Pulpit Notes: Remembering the Sacrifices

On Monday, May 29, we honor and remember the men and women who have died while in service with the United States Armed Forces. This holiday has its roots in Decoration Day, which, after the American Civil War, honored Confederate and Union soldiers who died during that war. Their graves were decorated with flowers or flags. The holiday has now expanded to include veterans who have died in all wars fought by American soldiers.

Let us pray with thanksgiving for their sacrifices:

Merciful God, as a nation we remember those who have given their lives in armed conflict. May the sacrifices they have made not be forgotten or trivialized by time. As friends, loved ones, and grateful citizens, we honor their courage and devotion to duty, and we pray for the day when war will be no more. Though war is devastating, give us wise discernment to stand against aggression and injustice, which rain confusion and terror upon the innocent. Turn the inner, spiritual drive of both enemy and ally toward the wellspring of peace. Help us as people of faith to recall the promise of Your prophets that, one day, nations will no longer train for war or take up swords, but will beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

O God, we look forward to Your kingdom and everlasting reign of peace. Only You can restore wholeness to the torn fabric of our humanity. To You, O God, be honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Photograph: Detail of the central panel of the art glass window on the west front of Shadyside Presbyterian Church. A memorial to Captain Alfred E. Hunt, the window was dedicated in 1920 with gratitude for peace and victory at the conclusion of World War I. The angel’s scroll is inscribed with St. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 5:57 (KJV): “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Visible from the gallery in the Sanctuary, this central panel is surrounded by medallion windows which depict angels playing the musical instruments mentioned in the 150th Psalm. The window was designed by the Gorham Company of New York in 1919. Photograph by Elder Timothy C. Engleman.

Pulpit Notes: God’s Healing Balm in the World

Prayers for Those Who Are Suffering

The recent bombing in Manchester, England, is in our thoughts. With every moment that passes, we hear more and more painful details. This senseless act of violence hurt so many innocent people, both in body and in spirit.

Like many in the world today, we remain horrified, angry, and in disbelief. We lament the loss of life, and we pray for those who were injured, for their loved ones, and for those who mourn. We also are praying for the many people who cared for the injured, those whom our nation refers to as “first responders.” We also, however, must pray for those who would turn to such cruel violence — that God would open their hearts and minds to find a way to abandon hate and acts of destruction against humanity. Though we may struggle with this form of evil and those who would commit it, we are called to pray for the mercy and forgiveness of our God. We hear more stories every day of the love and grace shown by people of faith everywhere; and so, in this tragedy and in all our days, we must turn to our Lord in prayer and represent Jesus Christ to all.

God of mercy and grace, we turn to You first in our pain and disbelief. We ask that Your Holy Spirit guide and comfort those families who have lost loved ones and those who were injured. We do not fully understand terror or evil, but we have witnessed it in this tragedy. We look to You. We trust in You, knowing that Your love, O God, prevails even in the midst of unfathomable horror. We pray for Your intercession for all those who are suffering, and we ask Your blessings on all those who are sharing your love and mercy. Through You, we know that love takes action, as the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus gives witness. Help us, then, to respond with faith and compassion to all who have suffered, and may we find ways to be bearers of peace in this fallen world. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Photograph: Detail of an art glass window in the south transept of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church sanctuary, depicting Jesus blessing the children. Window designed by the Gorham Company of New York.  Photo taken by Ellen L. Allston.

Pulpit Notes: Reacting Under Pressure

Growing Through Adversity

We can’t know the depth of our character until we are put to the test. How easy it is to be righteous and proud when everything is going great. But how will we react when the pressure is on? How will we respond when things do not go exactly as we would like them to go, or when others point with ease to our shortcomings?

I suppose it is really a matter of character. God desires a witness from disciples of Jesus Christ that is patient and certain even in the face of adversity. God’s desire is not necessarily to keep us from pain and frustration, but to give them meaning.

God’s desire is that we grow through adversity, that our character be strengthened and, when necessary, be renewed. I doubt there are many of us who are not tested every day in some manner or another. But we need not look at adversity and frustration as things merely to overcome, because, in reality, the trials we face are helping us to “become.” They help us to become stronger, more confident, more effective disciples of Jesus Christ.

If you are facing frustration or pain, know that you have hope: hope that you can share with others in a world that often seems bent on taking away our true hope in Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  (Romans 5:1-4)

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Celebrating Kendra Buckwalter Smith’s Ordination

The Reverend Dr. Edwin van Driel, Directors’ Bicentennial Associate Professor of Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Reverend Kendra Buckwalter Smith, Worship Coordinator at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Photo by Christopher Ruth)
The Reverend Dr. Edwin van Driel, Directors’ Bicentennial Associate Professor of Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Reverend Kendra Buckwalter Smith, Worship Coordinator at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Photo by Christopher Ruth)

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 30, the Pittsburgh Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained Kendra Buckwalter Smith in the Sanctuary of Shadyside Presbyterian Church as the worship coordinator of the chapel program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS). In addition to Rev. Todd Leach and Rev. Lynn Portz, participants included Elders Nathaniel Hunter and Percy Jackson, Rev. Gavin Walton, members of the Chancel Choir of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Dr. Edwin van Driel, PTS professor of theology and Kendra’s adviser for her master of sacred theology project. We rejoice with Kendra and the PTS community as they celebrate the beginning of Kendra’s ministry as Minister of Word and Sacrament. We thank God for the blessing Kendra has been — and continues to be — to our congregation since 2004, and for calling Kendra to service amongst us in Pittsburgh. Please join us in praying for God’s abundant blessings upon Kendra.

An album of photographs from the service of ordination has been published on Shadyside Presbyterian Church’s Facebook; you may view it here even if you do not have a Facebook account. (Photographs taken by Christopher Ruth.)

Learn more about Rev. Kendra Buckwalter Smith’s ministry at PTS.

Ordained teaching and ruling elders participate in the laying on of hands during the prayer of ordination for Kendra Buckwalter Smith on Sunday, April 30, at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Christopher Ruth.)
Ordained teaching and ruling elders participate in the laying on of hands during the prayer of ordination for Kendra Buckwalter Smith on Sunday, April 30, at Shadyside Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Christopher Ruth.)

Pulpit Notes: Visions Built on Strong Faith

I saw a quote on the Internet recently that caught my attention:  “If we are too busy to be kind, we are too busy.” (Allan Lokos)

In our busy lives, let us all take a deep breath and consider what is really important in life.

Christ our risen Lord, whose fullness we all have received, You call us to abide in You as You abide in the Father. Strengthen us, then, who seek the truth and beauty of Your gospel. For those in our church and community who are dispirited or downcast, may we become a visible demonstration of Your encouragement and compassion. Help us to see their needs and take the time to help them as Christ would do. Together, let us build our dreams, our visions, our lives, and our community with a strong, faith-filled courage that is based upon our resurrection hope and the indwelling presence of Your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: A Prayer in Preparation for Communion

O God, we pray for bread; You prepare a feast.
We reach for a cup; You offer us salvation.

Lord, to whom shall we go? Only You offer the Word of life. Grant us these few moments of meditation and prayer, O God, that we might behold in Your Word all that is eternal and true. Nourish our souls and prepare us, not simply to be guests to Your Kingdom feast, but to be servants to all those whom You have invited. Father, let not our hearts, nor our souls, become callused in the handling of the Holy, lest we fail to detect the touch of Jesus through the hands of those whom we serve.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Resurrection People

Christ is risen!  What a joyous moment!
Christ is risen!  We want to tell the world!

Just ten days ago, on Easter Sunday, we celebrated our great hope which is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The simplest meaning of the Resurrection is that God ultimately has the last word: Friday is not the end of the story. The cross and the empty tomb are amazing symbols of God’s true and gracious Word spoken to us in His Son Jesus Christ.

How do we respond to this great hope?

Let us ask God to guide us, inspire us, and strengthen us to live a new life as Resurrection people.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Labors of Simple Pleasure

Whatever I do this day, O Lord, let me do it for You.

If I am engaged in business, may it ultimately be the business of the Church; the work of the Holy Spirit; the proclamation of the Gospel in thought, word, and deed. And if this day brings rest, may it be a Sabbath of renewal, through which I honor and praise Your name. As You have created the heavens to praise You, so You have created me. As Your creature, blessed by Your creation, grant me labors of simple pleasure and cheerful resolve to glorify You in every way, in Jesus Christ my living Lord.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Lent Devotional: Maundy Thursday

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS) has published daily devotionals throughout this Lenten season. The reflection for Maundy Thursday was written by Rev. John F. Magnuson, Associate Pastor for Discipleship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church and M.Div. graduate ’13 from PTS.

Scripture

John 17:1-11 (Read the passage here)

Devotional

Through this journey of Lent, we slow our pace to a crawl during Holy Week. We pause each day to remember the last moments of Jesus’ earthly life before His crucifixion. On this Maundy Thursday, we find ourselves with the disciples resting at the feet of Jesus as He offers this prayer.

With Jesus’ prayer washing over us, we wish for His words to linger just a little while longer, so that we may bask in His love and care for us. We hold on to these words, for we know that the words to come next are those of betrayal. Together, Jesus’ prayer and His subsequent betrayal act for us as a mirror in which we see, simultaneously, both God’s desire for us and our own disobedient brokenness.

As we pause to sit with Jesus’ prayer, may we also sit with Him on the night of His betrayal. Resting in this tension, may we sit still enough to see through the cracks of our lives as His grace shines through to fulfill the hope of His prayer.

Prayer

Ever faithful God, we give You thanks that, on the night of Your betrayal, You were not concerned for Yourself, but prayed for us, and for all Your disciples, that we may be one. By Your Spirit, unite us through Your grace, peace, and love. Amen.

Contributed by Rev. John F. Magnuson, Associate Pastor for Discipleship at Shadyside Presbyterian Church

This Lenten devotional was originally published online here.

Rooted in the Reformed tradition, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is preparing people for existing and new ministries, in a variety of communities.

Pulpit Notes: The Most Important Doctrine

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ which we will celebrate this coming Sunday is one of the most common beliefs of the Christian faith.

We believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is, in my opinion, the most important doctrine of the Christian faith because everything else we believe as Christians depends upon it. Paul spoke to this when he wrote to the church in Corinth:

“… and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. … If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  (1 Cor. 15:14, 19)

The Resurrection tells us, and we affirm in what we profess and how we seek to live, that God’s love and redemption are more powerful than sin and death.

God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Our faith as disciples truly begins with this affirmation. For Christians, the Resurrection is the one and only event in all of history that can give meaning and purpose to all the rest. In order to understand life in all its joy and sadness, pain and pleasure, we must view it through the perspective of the Resurrection. The empty tomb is the very basis of our hope. We have hope for life abundant and life eternal.

What do you face this Holy Week and Easter? Is your journey difficult or full of joy? No matter what your answer — and even if you made your profession of faith years ago — consider reaffirming it today. Yes, express your faith in Jesus Christ. Christ lives, and because He does, we can, too!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor