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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

A People of Hope
February 14, 2019

I closed last week’s letter by referencing a booklet that some colleagues and I prepared for our denomination some 16 years ago. With “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” we sought to articulate what our church believes about Jesus. We wrote it in response to a controversy at the prior General Assembly generated by a sermon given some months earlier by a Presbyterian minister, in which he questioned whether it is appropriate to talk about Jesus in interfaith contexts. Our pamphlet was resoundingly affirmed by the subsequent Assembly, culminating in my one and only experience of receiving a standing ovation at a General Assembly. (What greater glory could be imagined?!)

We were intentional about using “hope” as the first word, rather than “faith” or “doctrine” or “belief.” Hope lies at the heart of Presbyterian DNA. Recognized widely as the greatest living Reformed theologian, Jürgen Moltmann is known best for developing a “theology of hope.” All that we know about who God is, who we are, what God has done for us, and what God requires of us is bound together by the thread of hope. We are by nature not doomsayers. We are content to leave judgment of others in God’s hands, as Jesus instructs his disciples to do. (Matthew 7:1-2) Our mission and ministries are shaped always by hope.

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we can face a world riddled with affliction without being caught up in its anxieties. We do not deny the depth of suffering so prevalent around us, yet we respond to it out of hope that Jesus’ resurrection is the sure sign that destruction is not our destiny. Presbyterians stand in the forefront of efforts to heal our world of its sufferings, whether because of natural or human-instigated disasters. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the world’s leading religious agencies in trauma response, both domestically and internationally. Our reflexive response to disasters of all kinds is rooted in our sure hope that God’s reign shall finally prevail.

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we are free in worship to confess our sin fully, knowing that God’s grace already covers our sin. Perhaps you have noticed that, in Presbyterian liturgy, the invitation to confess our sin already includes the promise of forgiveness. As we approach Holy God with full acknowledgment of our errant thoughts, words, and ways, we are assured that the One to whom we make confession rules from a “throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16) When we confess our sin, we approach God in confident hope that we will find mercy rather than condemnation. For Presbyterians, the “Assurance of Pardon” is already present in the invitation to confession, and not just something we receive as a result of having made our confession.

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we believe our salvation to be fully secure. This security rests not in our goodness, but in his. Along with many other Christians, some Presbyterians opine that their hope for salvation rests on their being “good enough” to merit it. Even when our intentions are truly good, our hope rests on something far firmer than those good intentions. The apostle Paul calls this “good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16), a hope that leads us to good works – not to earn our salvation, but to reflect it.

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we abound in hope for others. We join hands in good faith with people who are different from us in ethnicity, class, or creed, believing that the Gospel promises in which we place our hope are just as good for them as they are for us. We need not necessarily agree on small or large points of politics and doctrine to maintain good hope for one another.

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we believe that sin is not the final determinant of destiny – for ourselves, for others, or for our world. Therefore we are able to live our lives and engage our world rejoicing in the promise that Christ is present with us, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Because of our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,

we stand against the myriad narratives of fear and despair that swirl around us. Even if our world is currently as disordered as its doomsayers declare, this does not rob us of our confident hope that the One who has made us new can be trusted to make all things new. (Revelation 21:5) Thanks be to God!

Yours in steadfast hope,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

Click HERE if you would like to EMAIL Sheldon or HERE for the DIRECTORY of archived letters and sermons.