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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

The End of the World as We Know It
May 26, 2011

Last Saturday, May 21, was especially notable in Pittsburgh – it was just our second rain-free day in May, and it happened on a weekend, no less! As I write, the forecasters say it will probably be our last rain-free day in May.

Some folk had expected May 21 to be notable for another reason – followers of Harold Camping, a west coast lay preacher with a large international radio ministry, had expected Jesus to return to take away his saints on May 21, while those left behind dealt with a series of global natural disasters to be unleashed on the same day. The Friday edition of USA Today carried a full page ad with bright red block letters announcing “Judgment Day – May 21, 2011.” At the bottom of the page, the ad concluded with a “Note to all Readers: Please buy multiple copies of this paper and send an original to your leaders, relatives and friends with a personalized note pleading them to heed the warning.”

Most Presbyterians responded to the warning with bemusement at best. I heard one say, “Well, we know now which day Jesus will not return, since he said that nobody knows that day or hour.” I must confess that I paid the warning scant attention. Things were much different for me as a child, though, when I heard revival preachers sound dire predictions of the end of the world any day now. I remember well the panic I felt coming home from school one day to find nobody home – had Jesus returned and taken the rest, while leaving me behind? Adding to that terror was the nuclear threat at the height of the cold war that sent us scurrying under our desks in atom bomb drills. The end of the world seemed surely just around the corner.

It is impossible to sustain such acute expectations indefinitely. Either we conclude that we were mistaken, or we simply get worn out by such high intensity anticipation. Keeping alive the hope of Christ’s coming has been one of the church’s great challenges since its very earliest days, as Paul’s and Peter’s epistles attest. Perhaps we commit the greater error when we expect too little, than when we expect too much regarding Jesus’ coming. Obviously Mr. Camping got it wrong, but let us beware feeling some sort of moral or doctrinal superiority just because we dismissed his claims from the get-go.

We pray as though the heavenly kingdom is indeed sure to break into our world: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We yearn for a new world order, one in which those who have been put down will be lifted up, those who have suffered will be whole, and those who yearn for truth and justice will be satisfied. Love will reign, war will be no more. As much as we long for such a world, we know it cannot happen until the Savior makes salvation complete. And so it is that we look to him, and nowhere else, for the world to be made new.

Have we grown so comfortable with our world that we have lost the sense of how much it needs the Savior? Does our church seek to display the life of the Kingdom for which we pray, or do we settle for a church that looks far more like the world, with all its strife, lies, and injustice? Perhaps we need to take a little more seriously the need for a whole new world, and cry out with all our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come to heal us, come to transform us. Come renew your church, so that we will be a people who demonstrate a way of life that is so different from that of the world that again the world will say of Christ’s church, “See how they love each other!” Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Nurturing hope,

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

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