How comfortable are we right now? I’ve never been particularly comfortable in a church – building or otherwise. That has little to do with the fact that I’ve not yet found a pew comfortable for more than five minutes at a time. But perhaps that is good. We can become too comfortable in church. We like our buildings, churches or otherwise, to be warm and inviting and welcoming. To be able to offer hospitality and a resting place. I would not want to take away from that. But I would add that very often the call of the Gospel is to go out rather than to come in. We find in today’s Gospel reading Jesus teaching in the synagogue. Clearly it was a hard lesson and little comfort was offered.
Gwyddelan and his contemporaries set up their preaching crosses in the street and got on with the task at hand. When the Evangelical Revival came to Wales with Howell Harris and followers, they, like Wesley and Charles before them often preached at any convenient location or even in the street if they were not offered a welcome. Those who came and listened were moved into action. The testament of our ancient places of worship and, I would hope, the desire for our modern ones is that they speak not only of welcoming in and of warmth and hospitality, but that they also prepare, challenge, and equip those who come, to go out once again. To go out in the service of the Gospel, whatever road that may lead to. Paul’s letter reminds us to go wearing the whole armour of God. I’ll reflect on just one item. We are instructed to put on our feet whatever will make us ready to proclaim the Gospel of Peace. I find that an engaging and encouraging image. The footprints that we leave should be ones of peaceful encounters. Whether it be physical footprints on the earth – our Carbon Footprint perhaps? Or the footprint of our interactions with others. What impressions do we leave behind us? How do we treat those with whom we do not agree? How do we treat those who seek our help, refuge, asylum? Everywhere we go, and in everything that we do our legacy should be that of proclaiming the Gospel of Peace. Going out with peace on our feet. Easy to say, a lifetime to achieve. How do we encounter those, in peace, with whom we fundamentally disagree? The first step, I think, has to be, to begin with conversation humbly without prejudice and without being ready to offer a PHD’s worth of answers. Conversation means listening as well as speaking.
For a number of years now I have been privileged to be part of a team offering hospitality to speakers, artists, and contributors at the Greenbelt festival. Generally my task has been to drive those arriving from airport or hotel or, on one occasion, the deepest parts of the New Forrest to the site of the festival. Once again this year I shall be part of that team of volunteers. When you have nowhere to go but the road ahead of you, conversations abound. This isn’t the moment for retelling the tales from the driving seat, you’ll be pleased to hear. Over the years there have been a huge number of beautiful encounters at the festival. The late Mike Yaconelli, American lay pastor of a small church for people who don’t like church, once commented on the Greenbelt Sunday Service: That it was a glimpse of heaven with different people from every conceivable angle and faction, group and denomination coming together in one place for one moment. A glimpse is all it was, but perhaps a glimpse is enough. We begin simply with the art of coming together and of conversation. The festival generally and these random conversations with folk from all over the world has been one of the things that keeps me going from year to year. Where do we find the energy to engage with Jesus’ hard talk, to go out as Simon Peter, saying, Lord to whom can we go? For yours are the words of eternal life.
News this week has slowly and rather quietly been released that in 2018, 2020 and 2022 there will be a new Festival of Arts, Faith and Justice here in Wales. It will be called Coda. A word which means something in Welsh and in Music. It is a child of Greenbelt and much like the early saints and reformers will, we hope, call us to reflect, to speak out and to rise up: To go out always wearing whatever leads us to walk in the path of peace.