Sermon About How Totally Uncool We Are

2013-09-01 2-1<—–Click here to listen along!

I have this friend Caitlin who tends to just tell me the truth about things,  which isn’t always comfortable.

Caitlin and I close friends but are really different people, and years ago we were both planning our 40th birthday parties – mine was a roller disco party at a rink I rented out – and hers was a group of close friends watching the sunrise on a hill over looking the city  -which made me comment that Caitlin has so many personality traits that are just truly lovely and that I don’t have those same traits and she said “Of course you do Nadia, they just aren’t your favorite ones”.

I thought about that this week when I was reading our Gospel text and how Jesus seems to be addressing the things we do or don’t do so that we can be thought of in a certain way. As though he can just see right through us. Which is just the worst.

But in a way, I think that’s what this text is about.  On the surface it seems to be a lesson in table etiquette or social climbing and hospitality.  It looks like Jesus is giving us killer advice – that if we want a place of honor the best was to attain that is not through just claiming it on our own, since someone might put us in our place and then we lose face.  The best way to attain a place of honor is to claim a lower place than you deserve so that then folks might notice how humble you are and then insist you take a place of higher honor.  Which is genius.  It’s like that thing where if you go on one date with a boy and you like him and really want to see him again the trick is to not call him.  It’s all very shrewd.  But it doesn’t really sound like a point Jesus would make.  Seriously, you don’t have to be overly familiar with the guy to realize that he’s probably not giving us advice about how to use false modesty for the purpose of social climbing.  Since social climbing and manipulation are not things Jesus is exactly known for.

See, here’s the thing: there are a couple ways of approaching Biblical texts – namely that we can approach them as prescriptive or descriptive.  And there are times when either approach might be appropriate…but I tend to have to work through my desire to read what Jesus says as a prescription for better living or holiness or super-duper discipleship to get to the less comfortable place of Jesus’ words  describing something I’d rather not look at.

And since this thing Jesus says about how to act at a banquet is framed as a parable I feel it’s only right that I remind us all that reading parables as advice for how to behave is like using riddles to get directions to the airport.

So the way I’m looking at it right now, I don’t think he’s saying that we should be shrewd in order to get ahead.

I think what he’s saying is that he’s onto us.

See, I wonder if maybe when Jesus talks about using either pride or false humility to be given a place of honor, I wonder if it’s not that he’s being prescriptive about how to do something right as he is being descriptive about all the ways we do something wrong.  Like he’s just calling everyone out on the way in which we tend to not always be so honest about what we are up to.

Take for instance the 2nd part of our reading… on the surface Jesus seems to once again be giving advice – this time for how to throw a dinner party. And while inviting the poor and lame and sick to dinner is a real Gospel-y thing to do, I think the point is that once again he is on to us.  He’s not prescribing the recipe for a righteous dinner party, he’s describing the way in which we try to deceive ourselves and other people through things like altruism and hospitality and humility.  How we so often can pawn narcissism off as a virtue if we just call it by anther name: If we call our volunteer work charity then we don’t have to admit that we partly do it for the good feeling we get from being good.  If we call our Mani-pedis and expensive dinners “Self-care” we can pawn it off as a virtue and not an indulgence.  If we call our self-deprecation humility then we can pretend it’s not really an attempt to get other people to speak higher of us than we speak of ourselves. When it comes down to it, we just do so much damn pretending. Pretending we don’t really rely a little too much on alcohol. Pretending that we are more confident than we really are.  Pretending that we care more about people than we really do. Pretending we are not afraid. Sometimes we even over compensate so much about the things we are trying to hide, that no one ever suspects the truth… and then we are left in the aloneness of not ever really being known.

I couldn’t help but think of all the ways in which I try to project things about myself – maybe as Caitlin suggested…my favorite parts of my personality ,hoping that people will buy my PR about who I am.  I’m not exactly alone.  This practice of curating parts of the self is something we all do to some degree. We so carefully create a persona and it’s always only a partial truth.  And just maintaining it can be exhausting.

And oh my gosh is nothing less helpful for this particular pathology than Facebook.  Facebook allows us to curate an image of ourselves from just the parts of our lives and personalities we wish to project. It’s the great project of the self. We never see updates on facebook that are like: spent the evening alone last night again. Or: Wonder if I’ll ever be loved. Or: Just manipulated my spouse to get my own way.

On some level, we are continually trying to pretend some things about us are not true and other things are, and if our Facebook profile picture could be seen as a metaphor for this, then our Gospel text for today feels like Jesus keeps tagging unflattering photos of us.  Photos where our hair is a mess photos where our butt looks big and one eye is half-closed. This is what Jesus does all the time, but in order to avoid the truth that he is speaking about us, we instead try to read everything he says as advice.

And so often I think the effort we put behind trying to pretend something about us is true, or that we are less than we are or more than we are is based in a fear of being really known, of being truly seen.  Like there is a wound or a vulnerable place that we have to protect.

But in the end, the only real love to be found in the world is to be found when you are truly known. The 2000 film, Almost Famous tells the story of a young man who finds himself as a reporter on tour with a famous rock band. His conversation with an older writer at the end of the film captures this perfectly.

The young man laments that he tried to be cool, that he felt almost cool with these guys even though he knew he wasn’t.

The older writer is like “look, I’ve met you.  You’re not cool. But The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool

At the end of our text Jesus says that when a party is thrown we should invite the lame the poor the crippled and the blind. I wonder if perhaps he could be saying that in God’s kingdom we can embrace that which we are trying to make up for.  IN the kingdom of God we need not cultivate a persona to hide or overcompensate for the lame, poor, blind and crippled parts of us.  The unflattering photos. The parts which have nothing to offer, the parts of us which need help navigating our lives, the parts of us which must rely on others for help. In other words the uncool parts of ourselves are exactly that which Jesus invites around his table.  As though the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with God and each other when we are uncool, lame, blind, poor and crippled. And as uncomfortable as it might be to be seen in such a stark and uncompromising light, there is also just so much relief in it. You just don’t have to pretend, or over compensate or be shrewd. You can just be. And in just being you can, in the fierce and loving eyes of God be known, be whole and maybe even rest a little. Because keeping it all up is just exhausting isn’t it? Amen.




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

  • James_Jarvis

    Facebook is Dorian Gray’s portrait for the masses.

    • hillmad


  • hillmad

    Once again, Pastor, you reach in and pull out the beating heart of the Gospel. And I truly regret how terrifying I just made that sound!

    But really, thank you. The peace of the Lord be with you.

  • gale

    “Sometimes we even over compensate so much about the things we are trying to hide, that no one ever suspects the truth… and then we are left in the aloneness of not ever really being known.” I suspect that is exactly what Miley Cyrus was doing at the VMAs, which is why it makes me sad.

  • Anne

    Hi Nadia, what’s the text you’re referring to? Thnx!

    • David

      Sermon Text: Luke 13:10-17

      1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of
      the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the
      blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

      • Exia

        Thanks David. I guess you actually meant Luke 14.1-14.

  • Scarlet

    This is almost accurate except the part where people never share the bad stuff on facebook. This simply isn’t true. There are personality types who ONLY share the bad stuff as an attempt to get attention or sympathy which they find so lacking in their life. Sure, we all use these types of platforms to put our best foot forward, but don’t we ALSO do that in person? Also, does a bad picture really reflect “the truth”? Pictures can also be set up to capture something that isn’t necessarily true, being either better or worse than reality.

    I think the problem is the culture of selfishness, spending too much time putting ourselves under a microscope and not enough looking around us to see what is really going on. And that feel-good feeling we get from helping people? I think that’s our spiritual reward. If helping people was all pain all the time, would we continue to do it? Are Christians meant to live in a perpetual state of masochism? I find an inner peace and tranquility in helping people who need it and not because I want to boast or because I’m trying to get ahead in life. I do it because I know how it feels to be on the other end, needing help with not a soul there for me. I’ve learned a lot of people in my journey through life. It’s been said that the true test of character is how we act when we think nobody is watching. And I watch people.

  • Stephanie Brown

    “The parts which have nothing to offer, the parts of us which need help navigating our lives, the parts of us which must rely on others for help. In other words the uncool parts…”
    It’s slightly off-topic for this post, but I think one of the saddest things about American Christianity is that we consider it “uncool” to admit that we need help with some things, or to rely on others. As Americans we’re supposed to be all self-sufficient, but that is NOT what Jesus taught.

  • Robbie Robel

    The tragedy of contemporary postmodern Western “Christianity” is that it transforms self-absorption into a virtue. Me… Me… Me.. What about me?

    You incapable of truly loving another person if you put the condition of your personal happiness first.

  • Norma Adams

    My husband and I listened to your interview on NPR yesterday and really appreciated your insights and humor. Thank you.

  • John Bradley

    Listened to you on PBS. Early 90s Mrs. Volker at Valley Lutheran High School prayed for our Eirean a lot. Lucky him he just returned to Denver. Phoenix needs your clone.

  • Laura Cotten

    Hey Nadia (or someone who reads this and can help),
    Are HFASS orders of worship or bulletins available somewhere online with Old and New Testament readings included? I’m interested in reading your sermons but would like to know to what passages they’re referring.
    Thank you for your “On Being” interview and for articulating your answer to the Theodicy question the way that you did.
    Laura Cotten

  • Elizabeth Brown

    I, too, would appreciate the scripture reference with the sermon. I am new to this site and I love it. Nothing like this in Coastal Georgia. Makes me want to move to Denver!

  • tearfang

    I appreciate the message for
    authenticity. Certainly we aren’t faking a persona in those unflattering
    moments when we are lame, blind, poor, or crippled. And neither are those
    moments a true measure of the most real self we are meant to be; they are distortions.
    I think the real self shines through in those candid unstaged moments of beauty
    when the facebook projection of the kindhearted loving soul is authentic. In
    those moments we are our most true self that are meant to be, and if we let God
    transform us, those glimmers of possibility will become an eternal reality.