Easter Luncheon &
Breakfast 1999


  City of Despair: City of Hope
     
  Hebrews 13:5-16


This beautiful city of Sydney, is at the one time a city of despair and a city of hope. Many people living in Sydney want to relocate from despair to hope. For them Sydney is both a city of despair and hope. It seems that those who are employed, own or are paying the mortgage on their home, and enjoy good health live in a city of hope. But those who are unemployed, who rent property and may have poor health, find Sydney is a city of despair. Migrants, women, the mentally ill and the indigenous are disproportionately represented in a city, which for them is a city of despair.

Charles Dickens in his great novel, "A Tale of Two Cities" centres the story of an English family living in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. They want to escape the execution of the wealthy in Paris to the safety and security of London. Their ultimate safety depended upon the self-sacrifice of a man who secretly loved the wife of one who was in danger. For her sake, Simon Carlton took the place of the condemned husband and allowed the family to flee to the city of hope while he went to the guillotine in the city of despair.

Many of us who think that Sydney is the most beautiful city on earth, possessing stable government, wide-spread affluence and the admiration of the world as we approach the Olympics, that others think of Sydney as a city of despair. Journalist, Gregg Easterbrook, writing in "The New Republic" (4.1.99) stated that life in USA was getting better. Crime rates have fallen. The economy is booming. Teenage pregnancy is declining. The federal budget is in surplus.
Home ownership is at record levels. Standards of living are improving. The use of cigarettes is declining, education levels are rising, and women are increasing their participation in leadership roles. That is exactly the picture in Australia. Our economy is zooming along. More people own shares than ever before. We are the miracle nation of South East Asia. We have the lowest unemployment rate in twenty years. Company profits are at a record high. Business confidence is on a high. In Sydney particularly, we are benefiting from the billions spent on infrastructure for the Olympics. We will celebrate with a score of massive national parties are we reach the year 2000, the Third Millennium, the centenary of Federation, the Paralympics, the year 2001 and so on. Bread and circuses for the people!

Australians are wealthier, better housed, better fed, and better educated, better clothed and better off than any generation in history. This is as good as it gets! So why all the griping by those who find Sydney as city of despair?
The simple fact is also true that there are a group of Australians who are worse off. Who have been moved out of the labour market. Who do not own shares, credit cards, or their own home. They are a group of poor who did not previously belong among the poor. They were previously middle class but changing work practices, the closing down of unskilled jobs, the problems of health care, and the high cost of housing have created an under-belly of poverty worse than we have seen it. Many are slipping through the safety nets. They have become dependent upon charities like Wesley Mission for sustenance, clothing, food, housing, job re-skilling, health care, family support, financial counselling, marriage counselling and a dozen other services.

A disproportionately high percentage of these people come from non-English speaking backgrounds. They live in communities, especially in Sydney's southwest. That is why Wesley Mission has opened many new centres in this region to help where the need is greatest. Many of the Government's programs are working well. You would never think so from reading the newspapers, but the job search programs are producing remarkable results. Wesley's results are outstanding. So is our Work for the Dole programs and home based health care programs. Never the less, there is a group of seriously poor and disadvantaged. They need help from us now as never before.

There are also increasing numbers of mentally disturbed people on the city streets these days. Many have been released from long term psychiatric care into community based houses where they can live a more normal life. Many others have left these community houses and now are homeless upon the streets of Sydney. We see these people upon our streets: the man who is walking along talking to himself; another is shouting to the world; the woman who is muttering and glancing at everyone; the young man who keeps walking up and down and the woman who stares into your eyes and tells you of demons possessing her. These people are not to be feared but to be helped. That situation on our streets is symptomatic of what is happening in our minds. We live in a age of anxiety, a word which comes from the Latin term "angustia" which means "shortness of breath". It is as if many people are suffocating from the influences of our secular world. Hence our phobias multiply: the "New Gould Medical Dictionary" catalogues 217 phobias. This terrible mental and emotional hurt in our community provides an opportunity for churches.

But many churches do not want to become involved. They want to build a membership of people who are happy, married, affluent, and family based. They want to minister only in the city of hope. They advertise themselves as the Happy Family Church, to make sure that people who are not happy, or who do not have families, who are problem people or people with problems stay away! That was not the attitude of Jesus.

Charles Dickens once holidayed at Naples in a magnificent palace. He visited the houses of the poor nearby. The burial place of the poor was "a great paved yard with three hundred and sixty-five pits in it: everyone covered by a square stone, which is fastened down. One of these pits is opened every night of the year; the bodies of the poor dead are collected in the city; brought out in a cart and flung in, uncoffined. Some lime is then cast down into the pit and it is sealed until a year is past. The cart has a red lamp attached and about ten o'clock at night you see it glaring through the streets of Naples, stopping at the doors of hospitals and prisons, to increase its freight, and then rattling off to the pits again."

That terrible attitude to the poor and sick, lies not too deep beneath the social skin of our city. Their only hope lies in the concern and commitment of Christians who follow the example of Jesus in caring for the disturbed, the distraught, the distressed. We who live in the city of hope, are called to care for those who dwell in the city of despair. At Wesley Mission we understand. There is not a single service here, without some that are disturbed, distraught, unbalanced. Sometimes that may be distressing for some attenders. Sometimes a disturbed person will become distracting by their habits or noise.

But when we love them, we grow closer to Christ, because that is where He is - with them! We seek to heal them: by our counsellors, trained and serving every hour of the day and night; by specialists in our hospitals and in Wesley Centre; by our staff being trained in how to handle difficult people; by our provision of showers and soap, clothes and meals; by our accommodation and rehabilitation; by thirtynine houses and training centres; by our psychologists and psychiatrists in our two hospitals for the mentally ill, through our nurses and chaplains; by our worship services open for everyone, our opportunities for people to request prayers for healing, by our elders who listen and care and pray.

And what is true for the mentally ill, is also true for the unemployed, for the indigenous people, for the lone parents, for the drug addicted, and for everyone else who dwells in the city of despair.

Sometime in 2005AD, the first time in human history, the majority of the world's population will live in cities - primarily in the large cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America. These cities will be plagued with unemployment, overcrowding and disease, with continuos breakdown of infrastructures like water, power, sewerage and refuse disposal. For the first time, the world will be urban rather than rural. Today 94% of Canadians and Americans live in their major cities. 82% of all Europeans live in cities. 84% of all Australians live in six cities, all on the seacoast. People love to live in cities. But cities can also be hell. There is a crisis for many people living in our cities today. They have become both the city of despair and the city of hope. Among those despairing are the 50,000 Australian people who are homeless.
Among them are the 750,000 children who are below the poverty line; the large numbers of mentally ill on the inner city streets, the indigenous people who have a disproportionate percentage of their people, ill, in jail, and in the grip of alcohol abuse; and non-English speaking immigrants who are increasingly found among the 750,000 unemployed.

As the largest city in the nation, Sydney sees the problem in stark contrast. There are the haves and the have-nots. There are the home owners and the renters. There are the physically sick queued at public hospitals and the privately insured who get the best of care. There are the single mothers with children to support, and there are the childless couples who inhabit our inner city expensive units with water views. As never before, Sydney is a city of despair and the city of hope.

The Bible speaks of Jerusalem as a city of hope and Babylon as a city of despair. When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, they despaired of ever seeing Jerusalem again. For them Jerusalem was home, the centre of a land that flowed with milk and honey. How could they sing the Lord's song in a strange land? In Babylon they felt alienated, sad, powerless, hopeless. They asked "Where is our God?" In the Book of Revelation Babylon was seen as The Beast. Every city is Babylon when people are poor, alienated, desperate, alone. They live in the city of despair.

Ironically, Jerusalem "the golden, with milk and honey blessed" also became the city of despair to those who alienated, sad, powerless, and hopeless. It stoned those whom God sent and persecuted the prophets. Jesus wept for the hard-hearted people of Jerusalem. They did not hear God's word nor respond to His message. There, the Son of God was despised and rejected, tried in a series of illegal trials, whipped, beaten, imprisoned and crucified outside the city walls. But the amazing thing is that the despised Jews in exile in Babylon found that God was also there! And hope came into their hearts. In the same way Jerusalem became not only the place of the Crucifixion but also the place of resurrection. Cities of despair become the cities of hope when people responded in faith to God.

So today, Sydney, the city of despair to those who are alone, unemployed, dejected, alienated, rejected, mentally ill, can become the city of hope to all who find God. We can relocate even while we stay within the same city! Because with the power of God manifest in the resurrected Christ within us, everything changes. We become brand new people. We are reborn, renewed, remade! If you live in the city of despair, you can relocate to the city of hope without changing your address. It simply takes a renewing of your mind through faith in the Risen Christ. That is the Easter message that we preach to everyone in Sydney who will listen!

The Easter Message is that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. He died to release us from the bondage of our own minds, from the captivity of guilt and from the prison of our fear of death. Jesus Christ died to liberate us! He faced suffering and death upon the Cross. He died in faith. God raised Him from the dead. Because He lives, we too shall live - liberated from all that binds us: spiritually, physically, mentally! With Jesus, this city of despair can become your city of hope.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

  Gregg Easterbrook, "The New Republic" (4.1.99)
E.Johnson, CHARLES DICKENS Penguin. p291

 



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