The Things We Do for Love

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Things We Do for Love

 Last week’s letter, What’s Love Got to Do with It?, explored the necessity of pastors loving their flock in such a way that they know their pastor loves them. Such love accepts them just for who they are, without immediately trying to change them. It sets a foundation for a long and fruitful relationship.

Yet love is more than embrace and affirmation; that is just its beginning. What does love require of us beyond that necessary foundation?

Jesus commands all his followers to love one another. For officers of the church, love becomes an official obligation and commitment when at ordination they proclaim their intent to serve and pray for God’s people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. One cannot be a deacon, elder, or minister in the church and opt out of the command to love God’s people.

We know well the nature of love outlined so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13 – it is patient, kind, humble, trusting, hopeful. It seeks out and lifts up the best rather than the worst in each other. Yet there is more.

Paul says that the love of Christ is what motivates us for ministry. It’s not simply our own love, but his way of love that shapes what we do in his name.

As we noted last week, Jesus embraced his closest friends first of all simply to be in their company. Their acceptance was so unconditional that even when it became clear to him that one of them would betray him, he continued to keep the betrayer in his circle. When he commanded his disciples to love one another in the same way he loved them, it was just after he had washed the feet and shared the bread and cup with Judas. To love in the way of Jesus is to continue loving those who have turned against us.

To love in the way of Jesus is to lay down our lives for the sake of others. Ministry in his name is not about me, but about others. Jesus repeatedly instructs his followers to give up what is rightly theirs for the sake of others, just as he did. For Paul, following Jesus’ example leads us to think of each other as better than as ourselves, and to look not to our own interests but to the interests of others.

Love in the way of Jesus makes us willing to say the hard things that people need to hear. According to Mark, Jesus’ tough instructions to a rich person were motivated by love for him.

One of my colleagues in presbytery leadership, Lisa Allgood of Cincinnati Presbytery, is a retired epidemiologist who has been closely tracking the scientific community’s study of the Covid virus. Based on what she learns, she regularly sends out cautionary letters to the leaders of her churches as well as to leaders of other presbyteries, underscoring the best ways to keep their people safe. Her advice is not always welcome, especially as we have grown weary over the past two years of taking measures to mitigate Covid transmission. She knows we don’t want to hear what we need to hear, yet she keeps sending the letters that tell the truth we don’t want to hear. She rightly calls these letters “Love Notes.”

Jesus’ public witness against the authorities of his time was motivated by love – love for them, and love for those who were being oppressed by them. That’s what got him killed – expressing his love. Likewise, it is love that motivates his followers to speak the truth regardless of consequences to them.

Jesus has a special love for “the least of these,” and when we reach out to those on the margins and advocate for them, he says, we are in fact loving him. Love leads us to make a tangible difference for them. Our motivation for seeking social justice is love – the love of Christ, to be specific.

Jesus predicts rightly that we may undertake our efforts on behalf of the needy without any intent of doing so for his sake – but, he says, whether or not we are aware of it, we are in fact loving him in doing so.

It’s not just the motivation, or even mainly the motivation, that constitutes the love of Christ. It’s the things we do. The things we do for love (with apologies to 10cc).

Yours in the love of Christ,

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