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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

"I Have A Dream," Part 4
May 20, 2010

The recently announced retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens from the United States Supreme Court elicited a retrospective on his career that jarred me with a fact that seems unthinkable today – his nomination by President Ford was confirmed by a Senate vote of 98-0. Now this happened at a time of considerable upheaval in Washington. Roe v. Wade had recently been decided, the Watergate scandal still cast a pall over Washington, and we were nursing fresh wounds from our defeat in Vietnam. These were not easy times. Yet senators were able to set aside party differences to elect a Supreme Court Justice with whom many disagreed politically.

What a difference a generation makes. It has become unimaginable that any Supreme Court nominee or any major program brought forward by a President could garner support from more than a minority of lawmakers on the other side of the aisle. Our world has been rapidly polarized, a phenomenon often construed in terms of the “red/blue” divide. We have been galvanized into partisanships that urge us to demonize those who see things differently from us.

The vision that shapes our ministry must be framed first of all by the situation in which we find ourselves, or else it is fantasy. Our world is broken and everyone is afraid of the “other.” We are living in a binary time, an “us vs. them” era on almost every issue imaginable. The fault lines have become canyons between parties that disagree vehemently on everything from offshore drilling to militarization to immigration to gun control to education to abortion to sexuality. And the sober truth is that these divisions cut at least as deeply through the heart of the church as of the larger society.

This week we celebrate Pentecost, an event that begins a new era of the Holy Spirit breaking into a deeply divided world to reunite what has been separated. Acts 2 is not the full story – the entire book of Acts plays out the impact of the Acts 2 experience. One of the most significant aftershocks occurs in Acts 10-11 when Peter witnesses a Pentecostal outpouring on uncircumcised Gentiles, and the church is forced to conclude that if God pours out the Spirit on people across even a most ancient divide, we have no choice but to embrace them.

The lectionary for Pentecost pairs Acts 2 with Genesis 11, another foreign tongues story. In the story of Babel, God curses unholy human alliances by making it impossible for peoples to communicate, thus dispersing them to fulfill the divine command to fill the earth. This story teaches us that from time immemorial human affinity groups have been at odds with one another. Pentecost takes on the world on its own terms – everyone has a different language, a different way of perceiving and engaging their world – as God reaches out to everyone in their own languages with the one message that Jesus is Lord.

Our vision begins with frank acknowledgment that the world is fundamentally broken. But unlike so-called “realists” whose vision field is limited to things-as-they-are, we have been infected with hope that this brokenness is not the final word. God is making all things new; Pentecost is one of the surest signs of that new world breaking in. And so my vision for our presbytery begins with frank acknowledgment of the world’s plight, with words from our church’s Brief Statement of Faith: “In a broken and fearful world.…” But it doesn’t end there.

In Pentecostal hope,

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

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