A Surprising Lesson from Nadia Bolz-Weber about Vulnerability in the Pulpit

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The Festival of Homiletics was this past week in San Antonio, Texas, and I was blessed enough to be there to hear some of the greatest preaching this country has to offer.

In praying about what I could reasonably pass on to you (instead of flooding your inbox with a thousand lessons learned), a surprising and variegated thread I noticed in every preacher was their vulnerability in the pulpit.

For brevity I'm only highlighting one preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber, but this thread could easily be identified in each preacher I heard.

You may know of Nadia's deserved reputation to be exactly who she is, to name publicly more of who she is and her story than probably 99% of us are willing to do. She effectively reveals her personal vulnerability from the pulpit in ways most of us don't dare.

At the Festival, however, I learned something else about vulnerability in the pulpit from Nadia's example.

 

 

"Preaching to preachers has to be about the most delicious thing I can think of."

That's roughly how Nadia began her sermon to 1700 preachers, some of whom are the brightest luminaries of our vocation.

That one word stopped me short: "Delicious?!"

If you or I were preaching to 1700 preachers, would we use the same adjective, "delicious"? A word that connotes a feast, an indulgent treat, a delightful experience to be savored?

Or would we be more likely to choose an adjective somewhere between nerve-wracking and paralyzing?

Or is that just me?

 

 

Imagine, though.

What would make preaching to so many colleagues "delicious?"

One answer might be: It would be delicious if we had nothing to hide.

I don't mean nothing of our personal lives to hide. I mean nothing to hide about love. Nothing to hide about our love for God. Nothing to hide about our love for Christ, for the Spirit, for the Gospel, and for our people.

In the case of Nadia Bolz-Weber, the love was for us, her colleagues.

That was the surprise.

I didn't learn more about being vulnerable because she divulged her personal history.

I learned about being vulnerable because she embodied the truth that she was loved by God. In turn, rather than perform for us to her glory, she loved us through the gift of her preaching.

We're loved and we love. I got surprised by spiritual, beloved child-of-God vulnerability.

Nadia never said this, but I sensed spiritual vulnerability and its resulting freedom. As in, "I've already died and risen in Christ and so have you. So what is it you think we still need to get permission to say?"

I felt a sort of urgency with a touch of exasperation, as if she were saying, Say what you mean because souls depend on it. Including yours. Because you need to get some of that stuffed-up divine love out of your system and give it to your people and not keep it for yourself.

But I also felt compassion and understanding for those of us who haven't yet trusted God enough to wear that much of the most holy and vulnerable parts of our hearts on our sleeves.

Or is all this just me? Is this what I needed to hear? Is that how the Holy Spirit works in every sermon?

Regardless, when I ponder this kind of spiritual vulnerability from the pulpit—the vulnerability that arises when one knows deeply one is loved, so deeply it has to be shared—then I can imagine that preaching to 1700 colleagues might be delicious after all.

And if it could be delicious to preach to 1700 colleagues, what might it be like to preach so vulnerably to my congregation?

Questions to ponder:

1. What holds you back from accepting all of God's love?

2. What holds you back from pouring all of that love out to your people through your sermons?

3. What are you waiting to get divine permission to say?

 

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