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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

You Can’t Get There from Here
April 7, 2011

Not long after I arrived in Pittsburgh, I was at a meeting in one of our churches and needed to get to another part of town for my next appointment. I have been trying since day one to navigate Allegheny County without using GPS, even though my “usually smart phone” comes equipped with that technology. So rather than rely on that device, I asked a group of Allegheny County natives for directions, to which they responded with a line that I’ve heard many times since: “You can’t get there from here.” They were only half-joking. They gave me some general guidance that I tried to follow, but when I saw a sign informing me that I was leaving Allegheny County, I broke down and pulled out the GPS.

Again, people are only half-joking when they say that Pittsburghers neither cross rivers nor travel tunnels except under great duress. In a city that boasts more bridges than any other city in the world, that becomes a real problem for getting around. The judgment that “you can’t get there from here” not only prevents us from exploring our county – it also keeps us from getting to know sisters and brothers on the other side of the mountain or across the river.

Of course, we don’t really believe that you can’t get there from here; what we really believe is that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. But with sufficient reason, even the most inveterate non-river-crossers can be motivated to navigate tunnels and bridges. It sometimes seems to me that this is the main burden of automobile dealer advertising – that is, to persuade Pittsburghers that it is worthwhile to cross a river in order to make a deal you cannot find on your side.

When I consider life in the kingdom of God as portrayed in Scripture, it seems so far away from the reality in which we live that I’m mighty tempted simply to throw up my hands in despair, “You can’t get there from here.” In the kingdom, God’s will is perfectly done; but in the world as we know it, decisions are all too often driven more by our comfort, preference, and advantage than by God’s will. Our life together as a presbytery sometimes seems a distant cry from the kingdom of God where the lion lies down with the lamb, where none does harm to another, where all are joined in a single song of grateful praise to our God.  How can we possibly get there from here?

One remarkable thing about Jesus’ proclamation of the Gospel is his claim that the kingdom of heaven is near. In face of all the corruption in the worlds of religion and politics surrounding him, amid all the suffering he encounters, he declares that the kingdom of heaven is breaking in to this world, here and now.

As we face the daunting distance between our world as we know it and the realm of God’s perfect reign, what will be our message? Will it be a counsel of despair, “You can’t get there from here”? Or will we be bold enough to declare that not only is God’s kingdom near, it is indeed already breaking in among us?

It takes no great vision to see all the ways that the church is yet far removed from the fullness of God’s reign. As membership and giving tumble, as controversies swirl among us, and as we find ourselves lobbied in opposite directions by advocacy groups, we might be forgiven for assuming that Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one” doesn’t really apply to this church, at this time. We can’t begin to imagine how to get there from here.

Truthfully, left to our own wits, we cannot get there from here. But when the responsibility for ushering in the kingdom belongs to God, and not to us, anything is possible. What is impossible for us to imagine, let alone to execute, is as good as done when the Holy Spirit goes to work among us. Ours is not to usher in the kingdom, but to be ready to receive it when God breaks into our world. Where might God be breaking into our midst today?

Yours in God’s reign,

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

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