Lose It to Find It

June 25, 2023

Series: June 2023

Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Joanne Whitt


Today's Sermon


"Lose It to Find It"


Scripture Reading 
Matthew 10:24-39 
A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 

   When I was an associate pastor in San Francisco, back when church weddings were much more common, I taught our congregation’s marriage preparation class a couple of times a year. One focus of the class was the expectations people bring to marriage. Our expectations usually come from our families, and they’re almost always unspoken, so my goal was to help people first, recognize their expectations, and then talk about them. Here’s an example, an actual quote from a class participant: “My fiancé plays at least 18 holes of golf every weekend now, but I know he won’t do that once we have a family.” This expectation was not a welcome surprise to her fiancé, and, every once in a while, I wonder how that couple is doing. Another focus was figuring out an approach to conflict that builds up rather than tears down the relationship. These are tough topics, and I hoped that what came across was that a good marriage is hard work, but worth it. I tried to present the material with lightness and even a sense of humor, but every now and then I’d get a note on an evaluation sheet that went something like, “You shouldn’t be so negative about marriage.” Or “You make marriage sound too hard.”

   If the disciples were able to turn in evaluation sheets to Jesus, this morning’s lesson in Matthew’s gospel might get the same response. “Jesus, why are you being so negative? You’re making discipleship sound too hard.” I suspect many of us would respond the same way. In today’s passage, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out to teach the truth as he has taught, and to heal the hurting as he has healed. He warns them that this won’t make them popular with everyone. Jesus is rubbing some folks, powerful folks, the wrong way. Jesus warns the disciples they will be maligned, just as he has been.[1]They shouldn’t expect the way of the cross to be easy, and they shouldn’t be surprised if close relationships are uprooted.[2]Even their families could turn against them.[3]   

   In spite of all this, the disciples are to tell in the light what Jesus has said to them in the dark; and what they have heard whispered, they are to proclaim from the housetops.[4]What is it that they are to proclaim that’s so divisive, so controversial? What’s the message that’s going to get them into big trouble? Love. That God is a God of love who welcomes the prodigal home with open arms. That we are not to return evil for evil, but rather, we are to answer evil with love. Above all else, says Jesus, we are to love God, and love each other.

   That doesn’t sound very controversial, does it? Well, until you think about it. Love your enemies.[5]Pray for those who persecute you.[6]Turn the other cheek.[7]Love, says Jesus, means we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take in the stranger.[8]In his ministry, he shows us that love means we are to touch the unclean and heal them of their suffering.[9]Like Jesus, we’re to enjoy sharing our table with those rejected by everyone else.[10] 

   The problem is that many people have a great deal invested in not loving. Entire populations identify themselves by their hatred of some other group. Whole industries thrive because people hate each other so much they’ll go to war. And then of course, there’s the closer-to-home failure to love: Those times we refuse to let go of resentments and grudges, when we’re so indifferent that those who suffer feel invisible. Jesus knew that spreading a message of love would cause his disciples pain, and even put their lives in jeopardy. In ancient Palestine, social relationships were so structured that if you stepped outside the norms, you risked being cut off from family or clan, and that was literally a matter of life and death.[11]You could risk everything by associating with the wrong kind of people. This month we celebrate two Supreme Court decisions: 56 years ago, the laws against interracial marriage were struck down,[12]and just eight years ago, same-sex marriage was made legal in all states.[13]So this kind of rigid social structure, and the social rejection that goes with it, isn’t just ancient history. 

   As Christ’s disciples, we, too, are called to risky love; we’re called to stick our necks out for love. This might sound scary, but Jesus says it’s life-giving. He closes the passage with a paradoxical saying, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This isn’t a warning; what Jesus has in mind is a gift. Frederick Buechner puts it this way: “When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe. It is the one you love who is. You forget yourself. You deny yourself. You give of yourself, so that by all the rules of arithmetical logic there should be less of yourself than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at last you really are yourself.”[14] 

   By a curious paradox, there is more. Jesus is nottelling his disciples that in order to follow him, in order to be good Christians, they have to reject their families or be crucified. He’s telling them what they have to do is love. Love their families; love their fathers and mothers; love everybody, including those who are hard to love. But in so doing, they will risk alienating those who insist on hating. They will be pushed out of their comfort zones. At the same time, they will experience that paradox: in losing themselves to love, they will find themselves. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But a life focused on love is a wholehearted life, a full life, a real life.

   Our world is rife with opportunities to wholeheartedly stick our necks out for love. A couple of weeks ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued its yearly “hate and extremism” report. Here’s their summary:

In 2022, the hard-right movement succeeded in burrowing deeper into people’s lives in visible and material ways, even if it did not have widespread electoral success. Its fingerprints are everywhere: people’s homes, schools, doctors’ offices, libraries, bars, restaurants, churches and other community spaces. The fear and pain experienced by Black, brown, and LGBTQ communities went far beyond any individual incident, deeply disrupting their ability to participate in an inclusive democracy. . . While voters rejected many of the most extreme candidates in the 2022 midterm elections, the country remains in a reactionary political moment — explained, in part, as backlash to progressive successes both real and perceived. ... Backlash is a political strategy ... one that ... shifts the “focus from those denied equity under the law [to] demanding justice to those who [imagine] threat or inconvenience in the possibility of social change.”[15]

   Our society is in the throes of backlash. So what is a faithful response, a Christ-like response? Do we just lovethese haters, as well as the targets of their hate? And if so, what does that even look like? Diana Butler Bass writes, “I wish we could just remind people to love their neighbors. It would be wonderful if a call to love would solve the problems listed in the [Southern Poverty Law Center] report.” She continues, “Love must be our answer – loving God, our neighbors, and creation. But love is far more than good feelings or emotions. Love must be organized, active, and committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone.” I’m going to say that again: “Love must be organized, active, and committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone. It isn’t enough to preach against hate. Hate is infiltrating our everyday lives — like the poisoned air filtering down from [Canadian] wildfires — hardly visible until the air is so thick with toxins that no one will be able to breathe.” She concludes, “You can’t get rid of the smoke. You have to put out the fire.”[16]

   It isn’t enough for me or your pastors to stand here and preach against hate. “Love,” as Bass writes, “must be organized, active, and committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone.” As Jesus warns us, that’s hard. That isn’t comfortable.

   My brother lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and when I visited him last month, I learned about a restaurant called La Carreta Mexican Grill in Marshalltown, Iowa. Marshalltown is east of Des Moines, a town of about 27,000 people in the middle of miles and miles of cornfields. In 2018, the owner of this restaurant, Alfonso Medina, put one of those “We Believe ...” yard signs in front of the restaurant. “We believe Black Lives Matter, No human is illegal, Love is love, Science is real,” and so on. Some customers wrote letters condemning the sign as “politically correct propaganda.” Rather than hunker down behind closed doors, Mr. Medina defended the sign on his Facebook page, concluding his post with, “No love, no tacos.” The phrase caught on, and now Mr. Medina is selling t-shirts and sweatshirts that say, “No Love, No Tacos.” He’s using the money to fund higher education opportunities for kids in the Marshalltown community whose families struggle to come up with college tuition.

   Medina stuck his neck out for love, because “You can’t get rid of the smoke. You have to put out the fire.” Just as Jesus said, in losing himself to love, Medina found life: He found a new, much-needed local mission and nation-wide support.[17]

   So what is your“No love, no tacos”? What is it youare called to do; what is this congregationcalled to do to practice a love that is “organized, active, and committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone”? What this looks like for you, for me, for this congregation, for any congregation will be different, depending on our calling. Maybe you’re not the crusader type, the parade or demonstration type, the carrying signs type. The call to love in a way that’s committed to the full dignity and worth of everyone applies equally to the family member no one wants to invite to holiday dinners. The neighbor kid whose parents never seem to be around. The surly, tattooed barista, and the people you pay to garden or clean or fix your car. We are called to the kind of love that values both truth and the person with whom we are debating truth.[18]  

   Looking back on it now, I wish that I’d simply said this to the folks in the marriage prep class: Yes, sometimes marriage is hard, because sometimes loving is hard. So don’t be surprised. Basically, that’s what Jesus is saying here: Don’t be surprised. Sometimes, to love means to risk discord, even rejection, and that’s to be expected. It’s what Jesus himself faced; why should it be different for his followers? Expect discomfort, expect pushback, even expect backlash. Don’t be surprised, and don’t be discouraged. We can’t always expect our love will be understood or celebrated or end up as a t-shirt slogan, but we are called to keep on loving anyway.

  The promise is that Jesus is with us. “Do not be afraid,” he says – the hallmark of the Gospel and words we can’t say too frequently in a world so marked by fear. “You are of great value,” he says; words we need to say and hear again and again.[19]God knows about the discord; Jesus is with us through it all, and God will not give up on us because God values us, each and every one of us, more than we can imagine.

   And that, my friends, is life worth finding. Keep on loving. The end is life.

   May it be so for you, and for me.  Amen.

© Joanne Whitt 2023 all rights reserved.  

[1]  Matthew 10:24-25.

[2]  Matthew 10:35-36.

[3]  Matthew 10:38-39.

[4]  Matthew 10:27.

[5]  Matthew 5:44.

[6]  Matthew 5:44.

[7]  Matthew 5:39.

[8]  Matthew 25:31-45.

[9]  Matthew 9:21-22.

[10]  Matthew 11:19; Luke 15:2.

[11]  Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, quoted by David Ewart at https://www.holytextures.com/2011/05/matthew-10-24-39-year-a-pentecost-june-19-june-25-proper-7-ordinary-12-sermon.html.

[12]  Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).

[13]  Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ____, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

[14]  Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC(New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 83.

[15]  Susan Corke, Director, Southern Poverty Law Center, “Introduction: 2022 The Year in Hate and Extremism Comes to Main Street,” June 6, 2023, https://www.splcenter.org/year-hate-extremism-2022/introduction#hateextremism

[16]  Diana Butler Bass, “When Love Isn’t Quite Enough,” June 7, 2023, https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/when-love-isnt-quite-enough.

[17]  See, “Mexican restaurant takes political stand with sign declaring ‘No Love, No Tacos,’” October 18, 2020.


[18]  David Lose, “Two Timely Truths, June 22, 2017, https://www.davidlose.net/2017/06/pentecost-3-a-two-timely-truths/

[19]  Lose, ibid.