They're hurt, and they're dying

They're hurt, and they're dying

I recently attended the World Methodist Council meeting in Sydney, Australia. We met at the Wesley Mission Center, in a room with a stained-glass window over a baptismal pool. The inscription beneath this beautiful mural read, “A living Christ for a dying world.”

Believe me, there are people all over this world who are hurting and dying. You’ve seen them. They’re in all places, all the time, right before our eyes. We can close our eyes, look away, or simply ignore them, but they’re still there.

I’m talking about the people who don’t quite fit our ideal of the folks we want to be around. They have something about them we don’t like looking at, something we don’t want to accept, something that makes them different, something that challenges us to stretch in ways we would rather not.

They make us have to go out of our way. They put us in the position of having to deny ourselves. These are the people who force us to pause and wonder if we should stop to offer help. But, like the two men that Jesus spoke of, traveling down Jericho Road, we so often pass by on the other side. We must be careful not to place our own safety in jeopardy or be guilty of helping people who need to help themselves. We don’t want to enable laziness or irresponsibility – so we pass by on the other side of the road.

Many of us still have a hangover from the 1960s and early ‘70s when we dared believe we could eliminate poverty, racism, and disparity. We joined Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in a “war on poverty.” We failed miserably, and because no one wants to be part of a losing effort, we gave up. They were noble causes – but wasn’t it Jesus who declared, “The poor you will have with you always”? If these are the words of the Savior, why should we even try?

Jesus did say that, but his words do not permit us to give up on ministry with the poor. I can’t shake the memory of a young lady standing in the center aisle of Forrest Avenue United Methodist Church in Chattanooga. She approached me and asked, “Are you the bishop?” When I assured her I was, she said, “Well, I want to tell you why I am here at this church.”

She said to me, “One year ago I was on drugs. I was selling my body. I was homeless and living without hope. But Barry, the pastor of this church, reached out to me and offered me an opportunity to know Jesus. Today, Bishop, I know Jesus. I am drug-free, married, living in my own place, and I am getting ready to go downstairs and help prepare meals for the homeless people who are now where I once was.”

I realize we have had our share of failures, but we have had some victories, too. We must allow the victories to inspire us and teach us how best to be in ministry with the poor. We need not stop trying because of a few failures. Jesus called 12 people to follow him. One of them betrayed him, but it did not stop him from loving others.

If there ever was a time for Christians to stand with the poor and be in mutual ministry with them, the time is now. We are the children of God, the redeemed of Christ, and the protégées of John Wesley. Each of them reached out to help those who could not help themselves or who needed a hand up. It’s tough work, but we have what it takes to make a difference.

The time to begin to “Offer Christ” to a hurting and dying world is now.