Is Jesus Too Woke? [Sermon]

The United Church of Christ has a statement of faith.

But the United Church of Christ also says it receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith.

And a early slogan of the Stone-Campbell movement, foundational to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is “We have no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the Divine.”

Among churches that require agreeing to, and perhaps reciting, one or more creeds, among denominations that have rigid teaching, or doctrine, sometimes with the legal power of dogma, the two denominations to which this church belongs grants an unusual amount of room to grow into the people, and the church, that God has dreamed us to be.

So no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you’re not only welcome here, you are an important part of this dazzling bouquet we call United Congregational Christian Church.

Let’s go to God in prayer.
God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.
Amen.

“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words,
of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”

As someone who grew up in a conservative evangelical church, I recognize a particular interpretation of this verse.

As Christians, we should not be afraid of speaking about our faith. That includes morality, especially about sexuality and cultural mores.

One of our denominations, the United Church of Christ, has a stream, the Congregational Church, that traces its history to the Pilgrims, a people of strict morals and simple living. And they would be in agreement with this view.

In the United States of America today, we have no shortage of people willing to share their views on what it means to be a Christian, and even to enshrine their understanding into civil law.

I’ve seen lots of symbols and bumper stickers on cars:

  • Jesus is my copilot
  • God said it, I believe it, that settles it
  • Pro God, Pro Life, Pro Gun

These people who are unashamed of Jesus.

But the verse is

“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words,
of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”

Russell D. Moore is editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. He has been a minister in the Southern Baptist Church, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

You might guess that he and I don’t agree on a lot of things.

But in an August 8, 2023 interview with Scott Detrow on NPR’s Fresh Air, he explained why he sees Christianity is in crisis.

It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching —
“turn the other cheek” — [and] to have someone come up after to say,
“Where did you get those liberal talking points?”
And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say,
“I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,”
the response would not be,
“I apologize.”
The response would be,
“Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.”
And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.

When a pastor is criticized for quoting Jesus, that pastor has a couple of options:
quit quoting Jesus
risk people leaving the church over the sayings of Jesus

Are some church members ashamed of the words of Jesus?
Are some pastors ashamed of the words of Jesus?

“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words,
of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”

Much of what I hear from the loudest public Christians
comes from the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures.

Some more of it comes from the letters attributed to Paul of Tarsus.

But when it comes to the words of Jesus, many of them seem a little uncomfortable.

On the more progressive side, sometimes there’s a reluctance to publicly identify as Christian.

Christianity has become associated with a particularly conservative and almost puritanical worldview, and many of the more progressive followers of Jesus may be concerned about guilt-by-association.

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words,
of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”

How have we gotten to a place where people who follow Jesus’s words are nervous about calling themselves Christian, and people who call themselves Christian are nervous about proclaiming Jesus’ words?

Is Jesus to woke for our times?

Is Jesus too woke for the name of Jesus?

Maybe it’s time for progressive Christians to take back the symbols of Christianity.

Maybe it’s time to have a cross bumper sticker alongside one that says “Pro Choice.”

Maybe it’s time for a rainbow Jesus fish.

Maybe it’s time to talk about housing for the homeless as a way to honor an itinerant first century rabbi.

Maybe it’s time to talk about immigrants the way we talk about the Good Samaritan.

My challenge for all of us this week is to seek ways of living our faith without shame, without fear, in ways that the Son of Man would not be ashamed of us.

“Those who are ashamed of me and of my words,
of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed.”

Amen.


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