Goodness and Fidelity

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
September 26, 2019

Nothing could be more rewarding than hearing our Lord’s “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:14-30) Good servants are “good” in two major senses.

First, they do good work. They treat their master’s things as though they were their own. They take pride in how they manage the affairs the master has entrusted to them. They are known for going the second mile. They don’t have to be asked twice, and often they anticipate a task before the master asks them.

Second, they are good within. They are authentic; with them, what you see is what you get. They are kind and generous to everyone. They do not harbor resentment over what they have been asked to do. They do not wallow in self-pity, even though they sometimes are given a difficult row to hoe. They refuse to indulge in cynicism, no matter how tempting it may be. They do not allow bitterness to capture them when they see other servants being blessed while they look on. Everyone feels better for having been in their company.

Jesus identifies the praiseworthy servant as both good and faithful. Faithful to what or to whom? Faithful to the call of the master. Responsible, dedicated to doing what has been asked of them. They are also faithful to the master’s household, realizing they bear fiduciary responsibility to the entire family to use the family’s resources wisely.

The notion of bearing fiduciary responsibility is rooted in the deeper acknowledgment that what we are working with and on does not belong to us. We are but stewards of treasures that have been entrusted to our care.

Both goodness and faithfulness require a fundamental posture of the servant that “it’s not about me.” It is not false humility, which uses the appearance of humility to personal advantage. It is a humility that the Bible calls “meekness.” Unfortunately, this word in present usage has come to denote weakness and is associated with being a pushover. Nothing could be further from the Bible’s understanding of meekness.

Only two persons in the Bible are called “meek” – Moses and Jesus. Hardly timid weaklings or doormats! They were mighty in word and in deed. But their exercise of power was invested entirely in serving God and serving others, rather than in serving their own interests.

I give God thanks for all the partners in ministry that the Lord has given me in my years here. Many of them have been volunteers, and some have been fellow-staff. Every loss of a beloved colleague is painful, especially those with whom we labor in closest proximity. One of our leaders is leaving her position on presbytery staff, this time our Associate Minister Beverly James, who has elected to seek honorable retirement due to an illness that has significantly sapped her physical strength. Her persistence and resilience despite debilitating weakness have been extraordinary to witness. Now she feels the need to stop pushing herself, and is grateful for our church’s pension plan. The good news is that her illness is not unto death. It is a rare neurological disorder, likely brought on by some kind of trauma, with quick onset and slow recovery. There is good hope for eventual return to full health, but for now she feels the need to devote all her energies to getting well, without the added press of work responsibilities, some of which are very difficult to engage in her current condition. She is hopeful to engage other forms of service once her strength returns.

I grieve losing a wonderful colleague whose friendship in ministry has been a great blessing to me. We all will miss Beverly’s keen perception of what is going on both on and beneath the surface when a church or a pastor is struggling. After 38 years in ministry around our presbytery, she knows where the bodies are buried, and has provided us with local knowledge that we have depended upon greatly. Her consistent warmth has been a wonderful presence among us.

We are not saying good-bye, as she will still be part of our presbytery. But as she transitions from being our constant companion to whatever roles she may have next, I immediately thought of these words from our Lord as being especially appropriate for Beverly: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Well done, indeed! And God’s great blessing on her. Please continue to pray for her speedy return to full health.

In shared ministry,

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