New social justice resource inspires children and adults to live out Matthew 25

 

Ideal for Lent, ‘Seeing Jesus’ includes many practical activities backed by Scripture

By Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

“Seeing Jesus: Social Justice Activities for Today Based on Matthew 25” includes 60 social justice activities for children, teens and adults to live out the Matthew 25 vision.

LOUISVILLE — Could an elderly neighbor who can no longer drive to the grocery store be hungry? Could the family who lost everything in a fire be poor? Could the adolescent yearning to make sense of his life be thirsty for God? 

Phyllis Vos Wezeman, a lifelong Christian educator who served 12 years as director of education and nurture at First Presbyterian Church in South Bend, Indiana, has recently completed an activity-based major rewrite of one of her out-of-print resources originally published under another title, in 1994, for grades four through eight.

The new, expanded resource “Seeing Jesus: Social Justice Activities for Today Based on Matthew 25,” is for students in elementary, middle and high school, as well as adults. Wezeman sees women’s groups or mixed groups or adult Sunday school classes tackling the six categories of Matthew 25 — hungry, thirsty, stranger, poor, sick or imprisoned — together. “It fits really well with the six weeks for Lent, when you are already thinking about topics like sacrifice and forgiveness,” Wezeman said. “It’s a good time to think about who are the hungry and thirsty, and put something into action within your own congregation or your own community.”

The “Seeing Jesus” book includes 60 social justice activities, 10 per category. The activities use a variety of methods, including architecture, art, creative writing, culinary, dance, drama, games, music, photography, puppetry and storytelling. Each activity focuses on ways to “learn,” “locate” and “lead” in doing good deeds as the hands and feet of Jesus. Supporting Scriptures are included throughout the lessons and activities.

“Sharing God’s love with the least of these is the responsibility of every Christian at any age,” Wezeman said. “I wanted to present a variety of options, first of all to make people aware that there are many ways to look at each of these categories. The imprisoned chapter, for example, is my favorite because ‘imprisoned’ doesn’t just mean people behind bars.”

Instead of focusing on people who are themselves incarcerated, Wezeman intentionally broadened the scope to include the families of prisoners behind bars, people who have been imprisoned because of their faith, like pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and people entrapped in many other ways, such as materialism, eating disorders, addictions, abuse and illiteracy.

“That’s the approach, and it just scratches the surface,” Wezeman said of the 224-page book. “My goal is that people will at least take a small step. They don’t have to take a giant leap, but everybody can do something.”

The lesson on illiteracy leads to discussion about all the ways people who cannot read or who read at a lesser level as an adult are imprisoned when they fill out a job application or go to the bank or try to make sense of a prescription.

Wezeman and the publisher made a conscious decision to include feeling trapped by abuse in the chapter on imprisonment. “You don’t shove it under the rug,” Wezeman said. “That’s why it has gotten to the point it has, because people have swept it under the rug and said, ‘Oh, we can’t talk about that.’”

Wezeman writes in the book’s introduction, “Everyone comes into daily contact with someone in one or more of these categories.” Her own congregation, First Presbyterian in South Bend, has the largest number of people from Malawi in the denomination, which is one reason she travels to Malawi for months at a time to direct HIV and AIDS education programs with the help of volunteers in nearly 200 villages.

“Through recognizing the least of these, meeting their needs, and sharing God’s love, the young people [and adults] will find out what it is like to come face to face with Jesus Christ,” Wezeman said, adding that from time to time, we each find ourselves fitting into ‘least of these’ categories.

“Seeing Jesus: Social Justice Activities for Today Based on Matthew 25,” by Phyllis Vos Wezeman, is available through The Pastoral Center at pastoral.center/seeing-jesus-paperback or 844-727-8672. Each purchase includes both the paperback and the downloadable, reproducible eResource with lifetime license. A purchaser, for example a congregation, is allowed to make unlimited copies for use within the congregation or share the resource within the congregation via email, however, may not post eResources to any website without permission. 

Phyllis Vos Wezeman, author of “Seeing Jesus: Social Justice Activities for Today Based on Matthew 25” has written nearly 2,000 articles and books published by more than 80 publishers. She served as director of education and nurture at First Presbyterian Church in South Bend, Indiana, for 12 years and is nationally recognized in the fields of faith formation and religious education.

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Matthew 25:31–46 calls all of us to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities. Convicted by this Scripture passage, both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) exhorted the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.

There are already PC(USA) congregations that identify themselves as Matthew 25 churches and Presbyterians who are living out Jesus’ call, like Wezeman. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) aims to help multiply this loving commitment to radical and fearless discipleship by partnering with mid councils and congregations to help them embrace one or more of the three focuses of Matthew 25 — building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. Learn more by visiting pcusa.org/matthew25.  


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