Sunday Night Live Sermons
HERITAGE TO DESTINY
Megatrends That Have Guided Us
Many people do not understand why we call our Church, Wesley Mission. They do not understand our heritage. They do not understand why we speak of Wesley Church, Wesley Theatre, Wesley Hospital and so on. Why we have in our foyer a 250 year old chair made by the most famous chairmaker in history, Thomas Chippendale, identified simply as “JOHN WESLEY’S CHAIR”. Many people come to Wesley Mission because of what we are and what we do — WIMA students and lecturers, volunteers that service in over 400 centres of care and activity, members of our Schools for Seniors, overseas visitors, young people, as well as regular worshippers — and few know our history. That is why I am constantly reminding people — probably more than any other church leader in this nation — of our heritage. Our heritage prepares us for our destiny. If you do not know from whence you have come, you do not know where you are heading!
Many organisations grow large then lose their purpose and power. The original direction and guidelines are lost. They lose their cutting edge. The greatest change in Australian churches over the past three decades has been the decline in significance and numbers of the mainline denominations, and the rapid increase of large congregations that do not belong to mainline denominations. The mainline denominations have not adapted to the changing environment and have become outdated and are dying of rigor mortis, what we call the “dinosaur syndrome”. It is not by accident that decline in the Uniting Church started at the same time as leaders said our heritage was irrelevant.
Wesley Mission has not done that. We have kept our purposes and grown by adapting to the changing needs of society. We are concerned for our traditions but committed to the future. That is because we have seen ourselves as a pilgrim people on the move.
1. THE JEWS WERE A PILGRIM PEOPLE.
The Israelites were led by Moses through the wilderness of Sinai to the Promised Land of Canaan. As the people looked down from the mountain and saw the land that had been their destiny, Moses warned them before they entered it, not to forget that they would always be a pilgrim people. They were to remember every year their traditions through keeping the Passover, and by giving thanks to God who guided them all the way. They went on pilgrimages to Mt Sinai and Jerusalem for Festivals of thanksgiving. A group of Psalms 120-134 are known as “The Songs of Ascent”. They were sung as the Pilgrims walked up the mountain roads to Jerusalem. I read the songs of the pilgrim when I stood by the Jaffa Gate: “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the House of the Lord.’ And now we are here, standing inside the gates of Jerusalem! This is where the tribes come, the tribes of Israel, to give thanks to the Lord according to His command. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” Psalm 122 Possession of that land has become the absorbing passion of the Jews. Those who suggest Israel should give their territory to the Palestinians do not understand history and what it is like to be pilgrim finally reaching their destiny. The Jews have commitment to their land because they have been pilgrims.
2. EARLY CHRISTIANS WERE A PILGRIM PEOPLE.
The early church knew this earth was not their home: “there is no permanent city here for us on earth; we are looking for the city that is to come…for the city which God has designed and built the city has permanent foundations.” Heb.13:14;11:16 John saw a new Jerusalem, the city of God, which he prepared for us as our heavenly home. Paul said proudly, “We are citizens of heaven.” Peter called the early Christians facing persecution: “My friends, strangers and pilgrims in their world.” Christians were pilgrims, their destiny: heaven. While on earth, they were a pilgrim people, heading to a heavenly Jerusalem.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries some English Christians called themselves “Puritans” because they tried to purify the church. They were persecuted by the Church of England. Some became Baptists and some Congregationalists. The Uniting Church in Australia has this Pilgrim tradition in our heritage. Some Pilgrims were forced to flee England. In September 1620 they set sail in “The Mayflower” from Plymouth with 102 passengers. They were bound for America. They were known as the “Pilgrim Fathers”, the founders of America. In 1630 William Bradford, Governor of Massachusetts USA, wrote the Pilgrims were a scriptural people who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” They understood their heritage and sailed towards their destiny of a new land.
In Australia early Wesleyans, Congregationalists and Baptists had much in common. In ethos they were similar in attitude to the authority of the state, the centrality of Scripture, the need of personal faith, and a commitment to Christ. They were pilgrims on the way to heaven by way of a new country. This harsh and distant land, but it offered them religious freedom to serve the Lord. Christians over many centuries have thought of themselves as a pilgrim people heading for a new world of love and peace.
3. WESLEY MISSION IS A PILGRIM PEOPLE.
We are like the Israelites in wilderness. We are like the early Christians who lived by faith in God. We are like those Protestants of old who withstood persecution to witness to their faith in biblical principles. We possess the heritage of a pilgrim people.
- Pilgrims remember their heritage of faith.
That is our heritage. We too live by faith. Our church grows by conversions, unlike much of the church in Australia that grew through transfers of members from other churches. Few members join us by transfer, but almost all join us by conversion and baptism. We have offered a living Christ to a dying world, and our members live in the reality of their faith. Peter said: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Pet. 2:9 Faith is a personal possession and our heritage of faith is rich with significance. We have a living heritage.
- Pilgrims meet in thanksgiving to God.
The Israelites came to Jerusalem from all over the country each year for an act of thanksgiving to God. The Pilgrim Fathers met each year in a thanksgiving meal and service with an offering to God. America still celebrates Thanksgiving with family meals every November. We too end every year with a thanksgiving meal and service. This is part of our pilgrim heritage.
- Pilgrims practise their faith.
Those Pilgrims in the early Church, in Britain, the USA and in the colony of Sydney proclaimed their faith and practised their deeds. From the very beginning there was an expression of their faith in practical deeds of Christian compassion. Wesley Mission always had a strong social conscience, a care for little children at risk, for fallen women and drunken sailors. Social justice was part of evangelical proclamation. We have proclaimed that evangelism without social action is irrelevant to human need. Social action without evangelism is flowers without fruit. A born again Christian without a social conscience is irrelevant. A social activist without a regenerate heart is irresponsible. But together word and deed becomes the most powerful commitment both to Him as Lord and them as neighbours: relevant and responsible, flowers and fruit. This practical faith is part of our heritage.
- Pilgrims know their destiny.
The Children of Israel knew their Promised land. The Pilgrim Fathers believed they had an opportunity in North America to establish God’s Will on earth.
The English believers among our early convicts knew that they were heading for a land of freedom. We too have a vision and know our destiny. We too are a Pilgrim people. We know where we are going. God has spoken: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 Our early fathers liked to tell the story of John Bunyan. Why? Because in the years 1640–60 the Puritans exercised political control in the British Isles. The Anglican establishment was abolished in 1645. Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector. He allowed freedom for each community to follow the church order it preferred. But with the return of the Stuarts, and the restoration of the Church of England, some 2,000 Puritan clergy left their parishes rather than conform to the restored church. Many non-conformists were imprisoned over the next twenty-five years for illegally holding non-Anglican services, among them was John Bunyan.
John Bunyan 1628–88 was the son of a poor tinker. In the 1650s he served for a time in the Parliamentary army under Cromwell during the Civil War. Bunyan despaired over his spiritual state for several years. Finally he experienced assurance of God’s saving work in him. He joined the Bedford congregation, and soon began to preach successfully for them. After the Restoration in 1660 he was imprisoned in Bedford jail for twelve years. He was again imprisoned 1676. It was during these jail years that he wrote his books: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners 1666 and his own spiritual pilgrimage, “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.
In the book Christian meets other Pilgrims and some enemies like Pliable and Giant Despair. His hazardous journey takes him from the City of Destruction, through the Slough of Despond, to the foot of the cross; then on through the Valley of the Shadow, Vanity Fair and Doubting Castle to finally cross the river to reach the shining city. Bunyan’s language is a happy mixture of homespun phrases and echoes of the English Bible. The Pilgrim’s Progress soon established itself as a perennial classic. When Christian and the other pilgrims, Mr Great Heart and Mr Standfast and Mr Valiant for Truth come to the Enchanted Ground they sing:
“Who would true valour see let him come hither,
One here will constant be, come wind, come weather:
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.”
I start every day at Parliament House, by reading one of the prayers written by the Pilgrims. I want to remember I belong to that tradition of valiant people who go forward in faith as a pilgrim. God still does it if we are committed pilgrims like John Bunyan. Put your trust in Jesus Christ. Hold an assurance, a confidence, a conviction, a certainty that Christ has saved you. Testify what you have felt in your heart by faith. That’s our heritage. Our destiny is in Heaven. That is one the great Mega-trends that have guided us. We honour our heritage, and we will achieve our destiny. We are a pilgrim people. This world is not our home. Our destiny lies in heaven. We live for that day when we to shall stand on Heaven’s ground as a pilgrim of faith.
Rev. Dr. The Hon. Gordon Moyes A.C., M.L.C.