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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Why the Church
December 2, 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 have been exploring what it might mean for our presbytery to be purposeful in working toward these “great ends.” Today we continue our consideration of the final great end, “the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”

The notion of “exhibit” bears a double character. First, an exhibit is meant for public observation. As an “exhibit” to the world, we bear our witness in ways and places that cannot go unnoticed in our community. We live out our calling in full view of the watching world. Second, an exhibit’s integrity is marked by its fidelity to the world it seeks to portray, rather than by its effect on the observer.

As an exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven, Pittsburgh Presbytery is called both to live its witness in full public view and to measure its authenticity by its alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven rather than by its effect on the world. We cannot avoid the difficult task of being “in the world but not of the world.”

We fight daily against the opposite impulse, to be “of the world, but not in the world.” As a presbytery, we are often tempted to adopt a model of life drawn from the business world. Organizational theory, management skills, productivity training, and the like all do have their place; but when they displace theological considerations as our primary guides, we become self-centered, more intent that our organization makes good than that our organization does good. In short, by over-relying on the world’s wisdom in shaping our life together (good as that wisdom may be), we lose the impetus to go into the world with the mission of Jesus Christ. We are “of the world, but not in the world.”

The exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world unrelentingly presses us into the world that Christ came to save. It takes us into the world not to conscript people to leave the world, but to transform the world in the power of the Holy Spirit simply by our being the church.

The transforming element of the kingdom of heaven, the characteristic of heaven that is most different from the world as we know it, is the universal suffusion of light. The picture of the kingdom in Revelation 21-22 notes that light is omnipresent. There is no cover of darkness, no hidden agendas or actions. The kingdom of heaven is a place of openness, of truthfulness, of honesty, of integrity – qualities the church is called to manifest in its life.

When light shines, darkness is dispelled. As the church lives publicly in light and transparency, its light will inevitably make a difference in the world around. It will be a light for the sake of the world, and not merely a place of light unto itself. But it will continue to be a place of light only to the extent that it seeks to be true to itself as an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not enough for the church to be a flashlight that exposes the world’s dark corners; such flashlights run out of battery power all too quickly. We bear sustained light in and for the world only as we continue to be a people of the light in our own life together. As people of the light, we are a truthful people – the church is the place in the world where people can be truthful without fear of reprisal. How sad when, as a recent poll indicated, the world sees the church as a place marked by intolerance and abuse rather than as a place of openness, honesty, and integrity.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we cry out, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The Kingdom of Heaven is the realm in which God’s will is the rule of life. The question that drives us is not “How can we be successful?” but “What does the Lord ask of us?” Soon we will embark on a new presbytery mission study – and in so doing, we must always keep that question at the forefront. What is the Lord requiring of us today in this place? Let us pray for a clear word from the Holy Spirit, and for attentive willingness on our part to be a community where God’s will is done – for God’s glory, for the sake of the world.

That God alone may reign among us,

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

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