A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
You can’t make this stuff up!
July 19, 2012
Perhaps you have seen one of the “bulletin bloopers” posts circulating the internet, purporting to include typos or unintended double entendres from real church bulletins and calendars. I’m pretty skeptical of their authenticity – most of them seem too clever by half. But I can testify to a couple that I have personally encountered. At one church I served, each Sunday there was a heading at one point in the liturgy that read Presenting our tithes and offerings. One Sunday I opened the bulletin to discover that in cutting and pasting the text from last week’s copy, the secretary was just a tad too aggressive – this week’s bulletin heading had it rather resenting our tithes and offerings. At the same church, our choir ordered a choral arrangement of the hymn Immortal, Invisible. What arrived carried the heading in large print Immoral, Invisible. Really - you can’t make this stuff up!
As much as I rely primarily on the computer for written communications, I still hand-write letters and journal entries, and love to use a high quality pen when doing so. My current Waterman has been with me ever since a parishioner gave it to me a dozen years ago as a parting gift when I left for a new call. Some years earlier, one of my daughters gave me my first really good pen, a Mont Blanc with which I quickly fell in love. I’d had it only a couple of years when I lost it one day on the golf course – I had forgotten to take it out of my pocket, and apparently my ungainly swing had dislodged it. I was inconsolable, until the day my other daughter presented me with a replacement Mont Blanc as a gift. I was thrilled, until I went to replace the ink cartridge, and discovered that a standard Mont Blanc refill wouldn’t fit. The bargain price she paid for the pen turned out to be no bargain at all; it was a fake, and it couldn’t do the job of the real thing. You can’t make up precious things with cheap substitutes, no matter how much they may look like the original at first glance.
Our presbytery mission statement declares that we “share together in the ongoing life and ministry of Jesus Christ.” Not just any ministry, and certainly not one that we make up according to our predilections. The only Gospel ministry that bears lasting fruit is that of Jesus himself. That means we say and do what he says and does – no more, no less.
If our ministry does not include bringing healing to the broken in soul and body, it is not Jesus’ ministry but our cheap substitute. If our ministry does not include welcoming the outcasts of our day, it is not Jesus’ ministry but our cheap substitute. If our ministry traffics in external religiosity while ignoring the weightier matters of justice, it is not Jesus’ ministry but our cheap substitute. If our ministry is all about promoting Gospel benefits rather than laying down our lives for the sake of others, it is not Jesus’ ministry but our cheap substitute. If our ministry imagines a way of loving God that does not include love of neighbor, or a way of loving neighbor that isn’t rooted in love for God, it is not Jesus’ ministry, but a cheap substitute. If we seek to conduct our ministry independently rather than in company with one another, it is not Jesus’ ministry, but a cheap substitute.
We can’t just make up the form and content of authentic Gospel ministry. We have a sure word concerning its nature, known as the Gospel records. It is this ministry, the ministry of Jesus as reported by the apostles, which fueled a movement that changed the world.
The first several chapters of Acts reference repeatedly the healing of the lame man at the gates of the temple, as reported in Acts 3. The apostles celebrate it as God’s seal of approval on their message, while their opponents point to it bitterly as the spring of this irrepressible movement’s success, even as they seek desperately to shut down. Lots of folk preached repentance and reform in those days – but what made the message of Jesus’ apostles take wings was that it was backed up by a public healing, just the way Jesus did it.
As we work together in Christian ministry here in Allegheny County some two thousand years later, does our life and message continue the ministry of Jesus as reported in the Gospels? To the extent that it does, we will continue to change the world. If ever we are tempted to set aside some of it, to refashion some of it, or to add something new to it, let us never forget: We can’t just make this stuff up.
Yours in Christ’s ministry,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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