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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
December 8, 2016

The radio insists that this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” For retailers, that may be so. For the rest of us, it’s a mixed bag. It’s the season when families gather, which may indeed be wonderful if the family is happy and healthy. But what if the family is traumatized by violence or divorce or economic hardship or discord or death? Whether we gather with family or keep to ourselves, this “most wonderful time” can remind us more of our woundedness than of our blessedness.

This year, in addition to the ordinary challenges of the holiday season, many of us have experienced domestic reverberations of our nation’s sharp divisions that were deepened by recent national elections. How can we have a happy holiday in the company of people whom we love but with whom we deeply disagree on what would be best for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country? Vitriol in the public square all too easily spills into our family hearth, where, in Christopher Lasch’s words, we are supposed to find a “haven in a heartless world.”

Today our presbytery is meeting – our business stops for nothing, least of all a holiday season! Presbytery meetings are a little bit like holiday gatherings of our extended families. We gather with people to whom we are deeply connected, yet whom we seldom see because our lives have taken us in different directions. In our week-to-week church lives, we align ourselves with congregations and colleagues who agree with us on most things, doing our best to avoid the discomfort of deeply engaging those whose world views differ significantly from our own. With a few notable exceptions, our congregations are convocations of the like-minded. We see our congregational home as our choice to make, rather than as a place where God calls us to be in covenant community, irrespective of our personal preferences. When we gather as a presbytery, with people from other congregations, we suddenly find ourselves in the company of people who see things from varying perspectives.  

Christ’s coming is heaven’s decisive act to reconcile those who are alienated – from God, and from each other. Embodying the Good News of reconciliation is challenging enough when we are in company with people whose world views are similar to ours. But the acid test is when it makes a difference in how we relate to those whose social, political, and theological perspectives are different from our own.

When presbytery gathers, we have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how God’s act of reconciliation through Jesus makes our life together different than it would be otherwise. As reconciled people, we are set free from the pressure to defend our turf or our views vis-à-vis others. We can instead express gratitude that people who see things from perspectives other than our own are willing none the less to be our companions.

Sometimes when I’m driving and need to make a turn into busy traffic, I ask my wife if any traffic is coming from the right. She can see what I can’t, because of her point of view. I am probably alive today because she has a perspective that is different from mine. When we are in company with those who see clearly where we have blind spots, we benefit enormously. They can see both perils and possibilities that otherwise we would miss entirely. The diversity of perspectives that we bring to our larger family table (aka “presbytery”) is not a problem to be tolerated or resolved, but a gift to be welcomed, for the benefit of us all.

So, could our presbytery meeting be “the most wonderful time of the year” for us? It sounds absurd. But why not? As we gather with people of varying perspectives who yet confess that “Jesus is Lord,” we join company with partners who make us better. In the process, we learn something about God and God’s ways that we would otherwise not know. When we gather as the extended church family, we have a marvelous opportunity to exhibit publicly the truth of the divine reconciliation that Christ’s coming enacted. This, Jesus says, is how all people will know that we are truly his disciples. Beloved, let us love one another across all the lines that divide the world so deeply and bitterly – not just for our own benefit, but for the sake of the world, and to the glory of God.

Blessed holy days to all!

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

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