Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy | Nadia Bolz-Weber

I love reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s posts and sermons because she is authentically real, none of this religious rubbish-can’t-say-this-must-say that kind of talk. She is real about the journey she and her church are on, and I am drawn towards that realness (something I find truly lacking in the church and one of the reasons why I no longer go to church at this stage in my life).

Below are a few excerpts from her fabulous Sermon on Losing Your Life and How Jesus Isn’t Your Magical Puppy.(The lovely “magical puppy” picture was my own beautiful magical puppy, Leila – she was a magical puppy!)

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”.

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.

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 makes 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.

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