Last night I had the privilege of having a hand in dedicating 3 children from our community to God, each other, and in a very real way, the onlooking world. We’d been planning on having this event for awhile now and, thankfully, our lectionary texts for the day proved to be invaluable.
The text I decided to preach on was found in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Here we find Paul describing his life-on-life approach to founding a community of disciples centering their lives on, around, and in Jesus, also known as a church. He comes to them as one looking to proclaim the kingdom of God brought about by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. He does this, however, not through seminars, classes, street preaching, or questionnaires, but through giving his life over to them. Words alone will not suffice; he must meld his life with theirs and embody or incarnate the message he is attempting to bring to them. This is because it is not simply a hodge podge of words or some mythical story. No, he is presenting to them Jesus.
Here we find the idea of posture through Paul’s metaphor of coming to them as both a mother and father.
As a mother, Paul comes to this community opening himself up in love for the sake of them. Picture a mother nursing her child: it is an image of love and self-giving for the betterment of the child. It is a depriving of herself. It is a posture of weakness, not in a pejorative sense, but in a sense of sacrifice and, ultimately, love. It is a posture of invitation that seeks out the other with open arms.
And Paul continues to push our imaginations by claiming to also have come as a father. He came to them under the pretense that he would labor and work in order to not be a burden upon them. He was “exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of [them] you” because he saw the need for their growth. As a disciple himself, he had to be taught what living life like and in Jesus was about. He was pushed and shaped and formed and now he was seeking to do the same. Yet again we see the love and tender care that he employs here. He wasn’t a burden, he wasn’t a hypocrite; he took on the posture of challenge and enveloped it with the posture of invitation he embodied/incarnated as a mother.
And, again, where did Paul learn all of this? He learned this from being a disciple (the Greek actually means learner) of Jesus. Jesus knew that his posture towards others would be the means by which he would influence. Like a mother, He called children to himself and used parables involving children to provoke our redemptive images of God and ourselves. Yet he pushed his followers to a fuller and more holistic way of life: a life within his new creation as his kingdom unfolds and they become the humans they were supposed to be. If you look at the gospels, you can see that it was his embodiment of love (his posture of invitation and challenge) that powerfully formed people; his message typically pushed people away. So, we see it was his actual person/being that “attracted” people to himself, so they could understand his message. In other words, they saw how to live his message long before they could articulate his message.
And I believe this is what Paul is causing us to recall. He didn’t come up with this stuff on his own. No, he learned it and it was for the “kingdom and [God’s] glory.” He brings to our attention the earthiness of our faith in that we don’t have to look very far to see how Jesus was and is: simply look to a loving mother and father. He reminds us that our lives, our practicing resurrection, must be lived in a posture that depicts what we believe. We have been called into the kingdom of God, which demands not a mere set of beliefs, but a life that interlocks and intermingles with the lives of everyone around us. In our culture, we have become good at speaking words (demonstrating what we think we know), but not incarnating words (demonstrating what we actually believe). We must be patiently postured in the midst of our family, friends, and neighbors in order to articulate our message.
Perhaps if others haven’t wondered more about our faith it is because we haven’t postured ourselves in love for God’s kingdom and glory.