The Struggle Is Worth It
Do you ever watch BBC Alba? It has the most interesting Scottish orientated programmes on television. To be sure, there's hardly a night goes by without sheep dog trials but there is some fascinating stuff also. I found myself watching a programme last week about Harry Ferguson.
Harry Ferguson was born in Dromore in Northern Ireland in 1884. His father worked on the land and he belonged to a large family. His parents were Plymouth Brethren – that very strict branch of Brethren fellowships. He left school at 14 and started to work in farming also. However his brother had opened a bicycle and car repair garage in Belfast and Harry went to work with him. Harry became fascinated with aircraft and flying and he became the first British man to build and fly his own plane on December 31st 1909. Harry Ferguson was into racing motor cycles and cars also. However he developed a keen interest in agriculture. In particular he saw the need for farming to be mechanised. He had a large vision of using tractors to allow farmers to grow and harvest more crops all over the world and so end famine and starvation. The problem at the time was that the primitive tractors of the day towed the ploughs behind them. This made them unstable and unwieldy and accidents occurred frequently with some driver fatalities.
Harry Ferguson invented and designed a way of making the plough and the tractor into one unit. Later he added hydraulics to allow the tractor driver to lift and lower the plough. And he utilised the gearbox to allow the tractor to drive machinery also. This became known as the Ferguson System. People were either sceptical or not interested. Harry worked very hard exhibiting his invention and tried to find partners to manufacture it. He went to America to demonstrate his invention to the Ford Motor Company who also made the Fordson tractor. Nothing came of in initially but in 1938 Harry and Henry Ford shook hands on a development agreement to use the Ferguson system on Fordson tractors. The British Government was not interested in Harry's invention and persisted with the old ways throughout the 2nd World War in spite of the critical need for food. In 1947 Henry Ford II, Henry Ford's grandson, ended the handshake partnership agreement and continued to manufacture tractors without paying Harry royalties. After a 4 year court battle Harry Ferguson was awarded $9 million in compensation. He signed an agreement with Standard Cars in England to manufacture his tractor and tens of thousands were made and exported all over the world. That is the little grey tractor which every farmer had in the nineteen fifties and sixties. Harry Ferguson's patents expired in 1952 and that allowed other manufacturers such as Massey Harris to use his system. I remember they had a factory outside Kilmarnock which I used to see when I went in the bus to see my Gran and Granpa in the village of Gatehead nearby.
Harry Ferguson became known world-wide and he died in his Cotswold mansion in 1960 a multi millionaire. He left a daughter and granddaughters. He received almost no recognition, no knighthood, little else. His Ferguson system is used on every tractor all over the world to this day. He revolutionised farming and although his tractor did not eliminate famine and starvation in the world, he contributed greatly to the betterment of the human condition, including that of highland crofters some of whom still use Ferguson tractors from the nineteen fifties and that as why the programme was on BBC Alba. Why am I sharing this with you? Because Harry Ferguson had to struggle all his life. No matter he was a genius and a good businessman, nothing was easy from him from his early poverty to his lonely death of an overdose of pills.
You might think that even so, he had a privileged life compared with the lives of people you have known or even members of your own family or yourself. I remember Alice Gilfillan who used to live in Ladeside Road. She was left a widow with four sons to bring up. She used to walk to the BMC factory to do some cleaning there to earn a few pounds. She was a great character. In hospital in her late eighties after falling and breaking her femur she signed herself out after three weeks 'I'm not staying here any longer' and returned home. She ate so little I asked her if I could bring her a packet of Trill for her lunch. Remember too the military survivors of the 20th century wars who lived in care homes for the blind and disabled all their lives thereafter. And our hospital cancer wards have many young people struggling with terminal conditions. Only some will recover.
In the reading from Colossians we learned of Paul's struggles as a Christian apostle. He talks about his suffering and his struggling to proclaim the Gospel, to found congregations and to keep them on the right track, free from being infected by the alternative views and opinions of self-presenting speakers and false evangelists. Paul certainly never got any recognition in his lifetime. He was well regarded by many of the congregations he founded but these were small minority groups. All of Paul's work paid dividends long after he had left this earth and it is still going on. Here we are discussing his thinking and learning about our faith from him still. I mention all of this because we can be very complacent in the Church. We can be very uncommitted and uncaring for the Gospel. We can be pretty disinterested in the future of the congregation. Struggle is part of the Christian story and we are not exempt. I have struggled all of my ministry here and I am still struggling. I struggle spiritually and prayerfully in daily life. Without accepting the struggle we will not survive, we will not get anywhere. Some of you will remember hearing that when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, he met his Cabinet on May 13 1940 and told them that 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat'. Churchill himself struggled from childhood. He was not the cleverest at school. He was comparatively small in stature and he had a strong speech impediment. He was a political pariah and outcast for years. He achieved much and became arguably the greatest man of his generation but it was through struggle.
Paul's struggle was not debilitating or depressing for him. It was filled with spiritual joy in Christ. Jesus Himself had struggled to put it mildly. Paul identified with Him. In fact he wanted to give all he had – his very life – to Christ for the sake of the Gospel of salvation. And he did. He presented himself as the servant of the Church. Paul was never its leader, pope or even a bishop. But he was an apostle with authority and he both claimed and used that as fully as he could. Paul talks about communicating 'the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed to the saints'. He describes this as 'the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory'. So goes that hymn 'Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is in you, the hope of glory in our hearts. He lives, He lives! His breath is in you. Arise, a mighty army we arise'.
So Paul says 'We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me'. The odds were overwhelming and yet Paul was victorious every day over whatever came his way whether it was outright pouring of the Holy Spirit and many conversions to Christ or whether it was taking a physical beating and being flung out of towns where the people rejected him and his message. But we see the fruit of his struggle. His teaching characterises nearly all of Christianity worldwide today – 2.3 billion of humanity. Paul lived an inspired life, a life inspired by the power of the Risen Jesus Christ. And where we are set we must struggle to do the same because that is how the Church will survive and prosper.
Paul tells these Colossian Christians 'I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not met me personally'. He is in Rome under house arrest. And he is praying for them with whatever strength the Lord gives him. He is crying, agonising, pleading, interceding. Paul was an apostle but he did not find praying that easy. It was not always flowing stuff without emotion or thought. He did speak in tongues but most of the time it was hard work. It was struggle. Most great Christians were people of prayer. I remember one of our university teachers warning us that congregations don't necessarily value a person of prayer as their minister. They might be more comfortable with a comedian or entertainer or just someone who is not so heavenly minded that he or she is no earthly use. When the culture was with Christianity maybe people were complacent. The times today in our land are not with Christianity and the temptation is to be afraid or to give up the struggle. We must never do so. This is our calling and our privilege to witness for the Risen Lord and Saviour Jesus.
'Christ', says Paul, 'represents all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge' – that is – of God. He had been a learned Pharisee immersed in the Jewish written tradition, Scripture, books and documents, expanded commentaries by rabbis, orally transmitted interpretations and arguments. These meant nothing to him compared with knowing Jesus Christ and being filled with his life and power. And this is Who he shares with the Colossians so that they may stand firm in Christian faith and not backslide or give up and leave the Church altogether or go to join some other cult or meeting. Epaphras has confirmed to Paul that these Colossians are by and large maintaining their Christian faith and so Paul is filled with joy and delight in Christ for them. So let us carry on the struggle not with long faces and discouraging words but with faith hope and love in the victory of our Risen Lord. Let us never give up on Christ. He has not let us down. Let us be faithful all our days.