Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy

 

 

Sermon Mark 8:31-37 <——-Click here to listen along.  Sermons are a spoken form of communication!

31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

An open letter to the people of God at House for All Sinners and Saints from Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Dear HFASS,

How are you?  I am fine.

Actually that’s not true.

See, I wrote another sermon this week.  A real one.  I worked on it all week.  And then yesterday afternoon I threw it away and just wrote you this letter instead. Because I realized that in my sermon I was trying really hard to convince you of something.

In that sermon I threw away I told you about how My mom loves to remind me that the first time I, as a toddler, strung  3 words together it was “do it self!”  And how Independence and self-reliance comes quite naturally to Americans.  Since one of our most idolized American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson had beautiful things to say about life and nature and contemplation.  but his most famous essay was on “Self-Reliance,”  an ode to individualism and the sanctity of self-sufficiency. [1]

I also mentioned that So much of the American ethos is based on this notion… Rugged individualism is seen as heroic, as though the goal in life is to become some combination of Paul Bunion, the unsinkable Molly Brown and the Marlboro man.  Yes, we can “do it self”.

At which point I got really snarky, maybe too snarky. Because  I was going to tell you about how Religion has colluded in this individualism. How the glorification of the individual can perhaps best be seen in that new title Americans have given to Jesus in the last 100 years… “Personal Lord and Savior”. As though in your contact list between your Personal Assistant and your Personal Trainer can be found Jesus, your personal savior.  And he can be YOUR personal Lord and Savior too if you just choose him.  Like a magical puppy in the pound. If you choose him he’ll be yours. And with your personal magical puppy will come all the warm feelings and love and blessings you can imagine.

But then I was going to tell you how that’s not the Jesus we meet in our text today.  This Jesus says deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.  And if you try and save your life you’ll lose it and if you lose it for the sake of the gospel you’ll gain it.

Of course this saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.  Or deny your diginity and pick up your cross of continued domestic abuse and follow him.  Or deny your experience and pick up your cross of trusting religious authorities to tell you what to believe.

I wanted to convince you that When Jesus says deny yourself, that maybe it’s really denying the self that wants to see itself as separate from God and others.  Deny the self that believes that spirituality is a suffering avoidance program.  Deny the self that does not feel worthy of God’s love. Deny the self that thinks it is more worthy of God’s love than it’s enemy is.  Deny the self that thinks it can do it self.  Deny the self that is turned in on the self.

Because I really want you to know that dying to that false self no matter how painful, will bring you real life.

And I wanted desperately to convince you of this.

But that’s why I threw that sermon out see….because I realized I could never do something that Jesus himself wasn’t able to pull off.

In our text for today Jesus tried to tell Peter that the messiah must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, and priests, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He tried to tell Peter of this great mystery of God and Peter was not convinced.  Peter thought Jesus had lost his last mind. You have to love how Peter did take him aside to rebuke Jesus – you know, so Jesus wouldn’t lose face in front of the guys. Jesus tried to teach Peter the great paschal mystery of Jesus suffering death and resurrection But Peter couldn’t get it from just being told.  Because some things have to be experienced.  Peter, who honestly is always just a stand in for us and the other clueless disciples in the text, well, Peter had not yet experienced Good Friday and Easter.  And without experiencing how at the cross God can gather up all of humanity’s violence and abusive power and even gather up Peter’s own denial of Jesus into God’s own self and then respond with nothing but love and forgiveness….without experiencing the resurrection after what peter saw as the complete loss of hope.  Well, without having experienced all of this he couldn’t know it just by being told it will happen.

So there’s no way I can preach a good enough sermon to convince you that it is not in self-sufficiency and individualism but in dying to self and living to God where life is to be found.  There are simply no rhetorical devices at my disposal to convince you of something that has to be experienced to be known.  I cannot form a sound enough argument to convince you of the mystery of how God does this death and resurrection thing.  But I want to desperately because I have experienced it to be true.  I have experienced the way in which I will pursue what seems to be life in the false promises of consumerism and self-reliance of drugs and liberal politics of higher education and manipulating my family, of religion and p90x until I am laid bare by the emptiness and failure of it all.  And I have experienced the way in which God takes that mess of my own making and make something new in me and in my life.  Something I never would have chosen out of a catalog or created for myself. It may be a small piece of wisdom, or an unexpected friendship or yet another opportunity for me to be forgiven by you. I’ve experienced the death and resurrection of this baptismal life so deeply and so often that it’s no longer a belief.  It’s a knowing.

So if you are faced with your own limitedness in your life right now…you can’t manage to stop drinking on your own, or stop shopping compulsively or stop hating yourself or stop loving someone who is hurting you.  If you are filled with false pride or filled with fear and unable to find motivation to do what you know should be done. Know that, there is no shame in that.  Because as St Paul said, God’s strength is perfected in your weakness.  Denying yourself might just look like letting yourself off the hook for having to be God.  As I like to remind myself a big difference between me and God is that God never thinks he’s Nadia.  So letting God be God for you means denying the cult of the self. both self aggrandizement and self abasement.

So good people of God, I cannot convince you of this.  I can only describe what it looks like (and trust me, it never looks flattering.) When it comes to something I know and not something I simply believe all I can do is write this letter and hand it to you like a field guide.  As your preacher that is all I am authorized to do.  I wish it were a magical puppy.  Instead it’s life and life abundant found in the paradox of losing your self in Christ.

May it be so,

 

Signed,

Your pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber

 

 


[1] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2009/07/normal-0-false-false-false.html

 

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • Heath

    This is gorgeously raw; I felt cold reading it.

    God bless you and every other saint and sinner that has the privilege of learning alongside someone like you…regardless of any CNN comment-mine-field.

    From the sisters and brothers in Austin,
    heath samples

  • D.E. Bishop

    Wow.

    Thank you.

  • Doug Browne

    Wow.

    You have truly bled out on the page what was in your heart, and it is the Gospel.

    Thank you.

  • Ray Graumlich

    Nadia, this really hits home for me right now. Thanks. In the third paragraph from the end, what is the word “p90x” supposed to be? I’m guessing pain.

    • http://windtheme.blogspot.com Elizabeth S

      P90X is a workout program.

  • http://ledgerlock.deviantart.com/ Lock

    “Perverted into messages like If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.”

    Many married people that struggle with other sexual desires than for their spouse do not need to be following queer ideas. You go into many churches that are predominantly built on the membership of young families. People that have married may be struggling with wanting to act on their bisexual tendencies, or change their gender through surgery. You offer families no protection with “queer theology”.

    There is no self denial in spending $60,000 or more to change one’s gender. I find you being a prominent speaker at churches, but I don’t find you knowing what you are saying.

    • Steve Horwatt

      Lock,

      Way to strain out the gnat.

      • http://ledgerlock.deviantart.com/ Lock

        Avocation of all sexual behavior as equal is hardly a gnat. “Q” is a new addition to the LGBT acronym because it couldn’t hold all the variations of sex behavior identities.

        • Steve Horwatt

          Keep straining. By the way, I see nowhere in this sermon where the pastor encourages people in committed heterosexual relationships to violate their marriage vows (either to explore their “deviant” homo- or bisexual “urges,” or just to further explore their perfectly “normal” heterosexual ones). So even if one accepts your mindset with respect to the inherent sinfulness of certain sexual orientations, I think your insinuation that this sermon is somehow undermining existing families is unfair.

          • Frank

            No he is spot on.

            Talk about boxing Jesus in by saying that sexuality is not one of the crosses we must bear or that our choice of the life we want to live is the same choice Jesus calls us to.

            Bad theology built on bad theology.

          • Steve Horwatt

            Frank,

            For these comments to be “spot on,” one has to accept that homosexuality is a “choice,” an idea that is far from universally accepted. In any case, to my point, believing that homosexuality is not a sin is NOT equivalent to encouraging people to violate their marriage vows. I understand that many people believe homosexuality is a sin and you are certainly entitled to believe that. However, equating a failure to believe homosexuality is a sin with advocating zero self control with respect to anyone’s sexual behavior is intellectually dishonest. There are plenty of homosexuals who believe in and practice fidelity, just as there are plenty of hetersexuals who are pretty much pigs.

          • Frank

            Sexual behavior and action IS a choice. Attraction not a choice.

          • Steve Horwatt

            See? We agree after all.

          • Frank

            Great so we can all pray that people will not choose to fall into a sinful homosexual relationship.

          • Steve Horwatt

            Actually, I’m pretty much booked solid praying that I don’t offer to remove a speck from my brother’s eye while I’ve got a plank in my own…but as soon as I work that out, I promise I’ll get going on the whole minding other people’s sex lives for them thing.

  • Dennis Gilbert (UCC Pastor)

    Oh, man…this is SO good it hurts to hear it. If that’s not preaching the Gospel, I don’t know what is…

    Thank you once again, as you have done SO many times since I first read your work. You never fail to draw me closer to the heart of God…

  • http://alisonkirkpatrick.wordpress.com Ali Kirkpatrick

    Nadia,
    I don’t know what my favorite line was – finding Jesus between your Personal Assistant and Personal Trainer, or Jesus as your very own magical puppy, or how Peter tried to get Jesus to stop embarrassing himself. The list could go on, but the concept was beautiful and true.

    I never knew how much dying to self was actually going to hurt, until the last few years, and I am so glad to see it articulated so honestly. You are one of the few working & speaking pastors I know who do so, instead of white-washing it all.
    Thank you for speaking my language about religion. It’s given me hope.

  • Sarah

    As someone who’s first words were also “Me Do It Self” I feel a connection to you and the words you offer through the guidance of God and Gossple. Thank you. I have been so put off by some of the issues facing the LCMS right now and I am thankful that I can still find true Lutheran Theology and acceptance at the same time.

  • Justina

    Thank you.

  • Amelia

    Thank you so much for words that I didn’t expect to run into this morning. I, too, felt the rawness and honesty in your words and appreciate all they mean. Welcome to Friday! What an awesome way to greet the day.

  • Jan

    Dear Nadia,
    It’s been a while since I’ve been moved to tears in a sermon. Thank you for what I needed to hear today- blessings to you and yours.

  • Joanne Troutg

    Wow! Fantastic! Thank you,needed that.

  • Joanne Trout

    Wow! Fantastic,needed that. Thank you!

  • Rebecca

    Yes! The paradox! I bring Him my yuck and failure and in return I get abundance! Mind blowing! May God give us the grace and courage to face those things within that need to be denied so that we have far less time determining the things that we think others ought to deny.

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  • Tammy Olsen

    This is perfection. This is in a nutshell what I have tried to express to my friends and family. It is not just about accepting a personal savior(aka being saved). It is a journey that takes more than a alter call at 9 years old to understand and get it. Love and Peace to you for hearing and delivering Gods word to the world. You rock.

  • Janet L. Bohren

    Thank you for this sermon and for the audio. I really enjoyed it and learned from it. You are so right, a sermon is best heard spoken out loud. Your words so remind me of what Diana Butler Bass has said recently, in discussing her new book, about the importance of experience to bring meaning to faith for many today.
    Janet Bohren

  • Catriona R. Esquibel

    Love you for this:

    this saying of Jesus that we are to deny the self and lose our life to gain it has been abused and perverted. Perverted into messages like If you want to be a follower of Jesus you must deny your Queerness, pick up your cross of heterosexuality and follow him.

    Thank you for reminding me that God loves the Me zie created, and not the Me someone else says I should be. And thank you also for the magical puppy metaphor. I’m going to be singing “your own pound puppy” to depeche mode’s “personal jesus” today.

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  • Paul

    Thanks Nadia!

  • http://wordinthehand.blogspot.com/ wordinthehand

    God doesn’t think he’s me – excellent!

  • Paul Pace

    Why do people need to be stimulated with radical statements all the time? It seems so American. So consumerist. Is Scripture or the interpretation which has been passed down through the generations so boring? Maybe, it’s that we are not seeking to know. There is a difference between knowing through intellectual assent and yada (to know God). Intellectual assent stimulates my brain, the other engulfs my being in peace, love, and humility. And believe me, I do LOVE theology and have studied every strain that I can think of.

  • Peter

    Nadia, I can clearly see that the Spirit moves in you. He does his work in us, thank God, even if we don’t all the time believe it absolutely. We are called to “Every day pick up our crosses, deny ourselves and follow Him”. To let the old adam die in me and let Jesus come in his stead. And even this is not our achievement but Gods.

  • http://dialectofpraxis.blogspot.com/ Timothy Kellogg

    Thank you, I needed that. I love how you continue to pastor me from 1500 miles away. I was literally just bemoaning the issue that I was having trouble convincing some other believers of a thing or two and sought some Lutheran reading for comfort of home.

    I always respect you, but this is one of those moments where I feel completely humbled and simultaneously affirmed by your wisdom. You speak into my life in ways that a lot of people can’t. Thank you, Nadia!

  • Joetta

    I just wanted to post a personal thank you for posting your sermons to your blog here. Firstly, I live in a rural area and our closest Lutheran church is a 44 mile round trip so I can’t say I get there often. Secondly, I am losing my hearing so it would be a difficult endeavor to keep up and follow along. It’s very nice to have access to you here and I truly do appreciate your posting. Thank you and blessed be.

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