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The PC(USA)’s first-ever Matthew 25 Summit opens with powerful and prophetic preaching

The Rev. Hodari Williams, team leader of the host New Life Presbyterian Church, urges everyone to tug off cloaks of invisibility

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Tony McNeill rehearses singers before the start of the Matthew 25 Summit at New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Growing up in the 1980s, the Rev. Hodari Williams was a fan of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger comic books — especially Cloak, whose superpower was becoming invisible when he wore his robe.

One year the young Williams, who grew up to lead New Life Presbyterian Church in South Fulton, Georgia, the host church for the Matthew 25 Summit, which got underway in person and online Tuesday, received a maroon bathrobe for Christmas. “Who gives a kid a robe for Christmas?” he asked. Still, Williams believed his robe made him invisible, just like his superhero.

In first grade, “I learned I was inherently equipped with an invisible cloak, thrust upon me by society in America,” Williams said during opening worship of the first-ever in-person Matthew 25 gathering. Or, as Ralph Ellison says in “Invisible Man”: “I am an invisible man … simply because people refuse to see me.”

In Matthew’s Judgment of the Nations found in Matthew 25:31-46, both sheep and goats “fall short of recognizing divinity of those concealed by societal norms,” according to Williams. But Jesus, “a North African Palestinian Jew, skillfully confronts the disciples’ blindness. He connects the whole human experience by positioning himself among the invisible. It serves as an indictment, urging disciples to strip away the forced cloaks of invisibility imposed by society.”

“If you don’t see [the effects of invisibility], I compel you to look deeper,” Williams said. “If I don’t see you, I am not compelled to value you.”

“We must ask ourselves: Who is benefiting from the invisibility?” Williams said. Or, as Dr. John Henrik Clarke puts it: “If we would lose our eyesight, we’d increase our insight.”

If we do that, “we become aware of those around us,” Williams said, inviting the packed sanctuary to offer the South African greeting, “Sawubona,” or “I see you.”

The sanctuary at New Life Presbyterian Church began filling up even before the Matthew 25 Summit got underway. (Photo by Alex Simon)

That means “I see the whole you — your experiences, your passions, your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, and your future,” Williams said. “You are valuable to me.”

“I see your cloak, and I dare you to take your cloak off so you may be seen in who you are, your wholeness,” Williams said. In South Africa, the response is “Yebo Sawubona,” or “I see you too.”

“May we see each other more clearly,” Williams said to loud and sustained applause.

Before worship, attendees were welcomed by an array of happy Presbyterians. The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, held up three “c” words as Matthew 25 Summit goals: gaining clarity about what Matthew 25 is all about, thinking about the context of Mattew 25 as it’s lived out, and hoping that “we will all make connections.”

New Life Presbyterian Church’s electronic sign welcomed the 350 or so people attending the Matthew 25 Summit. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“We want affordable housing, we want to make sure people can eat and we want to change policies in our communities to make that happen,” she said. “When we stay connected with each other, we can hear one another’s stories and make things happen. So, stay connected! Let’s not only say it, but let’s be about it.”

The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly (2022), offered greetings from herself and fellow Co-Moderator the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace “on behalf of the faithful and mindful” commissioners and advisory delegates from the PC(USA)’s most recent assembly.

“I’m so excited about what God is doing in and through this movement,” Starling-Louis said. “I thank those who have laid the groundwork, and I thank you for embodying what God is doing right here and now.”

Singers rehearse Tuesday morning before the start of the Matthew 25 Summit. (Photo by Rich Copley)

A number of singers joined musician Dr. Tony McNeill to provide the 350 or so people gathered at the host church and the many worshiping online with stellar music throughout the service. The Rev. Shanea Leonard, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, and Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, Deputy Executive for Vision, Innovation & Rebuilding in the PMA, helped to build excitement for the sold-out event by serving as emcees. “We are ready to ride and ready to fly,” Schlosser-Hall said following Williams’ benediction, which included these words offering thanks to the Almighty, “the One who sees us, knows us, counts the very hairs on our head, the One who knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb.”

The Rev. Hodari Williams got the Matthew 25 Summit started with stellar preaching. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“Let us go from this place in insight, intentionally seeing others and looking beyond the cloaks of invisibility placed upon them. May we see the light of divinity in each other.”

“Be with us and guide us in what we do,” Williams asked God. “May the work we put our hands to be pleasing to you. We pray this prayer in the name of our Creator,” adding, “Àṣẹ, Àṣẹ,” a West African Yoruba word that means “power, authority and command.”

“Now, let us do what Jesus did many times,” Leonard quipped. “Take a break.”

Check throughout the Matthew 25 Summit for stories on worship services and plenaries. Plenaries and worship services are streamed here. Watch Tuesday’s worship service and hear words of greeting as well as a plenary address by the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis here. Learn more about upcoming Matthew 25 Being Connected events here.

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