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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Repairers of the Breach
September 7, 2017

“…you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:12)

As we witnessed the devastation wrought by hurricane Harvey’s wrath, this prophetic calling came into fresh contemporary relief to me. We are called to repair literal physical breaches – in levees, dams, and waterways that broke open to spill out flooding torrents into vast expanses of southeast Texas and Louisiana. Homes, businesses, community centers, and the streets that connect them have become ruins, impediments rather than facilitators of life together. The region cries out for the help of those who can restore homes, streets, and neighborhoods to livability.

Now, just as Harvey’s floodwaters are receding and the extent of their destructiveness is becoming clear, we shudder under ominous warnings of an even more devastating storm lurking just off our southeastern coast. How much storm assault can our nation and our neighbors absorb?

Presbyterians have always responded generously and sacrificially when confronted with disasters, whether natural or of human origin. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is deeply engaged with relief efforts from Harvey and all such natural calamities around the world. Unlike many relief efforts, PDA stays engaged through the long process of rebuilding what storms and wars destroy. PDA is still involved in rebuilding what Katrina left in shambles twelve years ago. Truly, PDA is one of our church’s shining jewels.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has been honored often by General Assembly as the most generous presbytery nationally in responding to special appeals for assistance. Our hearts are big, our wallets open, our labors ready to deploy. Many of our congregations and members are already invested in Harvey relief efforts, even as Irma looms off the Florida coast. The East Branch is preparing an event to bring together congregations and individuals across our entire presbytery who are committed to repairing the breaches and restoring the streets in places devastated by these unprecedented storms. (Details of that event will soon be posted on the East Branch webpage and published in our presbytery’s weekly news email.)

Are we equally committed to heal breaches in our world that are not related to physical disasters? The prophetic work that Isaiah describes applies even more pointedly to social, economic, and spiritual divisions. We are called to be unifiers rather than dividers, people who bless rather than curse.

Today’s social and religious climate is rife with demonization of those who differ from us, whether by ethnicity, national origin, religion, or political perspective. Can the church be repairers of these breaches? Do we have the stomach for the hard work of opening our arms and hearts to people whose politics and theology differ from our own?

I believe this is a critical vocation of our church today. We in the PCUSA have determined to take the hard road less traveled of maintaining covenant fellowship with fellow-believers who see things differently from us, affirming the integrity of those who may disagree with us even on matters over which we care very deeply. We maintain that all who trust in Christ as Savior truly are members of one body. (Romans 12:4-5)

That’s how it is in any healthy family. Disagreements may run deep, yet we commit ourselves to remaining together regardless, to repair whatever breaches may arise between us.

The rabbinic tradition speaks of a vocation of tikkun olam, “repair of the world.” Christians also acknowledge the world’s brokenness, its crying need for repair. We believe that division, no matter how deep or protracted, is not Creation’s true norm or its final destiny. We dare to believe that Jesus will fulfill what he began when he proclaimed the coming kingdom of God, a realm of wholeness and justice for all, where wolves and lambs lie down together. In his life, death, and resurrection, he broke down forever the walls of hostility that divide us from each other. (Ephesians 2:14) He calls and equips his followers to be a living demonstration of this coming kingdom, a place where women and men, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, all have equal dignity and standing. (Galatians 3:28)

How are we doing with this calling?

Yours in the one body of Christ,

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

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