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National Black Presbyterian Caucus conference closes with a sermon about seeing what’s in plain view

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett said a conundrum her mother faced years ago is like the question the Son of Man is asked in Matthew 25

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Carried onward throughout her sermon by expressions of support and applause, the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett brought the 47th biennial conference of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus to a close Saturday with message about taking a second look and seeing what’s in plain view.

“It looked like a cheap piece of costume jewelry, but it was all that was left in the collection my mother’s aunt gave her five nieces,” the president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency recalled for conference-goers in North Charleston, South Carolina, during closing worship that also included communion. Her mother picked up the pin in the jewelry box one day “and noticed how meticulously set the diamonds were. She decided to take it to a jeweler for examination.” The jeweler told her mother it was a valuable 14-karat gold pin, with diamonds all around it. “She wondered how she could have missed it,” Moffett said, “and her sisters wondered the same thing.”

“Sometimes, we do not see what’s in plain view,” Moffett said, prompting the “When did we see you?” question that’s at the core of the Judgment of the Nations parable in Matthew 25. Moffett took a few minutes to dig a bit into the three foci of the Matthew 25 invitation, which extends to congregations, mid councils and organizations.

Congregational vitality “centers on a church’s commitment to make disciples who understand, in the words of John Calvin, that we are ‘saved to serve,’” Moffett said. “If you were to shut down your church, who [besides those in the church] would miss you?”

Eradicating systemic poverty “calls for disciples to be divine disruptors of the status quo,” she said, “believers who feed the hungry but also ask, ‘why do they have no food in a world of plenty?’”

Dismantling structural racism “calls people of faith to address the social constructs that normalize and legitimize an array of historic, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes” for BIPOC people, she said.

“Churches, mid councils, entities and agencies are joining the Matthew 25 movement so we can make a mark and bear witness to Christ collectively as the PC(USA),” Moffett said, adding that the work of Matthew 25 is explained further in the Viewpoint segment still showing on PBS.

“We want to tell your stories,” Moffett told conference attendees. “You are the ones who are pulling the weight. You are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting. You are the ones who are praying. We just want to let people know there are a few of us who are still working for the Lord.”

In Matthew 25, both the sheep and the goats are surprised that Jesus aligns himself with “the least of these, the ones who sit on the margins of society, the ones who are vulnerable,” she said. “Jesus has a way of messing with our minds. His kingdom, or kin-dom, as some people say, is about reversals.”

We may ask the same kinds of questions as those sheep and goats did. “Take a moment from your busy pace to make some space for another human soul,” Moffett suggested. We choose to be with the least of these “so something new will occur. Something else will be heard.” Our proclamation “calls for the transformation of death-dealing ways … The compassion of God’s presence and the mercy of God’s hand are seen in the land among the disciples who will stand with the least of these.”

“Friends, in this kingdom story, Jesus is showing us that he is offended by callous, cold people and nations, people who refuse to pull weeds of poverty, racism, oppression and injustice emerging from corrupt seeds sown in the landscape of this nation — seeds that produce politicians who would rather ban books than assault weapons,” Moffett said.

Those who are righteous in the parable “perform acts of mercy and justice toward the least of these with that which is in their hands,” she noted. “They’re not so stuck on themselves that they cannot see the suffering of others.”

‘Like greens and cornbread’

“On this Juneteenth weekend, I am grateful for our Black Presbyterian ancestors who could see and who would dare fix what was broken, who demonstrated God’s love and mercy to people in need and had far less than what we have now,” Moffett said. “They did all they could to bring us to this place. I’m grateful for those who understood that Jesus and justice go together like greens and cornbread.”

The biennial conference of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus concluded Saturday with worship.

As conference goers returned home Saturday, they might do like Moffett’s mother did and take a second look, Moffett said — “a second look at who we are. Christ is a justice-seeking, righteous-making preacher, teacher, healer, helper, Savior and son of God who is with us, who loves and serves us and requires us to do no less for others in the world. When did we see you, Jesus? When you’ve done it for the least of these.”

Once communion had been celebrated, Moffett issued this charge to those in worship: “Brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ, I charge you to move out confidently with the spirit that is within you. Move out knowing that you have been called and commissioned, that you have what it takes to do what God has called us to do.

“Where there is the vision, God will provide the provision — maybe not overnight, but over time. We will have what we need as we do what God has called us to do: making disciples, bearing witness to Jesus, touching people and changing the world.

“And now may the good Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make God’s face to shine on you, may the Lord lift up God’s countenance and be gracious unto you, giving you peace, poise and power to be the people God has called us to be in this day and forevermore. And the people said, amen.”

Presbyterian News Service is grateful to Margaret Priest for sending an audio recording of Moffett’s sermon and charge.

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