A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
April 11, 2013
Top professional athletes make far more money from product endorsements than they do in direct compensation from the teams for which they play, or in prize money from tournaments. For instance, last September Tiger Woods became the first professional golfer ever to surpass $100 million in combined career winnings – a staggering sum that continues to grow each week. But that number pales beside the $1.2 billion he has earned from product endorsements. Not only does he endorse Nike products in that company’s advertising – he uses their products and wears their apparel exclusively. He is obligated to live personally in a way that aligns with what he promotes publicly.
In our sixth ordination vow, we who are called to serve as officers in the church promise to do everything in our power to live personally the message proclaimed by the church that has ordained us. Not only do we publicly endorse the Gospel proclaimed by Christ’s church – we seek to live it personally, otherwise we are not fit to be its officers. We promise to live in our own lives what the church proclaims to the whole world.
First, we commit to follow Jesus personally. The season of Lent has just ended, during which we focused on walking the way of the cross with Jesus. His disciples pled with him not to go to Jerusalem, but he went anyway – and they followed him there, even though they knew it would lead them straight into the jaws of trouble. To follow Jesus personally is to be willing to lay down my life for the sake of others, just as he did. It means that nothing is so important to me that I am unwilling to set it aside for the sake of being true to his call – whether public acclaim, possessions or property, friends or family. Before they could be his ambassadors to the world, the Twelve had to become his disciples. That order is still true for us. I am fit to be an officer representing Christ’s church only after I have personally followed him as his disciple.
Second, we commit to love our neighbors even as we have committed to love God. Love is simply this – to live to others’ benefit, rather than to our own. It’s not about what I feel toward others, but what I do unto them and for them. Paul counsels us, “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) Looking out for number one may seem like a winning strategy in the world, but officers of the church represent One who gave away all that was rightfully his, for the sake of others – a mindset that is to be ours as well. (Philippians 2:5-7) When I fight to keep my cherished property, or treasured worship style, or beloved ways of doing things, I go against the grain of the self-emptying love Jesus demonstrated toward me, and which I am called to extend to others.
Finally, we promise to work for the reconciliation of the world. Paul tells us that the God who reconciled the world unto himself through Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19) “Reconciliation” is bringing into agreement that which had been at odds. When I “reconcile” my checkbook, I work the numbers until there is perfect agreement between the amount the bank and the checkbook say is in my account. Reconciliation unites what has been divided. The Westminster Confession says that when the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, we are thereby necessarily united to each other. (Book of Confessions 6.054) When we are reconciled to God by being united with Christ, we are thereby reconciled with each other. As an officer of Christ’s church, I promise to live out this reconciliation with each of you, thereby making credible our Gospel proclamation, namely that in Jesus Christ reconciliation really does happen!
These are three mighty promises – to be faithful in walking the way of Jesus, to love one another truly, and to demonstrate the Gospel of reconciliation in our life together. When we cease laying down our lives for the sake of others, we break our ordination promise. When we insist on our own ways and in keeping our own treasures rather than relinquishing them for the sake of others, we break our ordination promise. When we divide from each other rather than being reconciled in Jesus Christ, we break our ordination promise. Such promises can seem so far from possible to fulfill that we all too easily set them aside. Thankfully, our promise is not to keep these standards perfectly, but to “seek to” do so. What matters is that we are committed to do everything in our power to follow Jesus personally, love one another honestly, and be reconciled with each other fully.
Yours in the bonds of reconciliation,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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