This service has been filmed during the period we are worshipping online only while our building undergoes repairs needed following storm damage. During this period and due to equipment limitations, we are unable to hold a complete worship service.


Jesus & the Woke Agenda

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*This morning’s scriptures are John 17 and Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, and come from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

“Woke” seems to be the political and, in some circles, religious buzzword of the year, doesn’t it? Do you ever wonder what it means beyond not asleep? Or, if you do know, do you wonder then why some might want to be the opposite … to be not-woke? Being “woke” or being “anti-woke” is the dividing line in today’s world, a fracture that started here in the US but is spreading to other parts of the world.

The Wikipedia article on the term, “woke,” says: Woke is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”. Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism. Woke has also been used as shorthand for some ideas of the American Left involving identity politics and social justice, such as white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.

The phrase stay woke is known in AAVE since the 1930s. In some contexts, it referred to an awareness of social and political issues affecting African Americans. The phrase was uttered in recordings from the mid-20th century by Lead Belly and, post-millennium, by Erykah Badu.

The term woke gained further popularity in the 2010s. Over time, it became increasingly connected to matters beyond race such as gender and other marginalized identities. During the 2014 Ferguson protests, the phrase was popularized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans. After the term was used on Black Twitter, woke was increasingly used by white people, who often used it to signal their support for BLM; some commentators criticized this usage as cultural appropriation. The term became popular with millennials and members of Generation Z. As its use spread internationally, woke was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.

By 2020, many on the political right and some in the center in several Western countries began sarcastically using the term as a pejorative for various leftist and progressive movements and ideologies they perceived as overzealous, performative, or insincere. In turn, some commentators came to consider woke an offensive term that disparages persons who promote progressive ideas involving identity and race. Since then, derivative terms such as woke-washing and woke capitalism were coined to describe the conduct of persons or entities who signal support for progressive causes rather than working toward genuine change.

Now, a few of you are about to turn away – politics from the pulpit and all that – but hear me out because wokeness and anti-wokeness are part of Christianity as well and have been from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry to this very moment. More importantly, both have an impact on the future of the church and on faith itself, especially for those who are in the process of or have left the church – our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of whether they are sitting in our pews. In part, today’s message is very much directed toward those very folks – folks who may now be suffering a kind of religious discrimination, especially given the Supreme Court’s ruling on 303 Creative.

Religious discrimination is treating a person or group differently because of the particular beliefs which they hold about a religion. This includes instances when adherents of different religions, denominations or non-religions are treated unequally due to their particular beliefs, either by the law or in institutional settings, such as employment or housing.

Religious discrimination is related to religious persecution, the most extreme forms of which would include instances in which people have been executed for beliefs which have been perceived to be heretical. Laws that only carry light punishments are described as mild forms of religious persecution or religious discrimination. In recent years, terms such as religism and religionism have also been used, but “religious discrimination” remains the more widely used term.

Even in societies where freedom of religion is a constitutional right, adherents of minority religions sometimes voice their concerns about religious discrimination against them. Insofar as legal policies are concerned, cases that are perceived to be cases of religious discrimination might be the result of interference in the religious sphere by other spheres of the public that are regulated by law.

Religious discrimination is a two-way street as religion can and does tend to practice its own form of discrimination against anyone it perceives to be unworthy, unclean, or worse. And in this country, this type of religious discrimination is becoming more prevalent, more bold, and … more violent in rhetoric. It is not just toxic, it is poisonous.

In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren talks about an aspect of the history of Christianity that most folks don’t want to admit to or acknowledge – what Phyllis Tickle named The Great Emergence, and what Harvey Cox calls the Age of Spirit.

Tickle held that, every 500 years or so, the Christian faith holds a “rummage sale.” It sorts through all that it has accumulated over recent centuries. What feels like extra baggage it sends to the recycling center, and what feels like essential travel gear it preserves for the future, thus opening a new chapter in Christian history. She identifies those every 500 years rummage sales occurring with the fall of the Roman Empire (500 AD), the Great Schism (1000 AD), and the Great Reformation (1500 AD). Since releasing her book and theory, some Jewish scholars have suggested Judaism has a similar pattern.

Cox made a similar assertion in his book, The Future of Faith, but assesses history a little differently. Cox names the first era of Christianity the Age of Faith, the period from Jesus to around 300 AD. The Age of Faith was characterized by diversity, energy, vitality, suffering, persecution, courage, and rapid growth. Cox says that first era ended when Constantine converted to Christianity and Christianity entered into a “troubling alliance with his Roman Empire.” Unity of belief became politically useful – and enforceable. The empire that crucified Jesus now claimed to be the agent, patron, and police force of a newly dominant Christian religion. As such, it demanded the full allegiance of all believers. In order to promote unity in the church and in the empire, the emperor mandated that the bishops gather to develop creeds, thus enlisting the clergy to help enforce submission to the emperor’s regime. This allowed the Empire to claim to be validated by the God of the Christians, not just the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon. Thus, the Age of Belief was born.

Does any of that sound familiar? It should. It’s playing out on the national stage right now as the “woke” and the “anti-woke” battle for power with the “anti-woke” far more prone to declare their plans and policies are being carried out “in the name of God.” Some, through things like “Project 2025,” are even proposing a Constantine like consolidation of political and religious power into one office – that of the President of the US. By the way, this same ideology is playing out in other countries as well.

In the passage from John, Jesus prays “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Houston, we have a problem. We’re clearly no longer “one” and I regret to say I’m not 100% sure we’re believing as Jesus intended us to believe.

Knowing what has transpired in the church and world as we approached and entered the 21st century … you know … 2000 AD, it’s not hard to see Tickle’s point about those 500-year rummage sales or recycling events. As I’ve argued, people aren’t leaving the church … the church is leaving the building. If you spend any time listening to those who have left or are leaving, you find they haven’t all lost their faith and become God-hating atheists – let me pause to state that not all atheists hate God, they just don’t believe in God and really don’t believe most people purporting to be Christians are Christian – they haven’t all lost their faith. Many, many, many of those who’ve left organized religion are finding a stronger, deeper faith and are far better at following the Way of the Cross than the people they left behind in those buildings. In other words, they’re emerging … and to meld the theories of Tickle and Cox, they’re emerging into the Age of Spirit … I’m not convinced they’re not being called by the Spirit to do just that. We – the Church – have been caught in the Age of Belief for the better part of 1700 years during which the Church has slipped further and further into the ways of the world and away from the Way of the Cross, the Way Jesus taught us in the first place.

Jayson D. Bradley wrote an article for Relevant Magazine in May about why people, specifically Millennials and Gen Z, were or are leaving the church and five reasons for staying. Bradley states, “The early 2000s were awash in books explaining why Millennials [were] abandoning church. In a similar vein, there’s been no shortage of social media posts, books and conferences about how Gen Z is leaving, too.

A portion of every generation has pushed their churches to grow in areas of sin and weakness. From monastics urging churches out of the distracting cities and into the deserts, to aggressive arguments over the sale of indulgences, fights for emancipation in Europe, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam and so much more—there’s been a prophetic portion of the Church seeking to realign churches with their larger purpose and roles in the world.

And, I’m sure there have also been those who walked away from churches out of frustration for their deficiencies.

I don’t want to diminish this struggle. I know what it’s like to wonder if it’s all worth frequent headaches. For two years, I couldn’t darken the doorway of a church; I was sure I was done. Many of the issues that continually come up in the “why millennials are leaving the Church” posts definitely played a part in my disenchantment.”

Bradley sugarcoated some of the more serious reasons with the word “deficiencies.” The truth is many people haven’t left. They’ve escaped. They’ve escaped environments that foster abuse, insensitivity, marginalization, and literally contempt, loathing … hate for others. They’ve left environments that consistently told them how bad, guilty, shameful, irredeemable they are. They’ve fled spiritual death to find spiritual life. They’ve held Tickle’s 500-year rummage sale, sent the toxicity to the recycling bin, and moved on to Cox’s Age of the Spirit, and rightfully so.

So what are we to do, those of us left here in the buildings that agree with those who left? Do we just give up, pack up, hold the necessary church meetings to resolve disposition of material and physical property and call it a day?

Bradley says no, and so do I. Bradley suggests 5 reasons we stand our ground. First and despite Christ’s prayer that the Church would model a trinitarian-like oneness (John 17:20–21), we can be frequently fractured and set against each other. This isn’t just the Church on a macro-level—the local church models this behavior in similar ways.

Take a breath and reflect on this.  Have you ever gossiped, sown discord, manipulated events, fought for power, demanded your way, etc.? Maybe not recently but think back. Odds are at some point in some church you have.

It’s been a problem since the Church’s inception. This is why Paul had to warn the Galatians that, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).

Bradley suggests, “These kinds of issues might seem small, but that’s because we don’t see how our behavior affects the entire organism that is the church. I’m sure that if we saw the full effect of our judgments, selfishness, backbiting and power-plays, we’d be surprised at how far and deep they reach.”

Bradley also suggests that the Church needs reformers, that Jesus started his reformation movement from within Judaism, and that if we really want to identify with Jesus (and the prophets), we need to continue to love the Church from within while we push, cajole and shout her into Christlikeness. It might seem easier to leave and for those who’ve experienced the worst of toxic churches, leaving is absolutely mandatory for their own spiritual and physical safety, but if you sit down and listen to them, leaving is not easy either. Leaving comes with its own set of difficulties.

Bradley says, “Every voice that has called for reform (even the ones we celebrate now) experienced pushback, threats and misunderstanding. But there’s nothing more Christlike than challenging the Church to be more sincere and full of grace and truth. If the Church is going to continue reforming, it will be because of the ones who stay— not the ones who leave.”

This is where Bradley and I see things differently – not in the need for reform, for returning to the Way of the Cross, but I see those who left or are leaving as also calling for reform, and we should be listening to them. Not only listening, but asking them to come back and teach us what they’ve learned.

Bradley points out that there is still good in the Church. “Jesus encourages us not to make a show of our goodness and promises us that the God who sees what is done in secret will reward us (Matt. 6:1–4). This means that many of the most faithful and hardworking people are doing good work that we know nothing about.

For every divisive news story about hot-button social issues involving Christians, there are many serving on the streets, in prisons, in soup kitchens and everywhere else there’s need.

For every story of ministry corruption or a pastor’s financial misdeeds, there are many sacrificing to keep people fed, clothed and cared for.”

Bradley goes on to point out two more reasons for not leaving the church – that the Church is a support system, and that the Church is a spiritual discipline.

In the time I spend listening to and learning from those who have or are deconstructing, Bradley has a point. One of the issues I hear is the struggle to find community and, in that struggle, feeling somewhat isolated and unsupported, especially since deconstruction often brings with it leaving not only the church but losing close friends and family who didn’t leave with you.

OK, all that was the long way around the barn to get to this point … the division between woke and anti-woke as it relates to our world and, more importantly, our faith.

The reason people are leaving our buildings is reflected in both the anti-wokeness of some churches and in political anti-wokeness. Those who aren’t leaving due to serious physical danger or trauma are leaving because of the pervasive presence of isms … racism, sexism … and of phobias … homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia … all of which are antithetical to the teachings of Christ, the Way of the Cross … all of which are anti-Christ.

And let’s face it! Jesus was woke! God is woke! The book that the anti-woke love to weaponize is filled with evidence of just how very woke our triune God is, was, and ever shall be. One only has to study the red letters, the prophets, and even Paul’s letters admonishing certain churches to understand just how woke they are.

I know I’m preaching in to the choir for those who belong to Union Grove.Tthe church at Union Grove is fully aware and very woke in every respect. I know we strive to follow Christ, to call out for reform, to stand in the gap for the oppressed, the outcast, the outright rejected. I know we love our neighbors and our enemies, and that we are especially called to be the hands and feet of Christ within our community. And I know that we love and support one another in our calling.

I also know that we reflect the passage from Matthew in our community, in our families, in the world … wheat among weeds … something we should give thanks for as I know God has intervened numerous times to keep this little patch of wheat called Union Grove from being uprooted or swallowed by weeds.

Farmers and vegetable gardeners will tell you the importance of cover crops. Cover crops are planted to feed the soil, to protect the soil, and to suppress weed growth preventing weeds from taking over. I not only see this tiny community at Union Grove being wheat among weeds, I see our work being similar to planting cover crops that will allow other patches of wheat to see us, know they are not alone, and connect with us. I see us as the fertile soil of last week’s passage from Matthew where those who’ve left toxic churches while holding on to their faith might find a place to grow roots. And I see us as the sowers in last week’s passage, going out into the weed to harvest those wheat seeds. I see us as having planted a new field built on the emergence of the Age of the Spirit here at Union Grove.

And I pray that those who are woke like Jesus, who’ve left other churches where the world’s anti-wokeness was pervasive, would join us in seeding this new field at Union Grove to grow a community that is focused on a new-old kind of Christianity … the kind that follows Christ.

Creator God, Holy Gardener who sustains and nurtures all life, open us today to your life-giving grace and transformative love. As we notice our internal struggles, empower us to greet the wheat and the weeds in our own hearts with care and compassion. As we recognize the challenges and suffering in our community, inspire us to meet the weeds and the wheat in our neighbors with acceptance and hope. We know that you alone have the final say, and so we give ourselves over to you as instruments of hospitality and grace that we would tend our neighbors even as we are tended by you.


Confession & Pardon:

We know for sure that we do not have to talk God into forgiving us. God knows our need before we ask and has demonstrated in Jesus a therapeutic love that can never be exhausted. In confession, we get honest and ask the Spirit God to come in and put things right. Let us pause now in silent confession…

(Silent prayer)

Let us pray.

Merciful God,

You plant each of us like seeds in the same field and together we are nourished and nurtured by the sun We sway in the wind and are refreshed by the rain. We are blessed by the knowledge that you want us to grow towards what you call us to be.

When we deprive others of that same opportunity, forgive us.

When we want to uproot those whom we believe do not belong in our part of the field, forgive us.

When we label others as good or bad rather than accept them for who they are, forgive us.

When we are reluctant to acknowledge that we ourselves are a mixture of weeds and wheat, forgive us.

When we are afraid to look into the fields of our own lives to see what is growing there, forgive us.

O God, you know us inside and out, through and through.

You search us out and lay your hand upon us.

You know what we are going to say even before we speak.

So we pray that you will help us to reach out to the uprooted and rejected, the lonely and the outcast, and to develop and grow the good in ourselves, in others, and in the world.

This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Brothers and Sisters, listen, to this Word:

“Where sin abounds, love much more abounds.”

Receive from such abundance and give thanks. You, my siblings, are among the richest people in the world. You have the wealth of Christ with you always, even to the end of time.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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