Time to start building God’s realm

After months of planning, Presbyterians’ Matthew 25 Invitation is now live

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The logo for the Matthew 25 Invitation represents unity and equality. The three interlocking figures represent the equality of all people without gender or race bias.

LOUISVILLE — Monday marks the official kickoff of the Matthew 25 Invitation, a movement that calls Presbyterian congregations and mid councils to actively engage in the world around them so that, as the invitation’s now-active website says, “our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.”

The invitation, open to any church or mid council, has three goals:

  • Building congregational vitality by challenging congregations and their members to deepen and energize their faith and grow as joyful leaders and disciples, actively engaged with their community as they share the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
  • Dismantling structural racism by fearlessly applying our faith to advocate and break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
  • Eradicating systemic poverty by acting on our beliefs and working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor.

Accepting the invitation is easy. The first step is to visit the website pcusa.org/matthew25 to sign up. Then, as churches and mid councils live out their commitment, they’re asked to share the impact the pledge has made: how their congregation has changed and discovered new passions and vitality — and how members have been re-energized as disciples.

The goal of the national church is to be a clearinghouse of resources, training materials, devotional and preaching aids, success stories, curricula and more.

Actions mean more than words

Last month, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, spoke to national church staff in the Presbyterian Center Chapel about the invitation.

According to Moffett, what we learn by reading Matthew 25 — especially verses 31-46, the Judgment of the Nations — is that it’s not just what we say, but more importantly what we do, that matters to God.

“Matthew is not concerned with those who proclaim the gospel,” she said, “but with those who demonstrate it.”

“We want to make sure,” she said, “that the love of God has skin on it.”

Churches and mid councils that accept the Matthew 25 Invitation will receive resources to help them get started.

Speaking on the congregational vitality focus, Moffett said the important measure won’t be the size of a church’s budget or its membership roll, but the impact the church has in the community. “We can judge vitality by how many people will miss the congregation if it is no longer there,” she said.

On systemic poverty, she said, the Matthew 25 Invitation seeks to help congregations and mid councils look “at how systems are creating the kind of poverty we are seeing. Why do people have to come to the food pantry in the first place?”

Dismantling structural racism and white privilege will require altering a system by which some people benefit “because it has been created to give them the advantage,” she said. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is 90 percent white in a nation that is becoming more and more racially diverse. “Why is that?” Moffett wondered. “It is something we have got to look at.”

Jesus used parables to “rewrite our consciousness,” she said. “It’s describing the kingdom of heaven subversively, and you see yourself in the story. If the shoe fits, wear it.”

When Jesus talks about sheep and goats in Matthew 25, he gives us a parable “about active engagement in the kingdom of heaven and the systems of the world … To me, nations represent systems.”

Here, Jesus is concerned about people who are hungry and thirsty, who are strangers, naked, sick or in prison. Moffett said the difference between the sheep and goats is that the sheep are regenerated after their encounter with Jesus’ sacred presence.

“As children of God, we see people differently,” she said. “If they have a need, we are going to meet it. Because we’ve been regenerated, we don’t ask others to do what we are called to do.”

“We aren’t trying to impress God or work our way up,” she said. A lesson of Matthew 25 is that “the sheep weren’t perfect, but they were committed.”

Moffett said she’s convinced Presbyterians “have the creativity and the imagination to begin to break away the systems that are not in line with the kingdom of God.”

“God is an excellent God, and so we have to do excellent work,” she said. “Our heart breaks for the world, and we’re strong enough to make it better.”

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