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THE BEST OF ALL IS, GOD IS WITH US

My Favourite Scripture Passages

Matthew 28:16-20
15th May 2005

In the 1970’s during the rise of the environmental movement, a phrase appeared capturing the twin focal points of ecologists: “Think globally, act locally.” In other words, consider the impact of what is happening and do something about it where you are. This theme was developed brilliantly by our own Dr Keith Suter, in his trilogy of books commencing with “Global Agenda”. This was also a reflection of the twin Christian concerns of John Wesley, who reflected that his local ministry area about him, stretched beyond the horizon: “The World is my parish”. His ministry area was global and local. His last words were, “The best of all is, God is with Us”. He was referring to the Lord Jesus who called His disciples to teach, preach and baptize people on the local level, but have their minds fixed of the expansion of Christianity to the entire globe. Jesus said, Matt 20:18–20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” A number of members nominated this passage as their favourite in our survey including Dr Keith Suter.

This month we are emphasising the mission of the Church, both globally and locally. Our church has always taught we are only the church when we are the church in mission. So strong was that commitment we even changed our name in 1884 from Church to Mission. This mission always has had the world in our vision, but the local streets also, in focus.

I was standing in a luncheon queue talking to two people attending a large missions conference I was addressing in Queensland. Rev Joe Penrose his wife Olive had been missionaries in the Sudan. I asked them how they became missionaries. Olive explained: “In the 1930s, my dad, Mr Glasby, was a policeman. One day my father dragged a middle-aged man out of the Newcastle Harbour near where lots of homeless people lived. The man was unidentifiable to the Police, except for his very nice coat. The coat label read F.H. RAYWARD. My dad visited Rev. F.H. Rayward at the Central Methodist Mission, Newcastle. It was F.H. Rayward’s. So who was the derelict wearing it? It was then that my dad got an unusual reaction. Mr Rayward wept. Why? He told my father the day before a man had come asking for help just as he was leaving the office. Mr Rayward gave him his coat from behind the door and two shillings from his pocket and asked him to come back later. Rev Rayward then added the reason for his distress. He hadn’t said a word about his Lord to the man. Not spoken to him about his spiritual need, just rushed off and now it was too late. My Dad asked: “Have you a Sunday School in this place?” “Yes”, said F.H. Rayward. “Then you’ll have four more kids on Sunday”. “Do you have ordinary church in this place?” “Yes!” “Then you’ll have a family come too.” We had a family talk that night and decided that if the Mission cared for a man enough to give an overcoat, and two bob and then shed tears over an old derelict, then that was the place for us! So we went for years to the Central Mission.” But that was not the end of the story. Because the whole family learned to think globally.

Olive’s sister Lorraine became a missionary and Pastor’s wife in Fiji. Her brother Rex and his wife Peg became missionaries in PNG. Olive married Joe and they went with the Sudan United Mission to Africa. Their father, the policeman, on retiring, shifted to Sydney and worked alongside Dr F.H. Rayward, as a volunteer with the homeless at our Sydney Night Refuge. Here was a family who learned to think globally and act locally.

1. WE MUST ALWAYS THINK GLOBALLY.

Jesus had a world vision, and gave us a great commission to take word of Him into all the world. Christians were to go to the uttermost parts and proclaim the Lordship of Christ, converting, teaching and baptising those who believed. In 1999 the late Pope John Paul II gave a clarion call to Asian Christians on the eve of the new Millennium: go forth and convert, and remember that Jesus was Asian. That caused an international uproar. Why? Because the Pope said it in New Delhi during his tour of India. Hindu nationalists had organised protests against his visit, and the Pope threw down the gauntlet. “Christianity has a duty to preach the Gospel to all nations. Ardent faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour remains a call to conversion.” The Pope is absolutely correct. But not only did he earn the hostility of the Hindus, but of some Roman Catholics as well. Some priests said, “Many of us are against this visit and this emphasis upon conversions.” We live in an era when religious pluralism is in vogue. Some Uniting Church ministers oppose the church’s call to conversion. Some never visit to talk about commitment to Jesus Christ; others decry the evangelistic call to conversion, so never call.

When the great former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches Dr W A Visser’t Hooft was asked, “What is the major issue in missiology today?” he replied without hesitation, “The uniqueness of Christ. If Jesus is not unique, there is no gospel.” Today many agree with theologians John Hick and Paul F. Knitter in their book “The Myth of Christian Uniqueness.” This major shift in Christian doctrine is crossing “a theological rubicon” the line beyond which Christians should not step. Yet some church leaders have moved to a pluralist theology rejecting the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity. Instead they believe that all religions are relative and exist on parity with each other.

Bishop Leslie Newbigin, former director of the Commission on World Mission of the World Council of Churches, said that if churches go along with these trends, it will “become an irrelevance in the spiritual struggles that lie ahead of us.” Christians cannot cross this theological Rubicon. Rather we need to affirm that unique Rubicon crossing twenty centuries ago: the redemptive entering of God into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Heb 1:1-3 Unless Jesus is the only way to God, there is no gospel, no mission and no Saviour. The uniqueness of the person and mission of Jesus is crucial. It is not surprising that God’s Son, Jesus, would be unique. That’s the meaning behind His birth: Jesus was conceived within a virgin — no contribution by man required! That was why He was born in a manger among the sacrificial sheep for the Temple of Bethlehem — He was to be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. He was unique!

That was why He healed people and raised them from the dead: He was unique. That is why He suffered and died upon the cross for the salvation of humanity: He was unique. That was why God raised Him from the grave to eternal life as no other person: He is unique. God is to found only in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is to be found only in and through the scripture that witnesses to Him. That is why Christians must uphold the Bible and take the Gospel into all the known world.

Christians enjoy multiculturalism. We find other faiths challenging. We want people to live in peace and harmony. We can accept the plurality of religions without sacrificing Christian claims for the uniqueness and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Jesus claims to be the only way to God. This claim is exclusive to Christianity. Salvation is obtained only by putting one’s trust in this Jesus. Prof. F.F. Bruce, says: “There is nothing hard in this except to those who cannot accept the claim to uniqueness implicit in the gospel. But to those who accept the presuppositions current in a pluralistic society this can be hard enough”. And that is where some of our Uniting Church ministers trip up. Jesus Himself claims to be the only way. If you want to accept that all religions are equal, you have to reject what Jesus said and the Bible record. The method of salvation involved Jesus Christ taking our place, dying for our sins, being crucified upon the Cross and being raised by God’s power as the conqueror of death. No-one else in history can save us like that. If you reject the uniqueness of Jesus you also must reject the Cross and our salvation through Him. Without that there is no Gospel.

2. WE MUST ALWAYS ACT LOCALLY.

The Catholic evangelist Ralph C. Martin says “The words of Jesus Matt 7:13–14 could scarcely be clearer. The way to salvation is narrow. The road is difficult, and few, not many, successfully follow that road.” Hence we must evangelise: the message of the Gospel is to everyone that Jesus Christ alone saves. In a multicultural world we can never use force to impose our Christian views upon others. Likewise we cannot stand by with easy going tolerance, never speaking of what we believe. We do have the commands of Christ. We have to witness to what we know is right and evangelise so that others may be saved and have the joy of eternal life. Not to evangelise is to fail them. You can be right with God through faith in Jesus. There are many religions but only one way to God. Christians have no option but convert!

That was what captured the imagination of Olive Penrose’s family. Our Mission did have a global view that led the family to serve Jesus Christ in Africa, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. But it was the local action of caring for the homeless man, the gift of two bob and the Superintendent’s overcoat and the tears for the death of a nobody who died outside of the faith that brought the whole family to the Mission. We have always acted locally. You do not need me to outline for you all the ways this remarkable mission cares for the poor and needy, the unemployed and imprisoned, the ill and the frail, the uncared for child and the families in desperate need. As no other church in the world, we locally we practise our faith to all in need of God. So we take the message of the Gospel onto all the world.

Your offerings every week support international mission. We send and support missionaries like Glenys Wheatley ministering in Israel. We support other missionaries from our other congregations. Our services reach people from other lands and cultures and we preach the Gospel each week in several languages for those who have come to this land. We train students — 425 in Wesley Institute for Ministry and the Arts and another 4000 in Wesley Institute Vocational and Community Education. Many come from overseas and we expose them to the Christian Gospel. Through our radio programs and televisions programs each week across the nation and our web-sites and internet preaching, we cover the world. We have placed thousands of re-built computers in India, East Timor, Peru, P.N.G. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” “The best of all is God is with us.”

All Christians are expected to think globally and act locally. But more! Stella Cornelius, Australian developer of the mediation concept, says that while it is important to think globally and act locally, you must also respond personally. Ultimately your faith and future depend upon your personal response. Because Jesus is unique and the Saviour of the world, and because we are expected to make a difference locally, it is required of us that we respond personally. Not to do so would be to remain irrelevant and hypocritical. Hence your personal response is essential. That is what Joe and Olive Penrose did. And Frank Rayward. And every other person I have mentioned. Respond now in commitment to Jesus Christ!

Gordon Moyes

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.