Pride month is about taking stock of our past, present, and future as an Affirming Ministry, along with everyone else in North America. Being a congregation that embraces and includes the LGBTQ community, we must be willing to take a clear look at who we are and what we do. Our Pride service is at the end of June, but I think these are also values we need to take into all parts of our ministries. Earlier this week a certain bully of a president decided to make a statement. If you don’t like me calling him a bully, a warning that you won’t like the rest of this sermon. But I urge you to hear me out all the same. He wanted to show that he understood the people. That he was strong and courageous. That he was a man of God. That, dare I say, he was a disciple.
And so, he did the most cruel thing he could come up with: ordered hundreds of protesters to be tear-gassed and beaten until they were cleared out of St. John’s Episcopalian church in DC. He then walked to the church, held the bible in question for a few minutes, and walked back to the White House.
There are many more eloquent people that have made it clear what he did is the antithesis of devout Christianity, of decency, of simply being a good person. But he knew that the church- the building- and the Bible are important to Christians. And so, if he connected himself with those two things, he could demonstrate he was like all the other Christians out there. A disciple of Jesus. Compare this to the priests that stood on the front lines with water to clear out tear gas, who prayed over protesters, who took the brunt of batons and death threats to protect others. Which one is more like Jesus?
The disciples of Jesus’ time were given clear instructions by him before he departed. “Go forth and make disciples of all the Nations”. He has spent the better part of his leadership teaching them how: be kind to others, fight for justice, give away your possessions, resist evil. He tells them to do this in all corners of the world, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And that Jesus will be with them until the end of ages.
There is a lot there, but the most important thing is that they aren’t called to stand in front of churches with a bible for a photo-op. They aren’t called to simply wear the shirt that says Blessed. They aren’t called to focus on the aesthetics of being a Christian. They are called to perform the actions of disciples. Discipleship is relationship. There is no one point when any of us can say “I am a disciple!” and go home, ignoring the plight of the oppressed and the greed of the oppressors.
Discipleship is relationship. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t performative, it isn’t about the glamorous work.
Of course, this made me think: what are we doing that is just performative? What am I doing that is just surface-level work, barely skimming the surface of racism, homophobia, and discrimination in my community? Sure, I write down #blacklivesmatter, I share some articles on how to protest safely. I might sign a petition or two. But is that what Jesus is calling me to do as a disciple?Go forth and make disciples of all the nations. Go forth and be love embodied. Go forth and resist oppression, seek justice, proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, in word and action. Am I really doing that? Or am I putting on the appearance of someone who does.
Our community needs to be a community of disciples. And Discipleship is relationship- not one-off slogans, but an ongoing journey with each other, with those whose faces we don’t see and voices we don’t hear, one that transforms our very souls and makes us grow. Discipleship is commitment to growing in Christ.
It will be uncomfortable. For those that were here for the Affirming process, think back to the workshops where we had to confront our internalized prejudices. No one who reckons with their internalised racism or homophobia is comfortable when they realize how far they have to go. It wasn’t comfortable for the original disciples either. They worshipped and doubted, together. They doubted, perhaps each other, Jesus, perhaps themselves. And as they encountered their own limits of experience, their own internalised ideas, they grew. Love grew through them by the Holy Spirit. The church, the community of imperfect but hopeful believers, grew.
Today being Trinity Sunday, this is how I think the Trinity works to make this possible:
You are made in God’s image. Imperfect, but God doesn’t want you perfect. God wants you moving.
Jesus has shown us the way, including by defeating Death itself, to discipleship.
We are capable of doing this through the Holy Spirit, one step at a time.
Last week, another church, another group of disciples met. Our board agreed that it is well past time that it takes anti-oppression training. Every member will learn how to be uncomfortable, learn from that discomfort, address the injustice that is in our community, and grow Love beyond our walls. They also agreed that our youth will learn about racism, privilege, and how they can be disciples in action, not just performative activism. Neither of these will cure racism or homophobia. But they will be a committed, sure, step towards the kingdom that Jesus is leading us towards. We will learn from activists across the country who are telling us what they need from us, we will learn from the oppressed what we can do to be in relationship, not just in lip-service. To be on the front lines and not just posing in front of a church with an unread Bible. Discipleship is relationship. Discipleship is love, enacted out in the world. Not by perfect saints, but imperfect believers in a better world. One more step along, fellow disciples. Amen.