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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

I Have a Dream
August 5, 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 of God’s unquenchable love….

Tammy and I have been away since General Assembly, enjoying a season of renewal. We call it “vacation” but I’d rather define the time by its positive benefit than by the empty claim that we simply “vacated” our normal routine. I am most grateful for the opportunity for renewal that you afford me by granting me generous annual renewal time. And I am especially grateful to Doug Portz for his insightful writing in this space during my absence.

Over the next few weeks I shall wrap up the series I began in May, in which I have been unfolding my vision for Pittsburgh Presbytery. Today I add the phrase …of God’s unquenchable love… Here is the good news that we proclaim: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” (Lamentations 3:23)

In the book of Romans, Paul contends that Christ’s death for us and for our salvation is the supreme demonstration of God’s invincible love. “While we were yet sinners” God loved us enough to die for us.  He audaciously claims that “nothing can separate us from God’s love.” Nothing in earth, heaven, or hell can quench God’s love – and for sure nothing we can say or do that will make God stop loving us. This is the good news – God’s love for us outlasts every imaginable obstacle. God’s love for us will stop at nothing. Nothing.

In a world where approval and success are conditioned upon what we think, say, and do, this is a radically counter-cultural claim. How is a truly unconditional love even possible? Everything in our Darwinian world is about assuring our survival by the rigor of our efforts. We get what we deserve in this world – work hard enough, and we’ll prevail. But if we slack off or misdirect our efforts, we’ll get trampled down by others with more savvy and ambition. This is the world into which God’s Son comes, staking a claim that goes straight against the grain of this world’s ways.

There is a love without condition, Jesus declares and demonstrates. It is the everlasting love of the Father whose love is so far beyond that of any earthly father that we ought to tremble to call God “our Father.” We dare do so only as we approach the Everlasting One in the company of the Eternal Son.

The prophets witness powerfully to this unquenchable love, as they detail the unsparing judgment due a disobedient people, only to affirm in the end that God’s love cannot be extinguished by even the grossest failures on our part. For instance, after relentlessly exposing the faithlessness of God’s people, Hosea hears the Lord speak a second word that follows the first word of judgment: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me: my compassion grows warm and tender, …for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:8-9).

The book of Revelation ends with God’s love conquering all that would seek to harm or destroy. The nations stream into the city of God, finally acknowledging themselves victims of an inescapable love.

I have a dream, a dream of a church that in its life together demonstrates that it lives in love that never quits. It is a Psalm 136 dream – every human word is carried along by the recurring refrain, “God’s love never quits” (The Message). Just as God’s love for us never quits, we are called to love one another unceasingly.

We sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I’d like to suggest a friendly amendment as a vision for Pittsburgh Presbytery: “The world will know God’s love for them never quits because our love for one another never quits.” The way we love one another is the most significant testimony we can make to the nature of God’s love. Is God’s love for the world really unquenchable? May the way we love one another tell the truth of that audacious claim.

Tenacious in love,

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

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