Sermon on walls and hope and the Abraham Mosque


Entrance to the Abraham Mosque in Hebron


11-18-2012 NBW HFASS Sermon<——Click here to listen along

I recently read that there is literally a psychological disorder called “Jerusalem syndrome” in which people returning from visiting the Holy Land exhibit irrational and obsessive religious fervor.

And as many of you know, I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in the Land called Holy and so I just wanted to assure you – I do not have Jerusalem Syndrome.  If anything I have whatever the opposite of that would be.

While I loved so much of what I experienced, tonight I want to tell you about what I did not love. I did not love visiting the Abraham Mosque otherwise known as the tomb of the Patriarchs otherwise known as that piece of ground in Hebron referred to in Genesis as the land Abraham bought and where he, Sarah, Leah, Rebecca and Jacob are all buried.

To visit this particular holy site, if you can get through the Israeli checkpoints and metal detectors and soldiers with AK-47s you will enter a building with 6-foot-thick walls made from stones that are at least 3 feet tall and sometimes reach a length of 24 feet.

Those huge walls around the tomb of Abraham, Sarah and the other ancestors of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths were put in place a few decades before the birth of Christ by the Jewish ruler Herod the Great (although let’s be honest…most likely they were built by slaves under Herod’s rule) Then when the Byzantine empire ruled the area they built a Christian Basilica on the site.  Then that was destroyed by the Persian empire and they built a Mosque on the site. Then when the Christian Crusaders conquered the land, they built a Crusader church on the site and then forbid the Muslims to enter. Then years later the Muslims conquered again they made the Crusader church back into a Mosque and then forbid the Jews from entering.  And now, today, the largely Jewish state of Israel has this so-called holy site surrounded by soldiers holding AK 47s.

So I found it hard not to be cynical about that place. About how it is such a symbol of the worst of humanity and religion. And it all made me wonder in what do we place our hope?

Do we try and claim God as our own and nervously fix in time and space the symbols of God’s faithfulness.  And when we do that, does it just seems like more of an act of our own faithlessness than anything else?  As though If we encounter God in one place we have to ensure that that place is protected because, well, what if God doesn’t show up again? Do we perhaps end up placing more hope and trust in a place or an institution than in God?

To be honest, at times I’ve felt that with this very congregation.  House for All is so beautiful and I sense God at work in and among us and so I find myself wanting to protect it, build walls of large stones around it, defend it from outsiders. But God just doesn’t seem to give a flip about our little efforts to domesticate God to our own agendas.

Here’s why I mention this: those outrageously large stones I described at the beginning?  The one’s Herod built?  Same stones as the ones Herod used to make up the temple Jesus and his disciples were talking about in our Gospel text for today.  There is still one section of that temple wall from Jesus’ day that stands today.  You might have heard it referred to as the wailing wall.  And indeed there is much to wail about.  The last few days have seen such violence in the land called Holy. There is war there…or maybe just rumors of war.  But given all of this let’s listen again to today’s reading

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

Jesus could have been talking about November 2012.

Jesus looks at his disciples and knowing how impressed they are with the permanence and hope of the temple he takes a stick pin to the bubble they are living in and he pops it. He’s just kind of like that sometimes,  isn’t he?

So this week I started to wonder what my own bubble might be…what large stones am I so reliant upon still standing in my own life? What do I treat as eternal that is not? What must stand in order for me to still place my hope in God… maybe the health and safety of my family or the longevity of my denomination, or the economy, or the fact that I can walk down the road without fear of missile attacks.

As his disciples gaze upon the temporary thing in which they place their hope, Jesus doesn’t say that having a temple is wrong, he totally hung out there, He just said that the temple still standing is not the ultimate sign that God is faithful.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting my family to be healthy or for this congregation to thrive or my denomination to still be around or to be safe on my own streets.  But these things are not eternal. These things cannot love me me the way God can love me.

Jesus was right of course…the temple his disciples were so impressed with actually was destroyed in 70 ad but it wasn’t God who destroyed it.  It was Rome.  And Jesus was right there will be wars and rumors of wars.  There will be destruction, false prophets, and  famine, there will be the Left Behind series of books, and The decline and fall of the Hostess cupcake.  All of this will happen Jesus says and very little of this will have any thing to do with God.

Because God doesn’t cause it.  God just bears it.  God bears all of our sin and our suffering.  That’s what the cross was about: A God who became flesh and took all of our violence and hatred and all of our wall building sins  into his very own body.  The flesh of God made flesh bore all of it on the cross so that it’s finished.  There is nothing to be had through the walls and violence and we are so addicted to because God upturned our systems of violence and power-over as a blameless victim taking it all into God’s crucified body.  So that God no longer meets us in the big shiny temple of a ruling political or religious power but in that very body of Christ. In all ways of speaking of the body of Christ…in Jesus’ own flesh, in the Eucharist and in the church.  This is a servant God who disarms the violence of humanity and offers God’s own blessings and grace in exchange.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is nothing less than the everlasting and irrevocable yes of God.  Jesus in this text is saying to his disciples that the temple in which they place their hope will be torn down … but that doesn’t mean hope itself will be torn down because Jesus is the new temple and we tried to do it him too but he rose again, and with him, our hope. It is God and not symbols of God that lives. And it is God and not institutions related to God that lives and it is God and not places where we experience God that lives.

So, as the writer of Hebrews said, Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And he who has promised is faithful in a way that walls and empire and efforts to domesticate God and placing our trust in ourselves can never be. So that finally there is only one thing worthy of our trust and that will never be torn down and it is simply not a wall or empire we might build to protect us and it is certainly not a tradition or place associated with Abraham.  But brothers and sisters it is the God of Abraham.



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

  • Valerie


  • Pr Jamie Vannoy

    you are such an inspiring and challenging voice in our society today. I’ve been following your blogs and sermons for awhile and appreciate your honesty, vulnerability and passion to share God’s Good (yet challenging) News. I even dreamed of the day of starting a Lutheran Church called House for Saints & sinners and then discovered you had :-) You were amazing at the National Youth Gathering and I just wanted to let you know I’m one of the pastor’s who ENCOURAGED my youth to come and hear what you were going to share because I knew it would be heart-felt and honest. I’ll stop rambling now, but as a fellow ELCA minister and, more importantly, as a brother in Christ I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Jim Cyr

    I started my Christian life clinging to so many symbols of God. But one by one he has torn them down and replaced them by His presence and love. Sometimes it’s so hard when the symbols come crashing down. But the freedom and joy of letting them go and clinging only to God has been worth it. I am encouraged by your no nonsense approach to the Gospel. Would love to sit with you one day, tell you my story, and soak up your practical wisdom. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • kalimsaki

    “He has no partner”

    Just as in His divinity and in His sovereignty God has no partner, He is One and cannot be many; so too He has no partner in His dominicality and in His actions and in His creating. It sometimes happens that a monarch is one, having no partner in his sovereignty, but in the execution of his affairs his officials act as his partners; they prevent everyone from entering his presence, saying: “Apply to us!”
    However, God Almighty, the Monarch of Pre-Eternity and Post-Eternity, has no partner in His sovereignty, just as He has no need for partners or helpers in the execution of His dominicality.
    If it were not for His command and will, His strength and power, not a single thing could interfere with another. Everyone can have recourse to Him directly. Since He has no partner or helper, no one seeking recourse can be told: “Stop! It is forbidden to enter His presence!”
    This phrase, therefore, delivers the following joyful announcement to the human spirit: the human spirit which has attained to faith may, without let or hindrance, opposition or interference, in any state, for any wish, at any time and in any place, enter the presence of the All-Beauteous and Glorious One, the One of power and perfection, who is the Pre-Eternal and Post-Eternal Owner of the treasuries of mercy, the treasuries of bliss, and may present its needs. Discovering His mercy and relying on His power, it will find perfect ease and happiness.

    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

  • Ali Kirkpatrick

    Dear Nadia-
    I know you are a busy pastor, writer, speaker an activist and as such, I can’t imagine you have time to read comments on your blog, but I thought I’d try to let you, or someone in your inner circle know, how much I appreciate your sermons. If we lived in CO, we’d be there in person. Since we live in CA, we do the best we can. You are truly a gifted woman. Your metaphors, your turn of phrase, your ability to pull a unique and powerful message out of the same gospel we’ve heard a hundred times are a source of inspiration to me. But not just that either. Ron Rolheiser writes about how the difference between “inspiring” people and actually changing their lives comes down to one’s own transparency and vulnerability. Because of who you are, you change lives and I pray you keep sharing all the parts of your life and struggle with all of us. It matters! I bless my children every night, with this: “Bless us that we may be a blessing to others.” I pray that God continues to bless you Nadia. Welcome home.

    • Nadia Bolz-Weber

      Ali, there’s no way for you to know what great timing your wonderful words are for me right now (got some vicious hate mail yesterday). thanks so much for your kindness and I’m grateful my sermons for my little church find a home in other ears and hearts.
      peace of Christ,

  • Tim Chastain

    Another excellent, refreshing sermon. I enjoy all of them. Thank you so very much!

  • Roy Massie

    Love it ! First of yours I’ve read. Keep ‘em coming.

  • Lucretia

    I love your sermons. Like Ali, if I lived in CO I would be there in a heartbeat. I haven’t commented before but I just wanted to say that both your sermons and coming across a book by Marcus Borg contributed to me seeking out a church to attend in my community for the first time (ever?) as an adult. I had been at the UU church a few times but I really wasn’t feeling it, and somehow I had built up this notion in my mind that I did not, absolutely not, ever want to explore Christianity as an option (despite being both baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church). Christianity was full of judgmental people who took things out of historical context. I looked up your speech you gave at the youth conference on youtube a while back and I think I felt a little like you did initially.

    I don’t even know how I came across a different path and learned about the emerging church movement (I think I was on patheos to look at the buddhist or pagan section) and somehow decided to explore the progressive christian portal. Realizing that the church could be something absolutely different, and that it could really focus on the teachings of Jesus and love and being open… it was, I think, a life changing moment for me. I found a church near me that I like, and I’m reading the gospels, and incorporating prayer into my morning meditation practice. I just wanted to say thank you for putting your voice out there, because if all I had heard were tv evangelists and anti-gay marriage supporters I would still be searching for something more and not finding it.

  • Shilo

    I quote:
    ” But God just doesn’t seem to give a flip about our little efforts to domesticate God to our own agendas.”
    :) so VERY right on the mark. This whole entry was full of well written bits that made me nod my head in agreement. This is the sort of sermon I would love to borrow, attributed to you of course, and read allowed in a service.
    You are an inspiration. Many blessings to you!

  • Martha

    I’ve started a read through of the Bible (see blog if you want a look, but I’m mostly doing it for me), and I just got to the chapter on Abraham’s burial the day I read this. The tragically ironic thing is that according to the Bible Ishmael and Isaac buried their father together (25:9), and yet their descendents (spiritual and literal) can’t figure out how to share the grave in peace.

    • Nadia Bolz-Weber

      whoa. that’s a great insight!! thanks. love it.

  • Kasie

    According to my husband, the Israeli army doesn’t use AK-47s. They use either Galils or TAVOR 21s. AK-47s are what the Palestinians carry (most likely).

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  • will f.

    This is really shocking to read. Yes, we insist of seeking comfort from things that can’t realy comfort us. I am on the wester shore of Lake Ontario. I think you are doing a great job. Keep it up, be encouraged, okay.