A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
May 5, 2011
Last week we witnessed a surreal spectacle: President Obama, after many years of accusations from people who challenged his right to the presidency, produced the long form of his birth certificate to prove that, contrary to their claims, he is indeed a natural born U.S. citizen. He was, in effect, being accused of being an undocumented worker. It finally came to a head when potential presidential candidate Donald Trump joined the parade of public questioners. After years of dismissing the allegation as some craziness concocted by a fringe few, the President finally capitulated and produced definitive proof of his birth on U.S. soil. Hardly had he produced his birth certificate when some in the “birther” contingent began asserting that it is a fake. The president is experiencing the same thing that countless others have faced, namely the great uphill struggle to prove one’s legitimate standing in the workforce once it has been cast into question.
Several times during his ministry, Jesus encountered skeptics who demanded that he prove his claims by doing some miracle or another. It began with the devil tempting him in the wilderness to prove that he was Son of God by turning stones into bread. The dares continued all the way to the cross, where onlookers taunted him to prove that he was indeed the Son of God by coming down from the cross. Without exception, Jesus refused to prove anything to those who clamored for it, even though he could have. He knew full well that no amount of proof is going to sway the determined skeptic.
But after Easter, Jesus did with a vengeance what he had steadfastly refused to do throughout his ministry – he sought to provide convincing proofs of his resurrection. John says that Jesus performed numerous signs to demonstrate his resurrection, in order that we may believe. Luke tells us that after his resurrection Jesus offered his disciples “many convincing proofs” that he was alive. Still, according to Matthew, even as he shared his final words with his disciples before his ascension, some of them doubted. Only with Pentecost did their doubts finally dissolve.
On the night of the last supper, Jesus said that the public proof that we belong to him is that we love one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Conversely, when we turn against one another, our claim to be his disciples loses all credibility.
The epistles of John reinforce this point repeatedly – the proof of our being in right relationship with God is that we are in right relationship with each other. The early Christian theologian Tertullian reports that this was the thing that the pagans found most compelling about the Christians – “See how they love each other!” What caught them short was the contrast between the way of Christians and the way of the world – people of the world lived at loggerheads, always in contest, while Christians demonstrated the capacity to love each other despite their many natural differences (slave and free, Jew and Greek, cultured and illiterate, etc.). This testimony led many to become followers of the Way.
How is it for us? Does the way we love one another help us fulfill our presbytery motto, “bringing others to Christ”? Especially as we live through a time where there are significant differences among us in the church, whether we love one another through thick and thin may be the single most significant factor in our being able to bear effective witness to the love of God in Christ for the world.
Beloved, let us love one another – and so prove that we do indeed belong to Jesus.
For His sake,
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The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery