19th September, 1999

  The Millennial Mega-Trends
"Our Commitment to the Poor"
  1 Corinthians 1:26-31

As we approach 2000AD, there are some basic beliefs and practises that I believe we should take with us into the twentyfirst century. These are what I call the Millennial Mega-trends. The first I discussed last week: our Wesley heritage. That includes evangelism, the love of the Scriptures and a commitment to the poor. The Wesleys 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. 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. The poor responded and through the teaching groups, tens of thousands advanced themselves as competent people. 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."

I meet many poor in Sydney. Increasing urban poverty is a world problem. A billion people today live in the slums of Africa and Asia, the barriadas of Latin America, the favelas of Brazil, and in the Aboriginal communities on the margins of our country towns and inner city ghettos. They 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.

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 the 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

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 standard 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 organisation. But why are the poor, poor? What keeps them in the cycle of poverty? The Bible describes some of the causes of their suffering and the consequences of their poverty. It encourages those who are wealthy to support those who are not as fortunate.

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 take sides with the losers - orphans, widows, pilgrims, and the despised, afflicted, and impoverished - for the kingdom of God belongs to them."

The face of poverty changes. 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.' V37-40 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. How then should we Christians seek to minister among the urban poor? How can we transcend social barriers - racial, economic, linguistic, cultural, sexual, - to go to people where they are?

The church in the city must have members living among the poor. It is thrilling to have members here living 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 of you have chosen to live among the homeless and 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. By being with the poor you empower them. You end the dependency cycle and enable the poor to stand up for themselves.

I know an Aborigine, Rosslyn. She used to be a school teacher but for years now she has lived on the streets with the street kids. She is accepted because she is black and because she is poor. Because she has done everything the kids have done in her earlier times, she is streetwise. So she lives among them, helping, counselling, supporting, guiding. She has helped more than 4,000 street kids. She is proud to be known as the "mother to the street kids". As I looked into her soft brown eyes and listened to her gentle voice, I realised that in that woman, God was living with the street kids. To know and love the poor, we must journey with them. We need live among them, understand their needs and dreams. We must walk in their shoes.

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 187 years serving God among the poor.

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matt 25 Jesus is commending practical, caring love. It is the hallmark of the disciple of the Kingdom. If we neglect the poor, we suffer personally and spiritually.

There is one test, and one only, 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." Laurence, Bishop 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 care for them we meet Him among them. But when we are smugly uncaring for the needs of others, we are risking our whole future. 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' One of the great Millennial Mega-trends we must take with us into the twenty-first Century is our Christian commitment to the poor. There are some preachers who teach personal prosperity, and hob-nob with the wealthy and educated. But the Church of the future will be the church that cares for the poor. The early Church cared for them and grew to strength, and so must we today.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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