Reflection: v. 7, ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers… with loud cries and tears’
The writer of Hebrews paints a vividly contrasting image of our God made flesh, reminding us of both Christ’s glory and power as well as his humble and human sufferings. The text states that ‘in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.’ Before I read the texts for this week, I did not realize how much I needed this image of Jesus, how much I needed to remember that it is acceptable to break down and cry.
As a pastor, a parent, and someone who is trying their best to be a semi-functioning adult in 2021, there are times when I think I need to have it all together. There are days when I think that I have to hold the world steady for everyone else, so there is not much time for tears of my own. But here we have this lovely, even jarring image of Christ, glorious high priest who was there in all time, crying out with the same wet tears that dampen my own tender and vulnerable human flesh. Picturing this, I remember that I am human and that there is no shame in feeling human emotions. I remember there is no shame in crying out to God, filled with frustration, longing, or surrender. Human beings cry. No matter their age, position, gender-identity, or godliness—it is acceptable for human beings to feel things and cry. Withholding tears or neglecting your own feelings is not a badge of honor nor the mark of faithfulness. So in this season of turning inward and seeking truthfulness, remember that if you need to shed some tears for all the things we are mourning now or to cry out at the oft-overwhelming work that still lies ahead, do it. To cry is Christ-like.
Prayer Hear our prayers, our cries, and our tears, O God.
Joy, gladness, and fun are essential to living a well-rounded and healthy life. Just as human beings need sustenance, clean water, oxygen, and shelter they also need community, healthy relationships, and opportunities to relax and enjoy themselves. Human beings deserve happiness—in fact, God wants it for us! Human beings also deserve such joy, rest, and healthy communities of support when they happen to be without housing.
Something that has always confounded me is this biased and privileged notion that people experiencing homelessness only deserve resources and not relationships.
As if ‘housed people’ are allowed to have church communities, relationships, and hobbies, but people living on the streets cannot—it’s classist plain and simple. I see it in the way churches prioritize connecting people to resources without also forming long-term relationships of inclusion. I see it in the way people only want to hear ‘success stories’ of people being ‘rescued’ from the streets but are less eager to hear about our friends who never seem to reach that opportunity. We place values on achievement and forget the importance of being with and valuing people no matter where they are. One of the things I have always appreciated the most about worshiping at Mercy (even before I became a pastor here) was that it was a place where people could come and be themselves and get to know others—we try our best to build a beloved community with no strings attached, no questions asked, no ID required. It’s not a program—it’s a church. I believe that God wants joy and community for us no matter what is going on in our lives. Do I believe that housing and shelter are essential? Heck yeah. But are we valuable and worthy of relationship even when we aren’t in housing? Yes! Does God love and value our lives and want joy for us even when we’re without housing? Absolutely. So why don’t our churches?
Prayer Lord, help our communities to reflect your beloved community. Help us to seek joy with one another!
As a preacher, I have learned the intentional practice of ‘veiled’ speaking—expressing my opinion or answering a difficult question in the least offensive or divisive way possible. Sharing what I believe to be true about our rich and radical gospel, while measuring it out with enough kindness, compassion, and context to seep through people’s defensiveness.
When you work with an ecumenical community with diverse backgrounds, traditions, and opinions, you learn how to speak (and write and preach) strategically. Such communicating can be a gift in our polarizing world, where we are quick to retort, exclude, and assume. There is a time and place for such strategic speaking—a time to make room in the conversation for, yes, even our enemy.
And yet, there are times, I must confess, that I have used my precious veils to hide and shield myself from conflict. There were times when I tried to cushion and soften hard truths, not for the sake of compassion or unity, but for my own comfort and fear of rebuke. Times when I have tiptoed into the deep truths of our scriptures with such trepidatious obliqueness that instead of hearing what they needed to, people heard what they wanted to, and I let them. This year has had many lessons for us people of God and I think one of them has been that the truth matters. So, let me speak clearly and without trepidation. The explosion of violence and hatred we witnessed on January 6th at our nation’s Capitol was the product of weeks, years, and even generations of bombastic lies and misinformation shared among the disgruntled, the vengeful, and the misled alike. Speaking the truth, sharing the truth, acknowledging the truth matters, and is as important as ever. I pray God gives us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to hear it, speak it, and write it on our hearts, especially when we resist its difficulty.
Prayer God of all that is true, guide us in your wisdom.
At Mercy we share in communion every Sunday. The pastors take turns presiding at the table, so I am often blessed with the opportunity to lead there. As I pour bright grape juice into a cup, I speak a version of the words of institution, reminding us that this cup is a new covenant. Over many weeks of speaking these words I have started weaving in some practiced liturgy of my own.
Behind my mask I smile and remind my community that a ‘new covenant’ is just a fancy way of saying that God is faithful to us. We see it here in the words of Jeremiah, in which God notes that though the people of God broke their side of the covenant, God remains faithful. I believe that is part of what we are called to remember at the table. And though we hear these ‘fancy’ oft-recited words frequently, do we remember, as they tell us to do, that God is faithful to us? There are a lot of people out there who will try to tell you who God is and what God is about. Sometimes our sacred scriptures get used to push people down or leave people out—or worse, sometimes they are used to perpetuate violence, racism, and bigotry. This is part of why I believe it is so important to talk about who God is and remind ourselves of this often, lest we forget, or start to believe that God is as hateful, vengeful, or bigoted as we can be to one another. No, beloved, our God is faithful. Our God loves human beings. Remember this promise.
Prayer Write it on our hearts that we may remember your faithfulness!
This season of ministry has been challenging for me. On my best days, I believe I am a good pastor. I love human beings in all their messy complexities. I love listening, learning others’ stories, and building relationships. But in this season of ministry the patient practice of getting to know someone is more difficult. There are so many other things of which to be mindful and cautious, and so much extra work to do, so many new people, that it is hard to make time or space in my brain and my heart to learn and love more human beings. That is how it was when I first met John. John was new to our community and had started coming around, like many, after the pandemic began. I did not know John’s name but knew him as the man who could never seem to wear his mask properly.
What I perceived as his negligence frustrated me to no end. I hate nagging people about their masks, but am daily forced to persistently and consistently remind, remind, remind people to ‘please pull up your mask.’ One day after reminding John for the third time, I realized I did not even know the name of this man who was frustrating me so. I asked. He seemed pleased that I did. A few weeks later John came through our clothing closet, his mask perfectly in place. I addressed him by name and he halted and looked at me with surprise. ‘How do you know my name?’ he asked me. I reminded him that I had asked him a few weeks ago. ‘And you remembered?’ I laughed and responded that I did. He laughed too and said that this made him feel a certain kind of way, a good way, and that our church had good public relations and kind people. His response made me feel a certain kind of good way too. As John moved down the clothing closet line I teared up, because in that moment I remembered that I am a pastor, not just a mask enforcer, and that it is good to be known.
Prayer Help us to perceive and know you, God, in the faces and names of others.
Reflection: v. 19, ‘Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.’
Thanksgiving belongs to God!
Countless are the times our Lord has come and saved us from situations that very well could have had a different outcome. Whether it was caused by us or some unseen force, the Lord foreknew our circumstance and intervened.
Every tear we’ve ever shed throughout our lives, He has counted, and He hears every crying out to Him! He was there with us, in our neediness, in our trials and tribulations, in our sorrows and our rebellious times. Never failing to show His grace and loving-kindness towards us.
He saved us from certain death through sin. He forgives without our merits, through Christ Jesus’ death upon the cross! Thank God for the goodness of our Lord Jesus, taking upon Himself the sins of all the world.
Everyday, we should all be filled with thanksgiving and love towards Him who first loved us!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are humbled before you! Thank you for your loving-kindness towards us, your handiwork! Thank you for saving our souls each day and for showing us the way, the truth, and the life through Christ Jesus. Lead us in the ways of righteousness, that we may never stray away. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen, so be it!
Reflection: v. 8, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God’
Paul here is reminding the Church at Ephesus that salvation comes by grace. It is not about us, or what we have accomplished, but because of God’s grace.
Through God’s faithfulness to human beings, we have been redeemed. Our redemption is in fact a gift of grace! Hence, there are no ‘big I’s or little you’s’ in the church, because all of us need and depend upon the grace of God that is so abundantly shared!
Prayer Thanks be to God that my salvation comes from you, O Lord! Thank you for the gift of your grace!
Reflection: v. 2, ‘let the redeemed of the Lord say so’
Coming up in the church, I always heard this verse quoted after a revival. Upon reading this psalm, those memories came back to me. But. really I think this declaration has a deep meaning that urges us to speak up about what is true. In this current day of quick ‘transactional religion,’ it can be helpful to remember these old ways of giving witness to our faith.
Our God is transformational, and that is something we can witness to with our stories and experiences. As the Psalmist remind us, it is the redeemed of the Lord who should and can give witness to the amazing grace of God.
Prayer God our Redeemer, let us be a witness to your grace!
Reflection: v. 21, ‘for those who do what is true come to the light’
Reading this passage takes me back to a poem I once heard. In verse 20, Jesus speaks about the light and darkness—I was thinking about that as I was looking over this passage. I noticed that today it’s cloudy, hazy, and gloomy outside—there’s no light. It could seem like there’s no beauty.
There’s a poem I know that goes something like this: Love is exactly like the sun, but only on the inside. For without the sun, there is all darkness outside. Without love, there is all darkness inside. Just as without the sun, there’s no light outside, without love there is no light inside. The sun is the center of the outer world, love is the center of the inner world. For love and sun is synonymous. So move more and more into the realm of love and you will be moved into the source of light and life without any effort. Be love—and God is love. There are no arguments, nor any philosophy that could ever help like love, for if love helps, then everything fits together, but if love fails, then everything falls apart.
That caught my eye, once I started reading the 20th verse, where it talks about the children of God being children of light. We are of the light, and we are God’s children. Light is very much a part of love, and love very much a part of life.
Prayer Source of love and light and all that is true, remind us that we are your children.
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!