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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

A Fitting Posture
February 15, 2018

In recent months, I have been struck by how often one particular phrase appears in the stories of the Bible: “Here I am.” It is an answer to a summons, whether by God or angels or prophets or parents. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. Samuel. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Mary. Messiah. Each of them says to their summons, “Here I am.” It signals unconditional availability to do as the summoner pleases.

Lent is a season of receptivity more than proactivity. It is marked more by laying down than by taking up, by listening and reflecting than by declaring and acting. Let’s be honest – these postures of setting things down, listening, and reflecting are not the natural Presbyterian way. That may be why it has proven difficult for so many Presbyterians to own Lent for themselves. Many among us still view it as primarily a “Catholic thing” that doesn’t really fit us.

Yet we dismiss Lenten receptivity to our peril. Humbling ourselves before our Lord is not only a biblical injunction (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6), but a life-giving reorientation.

Please consider three postures that apply to whatever Lenten disciplines we may embrace: Sit. Listen. Kneel.

Sit. The congregational leadership council in our tradition is termed the “session,” which means literally “those who sit.” They are called to deliberate together before they act. Sitting leads us to slow down our natural reactionary instincts. It involves stillness, in stark contrast to the world consumed with busyness. It prompts us to be responsive rather than reactionary.

Listen. Lent reminds us that listening matters more than declaring. We recall James’s exhortation, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19) As we enter this season we hear the heavenly words echoing from the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7) Listening is more than mere hearing; it is an act of concentrated attention.

Kneel. How can we come honestly before our Lord and his people except with genuine humility? What do we have that we have not been given, and what have we done without the empowerment of God’s Spirit? Humble gratitude to our Lord leads us to humble forbearance toward one another. Kneeling is the posture of those who consider others better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Ash Wednesday is a call to penitent humility. This year it coincides with St. Valentine’s Day, which celebrates love. The last time Ash Wednesday fell on February 14 was in 1945, during World War II. How appropriate that humility and love are brought together! When love and humility are genuine, we accept one another without condition, making no judgment on them due to their belief or situation. They are in the Lord’s hands, we know, and the Lord who is their judge is also their advocate.

Holy days and seasons are not sacred in themselves. We receive them as gifts, rather than bear them as obligations. In his letter to the Romans, Paul contends that whether or not we consider some days or seasons as carrying special significance, what matters is that we receive and live them in faith rather than out of a sense of compulsion. (Romans 14:5-6, 22-23) The season of Lent presents us not with duties to be observed, but opportunities to be embraced. Lent’s invitations to sit, listen, and kneel can be life-giving opportunities to become more like the One whose journey we join as he makes his way to the cross.

Your fellow-traveler,

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

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