6 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. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 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. […] 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2.6–8 & 11–12 NIV
Today is the Feast of Epiphany, the beginning of the Season of Epiphany for many millions of Christians throughout the world. This season—which lasts six weeks this, leading up to Ash Wednesday on February 17th—is a time to enter further into the story of Jesus, which is the very Gospel itself. This season invites us to consider the manifestation of the Good News of God’s Kingdom through the Judean people to all people groups (the Gentiles). This is why we read the story of the Magi visiting the Christ child, a foreshadowing of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew to make Jesus-disciples of “all nations.” In this season we are also invited to reflect on several pivotal moments in the life of Jesus, which are illuminated in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt as refugees from Herodian persecution is among them. So are also Jesus’s baptism by John the Forerunner and Jesus’s miraculous healings and exorcisms. But uniting all these stories is a journey motif. Jesus’s story itself is a journey from his hometown of Nazareth to the Cross of Calvary outside Jerusalem to the right hand of the throne of heaven after the Resurrection. Along that journey, Jesus calls to himself disciples to journey with him. He makes them family to him and he makes a family of them. This isn’t an addendum to the Gospel; this is part and parcel with how God is making all things new, part and parcel with how God’s shalom is breaking into the world. A vision of belonging and communion is at the heart of God’s Kingdom.
Dr. Willie James Jennings, in his book After Whiteness writes,
…the deepest struggle for us all is the struggle for communion. […] We belong to each other, we belong together. Belonging must become the hermeneutic starting point from which we think the social, the political, the individual, the ecclesial… (p.10)
This belonging and communion was so closely related to the Gospel for the early Jesus-disciples that they were nearly inseparable. We can see this in how the apostle Paul writes about his ministry of founding Jesus communities all throughout the first-century Roman provinces surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The first letter to the church in Thessalonica is quite possibly the earliest of all Christian writings. It is one of Paul’s oldest letters and Paul’s letters are the oldest Christian writings. And here we read that Paul viewed his ministry of sharing the Gospel as inseparable from sharing his own life with the Thessalonians. This sharing of life was also the forging of new familial bonds. Paul compares his care for the Thessalonians to both the care of a mother and a father. He also compares his posture towards the Thessalonians as gentile like a child.
In the same way that Jesus invited disciples to journey alongside him making them his family, the church continues to be a movement that forges family to remake the world.
Over the next six weeks, Roots will be learning more about the practices of journeying together as we are invited into a new way of living out this calling called Journey Groups. The six community practices we will explore are: Life-on-Life Sharing, Praying Together, Community Discernment, Community Interpretation of Scripture, Silence Together, and Community Rhythms of Life.
A great resource on these practices that the Pastoral Team will be consulting in this series is Spiritual Practices in Community by Diana Shiflett.