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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Time Has Come
April 13, 2017

Several times in the Gospel of John, Jesus resists requests that he do something or go somewhere, with the rejoinder that his time has not yet come.

The thousands whom he fed from five loaves and two fish want to make him King. Of course they do! Who wouldn’t want someone that can feed the masses on a shoestring budget in charge of public welfare? But the one who makes bread appear from nowhere slips the thousands and disappears to nowhere, because his time has not yet come.

His mother asks him to do something about the lack of sufficient wine at the wedding in Cana, and Jesus protests that his hour has not yet come. But have you ever tried turning down a persistent mother? She refuses to take “No” for an answer, and he relents.

Similarly, Jesus refuses his brothers’ request that he join them in going to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, saying that his time has not yet come – then he goes anyway. While he is there, the authorities try to arrest him, but he escapes, for his time has not yet come.

Our Book of Order counsels the church that children should be baptized “without undue delay, but without undue haste.” (W-2.3008) This is good counsel for all important decisions in our lives. Indeed, it is the way of Jesus neither to be rushed into something nor to delay more than necessary.

When Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is seriously ill, he waits for a few days and Lazarus dies. While Lazarus’ family thinks he waited too long, his disciples want him not to go at all, knowing that going near Jerusalem will put him – and they with him – in great danger. On hearing that Jesus has finally decided to go there, even though it’s too late to save Lazarus from death, ever-dubious Thomas mutters, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)

Luke also records a story of Jesus’ resistance to being pushed or restrained. Herod has put out an arrest warrant for Jesus, and some of his followers urge him to turn back from Jerusalem, where he is headed. But he refuses to do so because his time to face the destiny of prophets is drawing near. (Luke 13:22-35)

And now his time has come. We call it Holy Week. After his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, he refuses a request for an audience with the words, “The hour has come” for him to be “glorified” and “lifted up” – but this will look very different from ordinary exaltation. He will be lifted up as a public spectacle – scorned and mocked, a horror show for the masses. (John 12:23-33)

When will our time come? When will the church’s time come? Do we await the inevitable grim reaper all on our own, whenever he should please to visit? It was not so for Jesus. Knowing who he was and whose he was, he gave himself to us. (John 13:3-4) He was not a victim of captors. It may have felt like betrayal to Judas, and criminal retribution to the executioner, but he gave himself to them. He gave himself willingly to die. He did it because of who he was, but he did it for our sake.

As those who follow his path, we too can move with deliberation and confidence, affirming with the psalmist, “My times are in your hand.” (Psalm 31:15) We will no more be spared death than Jesus was, but we can choose whether to lay our lives down, just as he did. Jesus didn’t lay down his life only in Holy Week; he did so at every step of his journey. And he invites us to do the same.

The time has come for us to live not for ourselves, but for others – for Jesus’ sake. The time has come to lay down our lives, not just for Holy Week, but as a way of life. The time has come for living in holy nonchalance about what may come our way. We need not retaliate against hostility, for the Lord is our defense. We need not clutch after things, for the Lord is our provider. We need not flee death, for the Lord is our destiny. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8) We are equally prepared to enjoy much or to have little, through the One who gave everything away for us only to receive everything back. (Philippians 2:5-11; 4:10-14) Exaltation was his destiny. First on a cross in ignominy, then to the heights of glory. And so it is for all who follow him.

Yours on the journey to the cross,

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

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