Friday, April 19, 2019

Easter Sunday Devotional by Rev. Kerri Allen

Easter Sunday Reflection

Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened. Luke 24: 1-12 (CEB) 

In this Easter Luke passage, women closest to Jesus proclaim Jesus’ resurrection.  But before they go out to evangelize this good news, they experienced a lot of emotions.  I imagine they were already experiencing grief, loss, and anger that Jesus was “handed over to the sinners” and crucified.  They probably didn’t have much time to process these overwhelming emotions before going to the empty tomb.  At first, they were frightened and then they couldn’t contain this good news.
I sense some parallels to the present day.  This is not much different from contemporary conversations on environmental injustice, particularly on climate change.  It is frightening, angering, and overwhelming.  As I am writing this during the frigid winter of 2019, there have already been close to 30 deaths in the city of Chicago because of the record cold, with the elderly and children among those most vulnerable.  According to the NAACP, race is the most significant indicator when it comes to the placement of toxic facilities.  Even in the midst of lost lives and urgency to respond, there are too many who believe that environmental injustice is nonsense. If only they would bend over and look inside.
But we can’t control who is willing to look.  Instead, we must be like the women on Easter morning.  Like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary we must remember Jesus words and proclaim them.  Jesus warned that if his disciples remained quiet, the stones would cry out.  And we see the earth crying out in extreme weather patterns throughout the world.  Yet, Jesus proclaimed that sin does not have the last word.
As Easter people, we must proclaim the same and reject environmental injustice. We must declare that just as the sun rises over Lake Michigan, just as we arise on Easter morning to the hope that all of creation might be restored to God, we will rise and proclaim God’s justice, environmental justice, will have the last word.
Eternal and ever present Holy One,
One of complexity and covenant,
God of hope and hospitality,
Source of love and life,
on this day that dawns fresh beginnings, 
birth us anew.
Ignite in us a new passion, 
one that dawns fresh beginnings,
one that emboldens us to resist the temptation complicity.
And when illusions and falsehoods become acceptable norms,
birth us with the audacity to speak truth in love for all that is right.

Rev. Kerri N. Allen is a Reformed and womanist theologian, PhD student, and hospital chaplain in Chicago. Originally from St. Paul, MN when Kerri is not buried in a book or writing a paper, she enjoys hiking, travel, watching sports, cooking or spending time with one of her many nieces or nephews.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Good Friday Devotional by Rev. Bill Brown

Reflection for Good Friday

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.   John 19:30

Such were, according to John, the last words of Jesus on the cross. As I pondered these words for this reflection, I fully intended to recount the myriad disasters we are inflicting on our common home, the wounds of the world’s crucifixion. The list is all too familiar, and it can only elicit a bitter cry of despair. But in John’s Gospel, there was no such cry from the crucified Christ, no cry of abandonment as in Mark. Instead, Jesus’ last breath in John conveys a sense of completion. How so?  

The clue comes from the fact that Jesus’ last words (one word in Greek) point back to the beginning of creation, specifically the pronouncement that the “heavens and the earth were finished” (Genesis 2:1). As John alluded to the beginning of creation in the very first verse of his Gospel (“In the beginning . . .”), so John now alludes to creation’s completion with Jesus’ last breath on the cross. Herein lies a mystery: Christ’s incarnation and death somehow encapsulate the story of creation, from the beginning to the Sabbath (Gen 1:1-2:3). Christ’s ministry, in other words, is for all creation (see John 3:16). The Word made flesh for the world made of flesh. 

Yes, it is important to recognize the wounds of the world through the wounds of the crucified Christ. But John adds a new wrinkle: when all is “finished,” whether God’s creation in Genesis or Jesus’ ministry in John, what comes next is Sabbath. More than in any other Gospel, John’s Jesus is a “sabbath breaker,” the one who promotes life by upending convention. And so the church, as the sign of the new creation, must step up as resistant, sabbath-practicing people for the sake of creation’s liberation. I never expected to find hope, let alone a call to action, on the cross, but John has shown me the way. What we have been given by God in Christ is “finished,” that is, deemed sufficient for us to move forward as God’s sabbath-practicing, earth-honoring people.  

Prayer: God of life, God in Christ, wake us up from our slumber of denial. Grant us the eyes to see more fully the wounds of the world that we have inflicted. But do not lead us into despair. Grant us the hope of redemption and healing for all the world, and in such hope may we act accordingly to break the cycle of exploitation and extraction, of greed and aggression. May we move forward in sabbath wonder, grounded in your vision of shalom for all the world.  

William P. Brown is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, author, biblical theologian, and the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Maundy Thursday Devotional by Amantha Barbee

Which Stones are Crying 
Because of Our Silence? 

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’  Luke 19:39-40

“Order your disciples to stop.” We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ yet, society has asked us to stop. Society has asked us not to love as Christ loves us. Society has asked us not to welcome the stranger. Society has asked us not to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. Society has asked us to be selfish and self-centered, especially when it comes to land and environment. What makes us money is what we will worship. We have been ordered to stop and unfortunately many of us who call ourselves Christians have adhered to the requests of the Pharisees.

We claim Jesus as Lord. We honor and worship him weekly. We jump with haste to the answer, “Christian” when we are asked our religion. Yet, we sit in silence when black and brown lives are mistreated at the bank, the store, while driving, or living in areas where leaky pipelines taint the water. The rocks are sobbing in a manner that to be sure, pleases not the God we serve but acts as an absolute albatross to truth. Our silence is so loud that perhaps we can’t even hear the rocks crying out. 

As we journey through this Lenten season, will we once again allow Jesus to wash our feet as he did for the disciples in that upper room, humbling himself, for naught? Can we in good faith allow this innocent man to pull off his robe and wash our sinful, forgetful, ungrateful, silent feet? Listen to the rocks. They are crying. They are hurting. They have meaning and they matter. The rocks are the children, the oppressed, the poor, the uneducated, those drinking tainted water or living near nuclear waste. Listen!

Prayer: Holy Lord, we pray to you along our Lenten journey to free us from societal holds and worship you. Give us the courage to be disciples even when society tells us to stop. May we never stop. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Rev. Amantha Barbee is the senior pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church (USA) in Decatur, GA. Her passion for social justice exudes from everything she does. She has recently moved from Charlotte, NC where she led a multifaith group of clergy to fight for justice in the streets, city hall, police stations and around the city.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday Devotional by Alton Pollard

“If These Were Silent”

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Luke 19: 28-40

The most holy week in the life of our faith has begun. On this Sunday, we commemorate the life of Jesus, an all-inclusive ministry that led him back to Jerusalem and to this Passion moment. In a few short hours and days, a change will come over this city, the people, himself. Triumphal entry becomes martyrdom. Celebration gives way to condemnation. Coronation turns to crucifixion. It begins with the jubilant crowd, spreading their cloaks along the ground, taking palms from the trees, throwing flowers in front of his feet, signing praises to God with a loud voice, “hosanna,” “alleluia,” and “blessed is the king.”

Jesus does not ride in a chariot, mount a war horse or wield the armaments of war but comes subversively, on a young donkey. Thirty-three years earlier, the infant Jesus had travelled by donkey too, under the dark cover of night with Mary and Joseph, out of Jerusalem, and into the safety of Egypt. Time and again, there have been many who find in the person and presence of the Nazarene, in his passion for justice and opposition to injustice, a profound threat and challenge to the status quo. Down throughout the ages principalities and powers – Herodians, rulers, empires, governments, corporations, industries, economies, militaries, militias, professionals, religious leaders and more – have been faint with praise while fiercely condemning Jesus. Now as then, many who would seek to know him are scattered, disinherited and at a loss. If we who profess to believe are silent, in our complicity, the very stones will cry out…  

Prayer: We are grateful for this season of Love when life has the last word, all fear retreats and hope is realized within us yet again.  Grace after grace, blessing after blessing, may the fragmentation of our days be made verdant, just and whole, and filled with the newness and goodness of life everywhere.  You are the hunger of our hearts, O God.

The Rev. Dr. Alton B. Pollard III is Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s tenth president. A scholar, author, consultant and speaker on the subject of African American and U.S. religion and culture, Pollard was previously dean of the School of Divinity and professor of religion and culture at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Lenten Prayer for Creation

Artwork by Jessica Jacks

A Lenten Prayer for Creation

by Rev. Hallie Hottle

Holy God,
God who spins the planets,
and sings the stars to shine,

God of all we praise you and pray to you,
for all of creation glistens with your glory.

We praise you, even for these days covered in ice
that caution us to move more slowly, and for temperatures,
too cold to maintain the busy-ness
that keeps us from looking up towards you.
Even in the midst of winter, God,
there is so much that summons us to marvel,
so open our eyes and fill our hearts,
that we might see you in what surrounds us,
and remember to offer our praise.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of all creation,
we praise you and we pray to you,
for all creation glistens with your glory,
and all creation groans at our indifference.
For your children continue to fear poisoned water in Flint,
and the scorched earth of Syria continues to summon war.
Our cities are quaking as seas are rising,
while we continue to debate about a reality
we have the privilege to not yet endure.
God, how you must despise our worship of convenience
that floats as plastic islands in your oceans,
and how offended must you be? As we erase the colors
of your great barrier reef, before our children get to see.
God, all creation groans under the weight of our indifference,
and we need so badly for you to help us hear it.
So help us lament, Holy God,
help us to mourn like you do,
for what we’ve done to your earth.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of all creation,
we strive to see your glory, we need to hear the groaning,
but to be honest, God,
all of it is hard, for our hearts are as broken as this earth.
We’re so easily overwhelmed by what we should do,
frozen by the enormity of all that is wrong,
distracted by our own things, big things, that consume our being.

We’ve misappropriated our hope,
shrinking it, to what we can “see,”
delegating it to those profit on you creation’s peril,
forgetting, that you are the God of all creation,
that it was you who breathed us into being,
you who created us, and calls us to create like you.

So God, if you could do, what only you can do
if you could take what is broken,
our hearts, our priorities, this earth,
and hold us, change us, love us into something new.

If you could just do what you do God,
and create again,
breathe life into our dusty souls again...
Use our broken hearts and our willing but weary hands
and call beauty out of what is broken,
make us to be creators of healing and wholeness,
for we want, to want with you, to work with you, for a better day.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
So God of all creation,
We lift our voices to you, as your one body, committed to being
creators of your goodness, as we pray the prayer you taught us
for this and every day....Our Father...

Hallie Hottle is Pastor of Young Adults at Village Church in Prairie Village, KS.

Fifth Sunday of Lent by Sue Rheem

Imagination:  Lift up your eyes on high

“Lift up your eyes on high and see:  Who created these?  He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:26 (NRSV)  
We live in turbulent times. The news headlines about the dire warnings of climate change appearing almost daily are hard to ignore.  Unknowingly, I have hunkered down to shield myself from the myriad of bad news, looking down at the gray sidewalk as I go about my day.   But recently, I happened to look up as I waited for the traffic light to turn green and witnessed a spectacular cloud formation against a bright blue sky.  The Psalmist’s words came to mind, “The heavens are telling the glory of God – and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)   
In Isaiah’s time, yet another turbulent time in human story, he told the people of God to look up to the heavens so they may see God in all God’s glory.  He called on them to lift their eyes on high because they had lost their ability to see God beyond their imagining.  Instead, they made false gods and relied on their own experiences to guide them through the difficult times.  Isaiah’s call is a good reminder for us to feed our own imagination for God that goes beyond our natural tendency to rely on our own understanding and false gods, whatever that may be for each of us.  To seek a God great in strength and mighty in power, who knows all by name, and where all creation praise God – from sun, moon and the shining stars, the waters of the earth, the mountains and the hills, the trees and the animals – is to rely on the everlasting God to guide us through our difficult time of climate change.  
When you go outside in these remaining days of Lent, take a moment to lift up your eyes on high and really see nature’s inherent beauty that God has made, and let your imagination turn to God. 
Prayer:  Gracious God, you have loved your creation into being.  Make us faithful and patient as we lift our eyes on high to draw from the beauty of your creation and to work for a new creation that it may be destined for the glory and service of Jesus Christ.  Amen

Sue Rheem is the Mission Specialist at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Presbyterian Mission Agency.  She has a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.   She serves on the Justice Ministries Committee of the New York City Presbytery and is a member of the Astoria Presbyterian Church.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Concerns and ministries related to the Doctrine of Discovery

Repentance and Healing the Land
 By Rev. Curt Karns

One of the Spirit’s movements of the past few years has been the linkage of ministry aimed at addressing the renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery with ministry aimed at addressing climate change. In the Presbytery of Yukon, we have held three special events making that linkage. Many others are also engaged in that effort, including Presbyterians for Earth Care in their 2017 national conference, Blessing the Waters of Life: Justice and Healing for Our Watershed, held at Menucha Retreat Center.

Given all this coordinated action, it is important to show why repentance from the Doctrine of Discovery fits hand-in-hand with climate change ministry. For some, the connection will not be obvious. Yet, the two efforts are really the right and left hand of one, integrated focus for ministry. To begin making that point, let me lean on biblical scholar, M. R. Schlimm.

Schlimm points out that the Hebrew Bible connects repentance from moral sin with caring for the land.

(In the Hebrew Bible) Severe moral impurities contaminated both the sinner and the land itself. Leviticus 18 says that the land itself is sickened by such pollutions:

‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves. Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, … otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people. So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the Lord your God.’ (18:24-26, 28 NRSV, italics added)

In the Bible, the land is not a passive object that humans can simply manipulate. It is one of God’s agents in the world.

It follows that in the same way polluting oneself through moral sin brings sickness on the land, the healing of the land can come through repenting from the moral sin. For instance, in accepting Solomon’s Temple as a place for bringing the people’s prayers, God assures Solomon that this will be the place to bring sacrifices and prayers of repentance when the land is defiled.

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people [that is, whenever the land threatens to vomit the people out], if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14, NRSV, bracketed section added)

For 21st century, western Christians, this may seem to be a strange teaching. In this passage, as always in the Bible, it is important to look for the Word that God would have us discover within the words of scripture. 

Reading Leviticus too literally can become problematic. For instance, most Christians are not willing to accept every ruling listed in the Levitical code as applicable for today. Yet, Leviticus remains a part of our canon and does hold important wisdom for us. It is, therefore, no great leap to believe that the same corruption of the heart that makes us willing to exploit people would also cause us to become blind to our own culpability in whatever is making the land ill. We have seen the environmental impact human action has brought upon our planet in the past two centuries. Should we really be surprised by the biblical message informing us that our moral sin can cause the land to become ill? Indeed, climate scientists have been cautioning us for decades that we must repent—we must change how we live and begin to walk a different path—or the land may become too sick to sustain human life as we know it. We may well find ourselves vomited out from the land.

Strangely, as much as this reasoning is guided by modern science, and even common sense, we humans seem incapable of accepting its wisdom, or of working together to deal with it. Our distrust of one another, and our greed for power and for material wealth, blind us to the opportunity for good that God has set before us.

In this, I believe the Doctrine of Discovery is instructive. This morally flawed doctrine provided western culture with a false and dangerous Euro-Christian ethic for taking land from indigenous people. It also authorized any actions needed to subdue the local residents. In practice this included enslaving them, or shaming them for not being European in language and culture. It is important for us to see that this western worldview rationalizes the creation of colonies, with all the damage that colonization causes, for the purpose of enriching the people from the old world. That being the case, this same exploitative worldview is also quick to rationalize practices that damage God’s creation. Both the exploiting of people and the exploiting of the land are things colonizers do for their own benefit. It is the opposite of “love your neighbor as yourselves.” In essence, it is a refusal to acknowledge the other, whether other people or other parts of creation, as a valid neighbor.

Similarly, Americans would love for the climate change problem to be dealt with, but “not in my back yard.” None of our coal, oil, or natural gas producing regions want to let go of the profits and jobs fossil fuels bring. The fact that their grandchildren will certainly suffer if they do not seems impossible to grasp. 

·      Some are like the citizens at the time of Noah; they simply deny calamity is coming. 

·      Others are more like the people of Israel and Judah as the armies of Babylon and Assyria threatened. They pray to God to save them but refuse the prophets’ message that God is calling each of us, and all of us, to take responsibility for our own actions. 

These biblical stories, like the passages we have already looked at, are also clearly connected to the land. They tell us that the people of Noah’s day perished from this earth; and that the people of Israel and Judah were conquered and taken away from the land they loved. 

Repentance is inconvenient. More than that, it is usually quite hard. Destructive though it is, denial is usually easier. Indeed, as we look at the Doctrine of Discovery, and see how the Supreme Court of the United States passed it into law in years past, we must recognize how our own ancestors have passed on their ethno-centrism and greed up to our generation.

But what if there were other passages we should be listening to besides those that caution us against sin and its consequences? Can’t our spiritual health be guided as much by passages of hope as they are by passages of warning? Lately, I have been turning to Genesis 11:1-9 for hope. 

This is the famous Tower of Babel passage. It tells us about humans who were so united by language and culture that they came to believe they could harness the earth’s power to make themselves like God. As they developed their technology and built their tower, God saw their arrogance and sin and decided to take action. God then confused their languages and scattered them across the earth, so that they could no longer build a city of such technology and power.

Christians, like Jews, have always claimed that God loves us and is always at work for our salvation. Should we not consider it a gift that God divided the people according to languages and cultures? How, then, might we understand this the confusion of languages and worldviews as a gift from our loving and saving God? Let me suggest the following.

·      First, God has divided us into many peoples. Therefore, no one people has all the wisdom. In humility therefore, we need to look for the gifts other peoples have to share with us. Sharing, after all, is a biblical value: in sharing together the early church demonstrated a new way of being God’s people; further, it is in our shared unity that we share in the fullness of Christ’s body.

·      Second, our Lord tells us,

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26).

Dominating power should not be an acceptable goal for gauging human success or happiness. Human relationships that fail to honor the essence of another culture, person, or creature of this earth, will not lead to happiness or health. This should change the ethics that guide how we build our societies and our economies. Slave labor, or subjugated labor in any form, is unethical.

·      Third, the Bible reveals God to us as the Trinity, a relational way of being. We should not be surprised if the modern challenges of the planet also challenge us to learn how to collaborate and cooperate better. In so doing we surely learn more about being created as the image of God.

·      Finally, if the land/sea/air is getting sicker, we should be asking how to respond. How should we repent? It is the repentance of the people that leads to the healing of the land.

For Christians, the concerns and ministries related to earth care truly are part of the concerns and ministries related to the Doctrine of Discovery. The current crises in each of these areas are consequences of the dominant worldview—a worldview that, unfortunately, shapes its adherents to participate in the exploitation of people and land.

As Christians, we put our trust in God who created and loves all things. As we put our trust in God, we let go of any trust in happiness that is based on lording it over others. Instead, we embrace the biblical vision that calls us to love God, and to love neighbor as self.

In this generation, loving God and neighbor includes repentance from the Doctrine of Discovery and the worldview that generated it. It includes being purposeful in seeking out allies, who are interested in new experiments for living into a just future. We expect those allies will come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, because we recognize the variety of gifts God has placed in different peoples. Indeed, our efforts with our allies will be to learn from the past in order to live better into the future, as God guides us. Our goals must be to advocate for needed changes in the dominant culture, to advocate for a stronger response from the faith community, to advance experiments in sustainable human lifestyles, and to build just societies where all creation, including people, thrive together.

Rev. Curt Karns is Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Yukon in Anchorage, Alaska.