Sunday Night Live Sermons
OUR CARE FOR THE POOR
One mega-trend typified our ministry from the earliest days but particularly since 1884 when Superintendent W.G.Taylor re-defined our ministry: our care for the poor. Taylor continued the tradition of the Wesleys who cared for the poor. They established credit unions, free schools and dispensaries, attacked factory work conditions and parliamentary laws allowing economic exploitation, slavery, war, piracy, gambling and political graft.
So Wesley Mission hurls itself into social reform and personal evangelism. John Wesley held personal evangelism in balance with social responsibility. When people were born again, they had to show the fruit of faith by loving their neighbours. The urban poor of England’s Industrial Revolution were evangelised and souls were saved among the coal-miners, iron smelters, quarrymen, shipyard workers, cotton factory hands and servants. Social care for all people, especially the poor, marked the early Methodists. The poor responded and with teaching, tens of thousands advanced themselves. As Wesley wrote to some clergy: “The rich, the honourable, the great, we willing leave to you. Only let us alone with the poor, the vulgar, the base, the outcasts of men.” As the poor became the basis of his church, so we continue to care for the poor, the needy, the alcoholic, the widows, the homeless and the hungry. That concern defines our congregational teas, is seen in the way we encourage everyone to take part in our activities and all of our no cost or low cost activities. Increasing urban poverty is a world problem, perhaps our greatest world problem. A billion people today live in the slums of Africa and Asia, in the barriadas of Latin America and the favelas of Brazil.
Aboriginal communities on the margins of our country towns and inner city ghettos like Redfern live in poverty, in overcrowded shacks, lacking sanitation, clothing for the children, education; knowing hunger, disease and unemployment. The inhumanity and injustice of it breeds resentment at being unable to help themselves, for poverty means powerlessness and frustration with powerlessness breaks out into riots.
But the meaning of the incarnation of Christ is: God has come to live among us! Our discipleship means following Him in helping the poor today. Nothing epitomises the life and teachings of Jesus so much as His care for the poor. If all the words of Jesus were lost, His words about caring for the poor would remain in mankind’s memory. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matt 25:35–36
1. GOD NOTICES WHETHER WE CARE.
We are saved by our faith in order that we might serve God in expressing His love to others, especially the poor. Believers have an obligation to care for the poor. God judges nations and people who are not believers based upon how they have cared for the poor. We are saved by faith, but judged by our actions. The standards by which nations and people who have not heard the Gospel and those who have heard and do not obey it, is of how they cared for the poor. Every generation and country has poor people. They live in unhealthy, crowded and dangerous conditions.
They lack food, shelter, education, power, and organization. But why are the poor, poor? What keeps them in the cycle of poverty? The Bible describes some of the causes and the consequences of their poverty. Our word “poor” basically means “lacking material possessions”. However, the Bible has 245 references to the “poor” meaning the needy and dependent, the frail and the weak, the impoverished through dispossession, those who are hungry, and those afflicted by oppression. Over four hundred verses indicate God’s concern for the poor. Michael J. Christensen writes “God looks in anger upon the arena of human struggle and takes sides. The side He takes is the side of the poor and the oppressed, the down trodden and the hopeless, the outcasts and the underdogs. God identifies not with the winners but with the losers. It is precisely because God is no respecter of persons that God takes a special interest in those who are treated unfairly and need his help the most. For the sake of countering injustice, God must side with the losers — orphans, widows, pilgrims, and the despised, afflicted, and impoverished — for the kingdom belongs to them.”
2. GOD IS FOUND AMONG THE POOR.
Poverty can have the face of a discarded baby, an abused child, a homeless youth, a bashed spouse, a lonely old man, or an AIDS patient. Poverty can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. To be poor means to lack love and the essentials of life: food, clothing, shelter, health, support, identity, and purpose. The economically poor and the spiritually impoverished have the same basic need — to know that God cares. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matt 25:37–40 The wealthy and the righteous are amazed that God should have been helped by them, but God reveals when they helped the poor they were doing everything for Him personally. This is a great insight: if you are looking for God you can find Him among the poor. His care for the poor is expressed by His dwelling among them. The omnipotent power of the universe incomprehensibly dwelling among the powerless! It is a great paradox that God can be found among the powerless like a baby at Bethlehem! How should we Christians seek to minister among the urban poor? How can we transcend the barriers — racial, economic, linguistic, cultural, sexual — to go to people? So many fear close contact with the poor because they may ask something of you! Yet we cannot transcend the barriers unless we risk closeness and possible request!
This month I chaired the Parliamentary Budget Estimates Committees. We summon each Minister of the Crown, the heads of Departments, all key bureaucrats and advisors and examine them on their expenditures and programs of the past year and their proposals for the next. It is often a grilling process. We were shocked by the racist and arrogant attitude of the Hon Frank Sator, the Government minister who is heading up the re-development of the Redfern/ Waterloo area towards Mick Mundine the Chair of the Aboriginal Housing Company in the area known as “The Block”, our worst urban slum. Governments wish the problem would go away.
The Aboriginal community called upon the minister to resign. There was impasse between the people whom live in the Block and the Minister. The former Opposition leader had said he would bulldoze everything, so there was no comfort from either the Government or the Opposition. In the middle of the Hearing, I publicly challenged the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister of the Redfern-Waterloo redevelopment to come with me last Saturday, in our old clothes, no white ministerial cars, no press, no speeches, no photos, to spend the day gloved and walking in the Block with wheelie bins and a servant heart, shoveling garbage and picking up needles, talking with the indigenous people. We would practically improve the safety and livability of the Block, and by shoveling garbage demonstrate the deep concern we have for daily life in Aboriginal Redfern among the poorest of all.
I asked local residents for permission to come onto their land. They were supportive of our clean up, enjoying a chat as we cleaned up the garbage. I asked approval of the City of Sydney hygiene department and they provided us leather gloves and hazardous needle disposable units. Before we could start some miracles occurred. The new Opposition leader visited the block the day before for a photo opportunity and announced that if elected they would no longer bulldoze the existing houses but build 46 new houses! The Government indicated that although they had mistaken the date and so could not come, they would organize regular clean-up days in the block throughout next year. And the City Council, seeing we were going to shovel the garbage sent two teams with trucks and the collection equipment to clean the streets before we arrived!
On Saturday, four of us, took the bins, picked up garbage, spoke with the residents, refused all photographs, made no speeches, but just showed in humble service that we cared for the poor. The church in the city must have members living among the poor. I honour our members who live in Redfern, in the high rises of Waterloo, in the tenements of Darlinghurst and in the Trust buildings of The Rocks. Because you live among the poor our message has credibility. Some choose to stay in the environment out of which you have risen mentally and spiritually. You have a powerful ministry to those still there. To reach the poor we must preach the gospel, identify with them, live among them and help them obtain food, clothing, shelter, legal aid, education, jobs and childcare. We must speak against the bureaucratic systems and empower the poor. You help end the dependency cycle and enable the poor to stand up for themselves.
John Wesley, wrote in his diary, 24th November, 1761, “I visited as many as I could of the sick. How much better it is when it can be done to carry relief to the poor than it is to send it, and that both for our own sake and for theirs.” Wesley’s was one long crusade in the cause of the poor. He encouraged others to follow his example. Wesley had compassion for the poor: “I have found some of the uneducated poor to have the most exquisite taste and sentiment. I love the poor, and in many of them find pure genuine grace unmixed with folly and affection. If I might choose, I should still preach the gospel to the poor.” Wesley found God among the poor, and like him we have ministered for 193 years serving God among the poor. Jesus commends practical, caring love. It is the hallmark of the disciple of the Kingdom.
3. NEGLECTING THE POOR HURTS OUR FUTURE.
If we neglect the poor, we suffer personally and spiritually. There is one test of the extent of our love for Him: how have we cared for the poor? That was the thrust of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” Bishop Laurence of Rome, was forced by the Emperor to turn over the valuables of the church. He gathered a number of poor Christians and stretched his arms over them and said, “These are the precious treasure of the church, these are the treasure indeed, in whom the faith of Christ reigns, in whom Christ hath his mansion-place. What more precious jewels can Christ have than those in whom He promised to dwell? For it is so written, ‘I was hungry and ye gave me to eat, I was thirsty and ye gave me to drink, I was houseless and ye lodged me. What ye have done to the least of these, the same have ye done to Me.’”
The treasures of the Church are still the poor. When we smugly disregard the needs of others, we risk our future. ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ This is one of the mega-trends that mark our ministry, our care for the poor. The early Church cared for them and grew to strength, and so must we today. Paul wrote 1Co 1:26–29 that God called few who were socially, politically, and intellectually important. So it is not through human wisdom, strength, or worldly position that one is saved, but only through God’s wise plan and power accomplished through the cross. But those who are have a primary task to care for the poor. When we care for them we meet Him among them.