Sermon 180 We Are Not Successful Unless...

Last week I had the dubious honor of gaining a few hundred followers on Threads, the Twitter X competitor. My bio includes being a Christian pastor, but maybe not the kind you're thinking of, what with my commitments to inclusivity, universalism, antiracism, and such.

For the most part, people on Threads are kind. Lots of folks, even those who have long left any sort of organized religion, are happy to connect with a pastor who (at least according to their social media bio) isn't going to heap abuse them for being a socialist, a woman, gay, antiracist, or being a fan of (checks notes) not attempting to overthrow elections.

But then there are the reply-guys who see someone dare to adhere to a religion on social media and feel the compulsion to remind them that all religion is bad actually. For the most part, I don't engage. I just don't have the energy to engage in bad-faith debates on social media anymore. I do that enough with my young children, than you very much ("You promised bedtime was at midnight!" "I never said that once in my life!" "You did and you promised a bath made out of Skittles!")

Occasionally, I do get to hear just enough of someone's story to see where their rage at religion is coming from. It should not be controversial to admit that Christians—because of their beliefs—have caused egregious harm. We have Christians to thank for policies in this country that harm women, LGBTQ people, Native Americans, Black people, immigrants, prisoners, the poor, and so on. There's not a war that our country hasn't started that didn't have the loud support of Christians. Is there an effort to bring relief or liberation to a historically marginalized people? You can count on a lobby of Christians to oppose it.

And yet, here I am, writing the day after helping launch a new location for The Table Church. Another church? Blegh! my social media anti-admirers would chime in. And honestly, I occassionally question myself. If I know the harm that Christianity and churches and the people who attend them have caused, why spend my life caring for a congregation and trying to grow it larger with a new location?

I'm not convinced that the best solution to "religion has caused harm" is to throw our hands up and walk away. Nor do I think the statement "religion has caused harm" is as clearcut as folks like to make it seem. The Powers of misogyny, violence, empire, greed, and hatred seem to get their way even when religion is made scarce. Those same Powers also seem very skilled at taking just about any religion and weaponizing it. Is that an argument against religion or an argument against the Powers?

What I do know is that the folks who show up at The Table are often the ones who 1) know first hand the harm that religion can cause; and 2) can't seem to shake the feeling that Jesus might be up to something good in the world and in their lives after all.

Maybe this is a conversation with my therapist, but I very much am energized by the idea that we can't let the jackasses win. And that's what I feel like I would be doing if I let Christianity be defined by only the churches that want to consolidate power among straight white men and weaponize Scripture to maintain control and assert new kinds of ostracization.

More positively, I've seen the church—by which I mean the people—do some really beautiful, powerful, liberating things. Contrary to both conservative and anti-religion propaganda, name a movement for liberation—civil rights, gay liberation, the feminist agenda, police and prison abolition—and Christians have been present. Maybe not enough Christians. And maybe being protested by other Christians. But Christians nonetheless.

I think the stakes are too high to give up on religion. I've seen it create too much beauty and set too many people free to just walk away from it.

And that's why I'm celebrating what happened at The Table Church yesterday. Another time, another neighborhood where folks can gather and experience love, friendship, and something divine together is a net-positive for the world.

The best is yet to come.

Royal Heralds of Good News

Matthew 9:35

Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.

Announcing = herald of the news
Healing = Sozo = Salvation

Creating Learners and Practioners

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep/follow/observe/protect everything that I’ve commanded you.

Make Disciples = Learners of a Path (original Christians called The Way)
Baptism was an act of identification
Teaching the way of Jesus

This is not the same as "create converts"; this is not prosyltetizing; this is invitation to a way of life; and it's for all. It's verbs.

Josh Scott

By sharing the gospel we mean announcing the belovedness and inclusion of every human being in the love and embrace of God, no exceptions.

By sharing the gospel we mean engaging the practical work of announcing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, and liberation for the oppressed, through concrete action in the world.

This evangelism, however, won’t be an invitation to believe some propositional truths or accept some points of doctrine. It will involve verbs, the doing of gospel work in the world. It also won’t be about producing converts to a religious system, but about the cultivation of human flourishing, whatever a person’s label might be.

The gospel according to Jesus is an announcement that if we choose to see and enter the kingdom, the kin-dom, of God, here and now, a world of justice and enough-ness for everyone isn’t just possible, it’s closer than we’d dare dream.

Fill the City With Joy

Acts 8:4-8

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and began to preach Christ to them. The crowds were united by what they heard Philip say and the signs they saw him perform, and they gave him their undivided attention. 7 With loud shrieks, unclean spirits came out of many people, and many who could not walk or stand were healed. There was great rejoicing in that city.

If the way we "preach Christ" does not bring healing and break people free from the Powers that hold them in bondage; it does not bring the city joy; we're failing.

Liberate the Oppress

Luke 4:16-21

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
19     and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

  • If it's not good news to the poor, it's not good news.
  • If it's not good news to the emprisoned, it's not good news.
  • If it doesn't invite healing or a reshaping of the world for all kinds of bodies, it's not good news.
  • If it does not set people free, it's not good news.

Freedom = Liberation

John 8 - Jesus - You will know the truth will liberate you. If it's not liberating you, it's not the truth.

John 10:10, "The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest."

If it's stealing, killing, or destroying, it's not the way of Jesus. It should bring life.

Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free." For liberattion Christ has liberated us.

Success Is Not

  1. A big crowd, extra services, bigger giving
  2. More members
  3. More theological ascent

Success Is

  1. Is the neighborhood better off. More access to food, healthcare.
  2. High number of immigrants, 1st or 2nd generation. High number of People of Color, black, latino. What justice efforts are they up to? Have we let them lead us?
  3. Have more folks began to practice the way of Jesus?
  4. Do more folks know about a God that loves them unconditionally?
  5. Have we confronted the forces of stealing, killing, and destroying? Have we had altercations with forces working against life? If we don't have confrontations why not?
Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC