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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Fear Not
January 8, 2015

At least eight times the gospels record Jesus urging his followers to set aside their fears. Several other times he also admonishes them to abandon their worries about this or that. One of the classic images of Jesus is of him asleep in the stern of the boat in the middle of the storm – utterly relaxed when everyone else is in a panic.

As with other years, it seems that in the past week or two everyone who is anyone has been weighing in with predictions about the New Year. Will the economy strengthen or weaken? Will world conflicts escalate or ease? Will there be major storms or earthquakes? Will disease spread or be contained? What will happen in Washington and Harrisburg? Will race relations improve or disintegrate? Will the Penguins or the Pirates be champions this year?

Most predictions, just like most analyses, fall into one of two broad categories – pessimism or optimism. Some seem calculated to stoke anger, others to love; some to elicit hope, others to fear or despair. For Christians, it is patently clear that our faith calls us to engage each other and the world around us with love rather than hate. Whether we do so, of course, is something else entirely. And there is such a thing as righteous anger, as well as misdirected love. But on the whole, we know that we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends, and that even justified anger is no license to sin.

Things get more complicated with regard to our hopes and fears as Christians. The Bible is unflinching in its accounts of the havoc that evil can and does create within us and around us. It is truly fearsome. Yet the only fear that the Bible endorses is fear of God. Jesus directs his disciples not to fear any human opposition, but to fear God and God alone. (Matthew 10:28) Even when things get so bad that fear dominates the wider world, Jesus counsels his followers to “raise your heads” in salvation hope.(Luke 21:25-28)

Many of our prognosticators forecast fearsome developments on the world stage in 2015. Some predict economic doom, others moral collapse, still others religiously-driven havoc. The specter of war looms large in several places worldwide. There are plenty who prophesy doom as well on the Christian church – persecutions in the name of the state or some other religion, demise of entire denominations, failures of leaders, divisions over disagreements, collapse of congregations, and so on.

Frankly, I find all this doom-mongering tiresome – of course such things will happen. Why should 2015 be any different from every other year? I find far more interesting the promises of the Gospel that elicit in us the hope that leads us to raise our heads. What is it about Christian hope that is so resilient that nothing has been able to obliterate it, curtail it, tame it, or contain it? Why does the promised reign of God still captivate us despite all the depredations of the world we inhabit? Why would we continue to believe the Gospel when the nightly news unremittingly reminds us of rampant evil everywhere?

Here is my challenge for us for 2015: Let us cultivate our capacity for giving an account of the hope within us. (1 Peter 3:15) Let us make a disciplined practice of nurturing hope by refusing to be driven by fear. Let us focus our eyes and open our ears and hearts to indicators of God at work within us, in our churches, in our society, and across the world. It’s easy to see all the mess, but it takes a practiced spiritual eye and a disciplined heart to focus instead on where God is at work.

God will be alive and well, at work in us and through us and around us. This is my firm forecast for 2015. Even when we are least aware of it – perhaps especially then! Dare to imagine with me our presbytery being a community that lives out that conviction consistently and joyously, confident that the One who has begun a good work in us can be counted on to complete it. (Philippians 1:5) Dare we be a community that displays in our inner workings as well as in our outward testimony a hermeneutic of hope and trust more than of fear and suspicion? Will we be courageous enough to risk trusting each other because of our trust in the One who has joined us together?

Choose hope. Choose trust. Choose life. Let us choose well in 2015!

Abounding in hope,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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