Sermon: Field Notes on Grace from 10 days on the Road

2013-09-22 NBW hfass sermon <—- click here to listen along (the laughter at HFASS is totally worth hearing)

Just for the record I really did try this week while on countless airplanes and in countless hotel rooms to steal 20 minutes here and there and write a proper sermon as though I was really here in town and among you this week. I tried. And I failed.  I don’t want to totally blame the lectionary on this but seriously, that is about the worst parable in the Bible and in all fairness, preachers throughout history have gone to great lengths to avoid writing a sermon on this particular parable.

So try as I might, I got nothin. And for most of the past week I blamed this on the parable but really I can’t know what to preach to you if I have not been among you. And being home one day in 10 doesn’t cut it.  So, forgive me for ignoring our texts. But what I have to offer you instead are the following field notes of grace from 10 days on the road.

#1: Chicago

Someone in the book signing line suggests that he hopes this book is as popular as The Shack. I look at him like he just insulted me.

#2 Minneapolis – 2 hours before the book event I get a panicked tweet in all caps from a bus load teenagers driving in from Iowa WE COULDN’T LEAVE UNTIL AFTER SCHOOL. WE’RE 15 MINUTES LATE. DON’T START ON TIME. WE DON’T WANT TO MISS A WORD. – my first thought was Man, these kids must be true House for All Sinners and Saints people … we never start on time.

In the book signing line the mother of the girl I was tweeting back and forth with leans over and says “you have no idea what your talk in New Orleans did for my kid’s faith. She spoke about you and your church in a faith statement where she also came out to the congregation.” I turn around, catch the kid’s eye, stand up and give her a big hug and say “thank you”. That hug felt like it wasn’t from me – it was from you. It was from this church I love who has given that embrace to so many beautiful children of God as though you are saying to those who come our way “yes. You too. This grace that overflows the heavens…this love of a surprising God, this body and blood of Christ is for you too. If you’ve ever been told otherwise you were lied to.”

#3 San Francisco - I walk into the last 10 minutes of Paul Fromberg’s adult education class on Sunday at St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in time to hear him say this: he wants to think about and dwell in what is actually real rather than mostly thinking about and dwelling in what he is afraid of.

#4 Seattle – I had a really emotional conversation earlier in the day and started the evening already exhausted. For some reason, the nice volunteer from the cathedral suggested to everyone in the book signing line that they not only write their name on the sticky note but they add whatever additional inscription they’d lie me to write, making the line move 10 times slower and also forcing me to write things like: May you be carried on the wings of the spirit and other crap I. Would. Never. Say.

She was really very sweet but I was completely over it and so ready to go back to hotel and sleep when instead of handing me another book to sign with a sentimental inscription, someone handed me their unbelievably chubby baby to hold.  They just took this magnificently chucky baby boy and thrust him in my arms and it felt Eucharistic.  Like the Gospel had torn me down and put me back together in a single action. I had no idea that’s what I needed in that moment, but apparently God did. Like God said to someone get that lady a chubby baby – and fast!

#5 New Orleans – my publisher had gathered several authors – two memoirists and 2 novelists for dinner. We had a great time eating rich foods and swapping rich stories when I turn to the writer next to me, this guy named Paul, who had been very kind to me earlier in the day, and asked “so, what is it that you have written?” Before he could answer, my publisher Wendy turns to me and says “It’s a little book you may have heard of… called The Shack.” And then I felt bad, not because he wrote one of the best selling books of all time and I didn’t know that was him, but that I have said snarky things about that book and yet I really liked this guy.

#6 New Orleans, day 2.

I was exchanging emails with the Housekeeping team, the leadership here at House, about our meeting tonight. In a passing moment of exhaustion I ask for their prayers and said that I was kind of drowning. Vicar Moose emails me this: “Pastor Nadia, you have already stepped out of the boat and you are seeing the strong wind.  Trust that Jesus, who is already out on the water, and that he will immediately reach out his hand and catch you.”


I’m honestly a tad freaked out and overwhelmed by my little book taking off like it has and feel a weird ambivalence about it. On the one hand it feels great to know that whatever Gospel message I am putting out is being consumed by so many hungry people. But on the other hand, I like my life exactly like it is and I like this church just like it is and I am afraid of what this all might mean and I am afraid that I don’t know what this all might mean.

So yesterday I asked Paul Young, the Shack guy, if he’d be willing to share some advice about how to navigate this ride I’m on with out falling off of it.

And here is where things got uncomfortably Gospel-y. This man looked me straight in the eyes, well, kind of up into my eyes, and said “Nadia – you are just participating in something God is doing.  God doesn’t do things alone and we can’t do redemptive things without God.  You are already good enough in God’s eyes to be participating in this. God’s grace is enough for today.  It always is enough for one day. Do not fear”, this man whose book I has said snarky things about said to me with nothing but love, “do not live in fear of what is to come because God only exists in reality and the only reality is right now and God’s grace is enough for this day. It’s all you have.”

#7 The New Orleans Airport

20 minutes after I hugged Paul goodbye in the airport yesterday and said thank you for pastoring me, it’s just what I was needing, I was grabbing a coffee when I heard a man’s voice say “Nadia!” I turned around expecting to see Paul and instead saw a taller balder man in his 50s who was like “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it’s you I just finished your book”. This complete stranger said that he is an Evangelical with a teenage daughter who just came out of the closet and that I have no idea how my words have helped him and he teared up … and took a selfie with me. And immediately I didn’t see it as an intrusion or as weird or uncomfortable but as a grace from God who is stirring in people’s hearts and lives in a way I get to participate in. As though God just needed some schmuck like me to write words on some paper not knowing what God would do with those words.

Tonight after church we are talking about how God seems to be stirring in the hearts and lives of those who come through the doors of this church…many more people than we ever dreamed of.  As though God just need a groups of Schmucks to set up some chair and prepare a table with bread and wine not knowing what God was going to do with those chairs and loaves.

I don’t know why it is that as with the pastor so with the church. But I started to wonder if all of this was somehow related and maybe even related to an issue in the parable of what it means to be entrusted with something that is God’s or as Paul Young puts it, Participating in something God is doing.  There are hungry people.  Maybe more than we knew. And this community and it’s pastor are simply participating in something God is doing.  And all I have to offer you as your preacher tonight are these field notes of grace and some wisdom from 3 different men who spoke truth to me this week:

*Perhaps we should be present to what is real and not just what we are afraid of.

*There is enough grace for today. And that’s what is real.

*We have stepped out of the boat and are seeing a strong wind. Let’s you and me trust Jesus who is already out on the water with us because he reaches out his hand to catch all who think they are drowning when really they are walking on water by the power of God’s spirit. 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

  • Jon Spangler

    Thanks for your great post, Nadia. Great because you are authentic–”real,” as Paul Fromberg said. And that makes Jesus real to us–even those of us who (think we) know him already because we have been hanging around His House for decades. Maybe especially to us old-timers. (“Behold, I make all things new…”)

    I am working my way through your book–initially because I had work I have to do, but now because i want to see and read the words with fresh eyes and an open heart, at a pace I can make sense of…

    May God renew and strengthen you always, as She has been doing all along for all of us–whether we knew it or wanted Her to… ;-)

  • Jennifer John

    Pastor Nadia, Thank you for being an inspiration. I appreciate listening to your words and I am thankful for you putting your sermons out for all to hear. Dinner is waiting for you if you ever come to Richmond, Virginia.

  • Anne Whitney

    You mentioned the exhausting and scared part of what is happening to you, and I will thus recommend here what I also recommended via your Facebook page– Mary Pipher’s book Seeking Peace, which is by no means a complete or perfect book, but it is about a person who is very suddenly slammed by fame and the need to minister to many, many more people than usual and on a more hectic schedule. And the spiritual implications thereof.

  • Amy Jo Whatley

    Sister in Christ… and chaos. I am too walking in my own storm. Thanks for the field notes.
    Pastor Aj
    PS: I get to hold a chubby baby boy everyday, but he’s mine and that adds a whole other feel to it (ex. God, I hope I’m doing this right! I can’t believe I’m someone’s momma…)

  • Susan Jourdan

    House For All Sinners and Saints is blessed to have Moose as their vicar, and Moose is blessed to be part of the family that is House For All Sinners and Saints.
    Hello Moose, from your family at Zion!
    By the way, enjoy reading all your FB posts, blogs and sermons very much!

  • Tim Sams

    Hi Nadia! OK, so technically I’m 48–ha!! But bald, yes, definitely. :-) But I’m so glad that what you got from me in the NOLA airport was encouragement and not weirdness. Sometimes the Holy Spirit urges even homely looking bald guys to get off their butts and speak. The place that came from was the gratefulness that grace writes in our hearts–it moved me to speak to you.

    You and your parish are indeed part of something much bigger. Had I been really weird and followed you to your gate (I was tempted!) I would have shared that I have been reading your blog, sermons, etc. for 3-4 years. Before my daughter came out I was always appreciative of what you said about inclusivity, but I was not fully there. That my “views” changed when my daughter came out was not because of some hermeneutical understanding, but because of a embrace of love and a fresh understanding of God’s grace–fueled in large part by your work even before your book! What I can see is that work comes from the community you serve–and apparently I am not alone.

    Your book for me was the completion of the picture. I too am a liturgical nerd and had I spent time with you, I would have loved to hear more about your liturgical practices (church in the round, the Easter service, etc.) and the transformative work it has done for your community.

    But that’s what I’ll come back to: I believe the message you’re sharing in your book is powerful because of the community you come from–and that we’re not all so different after all.

    The shared burdens, joys and life moments create a shared authenticity that is as real as the wounds of Jesus that Thomas touched.

    Blessed are we who have touched those wounds!

    • SarcasticLutheran

      Thanks for reaching out! Sorry for getting your age wrong. It’s so weird to be written about. I’ve had to navigate that with people in my life…because writing about people, unless you are writing their biography is merely a vehicle to tell a story and that can feel weird. Hope all is well and blessings on you and your daughter. Come visit us sometime!

      • Tim Sams

        Oh I totally look 50+, no apology necessary!

        Prayers for you and HFASS as you continue down this journey. It has to be very, very surreal.

        If we make it to Denver, you can guarantee we’ll come visit the community. If you’re ever in Virginia, we’ll come see you!

  • SaraAW

    My partner and I were in Atlanta to hear you speak. You and your community have impacted our lives and we felt God’s presence over those two days in a way we haven’t experienced in awhile. We drove 2 hours to hear you speak because of God’s grace and love we feel each time you post a sermon and we listen.

    We were thrilled to see that you were going to be in Atlanta. That weekend was the 1 year anniversary of the death of my partner’s mother. We came away with so many thoughts, ideas and feelings, but perhaps the most profound and holy was when you were sharing about House’s Good Friday ritual of taking the tulips to an area of recent violence/death. You said it was an acknowledgment that “Good Friday’s happen every day.” Tears streaming we looked at one another. It was a holy moment.

    Amazed and thankful for God’s grace and for you and House.

  • Elaine S. Hansen

    You and my friend, Kathy Escobar make me long for a sacred space where I, too, can experience reality everyday. After a lifetime in church, I gave up all hope of finding one where authenticity and vulnerability were seen as gifts to be celebrated, not weaknesses. I have not attended church in more than 7 years.

    If there’s a community like HFASS or The Refuge in Cincinnati, I haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep searching.

    And I love that women are stepping out and speaking truth and love to help set the captives free. I am standing with you.

    P.S. great interview with Krista Tippett.

    • Janet L. Bohren

      Try Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. It is very near UC.
      It has been a welcoming church for a number of years.

  • Kent Shane

    So I began reading your book (friends attended your Seattle event and bought a copy for me) the same day that I visited a guy in the county jail. He said that he’d been reading his bible and that was helping, but that he hadn’t been going to AA or NA while in because he didn’t plan on staying sober when he got out. But two days earlier he had found out that an old girlfriend had ODed and her funeral was tomorrow – he wouldn’t be able to go. So now he had some choices to make. All I could think of was, “NOW, you have some choices to make?? You don’t want to stay sober?!” I can’t even remember what I actually said after that – so fail me at CPE verbatims. But I was struck by my own naivete and assumptions – it made me sit down and journal for the first time in my life just to sort out the thoughts in my head. Still processing, but thank you for your words. I don’t even know specifically what, now, but hearing your honesty about your life encourages me to be more honest looking at mine – ouch! But also, ahhh!

  • Lyn Van Rooyen

    This was also for me today: “You are just participating in something God is doing. God
    doesn’t do things alone and we can’t do redemptive things without God.
    You are already good enough in God’s eyes to be participating in this.
    God’s grace is enough for today. It always is enough for one day. Do
    not fear”

  • Ellen Ronayne

    Thank you for sharing this. I am especially touched by your vulnerability with your congregation regarding not knowing where all this is leading. I am so grateful to them for supporting you and sharing you with the wider Church. While I am blessed to be part of a progressive Catholic parish – - where I am welcome as my (gay) self, and my spiritual needs are met – – in the short time since I heard you on Krista Tippet’s show, read your book (twice) and listened to some of your previous sermons online, I am amazed by and grateful for the way you articulate God’s presence and love, Please do take good care of yourself during this chapter of your life.

  • ContraBullshit

    Brethren, I have heard that I am to be a human sacrifice for your sins. May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with thatNeanderthal bullshit!!!!???

    What are we, a bunch of fucking lunatics!!!!???

    Blood sacrifice!!!!!??? Are you all fucking insane!!!!!!??????

    —–Jesus Christ, the lost Gospel of Sanity

    • THaralson

      If you read a little closer, if you listen to the sermons, you’ll hear a different message than you are expecting, Contrabullshit. I’m gonna paraphrase some of the things Nadia has said here, but the message is this: God would rather DIE than to be in the sin-accounting business. God would do ANYTHING to keep from being separated from you. God loves you, more than you can imagine, no matter what you believe. LISTEN! THIS IS FOR YOU.

  • Andrew Darrell Texley

    Nadia, thank you for providing a grace filled smack to my face to remind me of my own weakness and faults, and that through that something good can happen. Sometimes it hurts, but it is a good hurt…like when you are proven wrong only to find that its better that you are wrong….I dont if that makes sense, but thank you!

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