From where I live in Upper Shirley, Southampton (in the UK), it is about a 25 to 30 minute drive to Netley. I have often felt that this is a “bit of a trek” for getting to church. I’d love to get others from our local Methodist “Circuit” to get involved at Netley, but such is the geography of our area that there are few of us that live on that side of the city and even fewer that would contemplate regular involvement at Netley. It is “too far” and we are not really involved in the community there.
It is a very plausible argument for not being there. Who could blame anyone for instead wishing to give their time and energy to their “local church” and the community they live in? It is where we become rooted and the place where we get to know the needs of the people who live in it.
Who could have blamed the early church for just staying in Jerusalem – keeping their collective heads down and serving one another’s needs? They could go about the work of just being good neighbours and caring for those in need. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?
Well, actually, “no” – Jesus travelled a lot. We can’t say exactly how much, but we know that he journeyed extensively in the region of first century Palestine.
Today I was reading about another traveller and itinerant Methodist – one of a determined and courageous group of men of God commissioned to take the Gospel to the most remote places in America in the 18th century – Francis Asbury.
Asbury got people organised. He recruited people. He sent them out – American apostles if you like. Together they changed the face of America, and by the time of Asbury’s death there were over 210,000 followers and 4,000 preachers.
There must have been something about these people that marked them out. There must have been something about the message they brought that was attractive. There must have been something about the lives they led that made others want to be a part of the vision they brought.
There is, of course, a power in the Gospel story itself. There is, as the song says, “power in the name of Jesus”. For some people this is enough. For some times this is enough. But we live in an age where we can no longer take for granted the acceptance of our faith, of the God we worship, or the authority of the Church. The post-modern era is no respecter of inherited wealth, authority or faith; it is a brutally frank and unrepentant and unapologetic demander of the authentic.
Sadly, I do not believe that we will be seen to carry this required authenticity when we are so far from the kind of total life commitment of our forefathers.
Whether in Netley or Nebraska, Southampton or South Carolina, our stories and our lives must reflect the authentic hallmarks of followers of Jesus. We must learn to tread the roads He trod and serve as He served – to lead lives that are truly authentic, that provoke questions, that make real the values of the Kingdom of God. And if we want Netley to have a future as a community of faith, then we will need to ask ourselves what that authentic, provocative, kingdom life looks like in that place.
Today’s “featured photograph” is one of some “horses tails” clouds, lit up at sunset. It could have been taken anywhere – maybe somewhere exotic… like Monument Valley, or Yellowstone, or the wide open plains of Mongolia! But it was, in fact, right outside my study door at home in Southampton. Nature has the power to move us wherever we are, and so too does the story of the Gospel – in every corner of the world, even Netley, the authentic life of a follower of Christ and of His Church has the power to change everything. We may not be ready or called to travel to the ends of the earth, but below the skies of Southampton and Netley, people are every bit as much in need of the Good News.