Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v. 1, ‘my body desires you in a tired and dry land’
I don’t know about you, but I’m in desperate need of peace and a stronger sense of life. This pandemic has revealed a lot about our broken systems and selfish thoughts. I’m tired of bearing witness to gender, cultural, racial, and economic profiling. I’m tired of seeing power and privilege used to create abuse and disparity. I’m tired and my whole being desires something that this world has not been able to provide–peace. I’m craving God’s presence, a sense of ‘with-ness’ with God that allows us to sit and bear witness to one another. I’m craving space where we don’t have to fight for love and justice. So I join the psalmist in this prayer, craving more of God’s Spirit, because it is God who provides that which the world cannot. Maybe you are craving something similar. Maybe, you have also been in a space where something has been ‘missing’ or felt ‘off.’ We are making our way toward the cross and resurrection, toward death but also new life. Maybe it is time for us to be agents in the change we desire, tapping into the one who demonstrated all that we are craving.
Prayer Lord, we crave you. We crave spaces of peace and justice. May we find that peace in you.
Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v.1, ‘Whoever has no money, come’
This is a wildly counter-cultural statement for us to receive. We exist in a world that lives an opposite truth: that money buys entrance and gives value. Here we are, with a God who continues to defy the lies that we’ve been perpetuating, that what we have is more valuable than people and relationships. God has set a table that is big enough for everyone. God creates space for all of us. But it’s not just a space to sit and be, it’s also a space that we are to create for one another. Now, this all sounds fine and good until it requires something of us, which it does. It means that we do, in fact, live in a world where there is enough for everyone to have what we need. It means that no one should have to sleep outside in the cold. No one’s feet should be so badly bruised and blistered from inadequate shoes and wet socks that they can barely walk. It means that those who are struggling with mental health should not be treated as dangerous and violent. It means that people of different races or ethnicities should not be scapegoated for violence. It means that corporate executives should not make billions of dollars while hourly employees work multiple jobs struggling to care for their families. So as we come to the table that God has set before us, let’s dismantle our fences so we too can create space where there is ‘enough’ peace, justice, and resources for everyone.
Prayer Lord, may we be challenged to create space for everyone. Amen.
Author: Glenn Fiscus
Reflection: v. 13, ‘I shall see the goodness of the Lord’
St Mother Teresa once wrote, ‘I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength, I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now know that prayer changes us and we change things.’
While at Columbia Seminary, my daughter, Brittany, served as an intern at Mercy Church, and I believe that both of our lives changed because of it. The first time I visited Mercy, I knew that one day it would be my church. Soon after graduation, Brittany became a pastor there. My visits from Arkansas became more frequent after Emi, my granddaughter, was born. I think after every visit I would learn something at Mercy and then take a new challenge back to my church in Arkansas. And every time they would step up and take it on. I moved to Atlanta a little over two years ago and have been able to see how resilient Mercy really is—this community doesn’t understand the word ‘can’t.’ Since the start of Covid restrictions, Mercy has continued to do whatever we could to serve. We moved outdoors, provided masks, arranged for Covid testing and vaccinations, and continued to provide food and clothing. But the thing that is so enlightening is the sharing of the word of God. Hearing stories and thoughts about the daily scripture and the interaction between everyone in the community is such an eye-opener. Mercy isn’t just for food and clothing, it is the church of the community. Every day I see the goodness of the Lord right here at Mercy.
Prayer Help me to see your goodness, O Lord, and help me to be a part of it.
Luke 13: 31-35
Author: Elizabeth Rogan
Reflection: v. 34, ‘as a hen gathers her brood’
Jesus spent his adult life in a community much like the one we have at Mercy Community Church. He surrounded himself with the people who were outcast and shunned, and made it his mission to make his community seen and cared for. The passage from Luke 13: 31-35 describes how Jesus was warned that Herod would kill him, and he responded, essentially, ‘Come at me; I will not back down until I have finished the work that is left for me to do.’ He likened his role to a hen protecting her brood, standing defiant as those in Jerusalem threatened him, and his people, with harm. For me, this metaphor calls to mind our beloved Mercy pastors, who fearlessly provide community, shelter, comfort, and above all safety to those whom the rest of society casts
aside. In this season of Lent, it is also interesting to read that Jesus said that he needed three days to accomplish his work, and that his undoing would happen by those in Jerusalem. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the three days from his execution to his resurrection, in that same Jerusalem. Jesus did not shy away from the danger of his mission—he embraced it, and by fearlessly forging ahead in the face of death, he made the power of his message more enduring than anyone could have imagined. We live that message every day at Mercy Community Church, standing tall in the face of opposition and scorn from society, and protecting each other like a hen with her chicks.
Prayer Help us to protect the ones you care about, O God, just as you so lovingly protect us.
Author: Paul Hoffman
Reflection: v. 19, ‘their god is the belly’
I love breakfast at Mercy. I don’t usually eat breakfast at all, but I always look forward to the eggs and hash browns when I come to Mercy on Mondays. In Germany, we don’t put cheese in scrambled eggs. This was new to me. What a revelation!
And now Paul says I must not enjoy my food? Can’t we also enjoy earthly things? With tears, he calls those whose belly is god and who only focus on earthly things enemies of the cross of Christ. That’s a serious expression. How do we deal with that?
Let’s take a close look at the wording: ‘Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.’ It isn’t those who enjoy good food or other earthly things who are the enemies of the cross. Those who place their bellies above all else and who strive only for earthly things are called enemies. We can and should enjoy our food and everything else, but it shouldn’t be all we strive for. In the Gospel, according to Matthew, Jesus once said, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ There is so much beauty in the world to be happy about. But food and other earthly things are not everything.
We live in the certainty that God loves us. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus transforms us according to his example. Jesus joins us into his body. In this way, the glory of God is visible in the world. We hold firm that we belong to the Lord.
We are God’s beloved children. We can rejoice and trust that God will help us and that we have our place with him in heaven. At the same time, we can be just as happy and enjoy the world with everything it offers, including scrambled eggs with cheese.
Prayer God, let your grace be one of the things that fills us up.
Author: Maurice Lattimore
Reflection: v. 19, ‘their end is destruction’
This passage reminds me of a time in my life when I was an enemy of the cross and my life was on the road to destruction. My ‘gods’ were greed, selfishness, lust, control, and the most powerful of them all, my thirst for self-medication. At the end of the day, it was all about me and what I thought were my worldly pleasures. But God has a way of getting your attention by letting you go according to your own way—by allowing all kinds of stumbling blocks to come your way to keep you from your own destruction. At this point, I had been dragged through the gutter and was imprisoned—and facing many years. It was at this time that I turned my life over to Christ with a true heart of repentance and a willingness to honestly try. This was when Paul’s message in Philippians started to resonate with my life. These biblical examples of how we ought to live continue to keep me standing firm in hope today.
Prayer By the manifesting spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, glory and praise be to God Almighty! Hallelujah!! Amen!!
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 17, ‘join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us’
There are several people at Mercy who we affectionately refer to as our community’s prophets. They have earned this title because of the truth-filled wisdom they impart in sharing their stories and insight in our discussion-based Bible studies. None of them have been to seminary or been ordained. But their honest leadership and the way they share their stories of everything from homelessness and hardship to their journeys through recovery and wellness inspire. The stories of their experiences and insight make you want to imitate their kind of faithfulness. They set an example for all of us who strive to be well and who work to be better at loving ourselves and our neighbors. Living a good and faithful life is not about always getting it right or always being right. It isn’t about success. It isn’t about having good credentials. It isn’t about burying our short-comings and hiding our addictions. Let us be more honest with ourselves. Let us be more honest about ourselves. Join me in imitating these honest prophets of our community who bravely show us a way to seek truth and wellness together.
Prayer Guide us in the wise ways of your prophets, O Lord, from the days of old and from now.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 11, ‘when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away’
Imagine it with me: there’s Abram—tired, frustrated, and trying to be faithful as he beats away a bunch of vultures vying for his offering. Do you think he cussed them out? I would have. ‘This meat is for God, you ungrateful buzzards! Buzz off!’ At this point, Abram has completely uprooted his life and dragged his family to who-knows-where on the uncertain promise that God will bless him with innumerable descendants… someday. ‘Look at the stars,’ God promises, as Abram yearns for a legacy. But in the present moment what Abram is doing is shooing hungry birds away from dead animal carcasses. Now there are a lot of interesting pieces that we could ponder together in this passage, but for me this year, it was the image of a sweaty, frustrated Abram protecting his offering that stood out to me. Why, you ask? Because this very non-glamourous, hands-on image of faithfulness seemed relatable to me in this long and arduous season of serving our Lord. In some ways, it feels as if the people of God at Mercy Church have had a tough couple of years. Yes, we have much to be grateful for, but I would be lying if I said it has been easy showing up day in and day out. We are doing everything we can to be faithful to one another in these uncertain and difficult times, and yet sometimes it seems we can’t catch a break. And so, like our friend Abram here, we pray to hold on, we pray to remain faithful and good to one another even when it is hard, and even when there is only the promise that things will get easier. And for the time being? Well, we’ll keep shooing the pesky birds away, trusting that God shows up to fulfill God’s promises.
Prayer God be with us, even when it feels like things are for the birds.
Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection: v. 1, ‘Yahweh, you’re my light and my salvation’
A few years and what feels like a lifetime ago, my coworker, Pastor Chad, wrote a community worship song based on this psalm. As music so often has the power to do, it comforted me in some unspeakable way. I loved how the lyrics, pulled straight from the words of the psalm, asked the simple question, ‘Whom shall I fear?’ and then transitioned to another bold declaration, ‘I can see the goodness of the Lord.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have found this song most comforting when I have struggled to believe its words—when there is much to be fearful of and the goodness of the Lord seems scarce. When my appendix almost burst during the pandemic, and I was stuck in the hospital alone for several days, tired, disoriented, and scared. When I lost sleep over sending my unvaccinated daughter back to school, knowing her safety depended on the care and prudence of others whose decisions I couldn’t control. When every day after working in the bitter cold, I would come home to another email or complaint conveying that our community gatherings are a nuisance to the privileged, and the pain of caring became partnered with the sting of being misunderstood. In these moments, I would find myself defiantly humming and mumbling, ‘Whom shall I fear?’ I would find myself singing, ‘I can see the goodness of the Lord’ long before I saw hope for some resolution to my problem. On some level, saying these words like a prayer helped me to believe them. They reminded me of God’s presence to me, of God’s goodness, when it was hard to perceive. I have to wonder if the psalmist may have felt that way, too. Did they write these powerful words because they were feeling completely assured of God’s saving grace or because they so desperately yearned for that assurance? Beloved, I pray that when you too are struggling, you may receive the reminder you need that God is with you: God is our light and our salvation.
Prayer: Yahweh, you’re my light and my salvation. You are my strong tower, whom shall I fear?
Author: Kathryn Powell
Reflection: v. 10, ‘so now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.’
Reading this passage, I think of Mass, where Roman Catholics bring the ‘gifts,’ the bread and wine, to the priest for a blessing and the offering is taken up in a basket, prayed over, and set at the foot of the altar where the bread will be broken. At Mercy Community Church, instead of an offering basket, two black milk crates sit below our altar: one full of chimes, bells, maracas, and drums, the other piled high with Bibles. During our service, worship is shared with a congregational percussion section, and then the Word is exchanged as all are invited to speak. Here in Deuteronomy, ancient Israelites are encouraged to offer the first fruits of the prosperity God has given them. The Lord heard them in their pain of exile, brought them home, and now they return gifts in thanksgiving to God.
As we meditate on the scripture during Lent, I’m struck by the way that such an offering is not out of a need for penance but an honoring of the Giver. What if this Lent we understood ‘giving-up’ as just that—giving, which is a reflexive response of gratitude? What does this gratitude prepare our hearts for? Not for individual salvation or personal holiness, but communal remembrance and celebration in the presence of the One who guides us with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. I remember the boy who gave fish and loaves, the widow with her two coins, Mary with her only child Jesus. All gave in gratitude for what was given, and, in the sharing, communities were created and sustained. So let us give, and offer up, and in this way enter our community prepared to one day ring out praise and thanks to the Lord. Come worship with us on Sunday. I’ll hand you a bell from the milk crate.
Prayer Lord, we give you thanks for your abundant love. Teach us to give in love.