As I write this, the election is upon us, and I wonder what it would be like for us to cast our personal votes as if our decisions didn’t just affect us—because they don’t. I wonder what it might look like if we all voted in ways that acknowledge there are other, more vulnerable people in the world. During a recent walk, I found myself at a small neighborhood lake where I squatted on a rock at the water’s edge. It wasn’t long before a stranger called out to me, asking if I was okay. To me, this is part of what Paul meant as he was describing the distribution of God’s grace. It is offering the grace and love we have received, individually from God. We can redistribute that grace to complete strangers. The distribution of grace could be to those who might have different cultural histories, sexual orientation, ethnicities, and even those who may not yet recognize the God of grace. It is knowing all of these things and still choosing to say, ‘It’s not just about me’—or stopping to check in on a complete stranger. Offering God’s grace is easy, but we complicate it. We certainly aren’t forced into these decisions. But why would we not want to respond to God’s lived grace with our own LIVED grace. Grace is not something we say; it’s something we do. And it is offered freely to everyone.
Prayer God, may we distribute your grace to all those we encounter. Challenge our own biases and privileges that keep us from doing so. Amen.
Do you ever get tired of fighting, of being divided, of the ‘us versus them’ mentality? Fighting and divisiveness is exhausting and wears on our mental, emotional, and psychological well-being. We tell others and ourselves, ‘but I can’t give up’ for fear we will lose our ground and standing. We fight to a literal death over something because we honestly believe that it is easier to fight, kill, or demoralize than it is to find peace and life. We don’t want to lose what we have worked so hard to obtain. We live in fear of being ‘the least of these’ because there is no status or acclaim in being known as the least. Being united has always been God’s plan, God’s purpose for creation. No, it’s not always easy, but it takes a lot less energy and resources to build a bigger table than it does to create a higher fence.
The Scripture tells us that in Christ Jesus we will see God’s plan for unity to the fullest. But it is not something we are to sit idly by watching and waiting for God to do all the work. If all creation is to be joined together, we are to build relationships with one another—the least of these, the widow, orphan, sinner, tax collector, the homeless, immigrant, and transgender person. We are to be unified, which means we are called to sit with one another—especially the ‘other’ that we often shy away from. We are called to learn one another’s names, to learn and share in their joys and struggles. Christ demonstrated all of this for us. So, as we celebrate this Christmas season, may we not be too quick to fight and to build walls, but to make peace and add a place at the table.
Prayer Lord, may we live most fully into your purpose for all of creation.
As the word of God starts out in Ephesians 1:3-14, it states that God has blessed us. Just as he blessed Jesus for the world, he has also blessed us. As I continued to read, I noticed the reminder that we are redeemed of our sins. For me, I think of the image of being covered in the blood of Jesus. I remember that I am made blameless and even holy. In this covering, the mystery of God’s will for us is unveiled. What that big unveiling shows is that we may have everything in heaven and on earth—it’s for all of us. In Christ, we have earned the inheritance! With purpose, we can live with hope and praise our God in heaven, which in turn strengthens us in faith, love, understanding, belief, trust, and salvation through the Holy Spirit. The word tells me this is our ‘pledge inheritance’—to praise our heavenly Creator in heaven and on earth.
Prayer Thank you God for blessing us—thank you for choosing us!
Reflection: v. 13, ‘I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.’
How many times have we needed a reassuring and living word to move us into hope in God once more? Through the trials and tribulations in everyday life, God has promised that there is a time for sorrows and for the tough times to have an end! It is a time when God lifts us up above these circumstances and turns what may have been a long and difficult moment and gives us joy through his love for us. God tells of his promises to take off the old yolk of the world and its ways, and suddenly causes a miraculous change of circumstances to fulfill God’s plan in and for our lives. Our Lord and Savior Jesus will move heaven and earth to help us through a situation. He has given us life and through his life, death, and resurrection, the promises of God’s will is fulfilled. Reflect on that. God gives us life, joy, and peace to come.
Prayer Thank you, Father God, and thank you, Lord Jesus, for your steadfast love and care. Put in us your spirit, cleanse us so that we may receive your promises of salvation and new life by Christ Jesus!
These are a people who are in exile—people who feel abandoned, likely betrayed, and experiencing desolation. Although it feels as though God is absent and cares little about God’s people, particularly in their distress, this is a reminder that God is present in the darkness and pain. God will not be still. The prophet will not be still. We are not to be still. I have found for myself that it is easy to be paralyzed with inaction when the work to challenge oppression and injustice, a work of love and grace feels, overwhelming. We freeze in body and voice. I am reminded of the work of Stacey Abrams, who in the face of discouragement and loss, was determined to be anything but still and silent. She refused to allow defeat to paralyze her and, as a result, made space for a work of justice. This is the message, folks. We are not to be still. We are not to be silent. We have been called to do the tough work of moving one limb at a time when paralysis threatens to take over. If we are to be faithful, that means we will not be still, and we will not be silenced. It is not enough to say ‘black lives matter’ or ‘love is love.’ Be grassroots. Put your feet on the ground. Build relationships, and get to know one another—and not because you have something to gain, but because your stillness means there is something lost. Yes, the work is hard. No, we may not see the promises of God clearly in the moment. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t present.
Prayer Lord, I pray that we won’t keep silent anymore. May our voices be an action that leads to peace and justice for all.
I believe that God definitely wants me to be healthy. I talk to God every day. I’m designed to be healthy and clean. I’ll pass by the liquor store, and there were days when I would have just went in there when I had the money, but I choose not to, because that’s where I’m at today. I take it one day at a time. I have to make the same choice tomorrow—I have to choose not to. And I thank God that he helps me to do that. God is the foundation of my trying to get clean. He connects the dots for me. Every day I try to involve myself in the Bible studies we have here at Mercy—they connect to my recovery. Studying the Bible in community helps me build a foundation and gives me a reason to stay clean and stay sober. It also makes me want to live not just for myself, but to help somebody else. It’s not only about me, but the people around me. Other people, if they see you’ve had long-term recovery, they go by what they see.
Prayer Lord, let my actions live out what I’m trying to do and what I believe in.
Reflection: v.10, ‘he has clothed me… he has covered me’
This passage makes me think of the image of being out of fellowship, but then coming back to be welcomed and clothed with the grace, mercy, and righteousness of God. This is what being in fellowship with God is like. God wants to and can provide for all of my needs. This passage says, ‘he has clothed me…and covered me.’ That verse stands out to me, because it reminds me that God cares about my needs. He is giving me my basic needs, both spiritually and physically. This gives me hope, direction, and purpose. The volunteering I do with a ministry downtown gives me an opportunity to give back and to show people who have a background just like me that God is able to and wants to care for us—if he can do it for me, he can do it for you. From crack to Christ, from weed to the Word, from a six-pack to a four-pack—that’s Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Prayer Provide for our needs, O God, and help us to lead others to you.
Reflection: v. 3, ‘Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!’
I was walking my dog one evening. It was dark and cold outside. I had my jacket zipped up tight, hands in my pockets, shoulders pulled up towards my ears. My gaze settled downward and I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness as Thumper and I navigated our nightly route. With family far away and suddenly a single mom to two young daughters in a new city, the feeling of isolation was overpowering. Eventually, Thumper and I reached the corner and turned around to walk home. As we made the U-turn, I took a deep breath, glanced upwards and audibly gasped. My eyes locked on the biggest, brightest moon I had ever seen. My impulse was to reach out and touch it, even though I knew that would be impossible. Thumper and I stopped walking for a moment while I just stared and was overtaken by the moon’s beauty. Praising God amid loneliness, fear, rejection, and isolation is not necessarily the first thing that naturally springs forth. But God is in everything. If we take just a moment to shift our gaze towards that which is purely of our Creator God, praise can become us. We are never alone if we are willing to glance in the direction of the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer May we trust that God will never leave us alone.
Reflection: v. 3, ‘praise him, all you shining stars’
My name is Johnny Morgan. I’m 65 years old, and I pray to the Lord. I pray every night. This passage reminds us to praise God. In my prayers, I like to thank the Lord. When I pray, I look at the stars at night, and I thank God. I have something to be thankful for—I might not be rich, I might not be where I want to be in life, but I know that God is with me. I thank God for the people that surround me, and I thank God for the love they show me. I thank God for the life he has given me. My Momma always said, ‘Hold onto God; keep praying and hold on.’ God meets my needs. Mercy Church has given me food and a place to stay, and I pray every night for these people. I praise God. I have had to learn a lot. God had to lead me away from certain people, places, and things, and get my life going. And I can see that, and I can show love now to everyone. I know the Holy Spirit is beginning to work through me, and I pray that I can feel good about it.
Prayer Holy Spirit, help us to feel good about the ways you are leading us!
Reflection: v.11, ‘the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise’
Reading this passage reminds me that I can turn the corner. I used to think that I really didn’t deserve good things, because of all the stuff I’ve done in the past. I beat myself up a lot. And sometimes I will fall short. But I’m grateful today that I can turn the corner. I’ve seen so many of my friends pass away from addiction or other things. When I went to the hospital, it gave me a reality check. When they had me hooked up to all that stuff, it was a reminder that my life is important. My family was calling me, and I had people surrounding me that really cared, even when I hadn’t cared for myself. Sometimes it takes other people around you who value you to make you realize that you have value. Like my community at Mercy. I come here every day to get spiritually fed, and because it is important to have people around you who care about you.
Prayer Lord, help me to remember I am surrounded by your 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.
Maggie was raised and nurtured in Presbyterian churches in Plattsburgh, NY and Wilmington, NC. She attended undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill. Following graduation, Maggie volunteered in Guatemala as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer. When she returned, Maggie attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur,Georgia. Bringing together her interests in community outreach and pastoral care, Maggie was been ordained by PC(USA) to work as a pastor for Mercy Community Church starting in 2010.
She enjoys traveling, cooking for friends, social justice, hiking with her pooch, yard games, laffy taffy jokes, and practicing and teaching yoga. One of her joys is teaching for Centering Youth, a nonprofit that offers free yoga classes to those who might not otherwise have access to it. For them, Maggie teaches yoga on the streets, to pregnant incarcerated women, youth caught in the court system, and women trying to get out of the sex-trafficking industry.