Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Reflection—v. 10 ‘as poor, yet making many rich.’
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about our perceptions of abundance and prosperity, and how such things are relative. For example, I often feel like my partner and I do not make enough money to adequately support our family. This dread of ‘not having enough’ can make me weary of sharing or giving. However, when I look at all that we have in comparison to people who live on so much less, it suddenly shifts my perspective and makes me realize the privileged life I live. I am also reminded of the abundance of time I have, of health and energy, that can allow me to give and share in ways that are not always merely monetary. Nothing drives this realization home for me more than seeing the ways in which people give of themselves at Mercy. People, who by the standards of many have very little at all, daily share their time, their energy, their intellect, their artistic ability, even their one spare sandwich or extra pair of socks. Mercy is a community where people have learned to give out of their own abundance. At Mercy, we may not be rich by societal standards, but we are rich in mercy. The world may call us poor, but we are sharing mercy so others may be rich as well—for the thing about mercy is, it is not a finite resource. What abundance do you have in your life, and how can you share it?
Prayer God of mercy, help us to remember that we all have something to give. May we be rich in mercy, and always willing to share.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Reflection—v. 9 ‘…as dying, and see—we are alive.’
Are you like me in that when you hear the phrase ‘the church is dying,’ your stomach churns? Does it make you defensive for the institution that you love and the life you still see there within it? While I do hate this sobering diagnosis of my lifelong partner, I cannot ignore the reek of death issuing from those old stone buildings I still adore. Like a weary chaplain, I have sat beside my clergy and lay friends alike, mourning old drafty buildings too large to heat, dwindling congregations too small to meet—throwing our hands in the air as we say, ‘The money’s just not there,’ while outside our locked doors are the knocking poor, asking for something to eat. I will not dress it up in kinder, more placating words. So long as the church invests in its property over the poor, we will keep dealing in death. So long as our systems are set up to turn ministry into a career-building venture, then smaller congregations and the poorest among us will go without. But there is life still in these drying bones, if we have the courage to resurrect them. If I am being brutally honest, my call to ministry has not been as glamorous as I may have imagined. At Mercy, our salaries are laughable (or non-existent). There is no endowment, no health insurance, and we’ve never even had a building to lose. But when I enter our ever-open rented doors, I find our small space teeming with vibrant life. I find a congregation that is growing, and flourishing, and supporting one another—creating, dreaming, and hungry for the Word and for the meal we will share together. See, we are alive! So my question for the church that I so deeply love is this: will we have the courage to walk through death to new places, new forms of ministry, and new risks where life abounds?
Prayer Guide us, O Holy One, to the places where life abounds.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 1, ‘Beware practicing your righteousness before others’
In some circles, it’s become in vogue to be a social activist. Your introduction to another Christian should include all the advocating, lobbying, and volunteering you do, lest someone think you’re not as committed as they. In a world where we can post our protest pictures on Facebook and make sure our hair looks just right beforehand, how could we not be proud of all the work we’re doing to resist Rome and help ring in the Kingdom of God? Don’t worry, if this picture I’ve painted makes you feel a little defensive, I am calling myself to account here, too. That is why I both love and hate Jesus’ caution about our tendency to practice justice when others are looking, with the hope of being seen. Sure, you’ll get the glory, the news time, the ‘likes,’ and those oh-so-warm good feelings, but you will miss out on a far greater reward, he warns. Do I think that God is tally-marking when we get too self-absorbed, withholding heavenly rewards we no longer qualify for? No. Do I think we often miss the point of doing righteousness all together, overlooking true treasures freely given? Yes, I do. Practicing righteousness is about mending and restoring what is broken. It is about relationships. If you are advocating for someone, and never take the time to know them, to love them, to sit with them and maybe even feel annoyed and disappointed with them sometimes too, you miss the beautiful gift of restorative human relationship. Relational ministry is not an accolade you can hang on the wall, store up for yourself, or post on your website. It is messy and complicated. It’s not pretty enough for social media. Yet such relationships—such justice-bringing, humanizing, friendship-forming relationships—are the heart of God. And that is a true treasure.
Prayer God of righteousness, may we seek right relationship with you and one another.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 5, ‘The abundance of the sea will be brought to you’
Something that I remember from elementary school was a research project about the giant squid. I thought the giant squid was awesome because technically no one has ever seen this creature alive as it lives so deep in the ocean. I realized that the ocean I saw at the beach was just a small portion of the vastly deep sea that sustains life that we can’t even see. When Isaiah says the abundance of the seas will be brought to the people of Israel, I can’t help but be impressed, and even moved. Too often, I find myself operating from a mindset of lack—I don’t give generously because I lack resources, I am stingy with my time because I lack free time, I don’t act with boldness because I lack courage. It’s in the DNA of our culture to think in terms of lack. But when I think about the God who created the heavens and earth coming to dwell with us, I am moved toward the freedom of abundance. When we operate out of abundance, we can give freely, we can work for justice with full hearts, we can love unconditionally. I see this so clearly at Mercy. For some, it means giving their extra pair of socks to someone with no socks. For others, it means sharing their musical and artistic talents. We share the resources that we have knowing that God sustains us. God’s love is as vast and as deep as the sea that houses that giant squid, and in that, there is freedom to love others, not just at Christmas now past but through the entire year.
Prayer: God, do not let our fear of lack hinder our ability to do the work of love and justice.
By: Harrison Davis
Colossians 3. 12-17
Reflection—v.13, ‘Bear with one another’
There is something beautiful in the honesty of this statement. At Mercy, we talk a lot about choosing life with God by living in community with one another. The road to a full and complete life begins with treating each other with patience, mercy, and love. But no matter how many times we say it, we often forget just how truly difficult it is to live with one another. We forget that each morning, we all wake up in a world of our own. We may be hungry, tired, or cold. We may be dealing with tragedy or loss, pain or emotional suffering, guilt or feelings of personal failure. We may want to just give up for that one day, that one morning, or even that single moment. Each one of us comes to Mercy’s table with heavy hearts, minds and lives. It can be hard to find love and kindness for others when to love and be kind to oneself is such an arduous journey. ‘Bear with me’—it starts here. When I mess up, or lose myself to anger, frustration, or impatience, the reason is often my own inability to bear with myself. In those moments, all I could ever hope for is patience from others. So many times, I have been given the grace to be broken, incomplete. I am given the trust that I am actively fighting to find wholeness. The least I can do is to return that grace, to try to clothe myself with love and forgiveness, even if it means beginning by just bearing.
Prayer: Giver of all good things, may we remember who we all truly are: your beloved
By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Reflection—v.1, ‘arise, shine’
“Wakey, wakey, rise and shine!” sang my morning-person Mom in order to dynamite me and my sisters out of bed. How I loathed to hear those words, never mind the buoyant tone with which they were delivered. Slow to transition from the soft, cozy realm of oblivion to the cold, hard light of day, suffice it to say that I am decidedly not a morning person. Isaiah, on the other hand, clearly is. ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come!’ he exclaims, ‘and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!’ ‘Yeah, yeah,’ I mumble in response; ‘Just give me a minute.’ First thing in the morning, not even the coming of the Lord causes me to ‘thrill and rejoice.’ But what if I were given more time? What if I were given ‘til noon, say, or until five, or until whatever time necessary to wake up to the Light of Christ? Well, for sure, I would have a better chance; wouldn’t we all? Good thing God is more patient than my mother.
Prayer: Good-natured God, thank you for your patience and persistence with turning my
yawning heart from the comfort of oblivion to the Light of your Life.
By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
I Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Reflection—v.20, ‘by this woman’
Hannah, whose husband was Elkanah and whose son was Samuel, put up with a lot. For one thing, at a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her male children, Hannah was barren. And although her husband did not blame her for this, her very fruitful ‘co-wife’ gave her endless grief about it. To add insult to injury, when Hannah goes to the temple to pray for relief, the priest imagines she’s drunk and tells her so! So much for non-judgmental pastoral care. But when God finally opens Hannah’s womb, none of this matters anymore. Instead, like Mary after her, Hannah’s heart leaps with gratitude. When God opens the wombs of our hearts to bear Jesus to the world, everything else—our longing, our fear, our angst, our forgetfulness—pales in comparison. What makes your own heart leap with gratitude?
Prayer: Heart-opening God, in the midst of the complexities of our lives, help us remember to be grateful.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 44, ‘Assuming that he was in the group of travelers’
In Jesus’ time, it was considered dangerous to travel. In fact, this has been true for most
of human history. To be away from one’s people, resources, and stable sources of food and water left the individual vulnerable on a number of accounts. Often times pilgrims,
merchants, and travelers would band together for protection, forming a caravan. These individuals wanted no ill will for others, rather they found safety and companionship in the company of a group. I had a similar experience as I walked across Spain, banding together with other seekers, supporting and helping one another along the way. The same is true of migrants from Central America who make a dangerous passage to seek safer living conditions, as well as those of us who experience homelessness and make camps together. There is a strength and security in numbers. Walking 500 miles is hard. It is done because one has no other choice. Jesus and his parents traveled as a part of a caravan, finding safety among its members as they journeyed to Jerusalem the only way they could. I received a lot of hospitality and help along my way—though I suppose those of us who come from privilege often do. I hope that one day we will all be able to see, value, and foster the livelihood of all who band together in hopes of experiencing a better life, one filled with security, peace, and love.
Prayer: Traveling God, protect us on our journey. May we bind ourselves together in you.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 48, ‘I have been searching for you in great anxiety’
At Mercy we talk about the healthy gift of fear, that it can help us to be wise and to be
protected. Many of us feel fear in our bellies—our guts don’t lie. When we feel that fear
creeping in, we know to get out. It is important to trust ourselves. However, there are times when our fear and anxiety don’t serve us, that they are the antithesis to joy. For me, I can feel the difference between my protective agent and my crazy agent because this second kind of fear lives in my head, not my gut. This type of fear is where we play out our worst fears in our heads, the kind of situation where everything is going well, yet we start to anticipate it all disappearing. Dr. Brene Brown, who researches fear, says that in these moments we stop allowing ourselves to feel joy. To fully feel joy requires vulnerability. We can turn ourselves back to joy. Dr. Brown says that research shows gratitude to be the antidote to this fear. Fear tells us what we are scared of losing, which also reveals what we value. We can practice turning from fear to gratitude and joy. When we fear that a relationship will fail, we can be grateful for how meaningful it is now. If we fear that our child will be hurt, we can be grateful for their boldness and spirit. Love is born in the world! Free of fear, may we turn toward vulnerability and joy by practicing gratitude.
Prayer: Joyful God, help us become more vulnerable and calm our fears.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 13 ‘forgive each other… as the Lord has forgiven you’
During this season of Christmas, we welcome Jesus into the world. Try as we might, I suspect that after all these days of preparing for Jesus’ birth, we have not found ourselves to be perfectly ready to welcome love into the world. We may have spent more time shopping, cooking, and hanging lights than reflecting in the dark and making more space in our hearts. That’s okay. The process of living more fully in love doesn’t stop at Advent. It continues into Christmas! There’s this catchy song on the radio by lovelytheband that I cannot get out of my head. The lyrics say, ‘I like that you’re broken, broken like me; maybe that makes me a fool.’ I love this line. I love the idea that our brokenness and our rough spots might make us more lovable, more relatable. Of course, there is hurt in our brokenness—we have been hurt by others and we have hurt others. And yet we are still lovable! That’s part of the grace of this season. I don’t have it all right all the time, and neither do you. But we still have the gift of Christ in our lives. We still have time to grow and change. Our lovability and brokenness can help us to understand and love others. We can still be forgiven. And we can still forgive. God lives with us and shows us the way.
Prayer: Holy God, help us to continue to reflect and grow in this new year—always forgiving, always loving.