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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

I Have a Dream
August 19, 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 for the world
revealed in Jesus Christ.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, considered by many to be the greatest theologian of the last two hundred years, did not travel to North America until very late in his life. His trip here caused quite a stir, and everywhere he traveled he was peppered with questions. One of the most memorable interchanges had a reporter asking him the core of the Christian faith; Barth replied immediately, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

We know the depth of God’s love because of Jesus. In Paul’s words, God’s love is consummately shown in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Because of Jesus, we are persuaded that nothing can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38-39) We would not fully know how unconditionally and tenaciously God loves the world, except for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the world’s sake.

Jesus is the heart of our good news. Apart from him, there is no such thing as the Christian gospel. He is the center of our life and message.

In the New Testament, there is just one essential confession of faith: Jesus is Lord! To be his disciple, no other faith statement is required, or even imagined. We don’t need to shove Jesus down people’s throats in order to lift him up – but we dare not set him aside. He is our hope in life and in death, our guarantee of God’s unquenchable love.

One of Jesus’ most notable qualities is how comfortable “sinners” felt with him. When we live in his way, we will draw in people who have been marginalized by society. Rejects will know that with us they are welcomed and even honored. Those in despair will know that with us they will find hope. 

I dream of a presbytery in which Jesus is owned with joy, in which his way is so fully demonstrated by his followers that outsiders and outcasts would find our fellowship irresistibly attractive. In this presbytery, ministry is conducted “the Jesus way” – the broken are made whole, the afflicted are delivered, and the poor are given truly good news.

A decade or so ago a Presbyterian minister headlining a major conference asked a rhetorical question: So, what’s the big deal about Jesus? Plenty, it turned out, as our denomination became embroiled in controversy on account of his raising a provocative point. While asking Christians to quit using Jesus as a bludgeon against others, he struck a nerve of recognition that all too often we have muted our witness to Jesus. Some colleagues and I prepared a booklet in response to his challenge, “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is available at http://www.pghpresbytery.org/about_us/pdfs/hopeinthelord.pdf and includes a study guide that makes it very useful for Sunday classes, small groups, etc. I commend it to all in our presbytery as a way of considering God’s call upon us in this place and time.

In the work I did just before coming to Pittsburgh Presbytery, I read some 20,000 pages of church-related grant proposals a year. In so doing, I had the marvelous opportunity to take a close look at hundreds of churches in many denominations. I did not find a single exception to this rule: Vital Christian congregations were marked by a vibrant affirmation of Jesus as Lord. They were bold to confess his name. They varied wildly in many other aspects, but were of one voice and heart in this central claim.

Confessing Jesus as Lord does not itself a vital congregation or presbytery make. But I can’t imagine one apart from that confession. This confession requires us to live in the Jesus way, not just to talk the Jesus talk. Are we up to it here in this presbytery? By God’s grace, let it be so.

In Jesus’ name,

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

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