Thursday, April 16, 2020

Observing Earth Day Virtually

Virtual Earth Day 2020

Americans have been observing Earth Day for 49 years, since 1970 when 20 million Americans  publicly protested the lack of environmental protections. Earth Day 2020, the 50th Anniversary on Wednesday, April 22, will be unlike any other. There will not be students protesting on college campuses nor hundreds of thousands gathering on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The streets will be empty, the parks will be quiet, few people will be seen. We will be observing the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day virtually – on our computers, cell phones, and ipads. 

On Earth Day 2020, birds will be singing, trees and flowers will be blooming, the sun will be shining, clouds will be moving because God’s creation is alive as it always has been. Although we are told to stay home and wear face masks when we go shopping, we can still go outside and enjoy the beauty of the earth God has given us. Breathe in the fresher air because miles traveled by car and plane has decreased. Be mesmerized by a stream that is cleaner now since manufacturing is slower. Take the time you now have to discover the intricacies of a flower or the flight of a bird, the structure of a bare tree or the behavior of a squirrel. Revel in the awesomeness of creation that God has given to us for free. 

As Presbyterians, we are called to recognize and accept “restoring creation as a central concern of the church, to be incorporated into its life and mission at every level”.* In response, PC(USA) recommends observing Earth Day Sunday at your church on April 19 or 26 or another time during the year. 

Each year Creation Justice Ministries offers Christian educational materials for Earth Day. This year’s theme is the “Fierce Urgency of Now” and includes a version for Presbyterians.    Additionally, Interfaith Power and Light organizes a Faith Climate Action Week, April 17-26, with worship resources including sermons, prayers, music, theater, and youth and children’s activities. There is also an advocacy toolkit that you can order through their website .

Be creative as you adapt these materials for virtual use. Think about asking members of your congregation to send photos of their favorite place in nature. Combine them into a slide show or video to show during your Earth Day Service. Or ask members to take a photo of themselves holding a sign that names their favorite part of creation – rainbows, butterflies, giraffes, waterfalls…

Grieve for what could have been, for those who are suffering, and lost loved ones. 
God is still with us as we endure this pandemic and the earth will be here long after we are gone. We still need to take care of it. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Devotional for Easter Sunday

God Provides a Feast for All

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
 And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the sheet that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
    This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Isaiah 25:6-9

One of my favorite restaurants also has a great name–Feast. The word rings with celebration and conjures images of abundance and welcome. It’s an Easter word, you might say. 

Easter celebrations often involve feasting. In addition to gathering with faith communities to shout “Hallelujah!,” many of us gather today around a table with family and friends. We will feast, and I will probably eat too many chocolate eggs. After the fasting and contemplation of Lent, enjoying God’s bounty becomes particularly delightful.

Fresco of a banquet, 4th century; public domain
Isaiah 25 imagines a feast of rich food and well-aged wines–God’s abundance from the productive, good earth. It is a spread for all peoples, nations who have waited earnestly for God’s arrival and salvation. It’s not a private party for a select few.   

And the really amazing aspect of this divine banquet? God is the host and chef of the meal. As the host, God draws up the invitation list so that all are invited. God prepares the feast’s atmosphere by wiping away all tears of sorrow and loss. This party is not a time for disgrace but joy. God selects the perfect location for this feast–God’s mountain where heaven and earth meet. God sets the delicious menu full of food and drink. The food will be decadent, the wine supple. What a celebration!

On this Easter day of joy, how might we find a place at God’s great table to feast together in praise of God’s salvation? 

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!
You have swallowed up death and prepared for us a feast. May we rejoice in your salvation, for you are our God. We have waited for you to save us. Hallelujah! Amen.

Dr. Tyler Mayfield teaches Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is the author of the forthcoming book Unto Us a Child Is Born: Isaiah, Advent, and Our Jewish Neighbors.

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.