LIKE A NURSING MOTHER by Susan Friedrich, M.Div. Senior

Segments from a sermon preached Oct. 24, 2011 at WTS 

I Thessalonians 2:1-8 begins with an address to “adelphos.” Because Paul used this term to address both men and women, it is translated as “brothers and sisters.” Paul used “adelphos” often with the people to whom he wrote,  but Paul takes it a step further when he describes the ministry of Timothy, Silvanus, and himself as being gentle like that of a nurse, “tenderly caring for her own children.”

A nursing mother is one who gives herself to her child, physically providing the means by which the child will thrive and grow. It is an intimate relationship that is by nature mutual. A nursing mother will not forget her child any more than her child will forget her.

Having spent the better part of ten years of my life nursing my own four children, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in that kind of relationship. When I thought about it, though, I have to admit some surprise that Paul would even think to claim such a role for himself and his ministry team. Be honest now, how many of you of the male persuasion have told or would think of telling your congregation that you are like a nursing mother to them? Well, Paul had no gender bias in claiming any parental roles for himself because in a few verses later he will describe himself as a father, “urging and encouraging” (2:12) his children. Nursing mother, father… it all works for Paul. So, what is this all about? It’s about the gospel of God

The giving and receiving goes both ways. When leaders in the church are willing to give their own selves along with the gospel, a community can find themselves participating in God’s mission in amazing ways. In the book, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, Philip Hallie tells the story of how an impoverished French village with a population of 3,000 people saved the lives of about 5,000 refugees, most of whom were children, in the German occupation of WWII. As Hallie later talked to those who lived in the village during those years to try to understand why they did this when other villages around them did not, they told him, “It was Pastor Andre Trocme.” (Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, New York: Harper and Row, 1979, introduction in 1994, 46.) 

How did Pastor Trocme work such ministry in a village that, as the young pastor had described in his notes when he arrived, was moving toward “death, death, death, and the pastor was entrusted with helping the village die”? Well, Trocme  gave himself along with the gospel.

Hallie writes: “When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. “When you give of yourself, the things you are giving, to use Trocme’s word, become fruitful. When the pastor in the village of Le Chambon gave himself along with the gospel, the result was new life.

Our ministry is to be shaped in the image of Christ. Our relationships with one another are formed in love and vulnerability. Gentleness is not a technique, but a commitment. Just as Jesus gives himself, Paul gives himself. In that commitment we see an example of servant-leader, pastoral care-giver, even nursing mother.  These are roles that bear God’s living Word in the context of community, images of living out the gospel in a world being made new in Jesus Christ.


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