Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Lent by Alissa Conner

Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  2 Corinthians 5 17-19

Recently as a part of a community garden our church began composting. Composting is something that people have done for generations, but with our separation from our food source it has become easy to see our food scraps as nothing more than trash. In addition to our garden team and church members, members of the community have called to ask if they can bring their banana peels and vegetable scraps. People feel pulled to participate in a more ecologically friendly way of taking care of their trash. The leftovers, the organic trash, and even the leaves raked from our lawn are collected together. With time and tending the decomposing generates heat and these items break down. They become rich soil for new planting.

On this Lenten journey we embrace God’s desire to create in us a new creation. It is not an instant process. Instead it is perhaps more similar to composting. You take all of the hurts, mistakes, problems and bring them together. Talk them through with God and one another. There may be heat, but the continued result of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healthier relationships is worth it. We are indeed a new creation in Christ. As a new creation we are entrusted with the message of reconciliation for the world. This isn’t about pointing fingers, but as a part of the voice of reconciliation we join our voices to the stones that cry out for an honest appraisal and correction of behaviors that cause harm to God’s creation. We can carry the message of reconciliation by looking to new ways of being and by reinstating healthy old ways of being. We are a new creation. Being a new creation means a willingness to continue to change and to recognize that reconciliation can and does change the world.  

Dear God help us to be a new creation in you. Reconcile us to the world and to one another. Add our voices to the voices of the stones that cannot help but shout of your reconciling power.  Amen.  

Rev. Alissa Conner is the Associate Pastor at St. Philip Presbyterian church Hurst, Texas. She received degrees from Austin College and Louisville Presbyterian theological seminary. She is inspired by the work of growing and eco reconciliation going on in her community.  

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Third Sunday of Lent by Daniel Tipton

Third Sunday of Lent Reflection

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  Luke 19:1-4

I recently sat with a patient who told me how much he enjoys watching the deer walk through woods past his window. Often, these scenes are his only connection to the outside world. The woods provide a respite from loneliness and a connection to something bigger; God is there among the trees. Like Zacchaeus, my patient found a connection to his creator through creation.   

Zacchaeus needed to connect to something bigger than himself. Zacchaeus wanted more than stories about Jesus; he wanted to see and experience Jesus for himself. Zacchaeus needed to connect with Jesus, but the crowd was too big and his wealth and social standing provided too little to make that connection. So, God planted a tree. God gave water to that tree and protected its roots and branches from wind and storm.  In the due course of time, when Zacchaeus needed to make a connection with Jesus, this tree provided exactly what he needed to rise above the fray and meet the one in whom he would find his truth.

I often wonder what would happen to my patient if the trees were gone. Would he see God daily as he does now in the woods? Would his connection to world fade?  Would his peace, his truth, and his life be the same if we cut down the one connection he has to his creator?  What about the rest of us? Like Zacchaeus, we all need help connecting to the world in meaningful and life affirming ways. If we cut down the trees, if we destroy our connections to creation, will we miss out on the good news that Jesus wants to connect with us too?

Let us pray:  For the gifts of the trees, we give thanks, O God! May we trust the safety of the branch and vine to lift us up from the crowded fray. May we hear their gospel preached as their roots and limbs connect us to that which is greater than ourselves. Amen.  

Daniel S Tipton is a hospice chaplain in Asheville, NC.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Renew and Rejuvenate

April 2019

Dear Fellow PEC members and friends,
It is time to renew our membership in Presbyterians for Earth Care and time to renew and rejuvenate our commitment to care for our creation. If you are new to Presbyterians for Earth Care, we invite you to become a part of a national network of Presbyterians and other people of faith who want to make creation care a central concern of the church.

PEC is a small organization in numbers, but it is mighty in its potential to move our denomination, the PCUSA, toward being the prophetic voice that our country needs to save what St. Francis called our Mother Sister Earth.  Think of a lever and a fulcrum.  Using this basic tool, a smaller organization like PEC can move our large denomination toward doing what we know our Creator is asking of us. Our commitment to advocacy and education is a powerful tool for change.  We can be the lever that moves the PCUSA into prophetic action.
Our Creator is asking us to speak with the voice of prophets to address the global crisis that is threatening our earth. We are asked to speak truth to power and to live out God’s message in the creation. “God saw everything God had made, and indeed it was good.” By joining together, we can be the lever that moves our congregations, presbyteries, synods and our whole denomination toward proclaiming with God, indeed it is good.
Please prayerfully join with us as members of Presbyterians for Earth Care. Urge your congregations to join. Speak to your family and friends in coffee fellowship and ask them to join us in becoming the prophets we all are called to be. Please renew your membership today by using the form at the bottom of this letter and mailing it with your check in the enclosed envelope.You may also renew your membership online at April 22. 
Thank you for your commitment and support.

Yours in Earth Care,
Dennis Testerman, PEC Moderator 

P.S. PEC’s 2019 Conference, Peace for the Earth: from the Bible to the Front Lines,is August 6 – 9, at Stony Point Center on the Hudson River in New York state.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent Devotional by Timothy Wotring

Uncrowning the Bramble

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honored,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them,
‘Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?’

So all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
Judges 9:8-15 (NRSV)

One of the unluckiest lectionary-forgotten texts is the Parable of the Trees, found in Judges. This was the first parable in all of the Hebrew Bible. It has a strange and ecological edge to it. The trees are looking to be reigned over. The text does not share why the trees are looking for a ruler, but it is assumed that they are foolish in their pursuit. The trees speak to an olive tree, fig tree, and vine. They each respond that they are too busy providing vital nourishment and support for ‘the gods and mortals.’ When the trees eventually speak with the bramble, it seems to mock their aspirations, saying: “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.” Trees, as we know, offer more shade than any bramble bush could. The next line though is even starker: “but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” The parable ends abruptly. I can imagine though that after the bramble bush said that, the trees gulped anxiously.

What might this parable mean for us during this Lenten Season? First, God is enough. The Book of Judges and the first chapters of First Samuel spell out to the Hebrew people that God is their king and they do not need human overlords. God speaks out of love and justice, not out of domination. Second, there’s a beautiful ecological meaning to it. The Earth is enough. It provides what we need when we need it. When we push the Earth to its limits, all suffer. Lastly, we are enough. We do not need to look for controlling and strong leaders. God has given us the abilities and the Scriptures to discern how to act justly and live out compassion. May we do so. 

Prayer: O Loving God, through this Lent help us to trust you, knowing that you are enough. Direct us in treating the Earth as our sibling and not as something to be controlled. And guide us as we follow you, reading your Scriptures, and loving our neighbors. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Timothy Wotring hails from Philadelphia, PA, and is a Candidate in the PC(USA). He enjoys consuming all things pop culture and going to the movies. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

First Sunday of Lent Devotional by Paul Galbreath

Making Room for Rocks
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. George “Tink” Tinker of the Osage Tribe. In his remarks, he noted that his daughter was taught in school that rocks are inert.  In response to this characterization, he described the way in which he and others know and experience rocks as alive and an integral part of the entire eco-system in which we live.  
It is interesting to note the way that following his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus’ first temptation is to commodify rocks, to turn them into something else.  “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” (Matthew 4:3). 
This year the season of Lent invites us to look closely at our lives and at the world around us – to listen carefully so that we might hear the ways in which even the stones shout out to the glory of God.  Seeing the rocks for what they are and not simply for the ways that we can use them, extract the minerals from them, or move them out of our way is an important step in finding a more balanced way to live in this world.  I experience the gift of rocks especially in the beauty of the formations along the Oregon Coast where the giant boulders serve as a home for wildlife, navigational aids for fishing boats, and a photographic mecca for tourists and locals. 
Prayer: O God, our rock and redeemer, by your Spirit open our eyes to see your presence in the world around us, through Christ we pray. Amen
Paul Galbreath is Professor of Theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He lives in Asheville with his wife, Jan, and their two cats, Paco and Leo.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Devotional for Ash Wednesday by Emily Brewer

Ash Wednesday
Prayer Walking

Photo by Emily Brewer
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
 and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
 they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
 Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lordshall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Isaiah 58: 1-9a

Last year my Lenten discipline was prayer walking. I was preparing to walk 250 miles in June with the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World, advocating for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from fossil fuels. I had to get my body ready to walk 10-15 miles a day for two weeks, so each day in Lent I would walk and pray for a different community affected by climate change. 

As I built up stamina and the muscles in my legs, I also built a kind of resiliency in thinking about climate change. For many of us, it’s hard to wrap our minds and hearts around the reality of climate change: People will die. People are already dying. 

Dying is natural, of course, as those familiar Ash Wednesday words remind us: “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” What is not natural is that some people are dying sooner and more terribly because of the greed and actions of others. The words of judgement in Isaiah upon the nation that pretends to be righteous, that oppresses its workers, that does not share resources, are for us. It is because of actions like these that we are in this situation. 

My prayer walking was a kind of repentance, and also a reminder of our belonging to each other and Creation: a reminder that climate change is real, and communities are experiencing it now, and those communities are also the ones with the most wisdom and creativity in mitigating climate change and fighting the greed that causes it. 

Ash Wednesday calls us to remember and face that we are dust, we are finite, but this is not a reason to despair. Instead, this is a reason to work together. It will take all of us working together to mitigate climate change and bring justice to the parts of creation that are already suffering. 

Prayer: God who moved across the waters of creation, move among us now. Help us to remember that we come from the Earth, and we will return to the Earth. We belong to the Earth and to each other. Help us remember. Help us change. Help us heal. Help us live the way you intend. 

credit: amb photography
Bio: Rev. Emily Brewer is the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, a 75 year old organization committed to ending militarism, war, and violence through practices of active nonviolence. Emily is committed to working for climate justice as a way of preventing violence and being in solidarity with people and communities who experience climate change first and worst. She lives in Brooklyn, New York but will always consider East Tennessee home.