6th February, 2000

The Twenty-first century Mission
Matthew 20:1-16

The Methodist Church throughout the British Empire developed a new concept of ministry to the cities and the urban poor during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century.

Inner area Methodist Churches, became Methodist Missions, and at the heart of each city was a larger Central Methodist Mission. For fifty years they were wonderful examples of positive ministry to the poor and homeless. In Colombo, Johannesburg, London, Manchester and Liverpool, Melbourne, Auckland and Sydney, and in a hundred other cities the Methodist Missions met the needs of their day. After about eighty years most disappeared or declined.

In Sydney, the Missions at Glebe, Newtown, Leichhardt, Balmain, Rozelle, Darlinghurst, Redfern, and other places hit their heights during the period around World War 1. Most of these centres have since disappeared, although some small congregational activity continues with some Aged Care work.

Wesley Mission alone continues stronger than at any time in its 188 years of history. The reasons why we continue to grow are complex but two stand clear: we have adapted imaginatively to changing times and opportunities, and we have had a succession of extremely competent Superintendents. Today we stand at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium. What will be the shape of the twenty-first Century Mission? Will strong leadership still be required to administer this Church with thousands of members, 2,500 paid staff and $100 million a year expenditure? What adaptations to changing conditions will we need to continue to grow?

I answered those questions at some length in my paper "Battering the Brass Door" which in 1997 looked to the future and the year 2020. This is available on our Web-site. I will not tonight try to go over those complex and far-sighted plans. But I do want to consider three underlying themes that will guide us in the near future in this twentyfirst century Mission. What are the key themes being emphasised by Wesley Mission as a twenty-first century mission?

1. We build on lasting values.

Wesley Mission has never let its values slide. There are some that in their desire to be thought modern and relevant have cast aside the Bible with its abiding values and have taken up the latest trendy pop-psychology or paper-back theology. But we hold to the faith of our fathers as found in the Word of God. Some scoff at our values and disparage the Christian stand-ards we expect from our employees.

Journalists and radio talk-back people have taken cheap shots at us. They say Christians are prejudiced against people of other faiths. They ignore the fact that at our Fairfield Wesley Employment over 65% of the people we have placed into jobs speak Arabic or Vietnamese. Letter writers say Christians would do an inferior job than people who no have no religious standards. They ignore are the facts: we have won contracts because we have the track record of doing better than others. Say what they like, the fact is that with our values have better results than others.

We are attacked by atheists and humanists who want our work curtailed. Our success in winning Government contracts to establish new employment services has created envy and hatred. The public controversy was generated during the first weeks of this year, when our track record in outcomes in employment services was revealed to be so much better than the Government's own Employment National. When the public servants were terminated as a result of new contracts being award to Wesley Mission the squeals were heard around Australia.
That in turn brought out all those whose political and philosophical views opposed Christianity. Even one Catholic Bishop thought it wrong for churches to help the unemployed find jobs!

Some of the teachings of Jesus are unacceptable.
For example His teaching in Matthew 20. He spoke of an employer who went to the labour exchange in the town square at 6am and hired some labourers for the going rate: one denarius a day. At 9am, he needed some more and hired them. At noon he realised, he would need more and hired more. Then, later at 3pm. By 6pm the job was completed. Now came a surprise.

v8. "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' 9. "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' 13. "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14. Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'"

That is precisely the point. Our staff spend extra time with clients. They work longer hours willingly. They help clients get outfitted with donated clothing. They have paid for an unemployed truck driver to get his licence so he could get the job. They even paid for a man to get a set of dentures so he would present better, and he got the job. Public servants with Employment National don't do that. Drake International staff could not match our results. They cannot understand the church, which like its Master, is motivated by grace, not just wages. No wonder our staff need Christian commitment. Jesus was compelled to say to his critics:

15. "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'"

The hostility to large and successful churches like ours is real. Secular philosophies want every viewpoint, except the Christian one, heard. Government agencies argue for equal rights for all except Christians. Meanwhile liberal denominations like the Uniting Church search for some new practise or some pattern of behaviour that will save their impending demise.

Of course, people who are atheists or agnostics or secular humanists could do a better job in helping people than Christians. But the fact is, they don't! We don't find many atheists on the streets helping the homeless at night. There are not many nursing homes built and run by the humanist society. They who do not have our kind of values are rarely to be seen caring for others. Wesley Mission was running a labour exchange a century ago. Before any Government was moved to help the unemployed, we were doing it. We were doing it because of our values, and without any support from Governments or anyone else. We will continue to build on our values whether we are funded by Governments or not. Of course, anyone else can do the same. A second key factor is:

2. We grow by creating partnerships

Twenty-five years ago, we were funded from one denomination, worked in one city, and centred on one church. Today we are multi-culturally diverse, are funded by Christians of all denominations, work in 120 suburbs and 50 regional centres in three states, with our teaching videos and Internet programs used internationally.

Individual congregations working on their own are going out of business in many areas. We are growing by partnerships. A dozen local congregations have written wanting to join in Wesley Mission's activities. Every major Uniting Church mission in Australia is working on some joint national project with us. We employ people in local communities to keep the money in the town. We are not afraid of the opponents of the Gospel, for we have God's support when we work .

When Paul was under attack in Corinth, one night in a dream, he heard God say: "Keep it up and don't let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I am with you and no-one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city." Acts 18:10 How true that is! A third factor in the twenty-first century mission, is that

3. We operate on the cutting edge

We undertake many of our programs simply because they are needed, whether funded by any other source or not. Our huge investment into labour market programs, which has seen us spend $5 million this month on new buildings, office fittings, cars, computers, mobile phones, is directly because we believe helping people into real jobs is a critical issue for Australia just now. In disability services Wesley Mission today is the largest provider of services for the disabled in New South Wales. We care for the disabled precisely because we see this as an area of need.

In all of our work we help people have a fuller life, a more meaningful existence, with greater control over their destiny. It is a parody of the Gospel that the Board of Social Responsibility of the Uniting Church operates from a belief that death is best. They advocate abortion, mercy killing, euthanasia, and drug injecting rooms. Each of these practises leads to more death. We think life! We provide support for parents to want to take their babies to birth. We provide palliative care for the terminally ill. We help addicts overcome drug dependence, not help them continue dependency.

Helping us in all of this are our members who give, pray and administer all of the services and centres run by our staff. Our staff are multi-cultural, multi-skilled, talented, focused and accountable. We are held together by the glue of our common commitment to Jesus Christ.

Paul wote Coloss 1:17-18 "Everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, He organises and holds it together, like a head does a body." That is why our Christian commitment is so important, because that is the glue that holds us all together, and focuses our efforts. Our strength lies in our diversity, and our impact is in our single-minded commitment.

The Lord Jesus teaches in the parable of God's dealing with the unemployed, that God's returns are distributed, not because they are earned, but because God is unbelievably gracious. Jesus is not laying down principles for resolving union-management disputes. On the contrary, he accepts the world's principle that he who works the longest receives the most pay. That is just. But in the kingdom of God the principles of merit and ability are set aside so that grace can prevail. God's grace makes some who are last, first. The point of the parable is not that all in the kingdom will receive the same reward but that kingdom rewards depend on God's sovereign grace. "In the course of justice none of us should see salvation", but by God's grace, all of us undeserving latecomers are welcomed into His Kingdom. When we respond to Him now, we receive the same benefit as the saints who first responded.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

  Bible Passage from "The Message" Eugene H Peterson Navpress 1994

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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