By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 18 ‘I have seen the Lord’
The resurrection changes everything. It’s earth-shattering, world-upending, and cosmostransforming. But in that oddly paradoxical way that the gospel holds truth together, it is also human-sized. It fits in our hands. It guides our feet. It opens our eyes. In John’s telling, the ‘other disciple’ who outran Peter sees an empty tomb and discarded grave clothes, and he somehow ‘believes.’ But John is quick to add that as yet the community did not ‘understand the scripture’ that a crucified messiah should rise from the dead. Everything changes because the resurrection empowers faith even as we stand at the door of a tomb and look at nothing but emptiness. The resurrection makes it possible for us to believe even when we do not yet understand. That doesn’t mean resurrection faith is unthinking or uncritical, refusing to reckon with our all too often wretched reality. Just ask Mary Magdalene. Her faithfulness brought her from the cross to the tomb, but she wasn’t looking for anything like the resurrection. Her faithfulness simply wouldn’t allow her to abandon Jesus, either in suffering or death—regardless of the very real risk to her own life of such open solidarity with an executed revolutionary. Even after Peter and the other disciple have come and gone from the tomb, she is still there, still grieving in her faith. And it is then, when the one she supposes a gardener and suspects a thief speaks her name, that her grief-stricken faithfulness becomes overjoyed faith full-ness. Last at the cross and first at the tomb, Mary Magdalene becomes the persistent preacher of a resurrection that changes everything. If the dead can be raised, is it really so hard for us to believe that the world could be changed, too?
Prayer Alleluia, sisters and brothers! Rejoice! Jesus is risen—he is risen indeed!
By: Steve Smith
Reflection—v. 6 ‘to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.’
The spirit is the way you feel like God is with you in your heart. The spirit guides you to be more heart-full–not harmful, but heart-full. Being spiritual is a very healthy way, I believe, to live. If God is working through you, you’re doing God’s work. For me personally, God working through me looks like God not letting me get into physical conflicts. I stay out of jail. I haven’t been to jail in seven years now, and that’s because I changed my point of view on a lot of things. I used to fight in Little Five Points every day. What changed is that I quit getting into fights. When I left the navy, I was a control freak—I always wanted to fight the meanest person around and I did. I went to jail several times. I had to change that. I worked to clear the garbage out—it was a trashy way of thinking. It was a dark spell, but with Christ you get that little light, and then the Holy Spirit grabs you, and you think ‘Whoa! That’s never happened before!’ But it happens a lot now. It’s almost like a 6th sense–where most people have five senses, God becomes your sixth sense. It’s not perfect perception, but the spirit is a kind of perception from God and it helps you to understand and get right in your life instead of walking and thinking in shadows. I think it’s good for our community to study this type of scripture because we can relate to what we might need to change. That way it’s not erroneous, and we’re more intelligent–it makes us a stronger community to be bonded in scripture.
Prayer God, guide us by your spirit to walk in your light!
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 10 ‘the breath entered them, they came to life and stood’
Breath prayer was an ancient spiritual practice of the church. One of the earliest of these prayers was known as the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ wherein early practitioners would repeat ‘Jesus, son of God, have Mercy on me’ in rhythm with their breath. At Mercy, Chad turned this phrase into a beautiful sung prayer. I typically think of breath prayers as shorter prayers, one or two words in length, thought in concert with each inhalation and exhalation. I find that praying in this way slows me down, helping me to focus and find calm. Interestingly enough, research has shown that changing our breath can also affect our nervous system. When we are stressed out, the sympathetic part of the nervous system is activated (think, the flight, fright, or freeze response) and we get stuck in this space with a faster heart rate and more elevated blood pressure. It is difficult for the brain to switch back to calm after experiencing stress. However, it has been shown that by taking long slow exhales, we can convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even in the midst of stressful circumstances. Long slow exhales can literally bring us calm and clarity. This is the place from which we can make good decisions. This is the place where it can become clear what we should stand for. God’s Holy Spirit fills us with breath and brings us clarity. Through prayer, may we discern this Lenten season where and with whom God’s infusion of love calls us to stand.
Prayer (take a deep breath and slowly exhale) Loving God, give us calm and clarity.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 10 ‘made known to the rulers and authorities’
As I write, I call to mind my community. I can see it, loud and brash and rowdy. I marvel at it, so compassionate and generous and forgiving. Truth be told, I am overwhelmed by my community, for we are painfully honest and undaunted by struggle and so very wonderfully human. There is no place I would rather be than with this people, just one among the many that make up this little flock of the followers of Jesus. Perhaps you have seen it, too, as you have prayed and reflected on Scripture with us through Advent and Christmas. And now it is Epiphany, a time for seeing, for the light has come to us. We are called to carry that light—the light of God that shines so deeply in our humanity because God has become one with us. Christ has bestowed upon all of us the gift of life in its marvelous fullness. Our vocation is to make this truth known to the powers that be—the ‘rulers and authorities,’ indeed every system and institution and ideology that seeks to hold sway over the hearts and minds of human beings. Here in a little basement off a back alley, huddled with those who are hungry for bread and hungry for justice, I can see and feel it, be encouraged by it and be overwhelmed by it. Because it is here that I see the church living the truth and truly making it known. My prayer is for every one of us, in every church and community, to shine so radiantly that our world may be awash in the glow of such ardent life.
Prayer: God of variegated wisdom, make known the joy of life and redeem us all.
By: Kevin Whitside
Reflection—v.11 ‘not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters’
It’s clear that it’s not angels that Jesus helps, but people. Jesus was made like his brothers and sisters in every way and is merciful and faithful. In a practical realm, since he was human, it is kind of like he’s ‘been there, done that.’ He knows exactly what we’re going through, because he’s been through it! Particularly, I think of the humility Jesus went through. Jesus hung out with people like us, people like myself—those who didn’t have much, those who had issues, those who had vices—the people under the radar. Jesus decided to walk with people who didn’t have much. People who were talked about and even criminals. I think he put himself with people who needed him. But these were also the people he found value in. That’s what it means when it says, ‘brothers and sisters.’ I’m not perfect, but Jesus still values me as his own brother. ‘Why me, Jesus? Why stick around with me when I do so much that’s not God-like, that’s not Jesus-like?’ But he’s still with me. He still never takes his hands off me. He’s allowing me to turn my life around and that’s why I’m still breathing. I’m not perfect, my past isn’t perfect. But I try to live the best I can, and I’m truly grateful, because he hasn’t taken his hands off of me. He gives me another chance to live God-like, and I have to acknowledge that and live it.
Prayer: Christ, my brother, thank you for loving me. Help me to love myself and others.
By: Kevin Harris
Reflection—v.9 ‘he lifted them up and carried them…’
When I read this passage, I felt as though God had increased me completely. I was able to ponder and be grateful for the many gifts the Lord has allowed me to experience. This year it feels as though I have been tried like Job. But even in the midst of my hardships, God constantly tells me ‘you may bend, but I won’t allow you to break.’ God says ‘I love you’ to life and I trust that God wants my life to be full and abundant. My Lord has shown me the love of a community that carries the Lord’s shield when I’m faced with trouble. Through my community I’m reminded of God’s promise to lift me up–God’s promise to carry us all to health and well-being. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by the tasks of mercy and grace, yet it warms my heart to serve. So when God calls, I try to just listen. I hear birds, trees, and family. In conclusion, what the prophet Isaiah is describing in this passage is life. I love love and I love God’s people. Amen.
Prayer: God of abundant life, in our times of trouble and strife bring us health and wholeness through your beloved community.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 7 ‘I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord’
In a world that is often complicated and filled with violence and hardship, I love that we see Isaiah doing the brave work of recounting the gracious deeds of God. In November, I was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church by Mercy Community Church and First Christian Church of Decatur. That celebration reminded me so deeply of the gracious deeds of God. I was reminded of those moments, places, and people through which I have seen glimpses of God that are a little closer, a little more tangible, a little more of the God incarnate that we celebrate in this season of Christmas. So many of those moments have often taken place in this small basement church on the crowded street of Ponce. As I reflect during this Christmas season on God’s goodness, I can’t help but think of the faces of Mercy Community Church. Faces of those who have spoken prophetically, sung joyfully, and shared vulnerably. Every meal shared, every sound of laughter, every prayer lifted up in our community is a gracious deed of God. I have had the honor and privilege of worshiping with the Mercy Community for over five years now, and when I think about the gracious deeds of God, I count the Mercy Community on the top of my list. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that when you recount the gracious needs of God in your own life, your list includes all the love and warmth that Mercy Church represents for me.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for all the good things you are working in our lives.
By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
Reflection—v. 9 ‘It was no messenger or angel but God’s presence that saved them’
In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek explores the concept of finite and infinite games. In a finite game there is a clear beginning, middle and end, the players are known, and all the rules agreed upon ahead of time. An infinite game has no clear beginning or end, engages both known and unknown players, and proceeds with ever-changing rules! At Mercy, worship is a joyfully played infinite game with few time constraints, unexpected players, and rules with which the Holy Spirit plays any way She pleases! Preaching at Mercy, for example, is a community event, ala lectio divina. After Scripture is read everyone is invited to call out a word or phrase that grabs us. When a word or phrase someone else brings up jumps out at us, too, we call out, ‘check!’ At Mercy you can trust that the presence of God will be made known not just through the voices of a few enlightened messengers, or simon-pure angels, or over-educated preachers, but through the voices and insights and struggles of the whole community. At Mercy, worship is a decidedly infinite game during which, through ALL our questions, doubts, fears, and wonderment, the lively love of God saves us, redeems us, lifts us up, and carries us through the coming week.
Prayer: Loving God, keep us ever humble, open and ready to play with the infinite ways you come to us through your creation and one another. Amen.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v.11 ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’
I was recently privy to a conversation between two dear pastor friends, Rev. Cassandra Henderson and Terrence Smith, both of whom are much wiser than I am. They were talking about how easy it is to dismiss prosperity theology–the belief that God will graciously provide material wealth to the faithful. This theology is often times looked down upon in mainline, white churches and is often preached in poorer contexts. It feels cheap and icky. However, they went on to muse about ways in which more affluent contexts cheapen the love of God–through a theology of grace, undeserved forgiveness. Really, it’s all about what one needs. Poor people depend on God to provide for their welfare, because the state and their communities won’t–in fact those entities often place barriers in their way to achieving well-being. Conversely, more affluent people need spiritual grace. Their material welfare is provided for, but they know that they fall short of offering the love of God to others. They blindly hurt others through personal gain and judgements. But y’all, the good news is that the ‘grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all!’ I can’t help but think, if we notice our biases, we might be able to participate in God’s work of grace-giving, with no type of grace more special or ‘right’ than the other. This Christmas, let us give gifts of grace to one another! All of God’s beautiful children can get their needs met.
Prayer: God of abundant grace, help us to be grace-givers too.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v.11 ‘Your savior is born today’
Okay, so I know that it’s Christmas and we’re supposed to be really excited and happy, glorifying and praising God and everything…. But do you know what seems like it would be a real test of patience for me? To know that the SAVIOR IS BORN! …and we to have to wait for her to grow up so that we can be saved. It’s like that psych experiment where a kid is given a marshmallow and asked to wait 10 minutes to eat it, but a million times worse. I mean, I suppose it could be comforting to know that salvation will occur in my lifetime, but continuing to watch things unravel for years to come before salvation day would drive me bonkers. Kudos to the shepherds who were able to be excited right away! But maybe that’s why we celebrate Christmas every year instead of every 33 years. It’s not just about the end. It’s about the beginning. It’s about what’s possible. Each year is a reminder and encouragement to celebrate the gift of life, given to us by God. We can’t change the past, and I daresay we should not merely wait on the future. The calling is to join in Christ’s life now. As we join with God-with-us to make sure each person feels worthy of giving and receiving love, together we will change the end.
Prayer: O blessed Savior, come down to be with us that we may walk with you.