Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Devotional for Good Friday

In the Cross’s Shadow

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Luke 11:2-4

Good Friday is the darkest day of the liturgical year. We commemorate the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus and remember God’s love, grace, and mercy. 

Showing the greatest compassion, God through Jesus dwelled among us and taught us to love radically, to act mercifully, and to live righteously. Jesus’s teachings brought people closer to God, reconciled communities, demonstrated our shared humanity, and reminded us of our mutual need to belong, to be nourished, and to be well. 

Photo credit: Public Domain
By our inactions to help those who are hungry, homeless, sick, and marginalized, we seem to forget Jesus’s lessons and examples. Fearing scarcity, we clinch our fists to hold fast to what we have, while simultaneously closing ourselves from God’s abundance and our responsibility to provide for others. In the shadow of the cross we recognize that we turn away from God every time we turn away from one another. 

However, God never turns away from us. Even Jesus’s last breath carried words of pardon. Forgiven, we are able to forgive. Unburdened by sin, we experience God’s grace. Welcomed into God’s kingdom, we enjoy life’s abundance. 

At the cross, we see that God loves us and has not forsaken us. We remember that the darkness will not last; it is only a precursor to seeing the light of the risen Lord.

God enables us to walk in that light and in the ways of Christ. We remember to love God is to love one another. As we receive freely, we are open to give generously. God’s gifts are not just for our sake, but for the sake of all creation. And God always provides more than enough.

Merciful God, in the shadow of the cross, you provide us with the gift of salvation. In your forgiveness, we learn to forgive. Unburdened by sin, we receive your light. Guide us so that we may love radically and reflect brilliantly even in darkness.

The Rev. Bridgett A. Green teaches New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. While completing her Ph.D. studies, she also enjoys serving on The Presbyterian Outlook Foundation Board and on the board of directors of Montreat Conference Center. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Devotional for Maundy Thursday


The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.  
1 Corinthians 10:16-17

My father, a chemist for NASA in the 1960s and ’70s, used to study the first satellite photos of the earth. I remember the day he brought home some images and pointed out early signs of ozone depletion over the poles. His voice was grave as he warned of the need to care for the fragile planet on which we live. I share his sadness today as I look at NASA’s famous “earth rise” photo that now hangs on my own wall. The visible half circle of our home planet, so blue with life, floats in black space above the moon. It hovers there like the Body of Christ that I raise each Sunday in doxology over the rim of the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. 

Photo credit: Dominus flevit by Berthold Werner
In the well-known window of the Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”) Church on the Mount of Olives, we see that same raised bread and chalice framing the city of Jerusalem below. This church commemorates the moment in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus wept over the strife and lack of understanding that would lead to its destruction. Looking down on the city that would crucify him, Jesus longed to gather its people together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Like my father’s sorrow for the damaged earth, Jesus’ love for Jerusalem was filled with heartbreak. 

To share in Christ’s Body and Blood is to frame one another and all creation in the heartbreak of this love: love that pours itself out for all life, love that opens us to transformation, love that makes us one. On this day in which we remember Christ’s commandment to love, may our hearts break wide open—not to bleed with sadness, but to pour out life-giving care for our fragile planet and all its inhabitants.

Loving God, you long to restore us to unity with one another and with creation. You long to heal us and make us whole. Break our hearts open, that we may live into the blessing of the Cross and the hope of resurrection. Amen.

The Rev. Anne F. Downs Richter is a priest at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where she works in the area of youth, child, and family formation. She is also working on her STM degree in church history at the School of Theology of The University of the South.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Devotional for Palm Sunday

Hymning and Breathing

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
    on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
   who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 146

Robert Alter often catches me up short in his translations of the Hebrew. He renders the second verse of Psalm 146 as: “Let me praise the LORD while I live, let me hymn to my God while I breathe.”

I think of this line when I am out at the Farminary, Princeton Seminary’s 21-acre farm. While there I contemplate the land and all the living creatures (human and non-human) that call it home, as well as all the plants that grow (or sometimes fail to grow) there. 

Photo courtesy of Princeton Seminary
In the midst of contemplation and work and sweat and joy and sometimes grief (for the farm also entails predation, loss, death), I find myself “hymning to my God while I breathe”—“hymn” as a verb, something done while breathing which, like breathing, can become an almost unconscious part of what it means to be alive. Hymning to God as a basic brain stem function: in the midst of beauty, work, sorrow, and joy, hymning is as life-giving as breathing. 

Yet the wicked are always with us, as the psalmist knows too well. “The way of the wicked God contorts.” Some readers are squeamish over the psalmists’ prayers about the wicked. I am not. I pray that God makes good on this promise—not to destroy the wicked but to “contort” their plans and actions so they do not unleash their harm on the world. And that would have to include my own part in wickedness. Palm Sunday, when Jesus was about to face down the way of the wicked, reminds us of both our own complicity and our hosannas. As I breathe, I hymn all this, and it is enough. 

God of life, help us to hymn to you as we breathe. Contort the way of the wicked, so that all may flourish and thrive in the exquisitely beautiful world you have made. 

Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley is Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. She has written or co-edited several books, including Whispering the Word: Hearing Women’s Stories in the Old Testament. An ordained Presbyterian elder married to an Episcopal priest, “empty-nesting” for the first time, she is trying to make hymning to God as easy as breathing.  

Friday, April 3, 2020

Corona, Climate Change and Creation Care

Caring for God’s Creation during Corona

God has given us not only an amazing world but amazing bodies with brains to think about life and our will to act together for the common good. In these very trying days of a pandemic, God calls us to act thoughtfully and willfully.  

The novel corona virus is all we hear about, all we can think about, all we pray about and it affects everything we do every day. COVID-19 has gotten the attention of the whole world like nothing since World War II. All of us need to be diligent about our personal hygiene and social interactions while adjusting to a new normal for ourselves and our families.

Curiously, restrictions on our travel, work settings, and shopping habits are having a positive effect on God’s creation. Flights are being cancelled and commuters are staying home. Across the globe, factories are shutting down and CO2 levels are decreasing – at least for now. During China’s lockdown, coal consumption dropped 36% from the same time last year. We don’t know when this pandemic will end, but we do know that our individual actions and the actions our businesses and governments take will determine how long it lasts. However, we also know that climate change will still be with us once the pandemic ends. 

More and more people are thinking about the link between this pandemic and climate change, about the consequences our actions are bringing. The likelihood of another pandemic and more and more severe weather events is growing. One of the ironic blessings of this current crisis is that - self-quarantined or under orders to stay home - we have an opportunity to slow down, get quiet, listen and see from this distance what God will wish next. As important as it is for our voices to be heard, it is important for us to listen. What is this pandemic telling us? What is the call to mitigate and to attend to those who will suffer from humanity's denial? Where is the Creator God leading us?

At the same time, if you are feeling a call to action, there are a few things you can do remotely:
1.     PEC's Advocacy Committee wrestles with the latest opportunities and initiatives to consider and could use your help. Contact Paul Heins
2.     Sign Fossil Free PCUSA’s petition for categorical divestment from fossil fuels.
3.     If you want to connect with like-minded individuals, call into our monthly Presbytery Earth Care Team ZOOM calls. Reply to this email to be added to the list. Our next call is April 13 at 8 PM Eastern.
4.     Renew your PEC membership by April 22. If you are not already a member, join this national network of Presbyterians and other people of faith who are ready to make creation care a central concern of the church.

Being thoughtful and willful come from God's gifts.  Together they invite us to live in hope, the hope we know in Jesus Christ. May your days be filled with hope and peace and calm and grace.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Devotional for Fifth Sunday of Lent

Our Earthly Inheritance

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”  
Matthew 25:34-36

This parable begins with the Son of Man seated on the throne, using his authority to separate the people as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats grazing in the field. The sheep are those that have shown their faithfulness by performing acts of goodwill towards their neighbors. They receive a place of honor and inherit God’s kingdom. But those who have failed to answer the call of the needy and who have not followed in Christ’s footsteps to care for the “least of these” are called goats and do not inherit God’s kingdom.

Christ dividing the sheep from the goats. Mosaic.
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, 6th century, Public Domain
Since the world’s creation, God in heaven has gifted God’s children an abundant inheritance that provides for all our needs when we lack food, drink, clothing, companionship, care when we are sick, and solace in community during times of imprisonment. Likewise, God provides the earth and all its resources for God’s children to live in its richness. Water and trees are clothed in God’s glory as gifts for humanity and for all creatures on the earth.
But how many of us have come to believe that we are specially entitled? And how many of us, perceiving that we have more than enough resources from which to benefit, pollute our waters and cut down trees, believing that it is our inheritance to squander and do with as we please?  Our sense of entitlement has led many down a path of destruction as we misuse God’s Creation.

I long for the day when all of God’s children can partake together in God’s copious and filling bounty. I pray that during this Lenten season we are reminded of God’s abundant gift to us through Creation and that we share that abundance with the entire world, remembering that there is no lack in Christ Jesus and that there is more than enough for all of God’s Creation.

Lord God, in all your infinite wisdom, show us your people how to honor your gift of Creation.  Let us not be selfish with our gift, rather allow us to share as generously with each other as you have shared with us. Let us remember those in this world who still have not been able to realize God’s abundance because we have taken more than what we need.  Amen.

The Rev. Kymberley Clemons-Jones is Pastor of Valley Stream Presbyterian Church in Nassau County, New York.  Rev. Clemons-Jones received her MDiv (Union Theological Seminary) and her MSEd in Counseling (Hunter College) both in NYC.  She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Louisville Seminary.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Devotional for Fourth Sunday of Lent

No Seeds No Trees

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”  
Mark 4:3-8

No trees no birds
No birds no poop
No poop no seeds
No seeds no trees
No trees no birds

Louis Dona Fieffe, by Cindy Corell,
Presbyterian Mission Co-Worker in Haiti.
An elderly farmer named Louis Dona Fieffe shared these words of wisdom with my group up in the mountains of southern Haiti three years ago, a gathering with local farmers arranged for us by PCUSA Mission Co-Worker Cindy Corell. His larger message about the need for ongoing reforestation to preserve good soil for farming and how the farmers there have noticed the climatic change on their mountainside from four distinct seasons to two—wet and hot—all came tumbling back as I read this Mark text in the context of Lent and environmental stewardship.

We are deep into the grittiness of Lent by now. We would do well to remember that this parable about sowing God’s word worked in Jesus’ day because good farmers understood issues of conservation (don’t waste seed in places it will not grow) and sustainability (every living thing needs roots in good soil). And the word “scorched” fairly jumps off the page with the global reality of fires burning out of control. Yet there is great good news in this text—the seed that gets the sustenance it needs grows, increases, and yields beyond imagination. This message flows naturally into our Lenten journey: pay attention lest we waste what we’ve been given as blessing; confess when we know we’ve willfully rejected bounty and beauty, or even unknowingly refused to sow life; and recognize that everything and everyone needs nourishment and deep roots to flourish. We are walking with Jesus knowing that we might be the ones who deny him, yet we can hope that some of the seed that falls from our hands will fall into rich soil that we have helped nourish, and thus grow. 
Holy God, help us discern in our thoughts and actions how we might nurture all the soil of this world and then sow your life-giving seed into it so that your vision of a full and abundant life might become a reality for all your people. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Shelley C. Wiley is the Transitional Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Ohio. In her years in pastoral ministry and academia she has traveled to Haiti nearly 40 times, learning much from those who work the land and those who struggle to survive in urban chaos.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Devotional for Third Sunday of Lent

Rooted in the Earth

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

Photo credit:
Patti Backes, Christian’s mother
On a recent trip to central Arizona, my family and I went hiking in the Sonoran Desert. I was awed by the beauty of the desert landscape, which was framed by mountains on all sides and dotted with countless towering saguaro cacti reaching toward the sky. Though the saguaro only grows in the Sonoran Desert, it has become a universal symbol of the American West due to its distinct and majestic appearance. 

Saguaro seeds begin quite small, and as they germinate, they put out roots that run deep and wide in order to access water stored underground while also efficiently collecting whatever rainwater might fall. The mature saguaro’s flowers produce nectar and pollen for bees, moths, bats, and birds, and its fruit hydrates and nourishes desert animals of all kinds. The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker carve out cavities to nest inside these cacti, and when they leave, various other kinds of small birds often move in. Large birds can also be found nesting in the saguaro’s arms and using them as hunting platforms. In the midst of a harsh and unforgiving climate, the saguaro stands tall, rooted in the earth, giving new life and allowing it to flourish.

As we contemplate our own spiritual deserts during this season of Lent, let us remember that we are called to sow sacred seeds which—like the saguaros—root themselves in the earth, carrying the promise of new and abundant life for all of creation.

Loving Creator, bless us that we might always remember to dutifully care for the seeds You provide for us to sow. Let us always be aware of Your presence in all of creation and stay rooted in Christ, who calls us to cultivate Your kingdom in bringing about a transformed and renewed creation here on earth.

Christian McIvor serves as the Music & Worship Minister at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC, where he started the Creation Justice Team. He also serves on the steering committee for the Alliance of Baptists Creation Justice Community. He has actively performed across the Southeast as a trumpet player and singer/songwriter for many years and he enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, Chrissy, and their daughters, Juliette and River.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Devotional for Second Sunday of Lent

Creatures of the Same Creator

 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his compassion is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you….
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
    satisfying the desire of every living thing.
Psalm 145:8-10, 15-16

As Psalm 145 says, God’s compassion is over all that God has made! “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing” (v. 16).

We humans tend to think of the world as our oyster. But is that really the intention of our God who creates and cares for the world? 

Photo credit: David Monniaux
Most of us in the developed world can spend entire weeks not noticing that the planet teems with more sentient, vibrant life than humans. Stepping outside ourselves (literally) reveals a complex world made up of billions of God’s creatures. Squirrels and opossums, dandelions and oysters, clay and sun—all works of the One who is “abounding in steadfast love” (v. 8b). 

Our “world is our oyster” mindset may free us to live full lives, at least as defined by human society, but is this mindset satisfying to our God who cares for everyone, biped and bivalve alike?

Let’s consider the oyster world. Although oysters may seem like simple organisms, they are not just sources of pearls and lunch. Oysters are a keystone species, integral to the health of an entire ecosystem. Oysters are champion recyclers, too, each filtering gallons of water every single day. Their shells provide refuge for other creatures. Oysters have oyster feelings. Scientists are discovering that even “simple” organisms demonstrate an awareness of their circumstances. For example, even though they do not have ears, oysters “hear.” Human-generated noise pollution harms their health and the health of their offspring for generations. 

Our world is as complex and marvelous as is our Creator who delights and provides sustenance and “steadfast love” for all creation. As followers of Jesus Christ, let us embrace one another in celebration of and compassion for all God’s works. Let us endeavor to live in wonder, care and compassion.

Holy One, your world teems with complexity and beauty, and you are “good to all,” human, daisy and oyster alike. During this season of Lent, we vow to sharpen our focus and soften our hearts so that we can more fully appreciate You as we seek shalom with one another, your beloved creation. Amen.

Carissa Herold has served Presbyterian Women as marketing associate since 2005. Carissa and her husband happily share their home with four dogs and three cats and the occasional “foster dog” from the local humane society. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and enjoys her ministry of creation- and justice-friendly initiatives of the church’s Green Team.