This week I was invited to speak at London City Mission’s Annual Gathering in the Mansion House. The theme for this year’s meeting was the celebration of 50 years of work among the homeless in London through the centre at Webber Street in Waterloo. It was ironic that we were thinking about homelessness in one of the most celebrated homes in London.
Our meeting was held in the famous Egyptian Room where the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his famous “Mansion House speech” each year at the Lord Mayor’s banquet.
We were warmly welcomed by the current Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman David Wootton, and the mayors of sixteen other London boroughs were also in attendance, as well as Baroness Berridge, a Conservative member of the House of Lords. It was a great opportunity to present the work of the London City Mission and especially to highlight the magnificent work carried on at Webber Street.
The team of workers at Webber Street have produced an excellent short video which describes their work.
This is part of what I said at the Mansion House meeting:
I am the minister of a Presbyterian congregation in Portadown in Northern Ireland which is committed to supporting the work and ministry of London City Mission at Webber Street. As a congregation, we have sent several hundred kilos of new and used clothing to Webber Street. We have raised money and sent work parties to re-decorate the facilities. And we have even collected redundant mobile phones for the use of guests at the centre. And we pray every week for those on the front line, ministering and helping those in need. We recognize the ministry of Webber Street as being authentic, Christ-honouring work which makes a real difference in the lives of homeless people in our nation’s capital city.
Homelessness is a hotly-debated issue. The breakdown of family relationships, addictions, debt, unemployment, and mental health issues are just some of the social challenges making the homeless some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
And as we address the issues surrounding homelessness, we believe that we are following in the steps of Jesus Christ himself. He was born in a stable to a teenage mother; he was a refugee as a toddler; and during his ministry he did a fair degree of the ancient near eastern equivalent of “sofa surfing”. He said, “Foxes have holes; the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The gospels repeatedly tell us of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, living in the economic and social chaos classified as homelessness.
But more than that, he chose to live out God’s love amongst those on the fringes of power or influence in society. The guests with whom he enjoyed meals offered him no advancement in terms of business or education or personal status. Yet he spent time with them, explaining God’s love and grace, and how that they could have a place within his Father’s house and kingdom.
And he challenged those in authority and power when the law did not promote compassion and the dignity of the marginalised. On one occasion Jesus was invited to eat at the home of a prominent Pharisee. And even though he was the recipient of the Pharisee’s hospitality, he was eager to question the criteria his host used when he drew up his guest list.
“When you give a luncheon or dinner”, he said, “do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14: 12,13
The challenge for us is to find a place in our hearts, and around our tables, for the people who are at the bottom of the pile and at the end of the queue, so that they can enjoy the blessing of the gospel. And that is precisely the goal and the task undertaken by the staff at Webber Street.
There is a sense in which the whole of human history can be described as the search and the quest for a home where one can be loved and feel secure. Spiritually speaking, we are all homeless.
One of the first stories in the Bible is about Cain who killed his brother Abel. And as a result of committing that first murder, Cain is driven from his homeland and believes he is destined to be a restless wanderer on the earth. Abraham leaves Ur of the Chaldees in search of a homeland that God would provide for him and his family. And all the pain and heartache of humanity’s homelessness, and its quest for a permanent home, remains unanswered until Jesus makes this wonderful gospel promise, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.”
The mission of Jesus was one of bringing homeless sinners like us back home to our Heavenly Father. He came to address and to deal with the sin and brokenness that lies behind all the issues that cause homelessness. He became homeless so that you and I could ultimately find a home, a place of love and security, where we are welcomed and received and embraced.
And what makes the work and ministry of Webber Street and the London City Mission so compelling and so critical is that it has this wholistic approach to homelessness. We recognise that homelessness is not just houselessness. We understand that that homelessness is not just about the statistics of how many people sleep rough on the streets of London.
It is about people who are made in the image of God and whose critical needs are much more than a warm meal or a pair of shoes. They are people whose lives can be transformed from the inside out by the grace and love of Christ. And the Heavenly Father who sent his Son into the world to seek and to save lost and homeless people like us, stands with open arms to welcome home all who come to Him. The promise of the Gospel is that God will one day bring heaven to earth and there will be a new world where we will all be perfectly at home, perfectly secure, and where all our longings and desires will be fully met.
Until that day comes, we continue to reach out in love and compassion to all who are in need. In the words of that well-known reformed theologian, Bruce Springsteen, “I’m working on a dream, Though sometimes it feels so far away …I’m working on a dream, And I know it will be mine someday.”
We are all working on a dream, a dream to see lives touched and changed by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Thank you, London City Mission, for all that you do, and thank you, Webber Street staff, for your magnificent work for the welfare and support of the homeless.