St Agnes, Kennington 21 June 1997 Last Sunday of Interregnum
A MAN WITH CONVICTIONS
Just imagine the you have been given the responsibility of choosing someone to fill an important post in an organization you are associated with.
It might be, for instance, the post of head teacher of a school where you are one of the Governors; or Company Secretary for your firm; or to choose a new Manager for the high street branch of a supermarket chain; or a Nursing Supervisor for a big teaching hospital.
It's obviously important that you choose the right person, because a good head-teacher or manager makes all the difference to a school or a store, and by the same token, choosing the wrong person as Company Secretary or Supervisor will be a very costly mistake. So the responsibility resting on your shoulders is a big one.
Naturally, you advertise the job and interview such of the candidates as have the necessary qualifications. Let us suppose that most of them seem an unremarkable lot, but there is one who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest as being suitable, and so on the strength of that you offer to post to him.
So far, so good. But now imagine that a few weeks later, just before he's due to take up the post, you're chatting to someone who lives or works quite close to the man you've appointed, who says in the course of your conversation together, "I understand you've appointed young Edward Barclay. I suppose you know that he's a man with quite a number of convictions".
Well, one can imaging how devastating that information might be. You were looking forward to Barclay's coming; you were congratulating yourself on the shrewdness of your choice; and now, look what's happened: you've chosen a man with convictions!
Well, there is at least one circumstance when a man's previous convictions actually qualify him for the job he is going to do rather than disqualify him. And its not the poacher-turned-gamekeeper either. It is when those convictions are what we call religious convictions and the job in question is that of Parish Priest at a church like St Agnes Kennington.
Now it's unnecessary to say how fortunate we all are that Christopher Pearson is going to be your new parish priest, because everything I know and have been told about him by others confirm that he is a man with convictions.
It would have been so easy, wouldn't it, to have chosen an easy option: a vicar who wants a peaceful life before anything else and who is not prepared to make an issue of any matter however important or fundamental, but who is only really interested in keeping in with the Establishment and making a good impression on them.
And how the Establishment would have liked to appoint such a man. Someone whose only conviction is that the Establishment Knows Best. The chances are, if he played his cards right, that a most promising career would open up in front of him. Who knows, St Agnes Kennington might even have produced an Archdeacon or a Bishop.
But establishments don't like Men with Convictions -- that is men who habitually put their faith in God and their duty towards him before everything else in their lives.
They don't like it for two reasons. Firstly it makes it much harder for them to get their own way; and secondly it is an unwelcome reminder of how far they have themselves fallen from the ideals and convictions which they held when they were at the same stage in their ministry as Father Christopher now is.
Here is a curious truth which you should remember:
"The greatest asset of any parish is the convictions of its Parish Priest; but those convictions are also likely to be his own greatest handicap"
Think about it. His convictions have been given him by God; at his ordination he was given the grace to uphold and sustain these convictions. These convictions are what is called the Catholic Faith in its entirety which comes to us from the Apostles, was delivered by God to his saints and manifested in perfection in the person of Jesus Christ, in order that it might be carefully handed on and safeguarded from one generation to another.
Those are the convictions that Christopher will be bringing to you on Wednesday. They are the one thing that stands between you and the errors of the present age, not only in the Church of England but in the nation and the world at large. They are your greatest asset.
In terms of earthly success Christopher's convictions will do him no good at all - perhaps they will even do positive harm. That is one of the facts which all good soldiers of Christ must fact. You cannot serve two masters, God and earthly success. In the end they are bound to conflict with each other so that either a man must stand by his convictions or else fall for anything.
But Christopher is going to find here one great asset to help him in his ministry: and that, believe it or not, is your convictions.
Like his convictions, your ones in earthly terms are no earthly use to you. Quite the reverse. They tell you that instead of being able to spend Sundays as you please, doing what you like, driving where you will, your convictions will drive you to Kennington to meet the Lord on his Holy Day. Your convictions will mean that rather than tell lies to your own advantage, you will have to tell the truth and conduct your business honestly however inconvenient that may be; they will insist that instead of doing something wrong "because everyone else is doing it" you will stand by what you believe and speak out and do what is right, whether it be in a matter of faith, morals or the public interest.
Those convictions of yours will do you no earthly good. But for Christopher they will be the building materials which God is putting into his hands to build up his true Church in this neighbourhood. They are those pearls of great price which our Lord spoke of, the treasure hidden in the field for which a man for joy will sell all he has and give up everything he has in order to possess.
We have come across a curious paradox. A priest's convictions are the greatest asset any parish can possess, though they may be for him, in earthly terms, his greatest liability; whereas the convictions of those he is serving, though an embarrassment to the individual are the most priceless asset he can lay his hands on for building up the Kingdom of God in any place.
Mention of the individual in the last sentence suggests one more consideration.
Nobody who has come to know the people of St Agnes, Kennington can fail to have been deeply impressed by the way in which its people have worked together during the difficult time of the interregnum, now nearly past. For the fact is that the Church of God is not a collection of individuals each looking to find his or her salvation in their own particular way. The Church of God is the Body of Christ and we are that body: a body in which every part makes up what is lacking in every other part as St Paul said.
All that any of us can bring to that Body is our convictions. These convictions include the recognitions that we are sinful men who stand in need, before all else, of God's salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. It includes the recognition that if we come together in penitence and faith to seek that forgiveness, and remain in love and charity with our neighbour then the certainty is that he will not only forgive but will transform us and our convictions into a building not made with hands, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
But this transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary, of the earthly into the heavenly, the temporal into the eternal, can only be done if we all hold together. And by "all" that includes not just the people of St Agnes, but the whole company of the faithful.
In practical terms this means supporting generously those who share our convictions in other churches in this area. During your time of need those other churches have gladly lent you their parish priests to minister to you. Now you are going to be in that very rare state of having not just one but two faithful priests ministering in your parish. Do be generous with them. Don't begrudge it if from time to time one of them agrees to give cover on a Sunday for another priest who is ill or who would not otherwise be able to have a holiday or a weekend off. Freely you have received, freely give.
Listen to this story which sums up all we have been thinking about this morning.
There was once a very honest man who was father to a brood of children.
He called for a bundle of arrow and invited these children, one after another to try with all their force to break the bundle.
They tried and could not.
"Well," said he, "unbind it and take every arrow of it apart and see what you can do that way."
And with great ease by one and one the snapped it all to pieces.
"This," said the father "is the true emblem of your condition. Keep together and you are safe".
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