Moffett, Nelson share a pulpit and a common vision for the PC(USA)

The result is a knockout sermon doubleheader from two of the best Presbyterian preachers on the planet

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preaches Thursday morning to a combined meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the PMA Board. (Photo by Rich Copley)

BALTIMORE — A rare and rousing doubleheader sermon — one by the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett and the second by the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II — launched a combined gathering Thursday of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

With a full day of work in front of them, both groups found morning nourishment from two of the best Presbyterian preachers on the planet. Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency; Nelson is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Preaching from Acts 2:42-47, Moffett led with this fable to illustrate how a connectional church ought to behave: When a snake entered a barn, a mouse asked for help from a chicken, a pig and a cow, who all decided it wasn’t their problem. And it turned out it wasn’t, because the snake ended up biting the farmer’s wife, who fell ill. The farmer killed the chicken to make her chicken soup, then offed the pig to feed all the people who showed up to nurse his wife back to health. Sadly, the woman died, and people from around the state showed up to mourn her, necessitating the slaughter of the cow as well.

“We are all one body whether we realize it or not,” Moffett said. How we respond to people at the border, to people differently abled or of a different economic status — “it all matters,” she said. “Polarization and disconnection have a way of destroying people.”

Even though we’re millennia  removed from the early church, “we see visions of a connectional church, where the only canon is the life of Jesus. There’s beauty in unity,” Moffett said, quoting one of Nelson’s favorite lines and the theme for the upcoming General Assembly: “The church is not an institution. It’s a movement.”

Like the early church, God’s people are doing God’s work “when we put our hands and feet together doing Matthew 25 work,” she said, marrying programs of both the OGA and PMA, “when we stand with the least, last and lost.”

Growing up in Oakland, Calif., Moffett admired her grandmother, her spiritual mentor. Her grandfather had the church title, “but she filled the role,” Moffett said. “I saw as a young child how faith came alive. Some would say she was practicing therapy and ministry without a license. It made her vivacious. I wanted what she had.”

Christians today “are ready to speak truth to power, to live like Jesus. Are you ready?” she asked a congregation that clearly was. “My prayer is that God will liberate us with love and fill us with hope. With God we can grow in impact if not in numbers. My prayer is we will come together and see things from God’s perspective because there is beauty in unity.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, preaches Thursday to a joint meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Nelson began his sermon by waving his text to put out the “flames” that Moffett had ignited. He preached from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

“It’s a great sight to see COGA and the PMA board together working toward the next General Assembly,” he said. “We can work together with an argument or two, but the world can’t wait for us to finish the argument.”

As Paul points out, the church at Corinth was struggling with “who was on whose side, and nobody was mentioning Jesus.” Since the church couldn’t figure that out, Paul wrote the Corinthians a second letter.

“First Corinthians was written for us, the PC(USA),” Nelson said. “We are individuals but we can come back together. God never stops working on (unity), and we don’t even realize God is in the midst of it. God sends us to St. Louis, Baltimore and Columbus (sites of the 223rd, 224th and 225th General Assemblies), places where no one really wants to go, places where people are afraid to walk from the hotel to the convention center.”

Presiding at the communion table during worship on Thursday were Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderators of the 223rd General Assembly.

The Baltimore assembly, he said, will include outreach to “squeegee kids,” children who bring a little money home to their families by cleaning the windshields of cars stopped in traffic or at a red light.

“We will use the power of this church that reaches into high places, that sits in big seats and has wealthy coffers, to raise the question: Can we find a way to employ some of these young people in a city that has burned twice?”

Like they did in St. Louis during the 2018 assembly, “We will go into the streets with once voice,” Nelson said of the Baltimore assembly. “Is your faith asleep? If it is, then awaken it. Today is ours. For God’s sake, we must take it.”


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