Lent – Thursday, February 25

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 1:9-15

Reflection: v. 15, ‘believe in the good news’

‘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.

Lent – Wednesday, February 24

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 1:9-15

Reflection: v. 15, ‘repent and believe in the good news’

The date of Kristallnacht—when Nazis violently attacked German Jews, breaking glass in shops and burning synagogues to the ground—is written in the margins of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Bible at Psalm 74.8: ‘They said in their hearts we’ll kill all of them together! They burned all of God’s meeting places in the land.’ He also marked the next verse, which reads in part: ‘We don’t see our own signs anymore; no prophet is left.’ That simple act—a scribbled date, a highlighted verse—shows the witness of a faithful disciple. I see someone prayerfully wrestling, trying to make sense of the chaos that was engulfing his world. And it reminds me that it just isn’t possible to believe in the God of the Bible—the God of the Incarnation—and hide our heads from our own history-in-the-making, even as the whirlwind we have sown swirls violently around us. Perhaps we wish we weren’t called to times such as these, but the times call us nevertheless. This is how it must be—if we are to be authentically faithful. We are called to embody the gospel in history. In the final analysis, this is what it means to ‘repent and believe the good news.’ As I write this, the many layers of my clothing are wet, and I can’t quite get warm or shake the chill, despite the steaming black coffee in front of me. Why? Because we were open this rainy winter day, just as we have been every day of the pandemic, out in our own urban wilderness. But this day, my damp clothing reminds me of the grace of Christian baptism—waters that may indeed ‘chill my body but not my soul,’ as the old song says. To follow Jesus is to be where human beings are suffering, standing together as beneath the cross. To embody the gospel is compassionately caring for one another and resisting the violence of hateful words or ugly guns—or the structures within the systems that cause such suffering in the first place. With simple acts like these, we embody the gospel of Jesus with our own flesh. With works of mercy, we take into our own hands the benevolent kingdom Jesus promised is already at hand, if only we dare reach out.

Prayer God of the Incarnation, help us embody your mercy in these times.

Lent – Tuesday, February 23

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 1:9-15

Reflection: v. 15, ‘now is the time’

Now is always the time for liberation. But those in power never think so. And too often neither do we, if we’re really honest with ourselves—especially when unrighteous systems provide us some measure of stability and comfort. In the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King describes his disappointment with white pastors he had hoped might grasp the urgency of the moment and join Black demonstrators in the struggle for racial justice. As always, a uniquely American prophet, he writes: ‘Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood [and sisterhood]. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.’ King says succinctly, ‘The time is always ripe to do right.’ That’s what Jesus is saying, too. And his words aren’t just a few more among many wise words Jesus spoke. Mark is here bringing together the essence of Jesus’ gospel preaching, the very ‘good news of God’ for human beings: ‘Now is the time, and the kingdom of God is at hand.’ Anything that is at hand is within our grasp, imminently accessible to all. And make no mistake, the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims is not to be confused—even for a fleeting moment—with any of the kingdoms of this world. Put more bluntly, the God of Jesus of Nazareth is not the god of the KKK. The God of Jesus isn’t the god of hate and fear and violence and war. Jesus shows—he embodies—through the places he goes, the folks he welcomes, the ways he heals, the systems he denounces, the hungry he breaks bread with—precisely who God is and what God’s kingdom is about. It’s far past time that we who say that we worship Jesus start to truly follow him—not just by the services we attend or the offerings we give, not just by the petitions we sign or the posts we share. We follow Jesus by living like he did in his days upon the earth, painting a vision of a new world with our own flesh and blood hands, doing the simple works of mercy that are always within our grasp. As always, now is the time.

Prayer O, God of Jesus, now is the time to lay hold of liberation.

Lent – Monday, February 22

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 1:9-15

Reflection: v. 12, ‘drove him into the wilderness’

In the Gospels, wilderness isn’t a metaphor—it’s a social location. Sure, we can back our way into wilderness imagery and use it to talk about the geography of our inner world, the terrain of our wild hearts. But only after we do the discipleship work of locating ourselves within the actual wildernesses in our world. The wilderness where Jesus is baptized and tested in the Gospel of Mark is a wild, mostly deserted place. The wilderness existed outside of the official power of empire, abandoned by it, very far from the centers of power. For that reason, thieves on the run encamped there. But it is also the locus of salvation in the Gospels. There John first appears, announcing the New Exodus Isaiah had promised. There Jesus feeds the multitudes. In the lexicon of Pope Francis, the wilderness becomes the ‘periphery,’ the margins, the edges where the poor among us are shunted to the side. That biblical wilderness can be found in every city. At Mercy, we call it the streets. It’s the back alleys, abandoned buildings, bridges, hospital waiting rooms, long rides on public transportation, heated exhaust grates mostly hidden from view. It should be axiomatic that our social location matters if we are to respond faithfully to the gospel. Mark uses some great verbs: the heavens don’t just ‘open,’ they are ‘torn open.’ And Jesus isn’t just ‘led’ into the wilderness, he’s ‘driven out’—the same word the Gospels use when Jesus himself is ‘casting out’ demons. It is a strong, provocative word. The same Spirit that came upon Jesus in his baptism is now driving him out into the uncertainties of the wilderness. Maybe in our present distress and the discomfort we feel as we scramble to make sense of the world around us and even what it means to be church for one another, the same Spirit is driving us out, too. The old ways aren’t going to bring us to a new world. Perhaps the streets can become the locus of salvation for us today.

Prayer Spirit, drive us into the wilderness and lead us to salvation.

First Sunday of Lent

Author: Chad Hyatt

Mark 1:9-15

Reflection: v. 11, ‘in you I delight’

Photo is from a pre-Covid19 service

As we begin Lent, we turn to a story that inaugurates the ministry of Jesus: his baptism by John. The Gospel writers see in this story an important moment in discerning the identity of Jesus. I believe this story can illumine the core of human identity, as well. A friend of mine told me recently that he had come across a simple, startling, and surprisingly healing word of counsel: God likes him. He contrasted that particular verb choice to the more familiar idea of God loving him. He accepted that God did love him, of course. But from his perspective, it felt like something that God was more or less obligated to do—because, well, God is just good like that. But thinking of God actually liking him was proving to be a liberating and life-affirming experience for my friend. Yes, God does like us. The heart of God is drawn out towards us always. Just as Jesus hears the voice of God claiming him at his baptism, so should we. We are also claimed in our baptism as children of God, beloved. But lest we think like my friend that love is merely a contractual agreement that God is bound to with human beings, let us dare to trust that God truly finds happiness in us and delights in our very being. There are so many competing voices in our world—and especially in this present moment. Perhaps it’s not their presence all around us—because that’s nothing new—but their strident and unrelenting loudness, ringing in our ears, constantly demanding our attention. And if it isn’t the voices from the outside, then perhaps it’s the voices in our own heads—well-worn, incessantly critical, telling us we’re not ‘good enough,’ destructive sirens of pain and shame. I encourage us this Lent, as we renew once more the call to follow Jesus wherever he leads, to remember our own baptism, to call to mind once again that God has claimed us, and marked us with the sign of the cross. And may we hear clearly the voice of God above all others—opening wide the heavens themselves—tenderly reminding us that we are indeed children of God, beloved beyond our imagining. And let us hear, perhaps for the first time, that our very humanity—who we are uniquely as a person—delights the one who loves us so fiercely.

Prayer O God, I dare to believe you delight in me.

Lent – Saturday, February 20

Author: Isaiah Lewis

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Reflection: v. 20, ‘be reconciled to God’

Photo is from a pre-Covid19 Ash Wednesday

Whether I like it or not, the problem of evil is my theological center of gravity. I want to know why, if God is good, there’s so much suffering in the world. And I know that I’m not alone in asking that question. If Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection changed reality, why are we still relying on our endurance to weather hardships, sleepless nights, riots, and hunger? Shouldn’t he have fixed all of that?

I asked this question to a theologian recently, and he said that God wasn’t a plumber or electrician patching up a rickety old house. Instead, God wants to build an entirely new house with us together. I’m still working on being reconciled to this understanding of God. But I have to believe that Jesus is always already working to save us. Even, and maybe especially, in the midst of calamity, now is the time to join in the work of our collective salvation.

Prayer Reconcile us to you, O God.

Lent – Friday, February 19

Author: Harrison Davis

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17

Reflection: v.1, ‘the day of the Lord is coming’

Is it hopeful when the day of the Lord approaches? A day of darkness and gloom, Joel says, with a great and powerful army spreading like a shadow on the horizon? Strangely, when I read these words, my heart throbs with longing. The pandemic has been hard—very hard. For me, the hardest has been the sacrifice of community. I still see human faces, but they are now mostly filtered through a computer screen. I have grown used to hearing the human voice filtered and diminished through an electronic speaker, the words at odds with the stuttering, glitchy movements of a mouth straining to reach me through often shaky internet connections. When I worked at Mercy, my life was saturated with the bodies of humans. The sounds, smells, and heat of human bodies enveloped me like a warm blanket. Few times in my life have I felt as loved, felt as close to community and belonging. In a recent conversation, Pastor Chad called this incarnational love. Boy, I never knew how much I’d miss it until it was gone. Sometimes, the pandemic has been even unbearably hard. Pain, suffering, and death have marched in our midst like an army. But what breaks my heart is the numbness. In the fear of the virus, we must distance ourselves, deprive ourselves of intimate contact with beloved brothers and sisters. Death and suffering are presented as a number, steadily increasing each day. Instead of love, my heart has made room for anxiety and fear—fear that says the only thing we can do is hide from the holy faces of others. This is the moment that the day of the Lord is most needed. In the doom of an army at our doorstep, God calls us to reject numbness. God calls for weeping, mourning, and fasting. In a solemn assembly, God calls us to gather to mourn all that has been lost: community, fellowship, loved ones, the countless lives taken by racism, genderism, sexism, economic injustice, and the many pandemics and deaths that beset our doors. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ God is there—in our tears, yes, but in our hope too.

Prayer Be present to us, O tender Creator, in our pain and in our hope.

Lent – Thursday, February 18

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Reflection: v.12, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning’

The night before the inauguration, the Biden administration hosted a memorial to honor and grieve for the then 400,000 American lives lost to Covid-19. I almost did not watch it. These days it seems there is only so much I can hold, and after a long week with my community and a full day of parenting, I did not want to make the time. On a whim, I decided to prop my phone up near the sink as I cleaned the dishes from the day, and as Lori Marie Key, the nurse from Michigan, began singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ I wept. In that moment I realized that our country had not yet had this kind of intentional, collective moment of remembering and mourning for victims of the virus, and I had not even realized how much I longed for one. Certainly, I had grieved the lives of those I had personally lost to Covid19. I had registered the magnitude of what was happening as I checked the climbing numbers in the news each day. I held my private vigils as I plowed through the difficult sacrifices of our new world. But something about the intentionality of this ceremony and the recognition of our pain and loss reached somewhere deep inside me and allowed me to grieve more fully and honestly. Moreover, knowing that from my little kitchen in Georgia, I was watching this memorial with so many others, I felt connected to the other souls who were carrying the same grief and burdens as me. As I watched the lights on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool through tear-filled eyes, I remembered that every single human life has value. I remembered that as Christians we are called to honor human beings, never taking for granted any precious life. Lent is also a season that we intentionally set aside to remember. Lent is a season to repent—to change our hearts and lives and turn ourselves toward God. Maybe this season is just what we need right now, so long as we take the time to honor its true purpose.

Prayer I pray this Lent that in the stillness of this long stretch toward Easter we take the time to pause, to grieve, to remember who our God is, and to honor the value of a human life.

Lent Devotionals 2021 – Ash Wednesday

View the digital devotionals

Welcome, beloved community, to your 2021 Lenten devotional! Welcome to the members of our community that we see every day, and those who love us from afar.

Welcome to a time to change our hearts and lives. Welcome to a time that we set aside for fasting, for sharing our resources, for justice. Welcome to a time that we take to turn towards God. Welcome to a time when we can be honest about all the dry places in our lives and ask for God’s renewal. Welcome to remembering the waters of our baptism and knowing that they mean that God has got us.

Welcome to remembering that we are beloved and that God is faithful to us even now, especially now. Welcome to this journey that we take together as a community, even if it’s a little bit different this year.

Welcome, beloved. We hope you enjoy this collaborative community project we have lovingly crafted together for you. We pray it enriches your Lenten season and helps you feel connected to our community.

Blessed Lent!

Ash Wednesday Devotional

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Reflection: v. 12, ‘the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in’

How strange it feels to once again be preparing for Lent, as in some ways I still feel stuck in March of last year—caught in a perpetual season of penitence and reflection on our past mistakes. And yet in other ways, it feels as if so much has transpired it is a wonder to me that it has only been 12 months since we last gathered together to smear ashes on foreheads and remember our mortality. I will speak for myself in saying I will not be needing such a tangible reminder of death this year. This year I have buried too many dear congregants, made too many strategic and difficult sacrifices for the safety of my family, mourned too many lives gone in a nation wracked in discord, and lost too much sleep to fear and concern for my community. This year mortality has followed behind my shoulder, ever creeping into view like a persistent, haunting ghost. And while this year I do not need ashes or a liturgical reminder to turn my thoughts inward, I do mourn the missed chance to reach outward and tenderly touch the flesh of another’s face without fear of sharing too closely the air we all breathe. Because as we begin yet another season of Lent—still distanced, still mourning, still isolated, still with so much work to do—I am reminded deep in my lonely bones how much I depend upon others, how much we need one another. In this passage from Isaiah, the prophet paints for us an image of a justice-making community—where our ‘fasting’ leads to a world made more righteous by the ways we care for one another. My prayer for us this Lent is that, in this season of many transitions, we may seek to do this work of justice—the work that cares for us all, binds us together even as we feel isolated, repairs breaches, and makes our streets places of life once more.

Prayer Restore us, O Lord, and repair our broken places. Make our streets safe again.