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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Looking for a City
December 3, 2015

As we enter the season of Advent, we turn our hearts and eyes toward the “dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” (Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”) The apostle Paul says, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight” of our Lord’s coming reign to be fully manifest. (Romans 8:19, J.B. Phillips) The wounded world aches with longing for the healing that God alone can bring, and as Christians we believe that such healing is already assured through Jesus of Nazareth, whom God made both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36) Advent eyes look for his appearance to complete God’s salvation plan for our world.

Abraham set the tone for us in this, as he looked forward longingly to the coming of the City of God, a yearning that continues to burn among all who put their hope in God. (Hebrews 11:10; 13:14) Faith moves us to look beyond our current world for the fulfillment of our deepest desires and hopes. It causes us to be Advent people.

Several years ago, Jane Vann of Union Presbyterian Seminary conducted a comprehensive review of a group of notably vital congregations, looking for common threads that can be instructive to other congregations seeking renewal. Most of the findings were not surprising – vibrant worship, deep engagement in local and worldwide mission, robust programs nurturing the faith development of children, and so on. But one seems at first counter-intuitive: Vital congregations consistently demonstrate a deep dissatisfaction with their current status. They believe they can be better than what they already are, and indeed they must be better if they are to fulfill their calling. They are keenly aware of the many ways their life still falls short of displaying fully the reign of God. (Jane Rogers Vann, Gathered Before God, 2004)

This observation rings true to what I see as I visit congregations week after week. A holy dissatisfaction with the status quo is a consistent ingredient of churches experiencing renewal. They live in constant Advent hope for Jesus to visit them anew, to bring them into a fuller experience of the Kingdom of God than they currently know. An Advent church seeks diligently to exhibit ever more fully the kingdom of heaven, for the sake of the world in which we live.

The Bible’s salvation story begins in a primeval Garden ruled by God and ends in a cosmopolitan City ruled by God. It launches with a personal relationship between the Creator and those created in the Creator’s image, and culminates in a society in which right relationship with the Creator is manifest by people living in peaceable compact with their fellow-creatures.

Advent hope is a longing for the coming of One whose purpose is fulfilled only when all nations and peoples dwell together securely in the City in which wolves lie down with lambs rather than tear them to pieces, in which swords are turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, where tears are forever dried, and God is all in all. (Revelation 21-22) In a world riddled with senseless violence – whether in Denver, San Bernardino, Paris, Syria, Nigeria, or on our own doorsteps – such hope can seem absurdly unrealistic at best, or worse, numbingly dangerous. Surely, many say, responsible realism demands that we order our actions according to the terrors of our world rather than being lulled by a voice from heaven.

Advent values may not directly dictate a clear military or political path in the face of the world’s warring violence. But they can and must become the basis for how we relate to one another in the church that is called to proclaim and demonstrate the Divine Kingdom. Might it be that the seed for an Advent reordering of the whole world is already present within the humble fellowship of those who rest their hope in the Lord Jesus? Who knows what power might be unleashed in the world if those who name Jesus as their Lord and Savior would covenant to live with one another according to the vision of the City of God to the best of their ability? (Romans 12:18) Imagine a church in which all of us live together with a single purpose of genuine love toward God and one another without condition or exception. Imagine Advent!

In Advent hope,

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

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