In this story, Peter rebukes Jesus, and then Jesus rebukes him for rejecting what he was saying about himself. He wasn’t upset with Peter, because he knew Peter would change his ways sooner or later. But he did want to set him straight about what he was saying.
He goes on to encourage the disciples to renounce and leave their unfaithful ways and join him. That’s like getting on the winning team, if you want to win.
Let’s not worry about death. Though this passage talks about death, it also reminds us of life. When you accept Christ—he rose in three day—we rise immediately at death and ascend to the Father in heaven. That’s it.
Prayer Jesus, lead us to set our minds on divine things, on life with you!
Do we have a reason to hope? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look around and I think the odds are stacked against us. I can’t help but feel a little bit of despair, especially after this hard year. We’ve just started, but it feels like the season of Lent, the season of mourning, the season of waiting in darkness has gone on for a long time. We are in the midst of the longest night we have collectively experienced. Did Abraham and Sarah have a reason to hope? God had made a promise to Abraham, but it seems that the odds were stacked against them, too. He was 100 years old, and Sarah was barren. Yet Paul says that Abraham had hope against hope. There was something deep within Abraham that believed in God’s promises, that believed in God’s faithfulness. I think that if we look towards Jesus in this season, we, like Abraham and Sarah, will find hope against hope. Make no mistake, hope is a bold and brave choice, a choice that believes that God is moving in our world, that believes that God is indeed faithful. To have hope can look reckless to some. Hope is a choice that moves and stirs us, a choice that will change the world. Hope looks like sharing a meal, refusing to accept that some will go hungry. Hope looks like tending wounds, rejecting that healthcare is just for some. Hope looks like singing loudly, believing that joy is for all. To have hope is to look at that which is broken and believe that redemption is possible. Most importantly it is hope that helps us believe that death will never have the final word, it is hope that believes that resurrection is just around the corner even on the longest nights.
Prayer God of hope, be present to us on the longest nights, and let hope break like the dawn!
Take a moment to imagine this scene: bright lights, figures appearing, a voice from the heavens, Jesus transforming right in front of your very eyes. Peter has experienced something incredible, something like he has likely never experienced before. And what is Peter’s response? What is his impulse upon encountering the divine on that mountain top? His impulse is to put up shelters. With all the commotion of this text, I think it’s easy to skip right past this moment, but Peter’s response is one that in many ways makes a lot of sense. Peter’s is a response that we too may consider when we encounter the divine. In the ancient Jewish tradition, to build a shelter was to build a welcoming place for God. Each year people would gather for a festival in which they built shelters. These shelters were to make a place for God to come to earth. What if we believed like that? What if we believed that when we offered shelter we are making space for God to dwell? What if we believed that when we create space for others we create space for God? What if we believed that every time we offer hospitality, we welcome in God’s very presence? It is my prayer this Lenten season that we are like Peter—that our impulse leans toward creating space, that our impulse moves us toward hospitality, that when we encounter God it moves us toward love. It is my prayer that we remember that God is in our midst, that when we share with others, God is there, that we build shelters for all God’s beloved.
Prayer God of housing, create space in our hearts for hospitality, that we may create shelter for your image here on earth.
Reflection: v. 38, ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’
This made no sense at all to me in my early days—Jesus dying and raising to life in three days, or the idea that in losing your life, you could gain life. This was straight nonsense. But little did I know, that after years of hell and madness that led to all kinds of unrighteous living, that these very words would come to be a reality in a life like mine. Amen!
In God having no preference of people, and in my falling on my knees asking for forgiveness, God accepted me into the family and gave me understanding on spiritual things I did not know before. Now I know what it means to lose your life in order to gain real life. When this transformation takes place in your life you begin to look at other things higher than yourself. Amen!! Because you have been reborn into the loving family of Christ Jesus, welcome to the family of hope, peace, love and much forgiveness. Amen!!
Prayer Help us, O Lord, to find our lives in you who saves us!
Reflection: v. 24, ‘he did not hide his face from me’
In this psalm, I believe King David is asking the people, all those who fear God, all the descendants of Israel who revere him, to praise the Lord. In relation to this in my own life, throughout the times of my unrighteous ways of living—the controlling, the manipulation, even when I was still stealing and using drugs, lying and hurting people—even with all this madness going on in my life, God never gave up on me. God heard the cries of my inner spirit and soul. There were still consequences behind this way of life, but God never left nor forsake me. Amen!
At this point in my life, I’ve decided that all vows I make to God I will keep, because God has forgiven me and allowed me to be a part of the family of faith. Amen! If you haven’t yet done so, give your life to God, and God will make your path straight. Amen and Amen!!
Prayer Peace and love always. To God be the glory! Hallelujah!!
Reflection: v. 24, ‘he listened when I cried out to him for help’
I love this psalm because it reminds me that our God is a God who listens when we are suffering. Our God never turns away from us. Like a lot of people, I’ve had the experience of going to churches that are uncomfortable with brokenness. The more churches I tried, the angrier I became. If the Church couldn’t love me, what were the chances that God really did? Where was the good news for people like me?
One of my favorite poets says, ‘As deep as the wound is, that’s how deep the healing is.’
I come to Mercy because it is the only place I’ve found that truly does not abhor my affliction, a place that does not hide its face from me and assures me that God doesn’t, either. This psalm is full of pain, but here at the end it turns to praise. I think that’s because the psalmist realizes that God has been right there listening to the song the entire time.
Prayer Praise our God who is always present, and always listening.
Jesus calls us to conversion—and by our conversion, the world around us. Lasting change happens in that order. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God, yes, but he also lives it—so much so as to become the very word he preaches to us. Jürgen Moltmann describes Jesus as ‘the kingdom of God in person.’ By the witness of his own life, Jesus calls us to change our own hearts and lives. He models for us the grace-filled possibility of God at work in his life—and we call it good news. The call to conversion is simply the invitation to be like him. Transformation does not come by coercion. We do not repair the world by proselytizing—which ends so often by making those we hope to convert ‘twice as much a child of hell’ as ourselves, as Jesus once remarked about the tactics of his erstwhile opponents, the Pharisees. Change in the world happens by the witness of our transformed—and transforming—lives. This is how the world we so desperately want to change actually changes. But as my sisters and brothers taking the road of recovery one day at a time already know, change is only possible when we pursue it together in community. We don’t get there on our own. As a brother recently said in Bible study, we need examples—folks who are just a few steps ahead to show us what might be possible for us, too. In the Bible and in Christian tradition, those folks are also called saints. Francis of Assisi saw himself as a perpetual ‘penitent’—a man in constant conversion, forever allowing mercy to change his heart and life. Such a self-identification wasn’t borne out of false humility—but out of fearless honesty. If we are to love as God loves, we must be always in the process of moving infinitely outward, progressively farther into the fullness of God’s unfailing love. Whether you just picked up your first sobriety chip at a group meeting, or you are beginning to see the realities of systemic racism for the first time, or you are sharing a meal with someone in need of what you’ve taken for granted and find your heart breaking a little, Jesus is calling us to a life of never-ending conversion.
Prayer God of St. Francis, may we always be transformed by your love.
Here’s a (bad) song idea: ‘The devil went down to the desert—he was looking for a soul to steal.’ Okay, not one of my best. But the Gospel does record that Jesus confronted Satan during his time in the wilderness. Mark is a little light on the details. But we get the picture: the one John refers to as ‘stronger than I am’ came face to face with evil. The question of evil has always been a thorny one—and sorry, it’s not one that I can solve for us. But evil is a reality that we, like Jesus, must face. Evil is more than the sum of every evil act human beings have ever done to one another, even with the compounded interest of millennia tipping the scales. On the streets, we’re not afraid to call it the ‘devil.’ Paul has insightful language about ‘powers and principalities,’ and even names ‘death’ and ‘sin’ as powerful forces beyond our control that pull all humanity into bondage. Lynda Joyce Baker once wrote a powerful psalm for our community that describes her experiences with the ‘system.’ However we name it, many of us sense there are forces of evil in the world. But we must never confuse human beings with these malign forces. In fact, we fight the devil best by refusing to demonize other human beings. As those who celebrate that we are claimed by God’s love in our baptism, we must recognize the same audacious claim of love upon every other human being. We are all of us, no matter who we are, created in the image of God. In our hyper-partisan times, when truth-telling is held in such low regard and facts seem as variable as the next opinion, we must engage in the messy and difficult work of loving. Even as we learn to accept our own messy and broken humanity, we must prayerfully and diligently cultivate a strong and compassionate heart for others. We affirm in our little community that we can ‘agree to disagree’—even passionately and pointedly. And, yes, we hold one another to account. Some relationships are so unhealthy and abusive that distance is required. But however tough our love might need to be, it must still be love. No human being is a devil, no matter how much we might act like it. Only real-deal, rolled-up sleeves love will bring us to a just and liberating peace. That’s how we fight the real devils.
Prayer Stronger One, delivers us from evil through love of our enemies.
‘Believing’ can also mean ‘giving allegiance.’ Perhaps we’ve lost the sense of just how political this language is because we’ve too often watered it down and overplayed it’s otherworldliness. But here’s a critical point: Jesus’ use of political language is subversive—and so is the picture Mark paints for us. He isn’t calling us to uphold the status quo. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When Jesus says ‘repent and believe the good news,’ he’s asking explicitly for an unequivocal commitment to his messianic cause—and an absolute forsaking of any other partisanship that might contend for our allegiance. Make no mistake about it, it’s radical stuff. But as much as Jesus is surely asking us to lay down our lives in whatever way such a shockingly revolutionary love might demand, he never asks us to take the life of another. Rather than kill his enemies, Jesus not only asks us to love our enemies, he goes even further, giving his life to save his enemies. A gospel that preaches that kind of love, even for our enemies, has no room for the false idols of Christian nationalism and white supremacy. No party and no politician deserves our unswerving allegiance—such things must not be allowed to take the place of the living God in our hearts and lives. And hateful, boastful ideologies that promote violence and dehumanize others certainly have no place in the church—or a healthy democracy, for that matter. The horrifying Epiphany of January 6 only brought into the light what has far too often been hidden in the shadows of white American Christianity. And it’s time we faced the truth. Nearly two centuries ago, Frederick Douglass named our unholy allegiance to these false idols of death: ‘I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.’ This Lent, let us truly ‘repent and believe the gospel’ and pledge allegiance to an alternative way of love in our badly broken world.
Prayer Liberating God, we renounce hate and pledge ourselves to love.
Chad is pastor and founder of Mercy Community Church, a grassroots community of worship and action—a group of people who believe Jesus wants the hungry fed, strangers welcomed, and every child of God housed.
Originally from North Carolina, in the fall of 1986, he made the move to Atlanta to attend Emory University. Following graduation, Chad enrolled in Candler School of Theology, graduating with a Masters of Divinity in 1993. That same year, Chad was ordained and began to serve as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta.
Chad and his wife Camille began Mercy Community Church in August, 2005. A small circle of friends gathered for simple worship, sensing a call to begin an intentional community in a congregational form with an unmistakable preferential option for the poor at the heart of its worship and life. Today Mercy makes it home on the campus of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, serving meals, sharing clothes, talking about the Bible, welcoming strangers, and trying to build a diverse and faithful community with over a hundred people a day, five days a week.
Chad is an Associate of the Missionaries of the Poor, a Catholic religious order that embodies a daily commitment to the spirituality of Matthew 25. He and Camille and their two sons, Matthew and Levi, live in Scottdale, Georgia
Brittany grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas. She first learned about God and what it means to be a church community that loves and cares for one another from First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, AR. Brittany graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. After teaching abroad and working for a travel company, Brittany began her studies at Columbia Theological Seminary, taking steps to answer a call to ministry that she had felt since her childhood. Upon moving to Atlanta, Brittany’s passion for being present with those on the margins led her to volunteer at Peachtree and Pine’s Taskforce for the Homeless and to become a pastoral intern with Mercy Church. After completing her MDiv at Columbia, Brittany began a PhD program at Emory University, but left to answer God’s call on her life to full-time ministry as a pastor to our community. Brittany was jointly ordained by the PC(USA) and Mercy Community Church in 2018. Outside of Mercy, what gives Brittany life and joy is spending time with her husband Cooper and daughter Emi, traveling via plane, train, and foot, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and nerding out over Karl Barth.
Holly grew up in Ocala, Florida where she was nurtured by her faith community and encouraged to find ways to be a leader in the community. Holly graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in Psychology. After a period of discernment, she was called to a church community in Lady Lake, Florida where she served as the Youth Director for over six years. She began her seminary career in 2014 at Columbia Theological Seminary where she earned her Masters of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theological (Pastoral Care). During her time in seminary, Holly began attending Mercy Community Church where she fell in love with the community. Upon graduation, Holly served for two years as a Chaplain Resident at Grady Memorial Hospital and specialized in pastoral care through the lens of behavioral health.
In her free time, Holly loves to exercise, travel, spend time with her family, read, and organize.
In May of 2020 Mercy Community Church ordained Pastor Maurice Lattimore to ministry in his own organization, Feet on the Streets Ministries. Before and throughout the pandemic Pastor Lattimore has worked alongside the other Mercy pastors to care for our community through his Empowerment and Recovery groups, pastoral care, and by connecting people to invaluable resources. He continues to serve and support the Mercy community while also pastoring his own community and creatively and compassionately supporting those experiencing homelessness across the city with showers, community, empowerment, and the love of Christ. Mercy is thankful for Pastor Lattimore’s partnership with Mercy as well as his own faithful work—here is Pastor Lattimore’s story:
My name is Maurice Lattimore and I'm a 62 year Black man and native of Atlanta Georgia, I'm the oldest of five siblings and the last one standing, and I'm the one that did it all wrong. I was raised in the projects during some very racist and discriminating times. With the bias that developed in me during those times I quickly got off to a bad start. I was 12 years old when I did my first piece of real drug, and from that point the next 35 years of my life were like a rollercoaster of drugs, incarceration, and eventually homelessness. What a vicious cycle! A change of events did come about in 2004 in Phoenix Arizona in a jail cell--I found Christ, Amen! The best and freest years of my life until then were lived in that prison. This is what accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior did for me. Today I am in the life of my daughter and my grandchildren, and God saw fit to give me a wife. At the ministry that God has entrusted me with, Feet on the Streets Ministries, as well as here at Mercy Church, today I get and give service to a community of brothers and sisters whose lives I can identify with on a personal level. Glory be to God the father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ forever and ever Amen!