By: Bill Smith
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Reflection—v. 1 ‘the shelter of the Most High’
The psalmist here is establishing a principle—that those who meditate on God and find their rest in the Lord will be protected from harm. This is similar to Jesus’ promise that all who are weary can find their rest in his embrace. Our God is a God who cares about those who are tired, weary, and exploited. God defends all who feel pushed out, looked over, or neglected by the world around us—those who have nowhere to go and no place to rest their exhausted bodies. God desires to be our refuge, our habitation, our home. It is interesting to me that in the Lukan passage, where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, this psalm is quoted by the tempter of Jesus to try to get him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus knew that the enemy was not going to succeed in getting him to deny the God who loved him. His trust in God’s love for him was a deep trust that did not need to be tested. In doing this, Jesus gives us an example of trusting the truth that God wants goodness for all of us. We never need to doubt that we can look to God as our source of protection. We can trust that God does not want us to have to worry or doubt his love for us. Instead, we can know that we can always find refuge in God, our abiding habitation.
Prayer God, our home and shelter, protect us. May we feel your presence and your abiding love even—and especially—when we feel like we have nowhere to go.
By: David Swank
Reflection—v. 8 ‘worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’
I think what stands out right from the beginning of this passage is that the devil actually thinks he can outsmart Jesus by tempting him with bread or the promise of power. ‘I’ll give you all these kingdoms,’ he says. God created the world. God created everything, so just the thought of a sneaky devil actually saying ‘I’ll give you this, or I’ll give you that,’ makes me think that Jesus must have thought, ‘How can you give me something I already have?’ The only way to out-fox the devil is to have strong trust in the God who created you. Have strong and abundant faith that God will deliver you out of whatever crisis or turmoil that you may be going through, because the God who created everything is always more powerful than the devil. We get tempted every day—around almost every corner you go around, you’re gonna have an obstacle or hurdle right up in your face. But a way over and around these hurdles is to remember that the devil doesn’t actually have any real power—only God has the power. Now believe me, sometimes it feels like the powers of the devil are really strong, but he has what I call ‘make-believe’ power. It’s like being in the desert after so many hours, you see a big lake of water, but when you get there, there’s nothing but sand—it’s like a mirage, like smoke-screen power. In other words, the power the devil has over us is make-believe. But Jesus is the real thing. He’s got the world. And Jesus is on our side. We’re talking about God the creator of the whole world is with us through any hurdles that we might run into. No matter what happens, God will find a way to deliver you.
Prayer Powerful, wonderful God, protect us from the things that tempt and harm us.
By: Jerome Johnson
Reflection—v.13 ‘everybody who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy; God blesses me, but I just won’t do right. I always know that God loves me, but I don’t know that God always loves the things I do when I’m being my own worst enemy. Sometimes I’m ashamed of myself. But I know God will pardon me. It says no one who believes will be put to shame, and God knows, I believe. I believe deeply. While I’ve got to stop this foolishness, the shame—God takes that away because God wants what’s good for us. Paul says, ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ I like this passage because it means that I can be saved. It says anybody who calls on the Lord can be saved, and I call upon the Lord every day. It says anybody, right? Anybody. That means me, too. I’m saved. I may not always be living like it, or even feel like it, but God has saved me. ‘Calling upon the Lord’ doesn’t just mean reaching out in prayer. It’s something I do everyday: in my sleep, when I wake up… I’m calling on God right now. And I know the Lord is with me—I can just feel it, and it makes me feel good. This passage is not just a reminder that even I can be saved, but that God wants the redemption of the whole world. It says anybody. What I think that means for how we should treat one another is that we should treat one another with kindness, the way we would want to be treated. This passage also says that we won’t be put to shame. I want to believe that and start doing right.
Prayer Redeemer of the whole world, take away our shame that we may live.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Reflection—v. 8 ‘we are treated as imposters…as unknown, and yet are well known.’
Think of a time when you have entered a church, a store, or a friend’s home and have been greeted and welcomed inside. Were you doted upon? Courted even? Did you feel like you were wanted in that space? Now imagine with me the opposite of this kind of interaction. Imagine long, weary looks from those better dressed than you. Imagine furtive side-eye from a security guard, scooting ever-closer your way. Imagine the nervous glances from the woman pushing a stroller, pulling out her phone. ‘Wait, is she calling the cops?’ you might wonder. We all share living space with others we barely see. We should know one another, but we treat each other as unknown imposters, invading what some consider to be decent, orderly, and gentrified spaces. We throw up a building or a sign and deem something ‘private’ and impenetrable, when whole communities have been living there long before us. Increasingly, our neighbors—that’s right, our neighbors living in the streets, parks, and parking lots we all share—are getting pushed out of their living spaces, merely because some don’t like how things ‘look.’ As Christians, we know the truth—that we are all beloved children of God, worthy of relationship and welcome. So why are some of us treated as imposters, strangers, and intruders in the very places where all of us must live? Instead of pushing out, may we all hear the call to welcome in, holding one another with the dignity and respect that all God’s children deserve.
Prayer God, help us to better know and love and respect our neighbors.
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.