A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Looking for Home
December 17, 2015
As I complete my sixth year as General Minister of Pittsburgh Presbytery, I am more delighted than ever to be able to call Pittsburgh “home.” For me, “home” has always been somewhat transitional. I grew up in the home of a pastor who followed God’s call to new communities every five years or so. The longest I have ever lived in a single house is nine years. My wife Tammy, by contrast, lived in one home all her growing years, and it is still the family home decades later. A safe haven where our place is secure that we can call “home” is something everyone longs for, whatever our histories or present circumstances.
Hebrew Scriptures are oriented by three abiding reference points: God, God’s people, and their home. The primeval experience of losing humanity’s Eden home precipitates the consuming quest of God’s people – to discover and inhabit their true home. The stories of the patriarchs, of the Exodus, of the judges, of the kings, and of the prophets all revolve around God’s people entering, settling, and struggling to remain in God’s promised homeland. Their quest for home is inseparable from their search for salvation.
Jesus has much to say about “home.” He often visits homes, enjoying their shelter and hospitality, but ultimately claiming none for himself. How ironic that a carpenter’s son would say, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) He stipulates repeatedly that those who follow him must be willing to leave behind their homes and loved ones if they wish to be his disciples.
Yet he knows better than anyone the importance of finding a true home. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – God “moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, The Message) Peering into the consummation of God’s plan on earth, John the Revelator cries out, “See, the home of God is among mortals!” (Revelation 21:3) Advent is our preparation for our final homecoming. It is God’s homecoming to us in the return of Jesus, and our homecoming to God.
As he prepared his disciples for his arrest and death, Jesus said enigmatically, “I go to prepare a place for you …that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3-4) He assures his followers who have known only temporary settlements a final, abiding place of rest and flourishing. It is one of the most powerful of Jesus’ promises, one we lean into especially when loved ones die, or we face our own death. No wonder people who trust in Jesus consider death a “home-going.”
We see the sadness of homelessness on our streets daily, then shudder as we witness its far greater magnitude in the unbearable stories of countless refugees being displaced from their homes in the Middle East and Africa, as they flee war’s depredations in search of safe shelter. One of Tammy’s academic colleagues hails from Aleppo, Syria. After she had come to America for graduate studies, her entire family had to flee their long-time home in order to stay alive. They were welcomed in Sweden, and we celebrate the welcome these throngs have found in many European countries. Germany, with its horrific 20th-century history of massive genocide, has led the way in welcoming refugees, demonstrating the amazing power of national repentance.
America has long been a beacon of international welcome, regardless of people’s race, nation, or religion. This broad welcome has been a major contributor to its rise as a world leader. Yet even as we hear the cries of millions seeking a new home as they flee terror in the Middle East and Africa, we hear some who enjoy the privilege of calling America “home” calling for us to close our doors in the name of preserving our security. Security concerns should not be swept aside; but they cannot justify our refusing to open our doors to the stranger in need.
Distressed by this turn in public rhetoric, our presbytery, under the leadership of our Peacemaking Ministry Team, fairly shouted its unanimous adoption of a declaration of welcome to refugees at our presbytery meeting last week. We are circulating it to elected officials, media outlets, and other faith communities to indicate our unswerving commitment to extend hospitality to the stranger, just as God in Christ welcomed us when our sin had estranged us from God, “while we still were sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
Whether we have lived here seven months, seven years, or seven decades, Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to call home; but still we long for a place where we are even more settled, more secure, more fully alive. That place is not Pittsburgh, or any other earthly locale; it is the city of God, where Jesus prepares for us a home we can never lose, where we will never again be insecure. To seek our true fulfillment and to lodge our best hopes anywhere else is to settle for less than God’s promise. Where is your heart set this Advent season?
Longing for home,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
Click here for the directory of archived letters and sermons.