Corona Sabbath 32 COMPASSION Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

This post focuses on compassion and our motivations for considering the interests of others. There is a scripture reading, a reflection, and music from Hilton Jones.

We listen to 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. The writer lays out his understanding of his relationship with the faith community at Thessalonica. And sees no self interest involved.

And you yourselves know, sisters and brothers, that our coming among you was not without effect. We had, as you know, been given rough treatment at Philippi, and it was our God who gave us the courage to proclaim the Good News to you in the face of stiff opposition. We don’t preach because of impure motives or deceit or any sort of trickery; rather, it was God who decided that we are fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking, we’re trying to please not mortals, but God, who can read our inmost thoughts.

You know very well – and can swear it before God – that never at any time has our speech been simple flattery or a cover for trying to get money; nor have we ever looked for any special honor from you or from anyone else – even though we could have imposed ourselves on you as apostles of Christ. On the contrary, while we were with you we were as gentle as any nursing mother caring for her little ones. So well disposed were we toward you, in fact, that we were willing to share with you not only the Good News, but our very lives as well – you had become that dear to us.

Reflection from Kim

I nursed all three of our children. The first two for a year each and the third child for the then recommended 2 years. Day, night, 24/7, I was their source of food.

I remember when we had our first child we lived in Manhattan. When he wanted to eat in the middle of the night, I would feed him in our one darkened bedroom where baby and parents all slept. I would look out the window of our apartment to the other apartment buildings near by and see lights on in some of the windows, and I would think, Well, I’m not the only one who is awake. I felt the solidarity and camaraderie of those strangers with their lights on in the middle of the night. They helped to get me through those lonely, dark feedings. And they will never know that!

Nursing is a miraculous system designed to meet the needs of the child. It is the perfect system to insure the care and growth of the infant. It is literally life giving. This is my body given for you. . . And the writer of Thessalonians mentions nursing.

In the beautiful passage we heard, there is that wonderful verse:

“while we were with you we were as gentle as any nursing mother caring for her little ones. So well disposed were we toward you, in fact, that we were willing to share with you not only the Good News, but our very lives as well – you had become that dear to us.”

While we were with you we were as gentle as any nursing mother caring for her little ones. The apostle and his cohorts offered the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of Thessalonica as a mother offers milk to a child – out of concern for their wellbeing, out of a desire to see them grow and thrive.

But the original readers don’t seem to understand this. They seem to think that the writer and his associates had other motives. Motives of self interest. Maybe of material gain. The writer has to mention, we did not share the Gospel with you out of impure motives, deceit, trickery, flattery, or as a cover for trying to get money or special honors. They are spreading the gospel, giving this gift to the Thessalonians, for the wellbeing of the Thessalonians. No self interest or personal gain involved. This is not a transactional relationship – we gave the gospel to you so that you would give us something to us in return. No. They have brought the gospel, like a nursing mother, for the well being of others.

Sadly, faith is often seen as offered in a self serving way. A gift with a catch. Europeans took the gospel around the world, but they insisted on imposing western culture along with the gospel thus denigrating other peoples and cultures and exploiting their resources – human and natural. I think Desmond Tutu says something about after the European missionaries came to Africa, the Africans had the Bible and the Europeans had the land. That kind of imperialism under the guise of sharing the gospel was thought of in western culture as benevolent. We now know better.

And we still regularly see examples of religious leaders who extort their congregations – taking money and living lavish life styles. Religion can be a lucrative gig. Getting people to invest in their afterlife abode with a monetary deposit in the coffers of the church in this world. Buying that bit of heaven. It’s a message ripe for manipulation and corruption.

It’s no wonder people are suspect – the Thessalonians as well as many people today.

And it is no wonder that we may be reticent to share with others the life giving power and strength that we find in our faith. It is no wonder we are hesitant to tell of the life sustaining power of the way of Jesus. It is not surprising that we feel awkward advocating for love and forgiveness. Religion is so ripe for deception and extortion.

Yet, today, so many people today are spiritually undernourished. They are starving. They are hungry. They want to grow and thrive, but don’t know how. Don’t know where to find true, nourishing sustenance. This is evident in rising rates of addiction, depression, and anxiety. This is evident in blatant expressions of racism and bigotry. We see it in the rise of fundamentalism in many religions and political movements. We see it in the greed and growing economic disparities in our country. We see the ravages of this hunger all around us. In people we know. In public figures. This gaping hunger for the way of love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, and service. The way of Jesus. The desire for the mother’s milk of the gospel. But people don’t know what it is or where to find it.

The explanation in Thessalonians gives us a way to approach this. Like a nursing mother. Not heavy handed imposition. Not a guilt trip. Not some kind of extortion or manipulation. No patronizing disrespect. No paternalistic demeaning. Just simple succor. Gently sharing our lives. Sharing how we find grounding, solace, and sustenance in the way of Jesus. An on ramp to a way of love and joy, getting off the path of greed, material consumption, getting even, winning and losing.

We have found our hunger and thirst for well being, for wholeness, satisfied by the gospel. We have been nurtured and sustained by our faith. We know our need and what has been given to us in the good news of Jesus Christ – to help us learn and grow and become more aware. To make us stronger, to help us develop into more mature human beings whose purpose is to love fully and freely.

We are needed to simply share what we have been given, what sustains us. And we can do this, like a nursing mother, because we have been nursed – we have been given what we need by our faith tradition, through family, through the church, through the scriptures, to grow and thrive. We are needed to gently offer ourselves, our stories, our lives to a malnourished, hungry world. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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