((To hear the full sermon, click here and listen to the June 10, 2018 sermon))
“You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you the gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2: -18
This passage and these words come at a perfect time after a week like this week. Mental Illness is still very taboo in today’s society. Nobody likes to talk about it, and many believe if you sweep it under the rug, it’ll go away. Others believe that mental illness (depression or anxiety) is a sin and that if you pray enough, God will save you from your illness. If you come from a tradition like that, let me be the first to tell you that God. Does. Not. Punish. God does not see our shortcomings or our inabilities or disabilities as sins or something that we brought on by ourselves and because of something we have done. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. If anyone ever makes you believe it is your fault, come talk to me and I can clear that right up for you. It is not your fault.
A lot of what I’ve heard this week about people like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, were that they were full of life. Why in the world would someone who was as rich, adventurous, or bold like a fashion designer like Kate Spade, or world renown Chef and adventurer Anthony Bourdain take their own lives?
When Lutheran Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, does a funeral for one of her beloved church members who have taken their lives, she says “If love alone could have saved them, they’d still be here.” If love alone, the love of friends and family. The love of spouses or siblings, could have saved them, they’d still be here. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be kind to one another, or that you shouldn’t reach out when you see people struggling. Yes, there are hotlines and text messaging numbers- but there’s also a responsibility that humankind has to show up for one another.
I think this is what Paul meant. When we’re family, at our best, we can be the children and the mothers and fathers and orphans. In the church family, like Paul, we all play all of these roles. We are brothers and sisters walking alongside each other. We are each other’s babies in need of care. We are mothers to one another, pouring out the milk of teaching and love. We are fathers cheering each other on in the faith. We are orphans when we’re apart, vulnerable and anxious. We are all of those things. When we start to pigeon hole ourselves into only one role, we aren’t following Paul’s example. If we see ourselves only as vulnerable infants, needy but with nothing to give, we stunt our own growth. When we see ourselves only as nurturers, always pouring ourselves out for others, not allowing anyone to care for us, we burn ourselves out.
Paul and the Thessalonian church teach us that being a family together means bringing our full and true selves, every needy and nurturing part, without deceit or shame, to the table, like children ready to learn and grow. It means letting go of any claims to power or authority, and instead being willing to share the very best most nourishing parts of ourselves, like nursing mothers tenderly caring for each other.
If you’re new to this crowd, we hope you feel the bonds that are already formed. And know that there is room for you here. In this family. We carry one another. We look out for one another. We nurture and encourage. We empower and help and journey alongside each other.
May it be so.
((Pictures by Suzanne Vinson, silvertreeart))