THE REV. DR. G. MALCOLM SINCLAIR
The Rev. Dr. George Malcolm Sinclair was called to the pulpit of the Metropolitan Church in 1988. In 1998 the congregation invited him to serve further in an Intentional Long-Term Ministry. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Laurentian University, a Master of Divinity degree from Emmanuel College, Toronto. In 1986 he received the Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew University in the United States, and in 1997 was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree (honoris causa) from Emmanuel College. In 2014, Dr. Sinclair was honoured with the 2013 “Distinguished Alumni Award” from Emmanuel College.
Dr. Sinclair has served four Toronto congregations over forty-three years, and is widely invited to preach across Canada and beyond. He has been a theme speaker at home and in the United States, and has lectured on “Imagination in Preaching” at the Toronto School of Theology. He has contributed to “Feasting on the Word”, a multi-volume lectionary resource for preachers, published by Westminster John Knox Press in Nashville, and is now working on articles for their new series called "Feasting on the Gospels".
He is a Past-President of the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto, a member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, Clan Sinclair of Canada, and is a Captain in, and Padre to, the 78th Fraser Highlanders, York Garrison.
We need some beauty now, beauty overflowing; beauty in the sky when winter blows, beauty on the hills when the leaves fall, beauty in the street where a smile can lift a world, beauty in the quiet rooms of sorrow where the heart breaks.
We need some beauty now, beauty of an old, sweet story, well told; beauty of a time of singing, beauty of a plain walk, unafraid, across a vacant space, beauty of soup in the softness, and a rich feast in the belonging.
We need some beauty now, beauty of a tear shed for the stranger, beauty of a prayer lifted for the guilty; beauty of a tenacious trust beyond that which kills the soul. We need the beauty of heaven drawing near, and the Sprit coming real and the eyes opening and the hands readying, and the partner solid beyond breaking.
Give us the beauty. Let us be the beauty. We need some beauty now.
It seems I have little or no idea of the pains of the world. So far I have lived a life of safety and support. My country is mostly quiet and its politics relatively untroubled. I am old, well-educated, happy in my work, blessed with a few good friends, upheld at home by those who love me, and am usually moderate of temperament and hopeful in spirit.
Each morning I read of the world in the newspapers. Each evening I enter snippets of that world through the news channels on my television. The scenes are mostly sensational, controversial, tragic, disastrous, or enraging. Is no one having a simple, calm and productive life? Is nothing just blissfully ordinary?
Pain and trouble can come at any time. We have ticking time-bomb issues in our lives that may explode. We can wrongly cross the paths of others anxious to do us harm. We may make foolish decisions that wreck the worlds we love. We may become ill, or injured. We may lose our loved ones in death. I am not safe from any of these things, and as such am a participant in the mortal, world.
I am also a Christian, one who life has been shaped by the stories of Jesus and experiences among his people. His great words resonate in me. His high calling wakens me every morning. The myths around his suffering and death anchor me in a world view that leads me to love now and to hope for our full restoration later. Suffering and glory are the themes most deeply touched in this.
I am reluctant to wish my good world away. I fear the sounds of trouble in the arenas and unrest on the streets. Yet, in order for all to have freedom to ponder the bliss deep within and on the road ahead, I must, in some way, engage the terrors and set the prisoners free. This is a tall order for one who fears the paths of pain. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief”
In their co-authored book, “The Meaning of Jesus”, Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, two scholars from opposite sides of the liberal/conservative split, give a fascinating and extremely value set of essays on the subject.
At one point they ask what Jesus was trying to do. That is a primal question. We have made so much of him, using the rich colours of his life, stirred by our vivid imagination, that we have Jesus now being the author and finisher of almost everything.
The book describes the ancient social/political scene as one of stress, threat and growing chaos. The public response is predictable. Some rage at the bottom of the heap and respond with sudden and terrifying violence. Others climb for the top, aligning themselves with the powers of the day to protect their interests and better their prospects. The vast majority in the middle simply try to hang on.
These two authors feel that Jesus’ motives were not political to oust the Romans, nor sociological to organize a rebel thrust among the dispossessed. He was going back to basics, to recover the Covenant that made Israel God’s people. Jesus sought to restore the memory of who they are and to foster care for the tribe even under duress. They were to model care and servanthood under the providence of God, and so be “the Suffering Servant” in the world.
Jesus work included teaching deeply and clearly, healing for restoration , cleansing the temple for pure worship, placing worship within himself and the growing richness of his crowd. The entry into Jerusalem is old and unarmed, a pure sign of trust and divine presence. His facing the cross is a portrait of faithfulness to God to the end.
I took heart in this overview, feeling that we model our church community like that we will be offering a transformative witness and way to a larger community struggling with the same first century issues: empire, security, belonging and meaning
He was born in the last months of World War Two. His parents had named his three older sisters after battlefields in World War One. Their middle names all reflected the grim realities of those catastrophic years. I’d never heard of that before. Mostly our names come from family members or popular appellations of the times. But these parents gave public witness in the flesh to things that must not be forgotten.
It is a very powerful symbol to wear significant moments on our own bodies; signs that we are part of something more, have been marked by it, and bear witness of it in an ongoing stream. Of course we do carry signs of our times on our bodies; stress, illness, emptiness, terror, quest. To meet on be who bears joy, contentment, and hopefulness brightens every day.
Some tribes tattoo their priests with the story of their culture. The priest becomes a living symbol of the whole thing, living and walking among them. Others weave it into sacred robes to be worn on high and holy occasions. Biblical writers even imagine that the Great God has our names written on God’s holy hands. Every time the God stirs to act, our names are in the forefront of the marvels.
Who are you? What name inspires you? What names would you give to the future in order to temper, model and inspire them?
Mandela? Mother? Kyoto? Chernobel, Louvre? Ebola? Prince William or Kate?
People remember our names. They frame our lives. Choose well. Aim high. Shine.
The thing about excellent preachers is that they can really preach; clean, clear, intelligent inspiring. To gather in a room with several of them and to sit at their feet for three days does much to shake the dust out of the rafters and scatter mites across the hardwood.
The conference was about preaching these days, in this contemporary season. The emphasis was on the need to tell people again about the cross of Christ. I often preach around it, through it, in its shadow, in its light, but I still find it overwhelming after all these years. When in the room it all fits. When out on the street it all unravels.
These are the bits and pieces I cling to so far:
The crucifixion as an historical event was political. Only after years of theological reflection did it become the sign of God’s engagement with the world to redeem its sins. This is heady stuff. The theological presuppositions behind it may not be ours, no those of our times.
Layers and layers of theological lacquer now cover Jesus, the first century Jew. He is fully man. He is fully God. He pre-existed. He was fashioned for his moment of need. The Spirit is he, or it claims him, or it adopted him. He is raised from the dead as a living body, or an unrecognizable companion, or one who eats fish or passes through locked doors. Or as a High Priest in the rafters of the endless cosmos, or as the one who battles the profound evil and rebellion that holds all things in its sway.
What are we supposed to do with that? The simplest saving thread is that God lives, has made a covenant with us, comes seeking. When the time is right, God appears in human flesh to live the perfect life, to heal teach restore, empower. God, in Christ Jesus, faces the enemies that enslave us all, empire, and religion, and culture, and tribe, and personality, and attitude and the spectre of death that terrorizes us all.
God raises Jesus from the dead. We are restored to intimacy and love in the divine, and are given a spiritual companion in whose company we go to tell the Good News of cosmic and human liberation.
I really like the story. It comes from some deep place among us, and is compelling to me. The thing is that so many hands have spun it for their own purposes that I don’t quite know what parts to hold and what ones to set down. Add to the mix all the centuries of organized church stuff and it is really a jumble sale.
In reality, we are only guessing. We mix trust, perception, feelings, thought, personality, era and location in the world, social status and sense of safety or vulnerability, and out of these we shape and handle our Christ.
I believe and commit my life to the truth that God exists and is active and real in Jesus and his entourage. I feel I have been touched by that God, and have been an instrument of some kind for that God over my lifetime. But I still feel like a drowning man swimming in a sea too deep and too wide when it comes to handling the whole “Jesus and Cross” thing.
Later in the week I reread parts of Paul Tillich’s “A History of Christian Thought.” He says that a first generation experiences a thing. The second one fleshes out the meaning. The third one builds a system to hold it, and the fourth and beyond waffle among supporting the system, challenging the system or leaving the system behind. I feel that I, and we, are living mostly many generations onward down the line. Perhaps a clean, fresh revelation is on the horizon, and the news “We have seen the Lord,” will animate the world once more.