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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

I Have a Dream, Part 8
June 24, 2010

In a broken and fearful world Pittsburgh Presbytery glorifies God by joining in covenant life to proclaim in word and deed the good news…

What is the “good news” we proclaim, and how do we best proclaim it? A saying often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi goes, “Always preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.” Whether or not Francis actually said that, the statement underscores the basic truth that the good news of the Gospel is something as much to be lived as it is to be said.

The word “Gospel” in Greek means literally “good news.” It became associated with Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry, when in his inaugural sermon in his home town he quoted a passage from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In the early church, the whole story of Jesus, from his birth to his ascension, became known as the “Gospel” story. Jesus’ preaching consisted at least as much of his actions as of his words. What he did was as much the Gospel as was what he said.

Proclaiming God’s good news got Jesus in trouble – because what was good news for the poor was not so good for those who were rich. Let’s put it another way – the Gospel is good news for the needy, but not so much for the self-sufficient.

I have a dream, where we as the church offer an irresistible invitation to the neediest of the world. The invitation is Jesus’ Gospel invitation: Come unto me, all you who struggle. (Matthew 11:28) The invitation is irresistible, because it is extended not just in words, but by the way we live together as a community of people that acknowledge their own neediness – need for a Savior, need for one another. The irresistible invitational community is marked not by people having it “all together” – such folk don’t really need a Savior (or at least so it appears), nor do they draw in those who know they do need a Savior.

We demonstrate our sense of need – or lack thereof – in the way we live with one another. Does our life together exhibit genuine interdependence on one another, such that we cannot simply dismiss ourselves from one another’s company? Or is our life together more a voluntary association of like-minded, self-sufficient people who hang together when all is well and go their separate ways when the going gets tough? John says that we prove our love for God in how we love one another; a corollary is that we prove our sense of need for God by displaying real need for each other.

To a world in need of a Savior, we proclaim the good news that there is a Savior, and this Savior is there to lift us and to love us just at the point of our greatest need. And we demonstrate that good news by living as a community of those who express their need of a Savior by owning their need of one another. We cannot say to each other, “I have no need of you,” any more than we can say to the Savior, “I have no need of you.”

In my vision for our presbytery, our proclamation and our actions declare the same message. The word and the way of the church are one – they are fully integrated, perfectly in sync. In short, they manifest integrity.

The credibility of our Gospel proclamation is at stake. If what we say and how we live do not match, the world will not believe our message. Nor should it.  As people who traffic heavily in words, Presbyterians find it relatively easy to declare the good news of reconciliation in word. But what message does our life together proclaim? Does the way we live with one another really display good news, or do we live as just another in a long string of religious groups that go their separate ways when the going gets tough?

With you for the long haul,

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

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