Thursday, February 25, 2021

Devotional for Second Sunday of Lent

 Second Sunday Devotional 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 
Colossians 1:15-20

High on the mountainside about 10,000 feet above sea-level, we climbed steadily upward. The top of Mt. Wheeler loomed above, a sheer face dropping down toward a glacier and the talus slope of a glacier moraine. Before long, occasional gnarled trees appeared, bleached white or gray because of the wind. We had reached a forest of bristlecone pine, the oldest living things on earth dating back 4,500 years. The oldest grow in the harshest of conditions, forced by wind and water to grow slowly with a density of wood that resists invading disease. Tenacious trees.

Photo Credit: courtesy of Rick Goldwaser; Wikimedia Commons

We stopped near a tree. A fellow hiker paused as well, staring at the tree. Before long he reached out to touch the weathered wood, and exclaimed, “This tree was living when Jesus lived. Can you imagine that?” I thought about those trees. How old were they before the first human ever touched them? How long were they here converting carbon dioxide back into oxygen before the first human breathed in that oxygen? Here was a living tree whose life spanned centuries. I felt in the presence of something holy, enduring, and precious to God.

Modern science teaches us that each time we breathe, we inhale billions of oxygen molecules. In fact, these molecules have entered the lungs of every one of the 150 billion human beings and billions of animals who have ever lived. And the molecules we breathe in now will find their way into all the humans and other animals yet to come. Same air, same molecules. This natural, physical act reminds us that we exist in a miraculous, interdependent web of life created by God connecting us to God, to each other, to all of creation, now and over time.

This Lent as we reflect, discern, and reset our spiritual and moral compasses, take time to become mindful of your breathing. It will lead you to honor what God has done, and embrace God’s promise of what is to come.

Creator, this Lenten season, open our eyes to the injustices around us. May we begin to build the foundation for a world that is honoring and pleasing to you. — one that removes fear and values everyone. Amen

For more than three decades, Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman served the church in social witness ministries and as the first national staff for environmental issues. He represented the PCUSA at the Rio Earth Summit, and has attended all but one of the UN climate negotiations since 1995. Now retired in the red rock canyon country of southern Utah, he continues to serve on the World Council of Churches Climate Change Steering Committee.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Devotional for First Sunday of Lent

 First Sunday Devotional 

By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.
Genesis 3:19

We have been reminded this year that we are dust. Our frailty, our mortality, has felt so visceral and clear over the past 12 months. We have lived in the uncertainty of the unknown, suffered the pain of loss, and struggled with our own lack of answers. We have felt fragile, and the world has felt beyond our control.

And yet, I remind myself: COVID-19 is organic, it is evolution, and it is creation. The same breath that transmits this virus is the breath I have learned to think of as Spirit: ruach, pneuma, the same breath that moved over the waters in Genesis. The Spirit moves, even as we cover our mouths and noses to protect ourselves from a virus we struggle to understand.


Scripture tells us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. The dust that greets my face on the wind during one of our gusty New Mexican spring days is the same dust to which I am intrinsically connected. Our relationship with creation cannot be separated, even as we struggle to understand how to be in relationship with a virus that seems to have no conscience.

I’m not sure how we begin to live in this creation in a new way. We have become accustomed to controlling--perhaps even conquering--nature, and this recent loss of control is scary and has resulted in so much pain and loss. Yet, when the book of Revelation talks about a “new heaven, and a new earth,” I wonder if this is our invitation into a new relationship with creation around us. Creation is a part of us, and we are a part of it. We cannot continue to live as if we are separate.

Almighty God, Spirit moving around us, draw us into right relationship with creation. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear you calling us into the dust. Amen.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Luke Rembold is an avid hiker and explorer who seeks the beauty in God’s creation. Luke credits a year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, AZ, for molding his call to ministry. He currently serves as the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Coordinator for the Presbytery of Santa Fe, guiding the Albuquerque site of the YAV program and supporting youth leaders in the vital work of youth ministry.

Photo courtesy of Luke Rembold

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ash Wednesday by Rev. Rebecca Barnes


Ash Wednesday Devotional 

Today we bear a mark, the smudge of ashes, on our foreheads or hands.

Many of us grew up with an unappealing notion of “dirt.” Visible dirt smudged on our skin might be unfavorable. As a slang word for soil, dirt has a lot of negative connotations. Someone might be called “dirt” as a hurtful term about their essential worth. Being “dirty” means one must clean one’s self before being admitted into proper company. Or, alternatively, being “dirty” could be used to convey a spiritual or moral uncleanness. Dirt is associated with impropriety at best and shame at worst.

Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is related to having enacted a particular harmful behavior. Shame meanwhile is more about one’s essence, worth or deeper value. Being ashamed is different than being humble. Shame can impact one’s ability to keep and maintain relationships, work, and purpose. Shame can create great harm in a person’s life and in our world. Ashes should not be a mark of shame, but rather a mark of humility.

Humility is about knowing one’s right proportion in comparison to other things. Humility is not a rejection of self but a sense of the larger universe and of God’s presence. We are a part of something, even if only a small part. We are claiming we are earthy dirty, and connected to creation—which is actually a beautiful thing rather than a terrible thing.

Humility can be a relief, if we let it be. Being made from ash and returned to ash at the end of our earthly existence, we have an empowering and invigorating connection with God and God’s creation. It’s a reminder that the world’s problems aren’t all up to us, even if they depend on each of our contributions to make things better. God is in our midst.

In Revelation we look to a new heaven and a new earth, but not because we are shameful dirt that needs redemption. We look to a new heaven and new earth because being part of creation, we affirm that this world isn’t yet what God desires it to be. With humility, we mark ourselves with ash and commit ourselves to humble action. And even if we are unable to receive the imposition of ashes this year because of the continuing pandemic, we can always mark our hearts in its place. No matter how we choose to mark ourselves this year, by doing so we draw closer to the creation and to our Creator.

Creator, this Lenten season, open our eyes to the injustices around us. May we begin to build the foundation for a world that is honoring and pleasing to you.—one that removes fear and values everyone. Amen.

Rev. Rebecca Barnes is the Coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Lent Devotional Introduction

Introduction to PEC's Lenten Devotional 

Revelations 21:1-4

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

I remember the beginning of the 2020 Lenten season quite clearly. This was my first Lent as a seminary student, and the school was abuzz with anticipation. Students were discussing amongst themselves about how they might channel this period of abstinence into impactful action. The chapel worship team excitedly invited students, faculty, and staff to join together for the Ash Wednesday service. Some students even hosted Mardi Gras parties (yes, more than one) on that Tuesday night complete with colorful beads and a plethora of sweets. I was excited to be in this space where Lent and Easter wouldn’t just be Sunday morning references, but events to be reminded of and look forward to daily. Little did I expect, however, that I, along with people the world over, would soon be giving up much more than I had bargained for. 

Over the course of several weeks last March and April, we watched as the world collectively entered into what was previously reserved for an episode of the Twilight Zone. The streets were largely empty, restaurants and churches closed, elbow bumps and quick waves replaced handshakes and hugs, and people began hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. As the weeks went on, we all watched as violence against our Black siblings sparked pent-up pandemic nerves to fuel social unrest and protests. Soon weeks became months, and masks became essential accessories, classrooms and church sanctuaries broadcasted from our computer screens, and political unrest took on a whole new meaning in our country on that fateful January 6th. Whether we like it or not, the world is a different place, and it has touched all of us. 

Considering all of the tension, changes, and sacrifices we have already had to make, it almost seems unnecessary to begin thinking about Lent once again. After all, what more do we have to give up? But let us not forget what the Lenten Season promises us: the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which he opens the doors and makes room for all of us in his Father’s house (John 14:2-3). Jesus promises us something new, a new way forward that leads to truth and life. Just as Lent is a commemoration of Jesus’ time in the wilderness (which might feel particularly apropos this year), this season is also reminder of Jesus’ promise for us, and a time to prepare ourselves for the new world Jesus brings with him. 

In Revelations 21:1-4, the scripture passage for this year’s devotional, John sees a vision of what Jesus promises. After visions of angels, plagues, and beasts, John witnesses the arrival of a new heaven and new earth to replace the old. This is a hallowed place marked as the home of God, free from all suffering, pain, and death. While ours is not paradise, we also see a new world around us marked with expectations and demands once largely unseen and unheard. We now have an opportunity to join in with the voices crying out for justice, mercy, and love, to join in the reimagining that is needed to build the new Jerusalem of our dreams. This reimagining is already taking place around us; in the face of isolation and violence, we have found new ways of building community, new networks of resiliency, and new understandings of how to better love one another and ourselves. 

Our work as stewards of God’s creation also requires us to imagine a new earth, to take back the land, water, and air away from polluting, extractive, and imperialist ways of viewing our home and neighbors and to create something sustainable, equitable, and compassionate in its place. The task ahead of us is colossal, but do not forget about the stories of environmental renewal that sprung up in the midst of the pandemic: fauna of all shapes and sizes returned to their old homes, cities recorded record-low levels of pollution, and people rediscovered the joy of gardening and cultivating the earth. Whether we work towards justice for our planet or for our neighbors, we have an opportunity now to embrace the new world around us. 

Whatever your Lenten practice might be this year, I pray that you will look to God for comfort and assurance in this ever-precarious world we find ourselves in. I pray also that you let the voices in this devotional move your heart, and to accept their invitation into joining in communion with all creation as we go forward. 

To the Glory of God,


P.S. For those that did not know, 2020 was PEC’s 25th Anniversary. In commemoration of this momentous achievement, several of the writers in this devotional are past and present leaders of PEC ministries. Thank you so much to everyone who has supported PEC’s work. May God continue to bless us for another 25 years!

Jonathan Lee
is a second year Masters of Divinity student at Yale Divinity School. Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jonathan’s faith and love for God’s Creation were simultaneously cultivated during a time in the Maine woods. In addition to considering a career in ordained ministry, Jonathan is interested in environmental and Asian American theologies. He is currently serving as Presbyterians for Earth Care’s Programming and Learning Fellow.

Sacredness of Earth

 Seeking the Sacred in Each Other

Dear wise and generous people of PEC,

After Pope Francis shared Laudato Si in 2015, our congregation’s Social Justice Team gathered together several denominations in St. Joseph, Missouri, meeting monthly to work toward improved social, economic and environmental justice in our community. Our group was based on the Pope’s words ‘integral ecology’ - the interconnectedness of everything. Our ecumenical eco-justice group continues to gather (virtually) and has been influential in our community.


John Philip Newell, a pastor in the Church of Scotland, which has Presbyterian roots, reminds us to seek the sacred in each other, in all beings, in Earth herself. Seeing the sacredness of Earth is vital to our under-standing of who we are and how we interact as God’s children. Newell states that we lost that sacred understanding due to the influence of Empire. Losing that connection has caused huge harm to Earth and continues to be a factor in the multiple social injustices of today.

Thoughts for 2021:

  • Thanks to our PC(USA) connected system, there is a group of PEC folk teaming up with Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) folk who are appreciating an idea brought forward by Rev. Jed Koball, Mission Co-worker in Peru. You will hear more later, but for now, consider adding to your Creation Care donation list the Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice Fund, E865715, which is associated with the PHP. This has been recently activated as a fund which will eventually be used for Eco-Reparations!
  • Carey Gillam, is an investigative reporter and a major player on the global scene reporting the devastating effects of glyphosate. She is an author, speaker and activist....and now research director of U.S. Right to Know! Check out her work! (She is a member of Village Pres in Kansas City, as was her father, also a stalwart eco-justice seeker.)
  • Consider pulling together an ecumenical environment group based on Laudato Si!
  • Consider as key words/phrases - connectivity, integration, seeking the sacred, positivity and gratitude. Blending these with compassionate activism, prophetic witness, and seeking equity are key to helping heal Earth and each other.

Continued wisdom and strength to you, people of PEC.

Keep the Light of Christ shining brightly!

Diane Waddell,
Past PEC Moderator

Diane Waddell, RN, MSN, is a retired integrative nurse practitioner.  She enjoyed her years as past moderator of PEC and as a past member of the Advisory Committee of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. She currently moderates an ecumenical, a city and a presbytery eco-justice group. She and her daughters own the Center for Justice, Outreach and Yoga (JOY) in St. Joseph, MO and enjoy sharing that sacred space with the local community (during non-Covid times!)

Photo of Ghost Ranch taken by Diane Waddell in October 2019