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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Owning Our Motto
February 10, 2011

I’ve been thinking about mottos since having been exposed to a few new ones in the big TV commercial blitz last Sunday night. (Oh yes, it did have a game attached to it, I seem to recall.) One of them was too deep for me to grasp: “Chevy runs deep.” Is it a submarine? An excavator? A patriotic feeling? No matter – it caught my attention, and so it did its job.

But mottos ought to do more than grab attention – they ought to represent us well. We have a motto in Pittsburgh Presbytery – it’s on our website, on our stationery, and mounted on the feature wall of our office’s main reception area. When a story ran about me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year, I was pictured in front of that wall, with the motto just over my left shoulder. It’s not a monkey on my back, but part of the burden that I shoulder, together with you. It says:

Vital congregations bringing people to Christ

I keep asking myself, are we (vital) and do we (bring people to Christ)?

At last week’s presbytery meeting I presented a brief inspirational “state of the presbytery” talk reflecting on how we are doing with living into our motto. It’s a work in progress, to be sure.

Fact is, we set mottoes before ourselves not so much to reflect what we are as to clarify our aspirations for what we hope to be. It discloses what we hope to be, even when we are not yet achieving it. Now hope is no small thing – it’s very different from pipe dreams or wishful thinking, which have no relation to the real world. Hope draws us forward into that which is truly possible. In Christ, hope becomes reality. In him, all God’s promises are Yes! Amen! As good as done!

Still, it is the nature of Christian hope that we are in a long process of becoming what we already are, and we are ever striving for what we have already been given. We are better than what an objective newspaper reporter would say about us – so says the hope that lies within us. Truly, we have yet a long way to go in becoming as vital as we might, and introducing people to Christ as robustly as we ought. We need to talk a lot about what it would take to make some gains in that quest. But let’s reflect today on what it means already to be such a people.

Are we vital? Not as much as we could be, not as much as we shall be. But in a very real sense, the answer is a resounding Yes! God’s Spirit lives in us, and that is the condition for being alive. God is the breath (the word for “spirit” is literally “breath”) that makes Christ’s body alive – it’s not our ministries, not our programs, not even our presbytery (believe it or don’t) that assures that we thrive. Our vitality comes from God. It is a gift to be lived, not a goal to be achieved. The question before us may well be, How can we better get out of the Spirit’s way in making us even more vital?

And do we bring people to Christ? We need to be ever more intentional about doing so. But in a very real sense, we cannot escape it. Every time we touch someone through public proclamation, mission, community engagement, or personal conversation, we are introducing them to Christ. We even do so through our websites! For to touch the body of Christ is to touch Christ himself. We are the body of Christ; everything we do and say to others is an act of introducing them to Christ. The question is not whether we are bringing people to Christ, but whether we are representing him rightly in that introduction.

Are we representing Christ more as a consumer product than as Lord of all? Do we represent him as a fractured body by indulging in divisive conversations and behaviors among ourselves? Is the Christ we present more the Christ we want than the One revealed in God’s Word? Are we presenting Christ as he truly is, or some funhouse mirror distortion of him? An old saw has it that the only Christ the world can know is the Christ the holy church doth show. Quaint language it is – but just as true today as it was back whenever.

Shouldering hope,

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

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