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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

How Well Do You Love Yourself?

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard the whole of chapter 10 from the gospel of Matthew. This chapter is known as the commissioning chapter. In the first part, Jesus names his disciples and sends them out into the world to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. But, he says, it’s not going to be easy. People will not always be ready to accept the message I’m sending you out to give. Governments will put you on trial for what you have to say. Brother will rise against brother, daughter against her mother. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We heard last week. The good news, Jesus tells us, isn’t always easy news.

Today’s reading closes out this commissioning chapter, and it speaks not to the disciples but to those who encounter the people Jesus sends out:

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.

Whoever welcomes the person bringing the good news of Jesus welcomes Jesus himself, and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes God and God’s kingdom.

Sounds nice, right? Who among us wouldn’t readily welcome a disciple of Jesus, who wouldn’t want to empower a prophet of God’s kingdom?

A prophet is someone who shows us how we’re falling short of the kingdom of heaven.

Last week, Shelley preached about prophets: the drag queens who resisted the police at Stonewall, the protesters who shut down streets and bridges in 2020 to bring attention to brutality against our Black siblings, and Montana state representative Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman who called out the hypocrisy of her colleagues.

On Friday morning, I saw a prophet. Well, I didn’t see them, but I saw their tent. I live at a busy intersection in Southeast Portland in a big, relatively new apartment building. It’s across the street from another big, relatively new apartment building that used to have a little boutique grocery store at its street level. Unfortunately for me, that grocery store closed in March, so that space has been vacant for a few months. When I woke up early on Friday morning, I looked out my window and saw that someone had set up a tent on the sidewalk outside the vacant store. A place to sleep for the night.

A prophet is someone who shows us how we’re falling short of the kingdom of heaven. And if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we’re not actually really into prophets.

I remember a cover of the New Yorker magazine during the Occupy movement. Remember the Occupy movement? All over the country, people occupied prominent public spaces, mostly parks, and created communities there where people lived and organized to protest wealth inequality in our country.

During that movement, there was a New Yorker cover that showed a lot of older white guys in top hats and mustaches and eye pieces, like the Monopoly man—do you know what I’m talking about? On this cover, all these monopoly men are seemingly protesting, carrying signs that say, “Keep things precisely as they are” and “I’m good, thanks” and “Leave well enough alone.”

It’s how the Pharisees responded to Jesus. How dare he eat with sinners. How dare he heal on the sabbath. How dare he break our rules. Why can’t he just leave well enough alone?

We can get down on the Pharisees and how they treated the prophet of their time, but if we’re being really honest with ourselves, that tends to be our response to prophets, too. I’m all for the kingdom of heaven, we tell ourselves, until it disrupts our comfort, until it seemingly threatens our standing in the world.

We’re all for LGBTQIA+ Pride…until a young person in our family tells us they are nonbinary and asks us to use they/them pronouns. We’re all for fighting white supremacy…until it calls us to question institutions that we’ve been taught keep us safe. We’re all for taking care of and loving unhoused folks…until their tents move in across the street from us.

So often we encounter prophets, and we’re like “I’m good, thanks. Let’s keep things precisely as they are. Leave well enough alone.” They/them pronouns aren’t even grammatically correct. Defunding the police goes too far. Get those tents out of my neighborhood before they start bringing down property values.

Welcoming a prophet is harder than it seems.

Something that kept popping up for me over and over again as I was writing this sermon is, well, not surprising because, as most of you know by now, it’s what anchors my entire reading of all the scripture:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-40

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. So my question for you is: How well do you love yourself? Because, according to Jesus, that’s your gauge for how you’re able to love others. That’s our gauge for how we’re able to bring the kingdom of heaven on earth.

And it might give us a little information about how we react when we encounter a prophet. Because how we welcome prophets reflects how we welcome the most vulnerable parts of ourselves.

When you found yourself attracted to someone, perhaps someone of the same gender, or loving a book or music or a hobby that everyone else thought was weird, how did you love and embrace yourself—or not?

When you lost your job and you weren’t sure how you were going to pay the rent or feed your family, how did you love and embrace yourself—or not?

When someone who had power over you—a parent, a teacher, a boss—made you feel small or hurt you, how did you love and embrace yourself—or not?

Did you move towards shame and self-criticism or compassion and understanding? And I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer. We all react the ways we do because that’s how we were taught to react—consciously or unconsciously. By our families, by the culture we swim in everyday, by our churches.

A lot of times, we’ve been taught that loving differently brings rejection, that asking for help is weak, that asserting ourselves is dangerous. So we resort to, “I’m good, thanks. Let’s keep things precisely as they are. Leave well enough alone.” We learn to judge and push away the prophet who lives inside us, pointing us towards the kingdom of heaven.

But if we love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, if we welcome prophets the way we welcome the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, then we need to pay attention to how we treat ourselves, how we tend to our own hurts, how we let ourselves love fully and authentically.

Let our love for ourselves be a guide for how we love others, how we welcome those who challenge us to become even more loving, for how we bring the kingdom of heaven on earth.

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