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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

The Power of Testimony
April 8, 2010

The Gospels paint a complex picture of the disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ resurrection. They are afraid; they can’t believe it; they are overjoyed; they are speechless. All at once.  

The lectionary takes us straight to the heart of the problem on the second Sunday of Easter – bodily resurrection is simply unbelievable. How can we possibly believe in bodily resurrection, knowing all we do of biological science? Even though they did not hold advanced scientific degrees, Jesus’ disciples were properly suspicious of the preposterous claim: He whose death and burial we saw with our own eyes has risen? Give me a break!

As much as he has grown to love and trust the rest of “team Jesus” over their years together, Thomas can’t buy their testimony. (John 20:24-25) The rest say they have seen Jesus alive again; I won’t believe it until I see him and touch him. Actually, Thomas is not much different from the rest. When the women return from the tomb, Luke tells us that the rest considered their testimony “an idle tale.” Even at the point of his ascension, after Jesus has shown “many convincing proofs” of his resurrection (Acts 1:3), some of his disciples still doubt, according to Matthew.

When he finally appears to Thomas, Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.” In other words, blessed are those who believe because of someone else’s testimony.

I am grateful for the testimony of my family. When I hear the stories of how God sheltered and sustained my grandparents and their children as dirt-poor immigrants in the hard north of Canada during the Great Depression, my faith is stirred. When my faith’s flame falters, the testimony of my forebears keeps it burning.

My time with my grandsons is especially precious because they live far away, so I give them all the attention I can when we are together. I offer to read them their favorite books, but when we get together they desire one thing above all – “Tell us a story about when Mommy was little.” They much prefer to hear testimony than to hear tales. It tells them where they have come from, and shapes their sense of who they are.

Eventually the testimony of just a few convinced many others to trust in Jesus as the risen Lord. The practice of testimony was the lifeblood of the early church. The credibility of the disciples’ testimony to the resurrection is underscored by their willingness to die for that story. People don’t give their neck to the executioner over idle tales.

How is it for us? Are we prepared to tell our own “God-stories” so that others may be encouraged to believe, even if they have not seen what we have seen? Truthfully, most of us must admit that our own faith has developed far more on the basis of others’ testimonies than from independently gleaned insights. Will we continue the chain of testimony so that others may hear what God has done for us, and thus trust in God for themselves?

As a pastor, I find myself sometimes in the role of “confessor” to people’s God-stories – they hesitate to tell them for fear of what others may think, but they’re willing to risk that maybe a pastor will be OK with it. As I hear such stories, I wonder at how much more vital the church’s faith might be were we all to share our stories freely with one another. Jesus’ disciples took the risk to tell an unbelievable story, and the world was changed as a result. How might our world change if we began to tell others what God has done for us?

The Lord is risen!

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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