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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Withness
March 3, 2016

Father Gregory Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles in 1988 to provide a better pathway for gang members than the pandemic suppression, violence, incarceration, and high mortality rates that prevail among them. Homeboy Industries has grown to become the largest and most successful gang intervention program in the world. Critical to their success, according to Boyle, is their commitment to kinship with their target population. In Boyle’s terse epigram, “No kinship, no peace; no kinship, no justice; no kinship, no equality.” As a further bonus, Boyle reports that the burnout that so often waylays good people who invest their best energies in doing things for others gets replaced with energizing power when they focus instead on being with others in Jesus’ name.

According to the Gospel of John, the core of Jesus’ ministry is that the “Word became flesh and lived with us.” At the outset of his story of Jesus, Matthew reports the angel’s announcement that Mary’s son would be none other than the one foretold by Isaiah: “’Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God with us.’” Matthew’s record of Jesus’ ministry closes with Jesus telling his disciples that he would continue to be with them always, to the end of the age.

Through Jesus, God demonstrated tangibly what the prophets had long declared from the story of Eden onward, that God’s consummate desire toward us is to abide with us. To walk in kinship with us. Always. Jesus modeled it throughout his ministry, choosing to do his work always in kinship with others rather than on his own. Mark tells us that Jesus’ first impetus in calling his disciples at the outset of his ministry was that they might be “with him.”

Lent is a season of consciously renewing our commitment to walk with Jesus on the journey to the cross. Jesus desires not only to walk with us, but for us to walk with him. He promises to his disciples at the Last Supper that he is going to prepare a place for them so they can be with him always. Later that night, as he takes them to a garden where he will soon be betrayed, he asks them repeatedly to stay with him, to support him in his hour of greatest trial.

Jesus’ lengthy discourse and prayer with his disciples on the eve of his betrayal, as told in John 13 through John 17, unpacks the nature of Jesus’ “withness” not only for them there and then, but also for us here and now. It goes like this:
  1. As I have always been with the Father, so I have come to be with you
  2. As I am with you, so you are to be with each other
  3. As I am one with the Father, so you are to be one with each other
Jesus’ kinship with us is rooted in his kinship with his Father. Our kinship with Jesus is expressed in our kinship with one another. The authenticity of our faith in God is never greater than the authenticity of our faithfulness to each other. The surest sign of the nature of our relationship with God is the character of our relationship with one another.

Lent is not just a journey that we take with Jesus individually and inwardly. It is a journey in company with others. In our kinship with one another we foster and deepen our trust in and kinship with him.

The church is more than merely a place to teach us how to know Jesus; it is also the matrix for embodying that knowledge through kinship with one another. To grow closer to him entails that I grow closer to you. When I turn away from you, I am moving away from him as well. When I honor you, I honor him; when I disparage you, I disparage him too.

We seem to know instinctively that as we approach Jerusalem in our Lenten journey with Jesus, we are drawn closer to our fellow-pilgrims along the way. This instinct is made evident in most churches as special gatherings become the norm during Lent – mid-week studies, shared meals, holy week worship, prayer vigils, and so on. To walk this pathway together with each other is to get closer to Jesus on his road to the cross.

Walking the journey with you,



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

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