February 2011 Newsletter

Dear Friends in Christ,

Among people of faith, it is not uncommon to have deep, heartfelt discussions regarding what we believe. Christians may debate the role of the Creator in creation, spar about creationism vs. evolutionism, or battle over the relationship between faith and science. Certainly, we labor as Christians to define who Jesus is and what it means to call him Savior. We wrestle with theological concepts like the Trinity and our understanding of the nature of God. We search the scriptures for truth about who God is and who we are, as human beings, in relationship to God. We struggle with the reality of sin and evil in the world even as we strive to articulate the good news of redemption and new life that's made known to us in Jesus Christ. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have composed hymns and sermons to express their beliefs. Over the generations, followers of Jesus have met in councils and as church bodies to fashion creeds and statements that define the core of our Christian faith. Defining and understanding what we believe is an essential component of our life of faith.

The Christian life, however, is not just about what we believe. The heart of the Christian faith is grounded in how we love. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus responds to a lawyer, a Pharisee, who asks him this basic question: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Jesus answers 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

In 1 John Chapter 4, the apostle John offers these stirring words about love in the Christian life:

"Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and God's love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)." "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them... We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:16b, 19).

When Peter is reunited with his Lord by the seaside, following Jesus' resurrection, the Lord has one simple question for his disciple. Jesus presses the question three times. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He doesn't harass Peter for falling away on the night of his Master's betrayal. He doesn't quiz Peter on his understanding of his Lord's death and resurrection. He doesn't require Peter to clearly articulate the foundations of his faith, to proclaim a particular set of beliefs. Jesus asks him instead "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" and Jesus challenges him, out of that love, to care for others. ("Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep.")

It is important for us as Christians to know what we believe. We need to be comfortable explaining the core doctrines of our faith if we are to witness effectively to others and stand firm in our own convictions. We want to be careful in expressing our beliefs that we do not lead others astray. But "right belief" is not enough. I know a number of people who would easily say that they believe in Jesus Christ but would stammer in resistance and confusion if pressed to answer Jesus' question to the apostle Peter: "Do you love me?" Opinion polls suggest that a majority of people in this country believe in Jesus Christ, but I wonder if all of those folks have really pondered what it means to love Jesus with all your heart or have genuinely experienced how loving Jesus changes a person's life. For most of us, the Old Testament challenge, that Jesus endorses, of loving God with all your heart, and mind, and soul and strength, loving God best of all, is a challenge we fail to live up to on a regular basis. As we live out our Christian faith, the opportunity to grow in love (love of God, love of Jesus, love of neighbor, love of brothers and sisters in the church) is one we need to embrace more fully each and every day.

By the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, may you and I believe in Jesus Christ and love him with all our being. And may our love of him touch and transform our relationships, our lives and our world.

Yours in Christ's Service,

Rev. Peggy Ann Sauerhoff