A Letter from the Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery
People Who Need People
April 21, 2016
Can you hear Barbara Streisand singing those words? That song became a #1 hit in 1964 as the memorable song from the Broadway musical Funny Girl. Since then, other artists, sending the same message, have recorded these words: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
As Christians we do not use the word “luck” as a concept instilled with any real meaning. It may take enormous luck to win the lottery, or hit a hole in one (skill also involved), but we do not bank on Lady Luck making our lives better.
As Presbyterian Christians, we speak of the sovereignty, providence, and grace of God. Nothing happens beyond God’s knowledge and oversight. The good things that come to us are the gifts of God’s providence.
The fortuitous happenings of life come our way not because we are deserving of them, but rather because God loves us, and extends grace and forgiveness to us.
We also believe that “people needing people” is a far better way to spend the days of our lives than being people needing fame, fortune, or solitude. We have been created for community. We have been created to love God and to love our neighbor.
When all these things are in place in our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are not “lucky.” We are blessed. We are being the people we were created to be. Thanks be to God!
However, at a recent Branch meeting, I asked, in the spirit of the recent self-reflection of the Pittsburgh Presbytery on its branch system and our denomination on its overall structure and function, how we were doing as Presbyterian Christians in 2016.
The answer, short and pointed was this: “We have forgotten the people.” I pressed to hear more and the words were repeated: “We have forgotten the people.”
The further discussion uncovered a sense that we are adept at dealing with committees, structures, forms, resources, schedules, and meetings, but we show little care for what the people in our congregations are actually doing or needing or dreaming about.
Could this really be true? If we agree, how do we see forgetting the people manifesting itself in our church and common life? What could we begin to do differently?
I am not seeking an affirmation that simply says: “Now, now, everything is fine. We are people who need people and we are doing well!”
In the last chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it abundantly clear what loving him is all about. It’s not about sheep and lambs. It is about people. People needing, helping, knowing, and loving other people.
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.” Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep….. And then he commanded, “Follow me.” (John 2:15-19)
How are we doing with that? What do we need to change? What can we do better? Let me hear what you are thinking.
The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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