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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church
November 24, 2010

Exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven

Our Book of Order lists six “great ends” of the church, in a formula adopted by the United Presbyterian Church of North America more than 100 years ago. In this series, I am exploring what it might mean for our presbytery to be purposeful in working toward these “great ends.” Today we begin to investigate the final item on the list, “exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”

This is perhaps the tallest order of all in our Great Ends. What would it mean for us to exhibit the “kingdom of heaven” in our life together as Pittsburgh Presbytery?

I have been thinking about this in light of our current season of voting on amendments to the PCUSA constitution. Our use of parliamentary procedure as spelled out in Robert's Rules of Order signifies our desire to be fair in our processes. Each person in a deliberating body has the same right and opportunity as any other to speak and to vote according to their conscience. This devotion to fairness is a concrete indicator that we want our life together to be marked by justice, which is a primary feature of the kingdom of heaven – “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness (justice) and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) So let’s not dismiss parliamentary procedure out of hand – it really can help move us toward God’s kingdom, believe it or not!

Where it is less fully helpful is when we get to matters where we are divided by deep, intransigent differences. When we are considering matters on which there is strong support for both sides, the principle that “the majority shall rule” all too easily ratchets up anxiety and acrimony, rather than promoting peace.

We need to remember that the kingdom of heaven that we are called to exhibit is marked by righteousness and peace. Any attempt to secure one without the other will lead us to something other than God’s realm.

A Barna Group survey this summer asked people outside the church to identify Christianity’s primary recent contributions to society. More negative contributions were cited than positive ones, with the leading ones being hatred or violence in the name of Jesus, opposition to gay marriage, and clergy sex abuse.* Is this what “exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world” is supposed to look like?

Especially in this season of voting on controversial matters, imagine Pittsburgh Presbytery exhibiting a way of handling our differences that leads to wholeness rather than fragmentation, to reconciliation rather than demonization. Toward that end, are we ready to lay down our lives for those with whom we disagree? What could we do, concretely, to let the same other-preferring love that was in Christ Jesus be publicly exhibited among those of us who constitute his body in Pittsburgh?

Yearning for the joy of righteous peace,

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

* The findings of this survey of a random sample of 1,000 American adults were reported in The Presbyterian Outlook (Nov. 29, 2010), p. 6.

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