Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas Day Devotional

Booking it to Nain
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:11
Each morning of this summer’s PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World began with liturgy. We moved from song into story into prayer, grounding ourselves in the testimonies of frontline communities before each day on the road. In Vincennes, Indiana, we read about the arduous task of fetching water during the dry season of the West African Sahel, and about Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God. Koyama’s thesis became one of the most enduring theological frames for our walk. As we trekked across Indiana and Illinois, we found ourselves covering three miles every hour, knowing that Jesus of Nazareth walked in ancient Palestine at that same slow-and-steady pace.
There are nevertheless moments where Jesus seems gripped by urgency. After healing a centurion’s servant in Capernaum, Jesus heads to a small town called Nain. Some manuscripts indicate Jesus went to Nain “the next day”—all the more impressive when we realize Nain is 23 miles southwest of Capernaum, and uphill. In our journey from Louisville to St. Louis, our daily hikes never exceeded 17 miles. Moreover, in first-century Palestine most Jewish burials did not include embalming. The son’s funeral would have occurred the day after he died. The implicit scandal is significant. The God-who-moves-three-miles-an-hour heals the servant of a Gentile centurion while a working-class Jewish widow loses her only son. The messiah is too late.
That’s how Advent feels. God comes to live among us too late; if there was a time when things could have changed, that time has passed. That’s how it feels in the fight against climate change. While some at this summer’s General Assembly insisted that we still have time to get oil companies to change course, the Trump Administration acknowledged in a 500-page report that our planet will be a catastrophic 7 degrees hotter by 2100. For the Administration, this is nota call to action; we’re too late, and should carry on as we are. How quickly the powerful turn from climate denial to unrepentant capitalist nihilism. 
Jesus doesn’t go three miles an hour to Nain; he books it. When Jesus arrives, he raises the widow’s son and gives him back to his mother. Just when the messiah is too late, when the widow has been cut off from her only son, Jesus arrives and does the impossible. Likewise, Advent is not the delay of a complacent God waiting for the appropriate time to intervene; Advent is God booking itto get to us and to bring healing to all creation. 
It is easy to look at the devastation of Florence and Maria and think that we’re too late. We very well might be. But Advent ought to remind us that God is booking it to North Carolina and Puerto Rico and the Florida panhandle and the Philippines and Standing Rock, and that what appears to us as “too late” is in fact an opportunity to get right with creation and to proclaim the good news of a God who is booking it to be with us.
Prayer: God, when some of us fetch water in the desert, and when others of us march against fossil fuels in the Midwest, you walk alongside us at our meager three-mile-an-hour pace. But remind us, Creator God, that during Advent you were not taking your precious time; rather, you have always been booking it to be with us. Strengthen us in our hope for and anticipation of your healing presence, and empower us that we might participate in your love for all creation until you come again. Amen.

Casey Aldridge is a middler MDiv candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, a youth ministry intern at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, an inquirer with the Presbytery of Charlotte, and a member of the Walk for a Fossil Free World. Casey grew up in Concord, North Carolina, and he attended UNC Charlotte from 2013 to 2017 as a Levine Scholar, studying Religious Studies, History, and Political Science. Casey hopes to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies as well as PC(USA) ordination, and these days his interests lie in what Christian theories of time and history have to offer our struggles against capitalism, fascism, and climate change.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Eve Devotional

Christmas Eve
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 
20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 
23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 
24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   Romans 8:18-25

This has been the year of groaning in my life. Perhaps you can relate. It has been a year of tension, navigating a shift in vocation, strained relationships, politically-induced stress every week, the heartbreak caused when our beloved denomination chose not to divest from fossil fuels, and action steps in the face of the catastrophic ecological crisis. I’m not sure if the groans of my body and soul feel more like labor pains or the pangs of death. In this season of Advent, I struggle to find the light in the midst of darkness. 
In this deep darkness, God is with us. Creation groans with us. Creation has been subjected to futility, not by its own will but by the will of all of us who have dominated all of the resources of Mother Earth, who have not been good stewards of her gifts to us. 
But we worship a God of creation, a God of life and death and resurrection. We know what comes at the end of this season. God comes to us as the light of the world, enfleshed in the body of a baby. This season of Advent is a season of the groans of labor pains. While we groan with Mother God and Mother Earth, may we also act as midwives, bringing new life and hope where we see suffering. May we give, act, and pray when the traumatic effects of climate change strike frontline communities around the world. May we refuse to profit from the destruction of Mother Earth and divest from fossil fuels. May we deepen our relationship with creation by learning about the watershed where we live and the Indigenous Peoples who have traditionally survived on the land we occupy. May we dream up new ways of living in community with God, humans, and creation. May we support those working to heal creation through the development of renewable energy. May we breathe in energy from Mother Earth and breathe out gratitude for all the ways she supports life.
We know that this Christmas light will set creation and all of the world free from its bondage to decay. We hope for that which is not yet seen, and we work to transform the pangs of death into the groans of labor. Through this hope for creation, we find our bodies redeemed and transformed, and we see glimpses of God’s glory revealed to us. 
Prayer: Mother God, comfort us in our suffering and challenge us in our complacency. We are so eager to see your glory revealed to us. Hold our hands as we breathe and push to create spaces where your new life may flourish. Liberate us from the bondage of decay we see in our lives, our systems, and in your creation. Sustain our hope and anticipation for you to break into our world once again. Amen.

Angela Williams is a senior student, training to be a community organizer and a pastor, at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX. She is a candidate for ordination under the care of Providence Presbytery. She finds life in experiencing music, listening to podcasts, and exploring creation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Call of the Ocean

Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth.  He will judge the world with righteousness; and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98:8-9 (NRSV)
I was first introduced to the ocean at 11 years old when my siblings and I spent the summers with our father in Miami, Florida. Sundays were beach days.  Playing in the ocean, getting used to the saltiness of the water, learning that Black skin does sunburn, and finding out that grains of sand could work themselves into every nook and cranny of our bodies were integral to our summer education.  Those beach days were good days with the ocean as the backdrop for lasting sibling memories, while the ocean covertly birthed a yearning within me to go to the water as a place of respite whenever I could.  
During those youthful times, the ocean also broke cultural barriers.  The ocean was the place of exploration and discovery.  We noticed the varying skin colors, eye shapes, and linguistic accents of people that were different than ours.  This broadened our awareness that the world was bigger than our zip code. Conversely, beach days were also spent explaining to Floridian youth why we ‘talked funny’, and that, ‘Yes, we do wear shoes in Kentucky’, thus adding spice to their ‘gumbo-lives’ of diversity that we did not have at home.
However, over the years, the ocean became a menace to me.  As I experienced the call of the ocean in family vacations and chaperoned Spring Break trips for our sons and their friends, the water was a clear and present danger for the frolicking antics of reckless youths.  In parenthood, I constantly counted heads to make sure that everyone was present and accounted for.  I also began to wonder if my ancestors had dreaded the sounds that the ocean made as slave ships sliced through the water, pirating countless Black peoples away from the motherland to foreign places of oppression.  How could this be that the ever faithful ocean that had been the joy of summer visits with Dad had become such a threat to those I loved and to those who had come before me?  Yet, the ocean continued to call me.  
One night during our last pre-college family vacation, I remember standing on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the ocean ebb and flow under the brightness of a full moon.  It was there that the ocean again called, acting as the place of discovery and reconciliation.  Gone were the threat of danger to my loved ones, and the dread of my ancestors.  This time, the ocean called and introduced me to the greatness of God.  On that balcony, my spirit was overwhelmed by the glory of our loving and victorious God.  The God that Psalm 98 proclaims, ‘…will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.’  Therefore, as God’s people, we have a promise and a blessed hope!  One day, we, along with the seas will clap our hands, and sing together with the hills for joy at the presence of the Lord.  
Prayer:  During this Advent Season, listen for the call of the Holy Spirit as God’s Spirit whispers in ways that are particular for your hearing. Discover that place in Creation where you hear God’s voice most clearly.  Spend time there, drawing strength, courage and wisdom as the Body of Christ prepares for the coming of our Lord.  

Rev. Angela Johnson is Pastor of the 120 year-old Grace Hope Presbyterian Church, a predominately African American urban congregation located in the Smoketown Community of Louisville, KY.  Rev. Johnson received a Master of Divinity degree and a Certificate in Black Church Studies from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from Louisville Seminary.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

Jubilee and Hope
Isaiah 40:1-11 and Luke 3:1-6

As we celebrate the coming of the Savior to the world let us take time to pause and think about the opportunities we have in this restorative season of Advent. Seldom do we consider the connections of our economic priorities with the stresses of our planet’s biosphere, even less how those same priorities affect our homes and health. Those decisions were not made in the homes of everyday people, but rather in spheres and palaces of power and privilege. Gradually they moved away from sabbath and jubilee practices, to an economy controlled by their monarchies and the exploitation of their land. The jubilee practices, particularly those promoted in the Levitical laws, understood the intricate connections between labor, health and land. Yet as the world moved towards a centralizing power, they created a privileged nobility, and their economy became one of mining, particularly extracting labor and land. John the Baptizer audaciously proclaimed a message of repentance to awaken the agency of the covenant people to be actors in the redemptive plan that their God had set out for the covenant people, from an enslaved nation to a jubilee community. 

What would it take to be a jubilee people? Interestingly in Luke’s Gospel we find that people from all walks of life, profoundly moved perhaps of John’s stirring message, asked questions of what needed to be done in order to demonstrate the repentance he demanded from the masses. To some he expected to share their goods with one another. To others who possessed taxing authority (publicans) they were to respect the just wages of themselves and especially of others. Even to those of foreign birth (soldiers), they were to behave as citizens of the Promised Land. The Jubilee Community was also established to bring blessings to the Earth itself. In the same manner that “crooked places” were to be set straight, society’s healing also meant healing for the land: property was not to be hoarded and farmland was allowed to rejuvenate itself periodically. It was akin to turning on a giant reset switch for the people and the Earth. All were to be set free from debt and extraction, so that the true potential of all can be celebrated in harvest and sabbath.

The celebration of Advent is for us to stop, meditate, prepare and work towards a new age of Jubilee. Winter is the time required for seeds to be sorted and prepared, just as we must read the signs to see when it is ripe to plant and reap anew. The opportunity will come to till, plant, nurture, wait, pray and care with hope that our efforts produces food and health to our bodies, to strive for an economy that restores the land that the Lord gave us, together with a willing vulnerability to share God’s blessings and bounty with love and joy. John’s challenge to repent is an opportunity for us to be agents of hope in times of debt and hurricanes.

Prayer: God of Jubilee.
As we suffer the mighty winds and storms of this world, we live in hope for the sun to shine, the rains that give life and the marvel of all things coming to life again. Gather in us through your renewing power, to forgive beyond what we think is owed to us so that we may strive to live in oneness with our neighbor. May we reconcile with the land that sustains us and with all of Creation. Give us love for the Earth which you have deemed good, and through the coming of your Son may we become the covenant people, the Jubilee people, the beloved community you expect us to be. Amen.

José González-Colón currently is pastor of the Iglesia Presbiteriana en Hato Rey, San Juan, Puerto Rico.  A Brooklyn, New York native of Puerto Rican parents, he ministers with rural and urban communities as teacher and pastor with an emphasis on economic justice, environmental advocacy and food sovereignty. He is the current Moderator of the Synod of Boriquén, Puerto Rico.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

You still have time to support PEC in 2018

Presbyterians for Earth Care Members and Friends,

Wildfires in the west and flooding in the east are devastating to all of God’s creation. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October states that the effects of damage to the climate are happening now, and we have only 12 years to respond to avoid catastrophic changes. Presbyterians for Earth Care has been working to protect God’s creation for over 20 years. We are up to the challenge to be a faith-based leader for congregations and individuals to address climate change and be better stewards of God’s creation. Please help us continue our efforts by making a generous donation today.

At the 2018 PC(USA) General Assembly in Saint Louis, Missouri, PEC members and leaders
  • advocated for the church to divest from fossil fuels and care for God’s creation.  
  • focused on the reduction and elimination of petroleum-based single use plastics at our booth.
  • presented three annual awards at the PEC Luncheon with Rev. Jimmy Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness, as our guest speaker

Actions to protect all of God’s creation will continue in 2019. Issues of our climate, our waters, the earth and all of its inhabitants will be our focus. PEC’s 2019 conference, Peace for the Earth: from the Bible to the Front Lines, will be August 6-9 at Stony Point Center in New York. Rev. Dr. William Brown will be our keynote speaker. We will recommit ourselves to protect our waters and the earth, work for environmental justice, and spur our church to actions on these issues. Your donation can help us to defray costs for students and lower income attendees.

As a non-profit organization, PEC depends on your support to make our work possible. You may also give a gift membership and we will let your loved one know of your generosity.

In the Care of God’s Creation,

Dennis Testerman
PEC Moderator

P.S.  Please support our eco-justice work in 2019 with a generous year-end contribution so that we can continue to work for peace and justice for the earth and its peoples. All donations are tax-deductible.

Second Sunday of Advent

But Ask the Animals and They Will Teach You
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you;ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.  Job 12:7-10(NRSV)

In March of 2014, I embarked upon my first trip to the Grand Canyon in Phoenix Arizona with a dear friend. As I approached the mouth of the canyon, I was struck with awe at the beautiful sight that lay before me and I gasped for breath. The pictures of the canyon that I had seen previously could not adequately capture the spectacle of it and I imagined that God had chiseled this amazing work of art in earth and stone for all to see. The wonder of the experience was best captured by a little boy who had simultaneously arrived at the canyon with his family. “Oh Wow,” he exclaimed! “I know, right,” I responded with equal excitement.
In the hours that followed, as my friend and I trekked through nature's wonder, we encountered a tree that had not yet received its spring foliage. Lighted upon the tree was a beautiful black bird whose fanned tuff of feathers around its head, and beautiful singing voice caught our attention. We stopped to listen to it sing and I couldn’t resist the urge to sing along so I launched into the song Simple Gifts.The black bird immediately stopped singing and cocked its head as if listening to me. Fearing that I had disturbed its song, I fell silent. The black bird began to warble again. Intrigued, I began to sing again too. The bird stopped its song, cocked its head curiously; so this time, I just kept right on singing
for a while. As soon as I stopped, the bird resumed its musical discourse. Pretty soon a crowd formed around that tree as the bird and I sang our little duet. Eventually, I had to move on but that moment felt divine. For just a moment, I felt one with nature and with God. I said goodbye to the bird as I moved along, and thanked it for sharing such a wonderful gift with me. As an afterthought, I wondered what would happen to that bird, and then, I thought about all of the birds, and animals, and plants, and nature’s wonders that we humans carelessly attend and realized that nature was not just put here for us to use and enjoy; but that, we…that I was put here to care for nature.

Prayer: God of the trees and forests, rivers and seas, hills and vales, and the creatures that walk the earth, during this season of Advent help us to remember the earth in all of its fullness is yours, and that we are stewards of the abundant life you have given. And just as the star that shown over Bethlehem lit the way to the place where the Christ child lay, giving hope to a world in need, help us to be the lights that guide others to see that all you have created is truly precious.

Donna R. Phillips is a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy Student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. She has served in the Music Department of Second Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky for over 20 years, formerly as Children’s Choir Director and currently as Adult Handbell Choir Director. Donna was also the Music Programs Coordinator at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky from 2000 to 2015. In addition, Donna is a Singer, Composer, and Playwright.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Thanksgiving Hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Don't Fear, You Good Earth
A Thanksgiving Hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!… Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield…”   Joel 2:21-23, Lectionary Reading for Thanksgiving 2018

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the goodness of what God has done and to remember our responsibility to care for God’s gifts.  As we have been blessed, so we are called to bless the earth and to care for it. 

“‘Do not fear’ is the most common command in Scripture. Distinctive of Joel [Thanksgiving Day lectionary reading, Year C] is the divine address to soil (v. 21) and wild animals (v. 22; cf. 1:10). Not only are God’s people restored (v. 23) but also nature’s potency, indicated in the renewal of the land. Joel’s prophetic message, one that conveys both judgment and restoration, bears a distinctly ecological thrust.” [1]

This hymn gives thanks for God’s care for creation (verses 1 - 3), acknowledges our sin that damages and destroys it, and is a prayer that we may be good stewards of what God has made.
Don’t Fear, You Good Earth    
("How Firm a Foundation")

Don’t fear, you good earth; now rejoice! Have you heard?
The Lord has created you by his own word.
Don’t fear, all you fields for God sends you the rain.
The farms overflow with the wine, oil and grain.

Don’t fear, all you creatures who live in the field;
The pastures are rich and they give their full yield.
You creatures, now sing— for the meadows are green;
Around us, good gifts of creation are seen!

O God, as the prophet proclaimed long ago,
You care for your earth and your gifts overflow.
Though sin leads to things that disrupt and destroy,
You work to redeem and to bring life and joy.

This season, we gather to thank you and say:
O God, you continue to bless us today!
May we who’ve been blessed by the gifts of your hand
Now care for the water, the air and the land.

Tune: Traditional American melody ("How Firm a Foundation") 
Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
New Hymns:

[1]Footnote on Joel 2:21-22, “The Book of Joel,” by William P. Brown in the Discipleship Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, edited by Bruce C. Birch, Brian K. Blount, Thomas G. Long, Gail R. O’Day and W. Sibley Towner, Louisville, KY:  Westminster  John Knox Press, 2008, p. 1247

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of over 400 hymns that have been sung by thousands of congregations around the world, and are found in 20 books and thousands of web sites, including with a special page of creation care hymns. Many of her hymns are published at Sojourners and are also found in Christian Century magazine, The New Yorker, National Public Radio and PBS-TV. She and her husband Bruce are Presbyterian ministers who have served congregations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. They will start serving the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, NY starting on December 1stView the Sojourners video on Carolyn’s hymns here.

Permission is given for use of this hymn by congregations that support Presbyterians for Earth Care. If you do not have PEC in your church budget, please consider sending a donation for use of the hymn.  Thank you. 

First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent 

Breathing in, I enter the labyrinth.

I’m aware of all the things I’m releasing into the world as the rain gently falls on my head and shoulders: Control. Power. Sadness.

     I don’t know why God has called me to walk this serpentine path this morning.

     There is so much on my to-do list: people to see, emails to send, projects to finish.

Still, with each step on the path into the center of the labyrinth, I try to breath, try to slow down, try to quiet my mind. My thoughts keep trying to break in, and my soul keeps trying to release everything.
     Step by step… in I go.

At the center of the labyrinth, I pause with the group of people I’m walking and praying with. We silently look at the ground, our minds focused on receiving. Our breath mingles, the rain continues to mist around us, the sky turns grey and wet.

As I stare at my feet, I remember what it was like to do a different kind of pilgrimage from the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu in Peru:

At the top of the mountain, my traveling companions and I rested and enjoyed the sun. We’d climbed the Inca Trail as quickly as we could to get to the top and it was good to take a moment to look out across the valley. On the way up, I’d wanted to prove to myself that I was fit enough to climb, and subconsciously I wanted to be the first one to the top to prove that I was more fit than anyone else in our group. What a ridiculous reason to speed up a beautiful mountain. The absurdity hit me as I looked at the sun kissing the valley. I needed to slow down.

I took off my shoes and socks.

We headed down the mountain. My toes helped me find the way to smoother rocks, gingerly avoiding the rough edges. I was slower, choosing carefully where to step, stopping to look at the valley and the trees and the plants. The ground was cool and damp underneath my feet and step by step, we made it to the bottom.

At the center of the labyrinth, I take a deep breath. I reach down and touch the soil and give thanks for the earthy foundation beneath. I accept the peace of slowness as the gift that it is.

I step back into the labyrinth. I breathe again and go into the world.
     Today I will choose to slow down. I will choose joy. I will choose God.

Prayer: In this season of waiting, it is so easy to become so busy that we miss the joy of your coming. Help us slow down and help us breathe. Remind us that your marvelous power in the world surrounds us and calls the Christ into the world. In the name of the one who comes we pray. Amen.

abby mohaupt is a Teaching Elder in San Francisco Presbytery and PhD student at Drew University.  She is the moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA. She loves Jesus, running, and the ocean. Her previous work has included working as a pastor in Northern California, a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter in Chicago, and an artist for worship and liturgy for a variety of conferences. She semi-regularly blogs at, and her writing on earth care has appeared in Sojourners, the Presbyterian Church USA's Unbound, and Ecclesio. She can usually be found with at least one crayon in hand.