George Whitefield pioneered field preaching to coal miners and others who could not afford a day off to come to church. At first, this practice was abysmal to John Wesley because preaching was only considered proper in the church. John started to lighten up when he realized that Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, well, on the mount and not inside a synagogue. And the numbers didn’t lie. Before long, both Wesley brothers were field preaching and attracting several thousand listeners at a time. They never hit George’s critical mass (as many as 30,000 for one sermon–and with no electronic amplification!), but he was a real celebrity.
I hope that this comic also speaks to the Frank Schaefer trial last week in United Methodism (a pastor put on trial for performing the marriage of his son to another man, which is forbidden in our Book of Discipline). Perhaps the legalists (bible and tradition all the way!) and the anti-nomians (screw the bible and tradition!) are equally wrong. Maybe Jesus shows us a middle way (wait, isn’t that also what Wesley was all about?!) where Christ does not abolish the law, but fulfills it, creating a new way to be in community, a new way where so-called saints and classic sinners can all fit in the same community. A church trial punishing a clergy may uphold the law, but it also shows an entire gay community that they are not welcome “just as they are” in our church (no matter what we say to the contrary).