2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Author: Martin Carver
Reflection: v. 18, ‘given us the ministry of reconciliation’
Reconciliation. Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day. What is
‘reconciliation?’ What does it mean to be reconciled? Simply put, reconciliation is putting back together what once was broken. It is the act of coming together after pressure, stress, tensions, and actions have torn something apart. How wonderful it is that we have a God who reconciles the world to Godself! What was once a strained and broken relationship, God has restored through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. What good news for the whole of creation!
This reconciliation does, however, come with a call. Paul reminds us that God ‘has given us the ministry of reconciliation.’ We are called to participate in the work ofreconciliation that God has already begun in the world. So where are the broken places? What stresses and tensions do you see around you? What is in need of being put back together after being fractured? If we take a little time to slow down and pay attention, we’ll begin to see these places and relationships around us in dire need of reconciliation. The message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. Let us go out into the world and, with God’s help and guidance, work towards putting back together what once was broken.
Prayer Guide us, reconciling God, to the work of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Author: Bill Smith
Reflection: v. 18, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’
This has always been one of my favorite passages. I love that Paul dispels the notion that you have to be somebody particularly special before you are converted. All the things that we think are really important for getting ahead in this world—who our parents are, what school we went to, how much money we have—aren’t what really matter. Paul dispels that notion. Anyone can come to God and be enough. Paul’s words dispel the notion that you have to be all that and a bag of chips before you are reconciled to God. Then Paul slams on the breaks and changes directions, and goes on to say that since you’ve been reconciled, now your job is to create reconciliation with others. There are some in the church who tend to think that only clergy can convert folk, that only clergy do the work of bringing people to God. And here’s the problem with that: Christ calls clergy and church leaders to be shepherds. Shepherds do not make sheep—sheep make more sheep! I believe that we are all called to make sheep. We are all called to convert. We are all called to bring others to the kingdom—to be ministers of reconciliation. That’s what Paul encourages us to be. He puts it back on us to work at reconciliation with one another. Whether its social justice, racial justice, or seeking justice for those experiencing poverty—whatever the form of justice looks like in your locale, that’s the work that we are called to as ministers of reconciliation.
Prayer God, who calls each and every one of us, guide us to be ministers of reconciliation and to seek justice in this world.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 20, ‘So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us’
Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be the church. As a humble little church that has always rented and borrowed space, I believe Mercy has a unique perspective. We are never able to confuse our ‘church’ with our building—we don’t have one! Because we gather throughout the week prioritizing the sharing of resources alongside practices like praying, singing, and preaching, we are also less tempted to conflate ‘church’ with our ‘Sunday worship service’ alone. Our church is all the ways we show up for one another, and particularly the most vulnerable among us, day in and day out. Our church practices are sharing, eating, fellowshipping, lamenting, listening, and yes, worshipping too. As I read Paul’s reminder of our vocation to be ambassadors for Christ, I recalled a recent conversation with one of our community members. He described why it was important to him to give back to his community at Mercy. He saw his Christian ambassadorship as all the ways he was present to his fellow community members—in the ways he shared wisdom, in the ways he showed kindness, in the ways he was present to others who were struggling, but also in simple ways like how he helped make and serve coffee. We are called to live a life through which God makes God’s appeal through our actions. As Christians, we worship Christ, yes, but we also follow his ways. We also live a life wherein Christ’s appeal shines through the ways we treat one another. As I continue to contemplate what it means to be church, I pray that this church might be a place full of such ambassadors.
Prayer Speak through our actions and witness, O Lord. Help us to be your ambassadors, your church.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 31, ‘Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours’
This parable has always been one of my favorite hard lessons for anyone who has ever been bitter about others getting what they need. What is it about humans that even when we have more than enough, we become jealous when we believe someone is getting ‘more than they’ve earned’ or more than we believe they deserve? That is not how grace works, and thanks be to God, Jesus reminds us that we have a God of grace. The father in this story cares about the faithful son who has been there all along (and lest we forget, has his father’s resources still). But he also cares about the son who has made a few mistakes along the way. Like this loving parent, God’s ways are of grace. As a frequent mistake-maker myself, I’m glad God operates with grace instead of giving us our just desserts. As followers of this God, what if we too decided to proceed in the world, with one another, with grace. Instead of constantly analyzing whether or not someone has ‘earned’ healthcare or benefits or a day off or a second chance (while often ignoring all the ways we have been given legs-up and may not even be aware), why not proceed with grace first? Why not offer the benefit of the doubt? Why not just decide that everyone should have enough of what they need? Why not decide that someone getting something they need does not negatively impact those of us with more than enough? Grace is free, abundant, and beautifully unearned—thanks be to God. What if this Lenten season we started acting like we follow a God of grace?
Prayer God of grace, help us to operate out of grace too.
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 1, ‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered’
Let’s talk about sin. Lent is known as a season of penitence, a season that we Christians intentionally set aside to think about the ways we have been sinful—and you know, repent. Unfortunately, the church has a long and painful history of thinking and teaching about sin in harmful and unhelpful ways. We pile on shame and make one another feel guilty about the entirely wrong things, while blatantly ignoring the things we should be addressing (you know, like all the ways we hurt, deny, and leave one another out), all the while, never working toward an honest and healing changing of our ways. It is natural to want to put theologies of sin on the back-burner when so many of them do nothing but harm, but if we don’t talk about sin and repentance in healthier ways, how can we ever hope to change? So instead of banishing the concept of sin altogether and saying ‘we don’t talk about sin (no, no, no)’, can we instead envision an honest repentance that liberates us all—a truthful desire to change our ways for the better of everyone? The psalmist says, ‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,’ not happy are those who are perfect, not happy are those who can ignore injustice. I believe that when we are honest with ourselves about what we need to work on, about the ways we hurt and fail one another, about the ways we judge and discriminate, about the ways we hold privilege, and about the ways we participate in brokenness, only then can we work toward something better. The freeing part? You do not have to beat yourself up. God doesn’t actually want that either. Repentance is not about beating yourself down for every little thing, it is about changing our world for the better. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? So, let’s talk about it.
Prayer Take away my sin and guilt, O God, that I may be part of change for the better.
Author: Caroline Hurst
Reflection: v. 1, ‘Come, buy and eat’
In this passage from Isaiah, God is speaking to a group of discouraged, hungry people. God is not giving up on them and is calling them towards him instead. These people have been struggling with hunger and thirst, just like many people still struggle with, but God’s love does not give up on them. I often have trouble reading and understanding scripture. This is a passage I read quite a few times to understand and really get the message. In this passage, it is clear that God wants us, as God calls out to everyone and says, ‘Come to the waters…come, buy and eat…come, buy wine and milk…seek the Lord.’ God is calling us to both physical and spiritual blessings. God desires us, no matter who we are, where we sleep at night, or what we do during the day. God desires good things for all people and God desires us to seek him. Despite everything going on in this world, this message gives me hope and reassurance because of how clear it is that God didn’t give up on his people then and he’s not going to give up on his people now. No matter what we do or who we are, God loves and desires us. It is also our job to seek God out. And the amazing thing is that we can seek God out just as we are. We don’t have to change who we are or put on a show or face, because God desires us just as we are.
Prayer God, thank you for loving us just as we are and for calling us to good things.
Author: Ivan Cooley
Reflection: v. 4, ‘I will lift up my hands and call on your name!’
You can get in a room full of very smart people and they might not be able to come to an agreement on much of anything. You can also take some less educated people, who know what they believe in (but aren’t armed with as much ammunition that they can use to make their arguments), and they can say something profoundly true if it comes out of love. If what you say and do comes out of love, you don’t have to be all that smart. When you do things out of love, you’re smart anyway. In the same way, when you look at life through the eyes that God wants you to see through, then the scary stuff, isn’t always so scary. It’s easy to find condemnation out there in the world. There are definitely enough people who are throwing it our way. So sometimes I think we need to quit catching it so much and listen for God’s voice instead. I can think of so many instances that I think I might not have survived if it had not been for God. I can’t think of how many times that, due to my own self-damage, I thought I was going to die. There were times I couldn’t see my way out, and there were times I just didn’t really care anymore. That’s a dangerous and scary thing. If it hadn’t been for that little mustard seed of faith that I had, then I think I’d have been gone. If you listen to God, you will hear God. You may not hear some audible voice, but you’re going to hear it in your heart. Because once God puts that in your heart, it’s like a tattoo that cannot be taken away. I’m not going to sit here and say that I pray prolifically, but I do have a compartment inside of me that is where God lives. I find myself throughout the day honoring God in ways that I don’t always even think about. One of them is that every time I get home and I stick my key in the door I say, ‘thank you, Jesus!’ I don’t even say the ‘sus.’ I don’t even say ‘Jesus,’ it’s JE-SUH. ‘Thank you, JESUH! Amen! Halleluiah!’ It’s just something simple that I do every day to keep God on my heart. At the end of the day, keeping God on our hearts, listening for God, is what gives us hope. You don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to always get it right, to listen for God, to act in love, and to look for hope.
Prayer Thank you, Jesus, for all the ways you speak to us.
Author: Jerome Johnson
Reflection v. 3, ‘I will make with you an everlasting covenant’
When it says that God is going to make an everlasting covenant with me that means God is going to forever help take care of me. That makes me feel good knowing that I can eat at God’s table—that I’m always welcome there. That’s kind of like Mercy’s table here, too. Everyone is welcome. This scripture says, ‘You who have no money, come and eat.’ That makes me think of coming here to Mercy’s table at times when I have had no money and yet there is plenty to eat and drink. We give away free food—we don’t charge anybody for it. It’s like the Lord’s table, and you don’t have to spend any money for it. This is the only church I know of that doesn’t even take up an offering in service—I’ve never been to a church that doesn’t take up an offering. Even the big churches around town do, but we don’t do that here. Reading this scripture reminds me of our days at Mercy. It reminds me of this place here because you don’t need anything to be welcome. God’s covenant with us is like that too—God welcomes us to a big table. It’s free and there’s more than enough to share.
Prayer Thanks for making a promise to us, God. Thanks for inviting us to your big table.
Isaiah 55: 1-9, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Author: Ruth Ann North
Reflection: v. 2, ‘that which does not satisfy’
Why is the allure so strong to try and satisfy ourselves with cheap alternatives when God is offering us the best?
I think it’s similar to why we often give in to cheap, fast, physical food. It’s easier. It is often more convenient to show off in neat little packages. It immediately but briefly satisfies a craving, while at the same time makes us crave it more and more.
Somehow in God’s story we can come, buy, and eat the best food, even if we don’t have any money! How is that possible?
I think what Isaiah is trying to tell us is that it’s possible because God is the source. God doesn’t need anything in return. God also provides what we need to endure any temptation to settle for less! God will send a cloud, part the sea, whatever it takes to help us not turn back to the cheap substitutes.
When I come to the table with my brothers and sisters at Mercy, I see a picture of this kind of radical welcome, nourishment, and abundance. There is life for our souls here. God’s love is steadfast and sure.
When we come together for communion, we reflect this truth to one another: all it takes is to come and receive it. It’s not about what we have to offer but what is already there for us to receive and share.
We practice it on Sunday so we can do it in each moment of our journey.
Prayer God of abundance, help us to practice radical hospitality every day.
Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v.5, ‘Unless you change your hearts and lives’
We read books, listen to podcasts, watch shows and movies. We sit in the crowd of protests and marches, and wonder why nothing changes. We get frustrated by the ways of the world, but nothing is transformed. Insanity has often been called ‘doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.’ Well, the crowds in this story don’t seem to understand what Jesus is offering—this same truth—that our mere presence in the crowd, simply listening to Jesus is not enough. Lives must change, action must take place. The same is true for the land owner who is appalled by the fig tree that has borne no fruit. How dare this tree be barren! Yet what has he done to till the land or prune the branches? What action has he taken to change the result? We may find ourselves frustrated by injustices, but it is no longer enough to read books, listen to podcasts, and watch movies that depict real-life strife. It cannot end there, we have been called to change. If I want something to change in the world, something has to change in my life. If I want something to change in my life, then I have to change something in my behavior. If I want to be closer to Christ, then I need to draw closer to those Christ drew closer to.
Prayer God, may we no longer talk about change, but be changed. Amen.