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Of silkworms and Spades

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett’s Pentecost sermon goes out online to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis is about three miles north of the spot where George Floyd was killed by police on May 25, 2020. On Sunday the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, delivered a recorded Pentecost sermon to the church. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, brought some Pentecost panache to her virtual pulpit Sunday, preaching via a recording to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis on both a joyful and somber occasion: while Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the church, Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by former a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. The crime, which helped spark a racial reckoning in communities across the nation, occurred about three miles south of the church.

the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen

Westminster’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, reminded the congregation, which was present both in the sanctuary and online, what he was doing on Pentecost the year before: he was sleeping on the floor at church along with a few others because the church had received threats from white supremacists following the church’s response to Floyd’s killing. “We remember with sorrow,” Hart-Andersen said, “and hope for change.”

One year later, the church invited Moffett to preach. “She wishes she could be here in person,” Hart-Andersen told worshipers.

Joe Davis

Sunday was a day of transitions for the church, which honored and said goodbye to its artist-in-residence, the spoken word artist Joe Davis, after a year of service. During and after worship, Davis recited some of his poetry, which was interpreted by dancer Eve Schulte. Westminster also welcomed seven new members, baptizing two of them, the first in-person baptisms at the church since early in 2020.

Moffett called her sermon “United in Praise, Anointed in Power,” basing it on Acts 2:1-11.

“We’re so grateful for your ministry,” Moffett told the Matthew 25 church, “and for the many ways in which you are pouring in and seeking to be agents of transformation in a world that desperately needs God’s healing balm and salve.”

Moffett shared the story of her then-three-year-old daughter, whose preschool sent silkworms home with instructions on how to encourage their transformation. It didn’t take long for the silkworms to put on weight, slow down and construct cocoons. Soon all the Moffetts could see on the outside were white balls inside the container. “But on the inside, something mystical, miraculous and mysterious was taking place,” Moffett said. What emerged “was a different creature, a brand-new life. They were transformed into moths with wings. We opened the container and we watched them rise from death to life, from a tight white cocoon to the expanse of clear blue skies.”

What emerged during that first Pentecost was certainly mystical and mysterious, Moffett said. “Sound was filling the room like an orchestra tuning up to play,” she said. Fiery flames came to rest on the participants, drawing a crowd “who wants to see what’s going on.” What they heard was people “declaring the wonders of God in their own vernaculars.” Though diverse, voices “are united in praise, all claiming the wonders of God. What does this mean?”

It means that Jesus’ death and resurrection are “no doubt on the disciples’ minds. The open pit of grief present at his crucifixion and death is now filled with the wonders of Christ’s presence” following his resurrection, she said, an event “meant to expand our awareness of God’s presence, God’s partnership with us, even as we are partners with one another.”

The resurrection reminds us that “God turns silkworms into moths, acorns into oak trees, winter into spring, mourning into dancing, despair into gladness, horror into hope, trauma into triumph and death into life,” Moffett said. On Pentecost, the church is born “not merely in flesh and blood, but in fire and Spirit.” We therefore “have the authority to do the work Jesus assigns, and we see that in the Matthew 25 vision.”

However, “ministry is no picnic,” Moffett said. “It costs us something to work with Jesus, to partner with each other and with God, as those called to labor on behalf of Christ’s kind-om — because kin-dom principles are often counterintuitive to the culture.” The church “doesn’t always want to confess our complicity in creating racist structures and perpetuating systemic poverty,” Moffett said, “and it’s not just ‘out there,’ my friends — it’s within our very bounds.”

In addition, “the least of these are not always ‘the other,’” Moffett said. “When we engage our world as disciples of Jesus Christ … we may find ourselves thrown in prison, sick and in need of welcome. We can expect to get into good trouble,” made famous by the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, “the kind of trouble that matters to God and God’s people. Jesus got into good trouble.”

“But Jesus’ resurrection assures us that truth crushed to the ground will rise again … The Pentecost power that follows that rising is God’s ability to work through people to create a more just, loving and peaceable world.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. (Contributed photo)

“The good news of Pentecost,” she said, “is that we have that same power to make disciples and develop vital congregations, the power to keep rising when the enemy wants to bring us down, the power to do the work and complete the assignment when people would rather we shut up and not get involved in what they call ‘political.’”

“We have the ointment, the salve, of God’s spirit, a divine partnership with God that helps us bounce back when we are pushed down, thrown down, pulled down, beaten down, weighed down by the injustice of life and the sin that so easily besets us. Not by our might, but by God’s Spirit, we rise like the morning sun, the evening moon, the eastern star, we rise like yeast in a dough of bread, like grass in the cracks of cement … rise up and do the work God has called us to do, anointed in God’s power.”

Uprisings following the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor “and many more reveals that there is much more to be done,” Moffett said. The problem of the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk,” is the problem of the color line. It’s a problem that leads to poverty and other forms of oppression, “and yet united in praise and anointed in power, we can change the world so it reflects and aligns with God’s principles,” Moffett said. “This is the work of the church. We have been commissioned and empowered to do it.”

Moffett’s daughter, the Rev. Eustacia Moffett Marshall, a Presbyterian pastor in Philadelphia, tells the story of watching her college friends play the card game Spades, a game played by teams of two. She said she once saw a player scowl and tell his playing partner, “I ain’t got nothing.”

“Don’t worry,” his teammate said. “I got you.”

“The church is not perfect. We have been complicit in the very things we seek to dismantle,” Moffett said. “People will say, ‘We don’t have anything.’ Others will say we don’t have a leg to stand on. But we do have a loving God, a God who looks at God’s hand and says, ‘Don’t worry. I got you.’ This God sent Jesus to us, and not only Jesus — God sent the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate on this day of Pentecost, the tangible reminder of the presence of God in our lives.”

Marshall also observed players with a good hand sometimes dramatically draw their hand way back before slamming the winning card on the table and exclaiming, “Bam!”

That’s what God did with Jesus, Moffett said. “When the devil thought he had the best hand, God reached back and raised up Jesus with a bam!” And now, “because Jesus loves us so much, on the day of Pentecost, he shows up with another bam!”

“I am so grateful for the sudden sounds of God’s bam! in my life,” Moffett said. “In this ministry I can truly say, ‘We may have nothing,’ but bam! We have what we need because we’ve got God. We may not have all the answers but bam! We have what we need because we have someone who gives us wisdom.”

“We may not understand everything that needs to be done, but bam! God is protecting us, God is calling us, God is helping us and empowering us to do the work we’re called to do. Bam! to be Matthew 25 people and the embodiment of Jesus, so justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett said she’s grateful for the ministry of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, a Matthew 25 church. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

“I’m so glad so many of you have heard this call, that you are commissioned, that you are ready to do the work both now and in the days ahead,” Moffett told the Westminster congregation. “It is because of your labor and our partnership with each other and with God through the power of the Holy Spirit that we shall move forward to be the church God calls us to be,” Moffett said. “May God get the glory, and may the people be blessed, because we are who we are — the church of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Click here to view the service, which starts at 1:20:40. The bulletin can be found here.

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