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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

He Makes me Lie Down
January 5, 2012

At the dawn of the New Year many of us set new plans for the months ahead – better diet, more exercise, professional development, deeper care for others, and the like. Such intentions and efforts to improve ourselves are certainly commendable. The Bible is replete with counsel to give our best efforts to living well. Yet Scripture also testifies that God orders life in ways beyond our control. If it were simply up to taking their own initiative, Abraham would never have set out from the land we now know as Iraq, Joseph would never have been positioned to save the masses from starvation, Moses would never have set Israel free, David would never have been their great ruler, Jeremiah would never have been their prophet, and Paul would never have been an apostle for Jesus Christ.

Robert Frost famously said, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The echo of Jesus’ words is unmistakable: “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14) With both sayings, we tend to assume that the right path is up to us to choose.  Yet what of the biblical heroes listed above who were placed by God on a path not of their choosing? Indeed, it seems that most of the people who made a great difference for God in the Bible were divinely conscripted onto their pathway, like Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)

Surely it is appropriate to ask ourselves at the dawn of the New Year, “How do we plan to do better in 2012?” But perhaps the more important question is not “What will we do in 2012?” but “Where does God want to take us in 2012?” Our job may be less to chart our course than to be ready for the pathway God opens up to us – even when it takes us in directions we would never have dreamed, as with the biblical heroes mentioned above.

This came freshly to mind for me recently as I was studying the mission of the first Christian presbytery, aka the church in Jerusalem. Its congregations had prospered, though they struggled much over whether to include people who didn’t fit their Bible-based understanding of who is clean and who is not. Pastoral care wasn’t always evenly distributed, and some disputed the presbytery’s claim to shared ownership of property. What a relief that we don’t face such struggles any longer! Still, despite such challenges, the Jerusalem church did whatever people do when they hit on something good – they dug in and nested right there. Who could blame them?

So God permitted them to be afflicted with a persecution so great that it drove them out to surrounding regions, and so began the church’s great missionary enterprise. (Acts 8:1) They were driven into mission; they didn’t embrace it on their own, even though the Lord’s final word to his disciples was to go to all the nations with the Gospel.

Where will the Lord drive Pittsburgh Presbytery in 2012? Truly, God only knows. Our challenge for 2012 may be less about what we can do to be faithful to God’s call, than about our being ready to go wherever God may thrust us.

Some of you may remember the sermon my daughter Stephanie preached at my installation as Pastor to Presbytery, “You will be taken where you do not intend to go,” recalling Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:18. Indeed, already I have discovered that my call here has taken twists and gone in directions I’d never imagined. I’d bet that’s also true for many who are reading this letter. So, why should 2012 be any different?!

We may not know where God plans to take us in 2012 – but we do know that the One who is leading us is committed to our welfare. The psalmist reminds us that our Good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures, so that our souls may be restored. It is all for our good. The psalmist does not choose when or where to lie down or rise up – such matters are determined by the Shepherd. In the months ahead we may well find ourselves “made to” lie down in ways we’d never choose. Will we embrace it or resist it? Perhaps that will make all the difference.

In the Shepherd’s care,

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

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