Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founder and former pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado. She’s a leading voice in the emerging church movement, and her writing can be found at www.nadiabolzweber.com and on the Sarcastic Lutheran blog. Her most recent book is Shameless: A Sexual Reformation (Convergent Books).
Posts By This Author
Sermon On Why Hope and Vapid Optimism Are Not The Same Thing
… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.
As many of you know, I have a regular spiritual practice of warning people that I will disappoint them. A couple times a year, we host a Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints brunch for newcomers. Everyone goes around the room saying what drew them to this community or what keeps them here. They usually say it’s a comfortable place where they can just be who they are or they love the singing or the community. One time someone said that their mom was Catholic and their dad was atheist and that this church kinda felt like a combo of the two. And while I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what that meant, I thought it was awesome.
Well, I usually am the last to speak at these events and when I do and I always say how great it is to hear all of that, but that I need them to hear something. And that is that this church will disappoint you. Or I will fail to meet your expectations, or I’ll say something stupid and hurt your feelings. It’s not a matter of if it’s when. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.
Sermon on Baptism and the Devil
In the church of my childhood it was taught that the “age of accountability” was somewhere around 12. To hit the age of accountability was to, like, spiritually go off of your parents’ insurance. At age 12 the clock starts ticking, spiritually speaking; you know right from wrong now and because of this you are accountable for every time you screw up. And if you sin knowing right from wrong and then die before you chose to be baptized, you might burn in Hell for eternity. So age 12, as you can imagine, is when kids start choosing to get baptized. The lag time between entering the age of accountability and having your slate wiped clean through baptism can be terrifying. Many of us kids would pray not to die in a car crash before we were baptized, like other people pray to not get sick before their employee benefits kick in. So basically, 12-year-old Church of Christ kids experience a wave of devotion like a Great Awakening comprised only of sixth graders. And this is partly because we were all terrified of the devil and temptation and sin. Since, as we were told, all the bad things we’d done may have been washed clean in baptism, but the devil was waiting right outside the baptistery to try and get us to be bad again.
A Sermon on Hacking Off Our Own Limbs for Jesus
Were I one for object lessons I’d have brought a nice sharp axe with me into the pulpit today. Because it’s only once in awhile that we get to hear Jesus talk about brutal self-mutilation as a sign of discipleship.
Growing up I was terrified of those verses in Mark’s Gospel that we just heard – the ones where Jesus suggests that if your hand causes you to sin cut it off, and if your foot causes you to sin hack that off too, and if your eye causes you to sin gauge the sucker out. I remember the summer I was 11 years old when I stole candy from KMart and then hid it in the heat duct in my room. And I remember hearing this passage soon after that and thinking how my hand had indeed caused me to sin. And then and there I decided to never steal again lest Jesus insist I hack off my own limbs.
The problem, of course, is that my hand has never caused a darn thing. My eye doesn’t cause me to sin. My foot can’t be held accountable for my missteps. If you want to find the culprit behind my sin don’t look at my hand. Look at my heart. My poor feet just do what they’re told.
Sermon on Snot-Nosed Children, Insecurity, and The Lap of God
A couple days ago I called my friend Kae so we could talk about this Gospel reading where Jesus takes a child in his arms and teaches the disciples that if they welcome a child in his name they welcome God. And we started talking about the actual reality of children and how difficult small ones can be to manage. Kae told me of this brilliant technique she employs when dealing with toddlers.
She said it really helps her to be patient and compassionate with defiant, emotional, snot-faced toddlers when she just thinks of them like little versions of really drunk friends. Then when they keep falling down and bumping into things and bursting into tears she just treats them like she would a friend who is too drunk to know what they are doing, and who you just try and make sure doesn’t hurt themselves, and who you clean up bodily fluids from, and make sure they drink some water, and then just lovingly change them into their pajamas and tuck them into bed.
Children are really a mess.
Sermon for Ordination: You Don't Have What It Takes — But You Have a God Who Does
Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25. Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world am I doing? I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”
But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.”
I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it. And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.
And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.
Sometimes It Hurts; A Sermon on Healing
When Jesus showed up, I think it’s interesting that he took that deaf man away from the THEY. He removes him from that system. He sticks his fingers in his ears and spits and touched his tongue and looks to heaven and the text says, he sighed. He looked to heaven and sighed. And the thing is, Jesus didn’t then rebuke the man or his deafness. He didn’t say, I cast out the demon of deafness. He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN."
It’s a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? Be open.
It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week. This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears and saying “BE OPENED." And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He sighed he looked to heaven and he said, "Be opened." To which I said, “No thanks."
'This Teaching is HARD. Who Can Accept It?': A Sermon on Eucharist
Every three years, the assigned readings during the summer include five weeks of working our way through the Gopel of John, chapter 6, and what is called the "Bread of Life Discourse." And let’s just say that if Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote a musical called The Book of John they’d have plenty of material from just this chapter alone.
In the last five weeks we’ve gone from the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm at sea — by the way, Jesus walks on water during a storm at sea so often in the gospels that I’ve started thinking it was less about being miraculous and more about just getting in some cardio — anyhow, the crowd chased him down, demanding more bread, and then he goes and says that he is the Bread of Life come down from heaven (which angered the nice religious folks), and rather than backing off, he makes it even weirder by saying whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.
Which is where we pick up today when some of his disciples are like, “Uh Jesus, that teaching is HARD…who can accept it?” And many of them leave. And I have to say, I don’t really blame them.
This teaching IS hard. But honestly, Jesus had a lot of sayings that were HARD. Sayings such as, " Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," "You who are without sin cast the first stone," "Sell all you have and give it to the poor," "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "If you seek to save your life you will lose it."
I totally understand the reaction of these disciples who say these teachings are hard, who can accept them?
But this week I started to wonder if maybe those disciples didn’t have to leave Jesus … I mean, when we make the accepting of hard teachings the litmus test for being a follower of Jesus, I wonder if we are perhaps missing the point altogether.
Sermon on Eternal Life and Living Like Liberace With Your Mom and Her Friends Forever
Jesus said to them, Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. - John 6:47-48
When I was in my 20s and totally out of control and pretty much estranged from my conservative Christian parents I used to joke about how my mom would try and guilt me into connecting with them more often by saying in her Kentucky accent “Nadia, the least you could do is come visit us more often … since we won’t be spending eternity together." Which made me wonder if the church she went to realized that the promise of spending eternity with my mom and her friends wasn’t exactly the best-selling point. At least not for a 21 year old.*
But that’s kind of what I was taught: that being a Christian was all about where you will spend eternity after you die – kind of like purchasing a life-insurance plan for the hereafter. And if you manage to be good enough here on earth then when you die you get to go to heaven and be like the spiritual 1 percent for eternity and live in big mansions with Jesus and wear awesome jewels and walk streets of gold.
Which made it sound like eternal life is basically about getting to live like Liberace Forever.
All Sinners, All Saints, All Welcome
Editor's Note: God's Politics contributor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, recently delivered an address to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, where she told the story of her spiritual journey from tattooed, alcoholic ne'erdowell to tattooed, 20-years-sober, Lutheran minister. Nadia's is a powerful tale of redemption, God's unconditional love, and staggeringly real grace.
Nadia told the thousands of Lutheran youth gathered in the Big Easy earlier this month:
Some of your parents and some of your pastors were really upset that I was your speaker tonite. They felt like I was someone who should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of teenagers. And you know what I have to say to that? They are absolutely right.
Somebody with my past of alcoholism and drug abuse and promiscuity and lying and stealing should not be allowed to talk to you. You know what? Somebody with my present — who I am now — shouldn't be allowed to talk to you because I am sarcastic, heavily tattooed, I swear like a truck driver — they're having a heart attack back there, going, "Please help her not swear."
I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to be here talking to you. But you know what? That's the God we're dealing with, people.
Mary Magdalene, the Massacre in Our Town, and Defiant Alleluias
As a woman preacher, I can’t help but love St. Mary Magdalene. She was the first witness to the resurrection. When I first discerned my call to be a preacher I got a tattoo of her on my forearm – it’s from a rare depiction in ancient Christian art – of her proclaiming the resurrection to the apostles. I felt that when I needed to, I could borrow her strength. And since July 22 is her feast day, we decided weeks ago to ditch the normal Sunday readings and celebrate her as an important saint to us.
But then Friday happened. I was still in New Orleans when I saw the news of the shooting. After praying that you were all safe I soon thought, “we can’t really hold a celebration of a saint today … it just wouldn’t make any sense.”
I had gone to New Orleans with an idea for a sermon on Mary Magdalene – a sermon about who gets to speak in the Bible and who gets to be named and blah, blah, blah.
And just as I was about to ditch it all and go with the regularly assigned reading for today, I went back and again read this story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb and realized, given the violence and terror thrust upon our community this week, that maybe Mary had more to say about it than I could. I decided again to borrow strength and voice from her. So were I a pastor who titled her sermons, this one would be WWMMP – "What Would Mary Magdalen Preach?"