A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Hanging On & Letting Go
March 17, 2016
During March we are praying for presbytery leaders, that they may have the wisdom and the power of God’s Spirit for the challenging work to which they are called.
Within the past two weeks I have twice had opportunity to address gatherings of presbytery leaders. Both times I shared a meditation I entitled “Hanging On and Letting Go.” The first time was at our presbytery’s annual Executive Committee retreat, at which we asked where the Spirit is leading us as a covenant community of congregations in Pittsburgh. The second was a gathering of more than one hundred teaching and ruling elders from eight regional presbyteries that convened at Crestfield to seek God’s leading for each of our presbyteries, as well as for our entire church. What is the future to which God is calling us, especially as Presbyterians?
We gathered in response to a call issued by General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada late in 2015, urging the church to engage in searching spiritual discernment on how the Spirit may be asking Presbyterians to change the way we order our life and pursue Christ’s mission. He followed that up with an invitation that we hold regional gatherings to listen to the voices of Presbyterians across the country on some of the critical questions he had raised. At both our presbytery retreat and our regional gathering, we considered together what we might need to be ready to let go, and what we must hold on to, if we are to be the church that God is calling us to be in our place and time.
God’s people have confused the two from time immemorial – we keep trying to hang on to things we don’t really need, while letting go of things that we cannot do without. This is precisely the challenge Jesus and his companions faced as they made their way to Jerusalem, where he would be tried, flogged, condemned, and crucified. Jesus taught his disciples often along the way that those who lay down their lives will find them, while those who seek to save their lives will lose them. Jesus modeled what he taught, as he kept moving forward toward Jerusalem, letting go of the safety of places and protectors that would shield him from those who wanted him dead.
The Gospels all agree on this: Jesus laid down his life. It wasn’t taken from him; he let it go. Along the way, he also released his friends who were too tired or frightened to continue the journey with him. He let go of rights we consider inalienable – to his life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To what did he hold fast? He held fast to his commitment to live what he preached. He held fast to following the Father’s will, at all costs. He held fast to the mission to which he had been appointed, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) He held fast to the Word of God, and let go of the words of anxiety and warning with which well-meaning friends tried to redirect his course.
Jesus let go of the power he had exercised in bringing freedom to others, allowing himself to be bound “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7) He hung on to his trust that God would not abandon him on this journey, even though it was so agonizing that near its end he cried out the psalmist’s lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
As we approach Passion Week, we encounter Jesus in his “triumphal entry,” letting go of the accolades of those ready to coronate him, and embracing instead those who wanted only to silence him. Are we prepared to continue walking forward with him? Are we willing to lay aside our rights, our security, even our very lives, for the sake of our calling, just as our Master did? Do we trust God that much? Thank God that Jesus did!
Yours in the struggle to follow his footsteps,