From Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to Martin Luther King III, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was filled Saturday morning with many African American lawmakers and icons, who were challenged to transform petitions to God into action.
“it’s not what we take, but what we give that enables us to grow,” said Bishop Noel Jones, who preached at the Congressional Black Caucus annual prayer breakfast.
Jones preached that God alone empowers people to make a difference in someone else’s life and that each person is endowed with unique gifts and that they should use those talents to make a difference in the world.
His sermon challenged guests not to limit their goals and how special they are in God’s eyes regardless of societal definitions of material success, beauty and achievement. At one point, he asked guests to touch each other and say,” You’re too gifted to be broke.” This prompted laughter, hugs and choruses of “Amen’ to erupt around the ballroom.
“We are living in a time when we as African Americans have given everybody else the rights to our lives because we believe that we need everybody to make our lives work,” Jones said in an interview after his sermon. “At the end of the day, we are responsible for whatever happens in our lives to make our lives work.”
Clyburn said he wasn’t surprised that Jones quoted from Matthew 25:42 in the gospels, which reads, “For I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink.”
“I love to try to see how the scriptures fit into all of the stuff that we do,” Clyburn said. “We always quote Matthew 25 when it comes to doing for the least of these, but there is a judgment based on what you did with those gifts that comes to us in the earlier part of that chapter. He taught me a lot.”
With the November election only weeks away, the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner reminded people in her prayer that the lawmakers represent those who have no voice. She prayed for the children who “nobody checks their homework, nobody looks at their report card, nobody cares whether they come home or not.”
From Congressional Black Caucus members and White House appointees to pastors from a cross-section of the faith community, the prayer breakfast was an opportunity for people to reflect on the spiritual aspect of what has been so important to African Americans for generations.
Two Americans the Rev. Jesse Jackson secured the release from Gambia where they were be imprisoned in Gambia for at least 20 years for treason were among those present to praise God for their freedom.
“These prayer breakfasts are always inspirational to me,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who said she is a member of the City of Refuge, where Jones preaches in Los Angeles.
On Friday, special investigator, commissioned by the House of Representatives, announced that Waters did not violate congressional rules. A probe, started three years ago, cleared the longtime California congresswoman of House ethics charge.
As she introduced her pastor and friend, she thanked him for “the first one to reach out to me” when the investigation started.
“The ministers in our churches are our anchors and our secret weapons. Today he not only touched my heart, but he touched the heart of many people,” she said.
She said that for fellow congressional leaders find that clergy are their “secret weapon,” individuals whose support and prayers are invaluable. Throughout what she experienced, she said she appreciated that “this bishop held me in good standing.”
After the prayer breakfast, King responded to Jones’s sermon, a call to action, in getting people out to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“The real challenge, what he told us is that each of us have talents,” King said, adding that “we need to have everyone here” to make a difference in their areas of influence.
“It’s really a matter of turning it up,” he said.
Following the prayer breakfast, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) moderated a forum on same-sex marriage. Jackson was among the speakers. And afterwards, he said that this issue should be placed within its proper context.
“Eqaulity in marriage is an issue. Equality in education is an issue. Equality of health care is an issue. And equality of voting rights act being protected is an issue,” he said. “There’s a range of issues. And we’re not going to allow someone to impose on us priorities different than a 60-day countdown to the election.”