Fulfilling the Great Commission
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:16-20
This passage is what is known as the Great Commission. It is the call from Jesus to spread His message and deeds into the time and place that we are in, today.
If we, as Christians, are to fulfill this commission, we must be relevant to the concerns of our time, using any tools that we can, despite the obstacles that may be in our way, and drawing upon our faith that Jesus walks with us in this quest.
For a good while I have been inspired by a colleague in ministry who is a living example of this. Over the last few years, Rev. Dr. Bebb Stone, President of the Presbyterian Health, Education, Welfare Association (PHEWA), has worked tirelessly on one of the concerns close to Jesus, in His time and also in ours: healing people.
In 2005, when Rev. Bebb Stone began her work, there were 46.6 million – that’s close to one and a half in ten people – living in the U.S. without health insurance. It is well-documented that health insurance is critical to whether or not a person visits his or her doctor when they need to. And not having coverage has obvious implications for someone’s overall health, well-being, and life.
So what to do about this? In this age, with the myriad of complicated options, what option could Rev. Stone recommend to her church community to take a stand on that would help to bring healing and justice to the most vulnerable among us?
Rev. Stone started by gathering a group of experts and faithful Presbyterians. Hal Sanders, ruling elder at East Liberty Presbyterian Church and a retired hospital administrator, and Dr. Thomas Graham, ruling elder at the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley and a retired physician, were among those who joined her.
This group methodically researched the alternatives and crafted an overture for General Assembly to be brought before the Pittsburgh Presbytery. They recommended support for what is called the single-payer option — privately provided, publicly financed insurance that would allow all in the U.S. to have access to health care.
Despite the fact that this option has not always been the most popular, on a national level, Rev. Stone’s group worked, with courage, to educate the whole community on its value. To this day, I remember how Dr. Graham shared with us the way the interactions with the many insurance providers had come to dominate his practice as a doctor and take away time and energy from his true calling – to heal. His plea for simplicity – for a single payer system – was inspiring.
When the resolution came for a vote, Pittsburgh Presbytery passed it and the overture went on to the 2008 General Assembly for its consideration and vote.
The presbytery decided to send Hal Sanders to be the overture’s advocate at the San Jose General Assembly. The committee reviewing the overture was so impressed by Hal’s presentation that they questioned him for an unprecedented hour and a half. Finally, this prophetic resolution was adopted by the 218th General Assembly held in San Jose, CA, and sent to the U.S. Congress and to the Washington and United Nations offices of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Because of the courage of this group led by Rev. Stone – to stand up and say, “our brothers and sisters need help…we must do something,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) officially endorsed the single-payer option. Since this time, we’ve been faced with the loss of Hal Sanders. The debate over healthcare options continues. So, while there is still more work to do for Rev. Stone to achieve her goal, I hope that sharing this story inspires you to think about what concerns of our time you can help to advance and to help us all fulfill the Great Commission.