  Here at St. Ninian’s, it is important that we attract through prayer, new members and have good and attractive ways of teaching the faith to all ages and to build on the pastoral work we have been doing in order to perfect the way we play in God’s service. We also need to enjoy the game – to be accepting of the bad shots and learn from them and to appreciate the good shots and treasure them.  And, as golf clubs have improved because of new technologies, new teaching methods and new ideas, we too as a church need to be prepared for changes in the way we do things.   It might be just a case of adapting or perfecting what we do, or it may even mean a totally new way of playing, of being church.  Time will tell.

So, are you on par for your church and for your Lord?  Be open to the master’s touch, lean not upon your own understanding and be willing to follow our Lord’s game plan and you will be.  Oh, in case you want to know, my best ever golf score is 86. In the Canadian Hymn Book it is ‘More that we can ask or imagine’. In our hymn book verse FOUR of the 1st Nowell says ‘Let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord for Christ our salvation wrought and with his blood our life has bought’.  May these be our theme tunes as we give thanks to ‘Our Father’ and to all our Fathers today.

2022 Pentecost, 5th June

Language, to be effective, needs to be understood, otherwise people can get the wrong meaning or worse.  For example, I am sure that all of us will have come across some strange or confusing signs in our travels.  Take for instance, a notice in an Athens Hotel,  ‘Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11am daily’.  A sign in a Hong Kong Tailor shop stated that, ‘Ladies may have a fit upstairs’.  In a Norwegian Lounge a notice reads ‘Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar’.   A sign in a Moscow hotel left many pondering, ‘If this is your first visit to the USSR you are welcome to it’.  And a rather worrying sign for tourists was that of a Denmark airline  ‘We take your bags and send them, in all directions’.   

Language can be problematic especially in its translation.  But on the day of Pentecost the disciples spoke and all heard in their own language.  The message was clear and was understood as were the flames of fire upon them.  So, I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be understood and lived today, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In his book, The Pursuit of Happiness, David Meyers noted that from 1957 to 1990, per capita income more than doubled, and it has more than quadrupled since then. And yet with all the advances in medical sciences; all the achievements in technology; all the increase in material wealth and prosperity; it has not supplied us with an answer to our deepest yearnings or fulfilled our deepest needs.  Never have we been so self-reliant, yet so lonely.  Never have we seemed so free, yet our prisons so full.  Never have we had so much education, yet such high rates of teen delinquency, despair or suicide.  Never have we been so sophisticated about pleasure, yet so likely to suffer broken or miserable relationships.

Today, we certainly need a relationship and a guide we can depend on.  I can testify that without Christ and the Holy Spirit, life does not make sense.  Friends, mentors, coaches, counsellors, consultants are all important but I cannot imagine what my life would now be like without my relationship with Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, especially in difficult situations or conflicts that are beyond my expertise or control?  It is my experience that when we make it a habit to trust God’s guidance, it is amazing how life comes together.    And yet we, along with Queen Elizabeth, know all too well that the churches’ influence through the past 70 years has been rapidly declining.  The glory days of Christendom in the western world are over for sure, and our relevance and effectiveness has also been further undermined by rural depopulation, the challenges of increased secularism, self-indulgence, independent attitudes and increased affluence, borne by a consumer enticing economy.  All of which have contributed to reduced attendance at church. And yes, churches and small communities may decline further, and some may die, but Christ will never, for he is risen. Alleluia! And the Church is called to live into that resurrection life and breathe that life wherever we go.

It is ‘Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord’.  David Watson once said, “Unless we pray we are wasting our time.  When we work WE work.  When we pray then God can work

As a police officer in the Miners dispute of 1984, I remember a large mob of angry miners running down a pit tip towards 12 police guarding the back gate.  The Christian police sergeant started to pray and almost instantly the mob became quiet, turned and walked back up the slag heap. Amazing.

As a priest in England I remember a small church of 7 praying for an organist, and believe me after a few weeks of singing acapella, prayers intensify. 6 months later a concert pianist and then, both a flutist and a keyboard player, who was also once a head chorister in a cathedral, started attending the church. Plus other amazing things started to happen and the church grew in number and influence.

As a priest in Saskatchewan, Canada I remember a small rural church, another congregation of 7, wondering about closing their church because they could not afford repairs to the roof, then after weeks of prayer, they were unanimous in deciding that they would purchase a vacant church 3 times larger than the one they had and, miraculously, for much less than the quoted roof repair for their own building, and they saw an increased attendance and a partnership with the local council to house the town library.

As an Archdeacon in Saskatchewan I also remember a church where all but one person voted to close.  In the same meeting, the church was closed, the 9 members who voted for closure were thanked and then the church was reopened as a church plant and support given to the one who voted differently and the church grew.

I could go on.  In 2001 Lorraine and I felt the call of God to go to Canada for 3 years. To go to a church that said it could not afford a priest; to a community where church leaders and congregations were divided; to a diocese declining and about to go bankrupt; to a nation in shock a week after 911, and a nation suffering from many past and present abuses with a government largely indifferent to the plight of many First Nation communities. We stayed for 20 amazing ‘blessed by the Lord’ years and witnessed many miracles along the way.

NO, God is not dead, as some suppose.  Neither is the Church for Christ is risen! And the Holy Spirit is with us. Oh that the scales on our eyes be removed that we might spiritually see what God is up to and then join in. “Receive the Holy Spirit” Jesus said, and then he breathed his ‘Ruach’ breath on them…….

Hold that thought as I share a modern parable with you.

Once there was a piece of iron, which was very strong and very hard.  Many attempts had been made to break it, but all had failed.

“I’ll master it,” said the axe… and his blows fell heavily upon the piece of iron, but every blow only made the axe’s edge more blunt, until it finally ceased to strike and gave up in frustration.

“Leave it to me,” said the saw… and it worked back and forth on the iron’s surface until its jagged teeth were all worn and broken.  Then in despair, the saw quit trying and fell to the side.

“Ah!” said the hammer, “I knew you two wouldn’t succeed.  I’ll show you how to do this!”  But at the first fierce blow, off flew its head and the piece of iron remained just as before, proud and hard and unchanged. “Shall I try?” asked the small soft flame.

“Forget it,” everyone said.  “What can you do?  You’re too small and you have no strength.”

But the small soft flame curled around the piece of iron, embraced it.. and never left it.. until it melted under its warm irresistible influence…..

God’s way is not the way of force but of love. God’s way is not to break hearts but to soften them under the irresistible warmth of God’s grace and unconditional love.

Today we thank God that our Queen has been one who has softened hearts – one who has modelled the way of love – one who has kept the faith and led with Spirit filled compassion.  And today, as people of God’s kingdom, as sons and daughters of the King of kings, as a royal priesthood baptized with water and with Holy Spirit fire we re-affirm our call to do likewise; to warm peoples’ hearts, with the irresistible warmth of God’s love, believing always that God can do more than we could ever ask or imagine. ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21).  Jesus said, “Go to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Mat 28:19).   And so, may all of our footsteps on this church aisle, and the steps of all the faithful who will follow after us, forever lead us up to worship, and out to witness God’s love in the power of the Spirit, to build God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

 

2022 Ascension 1, 29th May

 “Upon entering the city, they went back to where they had been gathering and” (Luke tells us) “they were of one accord and devoted themselves to prayer.”

This passage from Acts is the first picture we have of the Church.  It is the first mention of what the disciples did when Jesus was no longer with them. “They were of one accord and they devoted themselves to prayer.”

One can imagine the effect the Ascension must have had on those disciples! They had seen Jesus physically leave them. It was a time of joy and sadness. It was a time of uncertainty and hope. It was a time of faith and awe in what they had witnessed. ‘And lo I will be with you always’ Jesus said, ‘even to the end of the age’.

There is a story that came out of Hollywood many years ago. A famous and handsome movie star checked into a hospital. As might be expected, all the nurses in the hospital were very attentive to his needs. One particular nurse was at his side nearly every time he moved.

When the actor could take it no longer, he indicated that he would like to have a little time alone, and she said to him, “Sure but remember, if you need anything at all, all you need to do is pull this cord.” The movie star gave an irresistible smile and said, “Thank you, but what is the cord attached to?” She just smiled back at him and said, “Why me, of course.”

The disciples witnessed Jesus’ascension into heaven, and yet, though physically apart, the Lord would remain connected to them through the coming Holy Spirit. It was that assurance and that sense of connection to Jesus, that gave them confidence and faith to face the future.   They may not have known what the future would hold for them, but they did know who held the future. And even in the face of persecution, suffering, imprisonment and martyrdom that was enough. Trusting in the promise that God would never leave them nor forsake them.

It is said that the wife of Albert Einstein was once asked if she understood her husband’s theory of relativity. She replied, “No, but I know my husband and I know that he can be trusted.”

The disciples knew that Jesus could be trusted with their lives and could be trusted with their future.

When you and I face difficulties and troubles in life, when life deals us a “bum hand” or the future looks bleak and hopeless, we, like those disciples, need to hold on to Jesus’ promise.  For the same Lord Jesus who welcomed the little children into his arms; the same Lord Jesus who healed the lepers and opened the eyes of the blind; the same Lord Jesus who offered himself up on the cross for our salvation now sits at the right hand of God the Father and rules over all things.

That same Lord can be trusted with our days and his light will come into our darkness. His love will conquer evil, and death will be no more.  The disciples knew this. That’s why they responded in one accord, and in prayer. And when you think about the diverse characters who made up that circle of disciples, that in itself is a minor miracle.

The experience of the cross had uncovered their weaknesses — their shared failures to “buck up” and stand with Jesus in his hour of need – their betrayal and outright denial of Jesus in his hour of need – and that each, in their separating and fleeing proved they had little faith and could not stand on their own, and neither can we.

In the 40 days that followed the resurrection Jesus’ forgiveness of them, his understanding and acceptance of them, his willingness to receive, love and to teach them, had forged and welded them together into one accord. Into a unity that is a symbol of what the Church of Jesus Christ is to be.   We need the Lord and we need each other.  And others; the poor, the hurting, and those struggling with their faith need us; those in Texas, those in South Sudan, Yemen and in the Ukraine need us.  To help where we can through agencies like Christian Aid and the UN, by giving shelter to refugees and those who are displaced, and to uphold them in our prayers.  We believe what our creed says.  Our Father is the prayer we pray, not my Father.  We are called to be in the Body of Christ, not separate limbs going our own way..  We would do well to remember that divide and conquer is the devil’s tactic. “Two are better than one” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says. “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

Solomon knew about the power of relationships. Jesus more so and we are to be braided together with Jesus, the Holy Spirit and with each other, in an unbreakable bond.  Let me give you an example. At 11:30 a.m. on this day, May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.  During the climb Hillary slipped, lost his footing, and fell into a treacherous crevice.  Fortunately, Sir Edmund and the guide were tied together by a strong rope. The Nepalese guide pulled his friend inch by inch back to safety.  And later when Tensing was asked about this event he said, “Mountain climbers always help each other.” There was a bond between them — figuratively and literally.

The same was true for the disciples after Jesus’ ascension and the same is true for us in the Church today.  The bond we have in baptism binds us together – a bond that encourages us to support one another, to reach out to each other, to love one another – a bond that seeks to pull each other up higher and higher into God’s presence, with the same acceptance, love and forgiveness we have received from God.

There is no room in the Church for petty complaining, gossip, or hurtful criticism of one another. For when we do we damage the very bond that Jesus died to create within us.  And we end up cutting the rope that binds us to the Lord and to one another.  The disciples knew that. That lesson had been learned and now they returned to Jerusalem with joyful hearts, in one accord, and were devoted to prayer, and to one another. They didn’t know what awaited them. But they knew that they would need each other. For Jesus had told them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world. Witnesses in the same world that had arrested, beaten and persecuted Him. The same world that had crucified Him.  And the picture that we get of those disciples is one of joy. Imagine that!  Joyfully accepting Jesus’ mission to take the Good News of salvation into all the world.

That same call comes to us.  It is the call of the baptized to be his witnesses. Witnesses in word and deed.  Witnesses who like the saints before us worship, support, nurture and encourage one another and who go out together into the world to witness in His name, recognizing as we do that God’s mission happens “where God is known, faith is grown and love is shown” So, people of God together we are to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.