By: Maggie Leonard
Refection—v. 24, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light’
My brother lives in the 2017 eclipse path of totality. That made it very easy for my entre immediate family to gather and watch the once-in-a-lifetme phenomenon together. In this Markan prophecy, the turning of the sky sounds very dramatc. So was the eclipse. But what struck me most was the length of the process. To the discerning (and protected!) eye, watching the waxing and waning of the eclipse took hours. Signs were all around us of what was to come, if we knew what to look for. For example, the crescent shadows of leaves were a tell-tale sign of the looming eclipse—though honestly, I was so busy looking up, that I forgot to look down. And really, that’s all prophecy is—an interpretaton of what is already around us, if we are looking in the right directon. The signs are there, for sure. But usually the process is longer than we hope. This passage speaks about God gathering together God’s people—not dividing us. In this Advent season, do we notce the ways in which God is gathering us together? Let us stop pointng fngers and begin to look for the ways that God gathers us as one people into God’s kingdom—where everybody is loved and valued.
Prayer God of all seasons, may we see the signs of your love and transformation.
By: Maggie Leonatd
Refecton—v. 28, ‘from the fig tree…branch becomes tender’
When I walked the Camino de Santago in September, I was struck by the abundance of food. Every field and yard was dripping with food from plants, vines, and trees. There were grapes, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, corn, cabbage, and figs. Oh, the figs! Their sweet branches blocked the sun from our backs and offered us sustenance with their fruit. But this passage doesn’t talk about fruit. It talks about tender shoots growing leaves. There aren’t even fowers on these trees, much less fruit. That’s true of this season, too. The season of Advent is a season of darkness and preparaton. It’s a time when we survey ourselves and the world and consider what needs to be done to be ready to welcome the Son of God. The fruits of our labors are not yet seen, but we act with hopeful antcipaton nevertheless. Now is the time to do the unpopular work of confessing our shortcomings with our whole hearts. Growth is a slow process that makes us vulnerable. We become tender, more susceptble to hurt, but its in that place of vulnerability that we can know that good things are near. Every failure is an opportunity for learning. Every injustce is a chance for justce to prevail. Every division creates space for reconciliaton. I hope that during this season, we can keep those growth moments tender—not distractng with humor or ratonalizatons, but truly feeling what is being done and to let that be okay.
Prayer God of tenderness, may we see the signs of your love and transformaton.
Refection—v. 36, ‘or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly’
I suffer from FOMO. It’s been a struggle my whole life. I have the Fear Of Missing Out, FOMO. It’s that fear that has kept me up late at slumber parties, conferences, dance par- ties, and family gatherings. I want that experience. I want that connection. I want that memory. After all, sleep is for the weak! If I’m honest though, I haven’t had much FOMO when it comes to my relationship with God—which is problematic. I suppose my mental- ity is that God will always be there, so I can catch up with God later. And surely, God wants me to take care of myself, right? God understands that I need to sleep, even if my friends don’t. But it seems like I could be missing out on an awful lot. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we had a Fear Of Missing Out of God and God’s Kingdom? I’m not talking about that guilty, shaming, knee-knocking, hell-fire-and-brimstone type of fear, but rather that fear of missing out on the beautiful, the awe-inspiring, the well-rested, the fun-loving and loving-kindness peaceful existence that could be found in God. How is it that we aren’t scared of missing out on that? It’ll require a change of priorities, courage, and abundant hope, but I suspect that it will be well worth it.
Prayer God, help us turn to you that we may partcipate in your joyful kingdom.
By: Maggie Leonard
Acts 10: 34-43
Reflection—v. 36, You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ
Peace. That is what Jesus preached. That is the heart of the good news. Peace. When I was a student, I took the call to peace very literally. Pursuing peace meant an end to war, violence in the streets, and systematic oppression. It was something that I could see and that I could throw all of my energy into chasing and demanding—and I had a lot of energy. When I would go to rallies, I would see bumper stickers and t-shirts that mused about the importance of inner peace. I dismissed the wisdom. Inner peace is for the privilleged. Who has time for that nonsense? I have come to see the error of my ways. Though still pretty spry, I’ve slowed down a bit. When someone is not well with herself (sometimes that person is me), I can feel the vibration of fear or anger. I can see the holes and unintended implications in their plan. The ceasation of violence will come when our strong hearts align with our minds, allowing us to approach others without reactivity and with tenderness and a willingness to understand another’s journey. This is what Jesus modeled for us in going to the cross. And the hope that he gives us in his resurrection. New life is indeed possible.
Prayer Beloved, help us pursue peace that we might enjoy your new world today.
By: Maggie Leonard
Luke 24: 1-12
Reflection—v.11, dead to sin
Whenever a particular friend and I hang out, we always laugh a lot, like a whole lot—everything we see is funny and warrants a joke. As I thought back through one such evening where my ribs were sore from all of our laughing, I realized that while it was pleasurable, I had not always been thoughtful as I made jokes. Later when I shared my observations with my friend, he scoffed. In his eyes, this is who I am—funny, and sometimes a bit salty—but ultimately good-hearted, so I need not worry too much when I’m accidentally thoughtless. I appreciated his encouragement to accept who I am, but I couldn’t help but disagree. I feel strongly that I want to be a person who is always pursuing personal growth. As I understand God’s call to us, I want to grow in my ability to be loving. Because I know who I am, and I trust in my belovedness and goodness, I can let go of the need to defend my rough edges. I look forward to the day when my humor is more quirky, wholesome, and less biting. For me, growth provides the opportunity for an even better expression of my true self. I can let go of bits of me, knowing that someone just as funny and even sweeter can be cultivated with God’s help.
Prayer Holy God, help me never to hold on to my sin but to release it permanently.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 31, the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath
I recently read a powerful book called The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. In this book, a runaway slave escapes a plantation in Georgia and makes her way to the Free States. Each state that she passes through on her journey has different laws that dictate how to control the black populations within them. North Carolinians, fearing a slave uprising, abolished slavery, and the state bought up all the slaves, sold them to neighboring states, and forbade black folks to set foot on their soil. To do so and be caught (and they looked for folks every night) meant to be hung in the city square and by morning moved to the road leading to town, ‘Freedom Trail.’ Turning people into issues is a dangerous business. I cannot help but consider who we sacrifice as an issue… What do we see as a threat to our power or comfort? What bodies do we then remove from the public eye? I believe that we are a good people, with good intentions. My hope is that we trust our goodness enough to have the courage to see when our intentions miss the mark. My hope is that with God’s help, we will see one another’s humanity and honor one another’s value.
Prayer Crucified One, help us to see that which we try hard to hide.
By: Maggie Leonard
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Reflection—v. 5, wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them
This past spring, I had the great privilege to walk across Northern Spain along the ancient pilgrimage trail known as the Camino de Santiago. Each day I rose before the sun and walked an average of fifteen miles a day. There wasn’t a body on the path that didn’t take a beating, our feet receiving the worst of it. We stayed in hostels each night—the root of the word originating in the word hospital, the trail’s original shelters where weary travelers were welcome to stay to rest and heal. About midway through, I stopped at a hostel wherein the host (the Spanish word shows the association between hospital, hospitality, the the person who offers hospitality) took to heart the historical significance of her position and establishment. She welcomed pilgrims into her office where she inspected their feet, cared for their blisters and ailments, and dispensed materials and advice for continuing to care for them going forward—all free of charge. It was a humbling moment to have her face inches from my foot, popping blisters, and cleaning the wounds. Her care was invaluable. This week, a group of nine women gathered at Mercy and graciously cared for the feet of our weary walkers—many members walk 15 miles daily in the city to meet their needs. The Harriet Tubman Foot Clinic is that beacon of hospitality, liberation, and compassion in our city. We are honored to be partnered with them and washing feet weekly at Mercy.
Prayer Guide our feet, holy God, that we may be moved to show your care to all.
By: Chad Hyatt
It is fitting on this Spy Wednesday, the day we recall Judas making a deal with the powers-that-be in order to hand Jesus over to them, that his betrayal becomes clear at a table. Betrayal is impossible without friendship, without the sense of shared kinship that the image of the table symbolizes so richly. At the table, we share in common. At the table, we serve one another—as the Gospel of John emphasizes when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. At the table, we laugh. And at the table, we weep together, sharing our troubles with those we love. It is at the table, then, that betrayal can be seen for the deep brokenness within human love that it is. We feel its pain, for we know what is to be betrayed by those that we have loved, those we have trusted. And yet Jesus does not condemn, even though he is no more above the pain of betrayal than we. He still offers the bread of his table to his betrayer. The truth about us is that we have all been betrayed—and all of us have betrayed others. In particular, our institutions have betrayed the poor. At Jesus’ table, we find healing from the wounds of betrayal, through the wounds of the one who was betrayed. Only in the self-giving love of Jesus, who continues to give himself in the face of betrayal, who welcomes all, can we all find healing, forgiveness, and life.
Prayer Jesus, at your table that welcomes all, have mercy on me, a sinner.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 12, this good news… what she has done will be told
In Lent we are invited to join of our lives with the larger narrative of our faith. Sometimes in the middle of the story, it’s good to take stock. While a lot is happening in Jesus’ life this last week, our focus is on two meals and two very different responses to Jesus. At the first, a woman anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. She is challenged, even harassed, for her action, but she sees in Jesus the suffering of one particular poor person. She shows him mercy in a lavish, direct, personal way. At the second meal, commonly called the Last Supper, Jesus reveals he will be betrayed by one of his closest friends. At these two meals, the contrast between mercy and betrayal, both of which are deeply personal acts, could not be more clear. How are we responding to Jesus, especially as he comes in the poor and most vulnerable in our midst? Do the poor even have access to our tables? We are called to live in ways that embody personal, direct encounters of mercy. Yet we often choose betrayal, a harsh word perhaps, but nonetheless a true description of the ways we prove faithless in relationships, especially with the most vulnerable. No, these are not easy meditations to make in this holiest of weeks, but the love of God shows us in the life of Jesus begs us to take seriously our own stories. Let us incline our hearts toward mercy.
Prayer God of mercy, draw our hearts toward you, especially in the vulnerable.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 8, why this waste?
There are always those who want to sell something for a large sum and give the money to the poor in a programatic way. It makes sense, I suppose. Surely, this must be a better, more efficient use of resources, the reasoning goes. But the truth is it also keeps our hands from getting dirty with the dust of the feet of the poor—and conveniently, it maintains the status quo just as it is, with a clear line between ‘generous’ benefactors and ‘grateful’ beneficiaries. Matthew places the anointing at Bethany just after the parables of Matthew 25 where Jesus reminds us that how we respond to the poor is equal to how we respond to Jesus himself. The anonymous woman with the jar of perfume embodies the gospel—and it stands in stark contrast to a more sensible, efficient response to human need. She extravagantly anoints Jesus, one particular poor man, showing him care as the days to his death draw closer. She isn’t distracted by the ‘poor’ as an abstraction, a ‘problem to be solved.’ She sees the poorest man in her midst, and mercifully shares with him what she has for his need. Her sharing imparts the dignity of genuine mercy, as the giver shares her gift in a way that the one who receives is honored, having his head anointed like a king. In an instant, the status quo is shattered. This is the difference between the gospel and so many well-intended efforts to alleviate human suffering. The difference, in a word, is mercy.
Prayer Jesus, let me see you in one person today, discovering lavish mercy in poverty.