This is the question I’ve spent most of my professional life wondering, as I’ve alternated between evangelical and progressive settings, respecting both for very different reasons. Despite my respect for both ends of the theological spectrum, I’ve often gotten frustrated by each.
Why can’t Jesus and justice co-exist in the same church?
In my mind, they certainly should be able to.
After all, it’s because of Jesus (and his life, teaching, and message) that I serve others; That I try to advocate for the least of these; That I attempt to stand in the gap and give voice to the voiceless.
To me, Jesus and justice are inextricably linked.
I’ve longed to find a church that is unashamedly focused on Jesus… And that because they are, they’re also unashamedly committed to social justice.
I was beginning to think that such a church didn’t exist.
But after we grew frustrated by the lack of welcome at one neighborhood church, we decided to try another. There, we received a warm welcome… A welcome that I suspect is directly related to their theology and understanding of Jesus.
This church follows the lectionary and so for the last several weeks, they’ve been knee deep in John 6, unpacking the “bread” chapter - a chapter which I’ve heard preached a number of times. Despite my familiarity with this chapter, each week, the pastor has brought new insights to it. For that reason, I was excited to hear him preach the third week of this series.
In fact, I may have even groaned a bit when I realized he was on vacation.
As a result, a ministerial associate preached.
And oh my word.
They preached the sermon I’ve been longing to hear for years…Maybe my whole adult life.
It was a sermon directly connected to scripture and unapologetically centered on Jesus.
It’s one that married Jesus and social justice through bread and our participation in communion.
It was simple and yet profound.
It left no doubt that this church’s communion table is open to everyone; To anyone.
It also left no doubt that this church serves and advocates for those on the margins because of Jesus, in response to Jesus’ radical hospitality to them.
What made this even more remarkable is that the speaker wasn’t extraordinary. Their mannerisms were, in fact, rather unremarkable. Which means that I wasn’t riveted to the sermon because of anything they were doing; I was riveted because the theology they were preaching was so damn compelling.
So, let’s return to where we began. Why can’t Jesus and justice co-exist in the same church?
As it turns out, maybe they can.
And that’s good news… Not just because it’s a marriage I’ve been waiting nearly two decades for, but also because I need both Jesus and justice.
And so does my community.