A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
The One Who Comes to Stay
December 5, 2019
Today our presbytery gathers for its final meeting of 2019. My but how our years together have flown by!
At our 2009 December meeting, you elected me to serve as the spiritual and administrative leader of Pittsburgh Presbytery. I recall that there were two “no” votes – no doubt God’s gift to keep me humble. These ten years have been a marvelous journey of making new friends, of seeing countless ways the mission of Jesus is being carried out in our congregations, and of discovering the strength of the covenant bonds by which God binds us to one another in Christ. Our life together testifies that such ties transcend all political, social, theological, and demographic boundaries. I see in Pittsburgh Presbytery concrete evidence of the conviction expressed in the Westminster Confession, that the Spirit who binds us to Christ thereby also binds us to one another. (Book of Confessions 6.054)
Yet our bonds with one another are being stretched taut by current events in our surrounding world. Presidential impeachment hearings have deepened and widened the chasm between those who construe what is best for our society in profoundly different ways. The impeachment process, designed to help us come to the truth of the president’s conduct, instead has revealed that our minds were already made up about what is true.
We are often more occupied by who is “other” than by who is “kin.” In Christ, we are all kin, of course – kin with him and kin with each other. “Joint-heirs with Christ” is how Romans 8:17 puts it – joint with him, and joint with each other.
I came to Pittsburgh Presbytery as an outsider, and you took me in. I wasn’t just a garden-variety outsider, but someone who came from Louisville, from what some might dismissively consider the “Presbyterian swamp.” Your gracious welcome has been to me both a great comfort and a testimony to what the Gospel declares, that in Christ all dividing walls between us are broken down. (Ephesians 2:14) Is this just a pious platitude, or does the church embody this in the trenches of real life, even when such trenches are marked by chasms dug by competing ideologies and politics?
In this season of Advent, we celebrate the One who comes to abide among us, Lord Emmanuel. He comes not to rail against us, but to dwell with us. As The Message so evocatively puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14) Mr. Rogers wasn’t the first one to show by word and by example the importance of being committed to our neighborhood!
Jesus changed the course of the world by identifying with us rather than against us. He did so in spite of who we are, a people determined to go our own way rather than living to bless our neighbor. He came alongside us in our sinfulness even though he had no sin in himself. (2 Corinthians 5:21) In a world marked by pandemic polarization, what does it mean for his followers to stand with those in whose company God has placed us?
Standing with you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister