Come, Then, Come

From The Network, December 2018

“Behold, I Am Coming Soon!
(Revelation 22:7)

With inward pain my heartstrings sound, my soul dissolves away;
Dear Sovereign, whirl the seasons round,
Dear Sovereign, whirl the seasons round,
And bring, and bring the promised day, and bring the promised day.
(Early American Hymn)

And so again, advent is upon us, the beginning of a new Church year and the renewing of our longing for the Promised One to come, Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us. Did you catch it? OUR LONGING!

Advent is a present activity for the Christ Community. While the culture in which we live settles in for an extended holiday celebration, we Christians are those whose advent lacks sentimentality, because the pain of waiting long for our life’s most important promise inaugurates yet another year. Israel waited for hundreds of years; we are into the thousands! Thousands, since the risen Christ left his disciples with a promise to return, since in a holy dream he said to St. John the Revelator the same. Christ has come, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again is what the early Christians said. And nothing yet has changed in this regard; this advent we are bid to say by faith the same.

So what of the choice of Jesus’ word SOON? This is what we ponder anew, and what we remember, that our Advent is not a kind of Currier and Ives remembering of the first Christmas as it is a time of deep longing for Jesus to come back, as he promised he will, and of much pain along with another year passed to threaten the diminishment of our faith – and what must be a stubborn and almost defiant unwillingness to let go of that promise, and our hope.

The early Church was sure that Christ the King would return in their lifetimes. SOON was a word that seemed to fit, to make sense. Now our sentiment seems to be sarcastic, and our waiting inactive; the truth is that time has numbed us to the promise. SOON makes little sense. We roll our eyes and say under our breath, “Sure, Okay, Whatever.” And the truth is that a SOON lasting 2,000 years makes little human sense. It’s hard to watch and wait and prepare and be ready and keep our lamps lit for so long. Maybe that’s what some hymn writers had in mind a few hundred years ago when they wrote and sang about inward pain and prayers for the SOON to happen after all.

Yet with longing, with a pleading faith, we hold out hope. Maybe this is the year! Come, then, come Lord Jesus. Blessed advent.

Peter Hawkinson

Heart Issues

From The Network, November 2018

“For your heart will always be where your riches are.”
Matthew 6:21 (Good News Translation)

We get to November, and we say to ourselves, “It’s that time of year again.” Stewardship time, with budget time on the horizon. But that thought process won’t do! It’s only evidence of our heart issues. The real truth, of course, is that it’s always “that time of year.” Every day of our lives is a stewardship moment, a stewardship sermon, sure as our hearts continue beating: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118:24)

The words of Jesus challenge us. What’s happening with our money reflects what’s going on in our heart, what’s at the center of our lives. He goes on in his sermon to explain, to unpack his thesis. He says “Give first place to God’s kingdom and to what he requires, and he will provide you with all these other things.” (6:33). He says, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (6:34)

Henri Nouwen says this: “To set our hearts on the Kingdom therefore means to make the life of the Spirit within and among us the center of all we think, say, or do.” (Making All Things New, p. 43). The lingering stewardship question is not about money, or giving, or pledging, but about where our heart is, what it seeks after. Our use of money answers those questions of the heart more than our words can say. The tale of the tape (changing little over time) is that the average American citizen gives 2 percent of their resources to charity, while the Christian population gives 2.5 percent. During the great depression the giving rate was 3.3%.

We need to reflect deeply on the sermon of Jesus, and our heart issues, every day, every day. We need with faith to set our hearts on God’s Kingdom, to seek first the life of the Spirit within and among us. “For your heart will always be where your riches are.” With all love and goodwill, and asking myself, I ask you now: what is your heart seeking after?

Pray about this as the stewardship letter soon arrives.

Peter Hawkinson

Honesty, All Around!

From The Network, October 2018

All over the gospels, there’s a common occurrence, when Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, is eating and having fellowship with “sinners” – Grumbling, Grumbling. And Jesus is trying to get the religious folk to understand the grace of God, and that it’s only by grace that they can find life with God, and that by grace they CAN find life with God!

In our early Covenant Church days, there was a man in 1871 identified only as “L. Peterson from Princeton, IL,” who ruminated on this gospel moment that comes frequently, in a letter to a friend, as they were considering grace together. The letter ends with this prayer:

May God,
from whom all grace comes,
fill our dead, cold, lukewarm,
empty, narrow, sluggish,
careless, false, hypocritical,
unfaithful, doubting, frivolous,
erring, godless, corrupted,
dispirited, depressed, sorrowful,
GLAD hearts.

I’m struck by that prayer, how it seems celebrative and hopeful, even though it contains an exhaustive and exhausting list of confessed sins. Guilty as charged! Honest to the hilt! Yet gladness remains, a glad heart, only because of grace, and the activity of the God from whom all grace comes. I have experienced it in others, and myself have struggled mightily with the nature of grace, that it can only be accepted, never earned, that it can only be received through an honest confession of utter undeserving, and that it is precisely this honest confession that makes grace understood and thus gladden the heart.

I knew another old man a hundred years later in 1971. I’d watch Milton during the weekly time of congregational confession for an obvious reason, because the same thing happened every week: he’d lay his head down on the pew in front of him, hands folded above him, often with tears, as if in agony, and then raise himself up just in time to hear the pastor’s words of assurance – “In Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven” – suddenly smiling broadly as if to someone up in the rafters, taking a deep, deep breath. Just like that, every week.

Honesty, I think, gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to being honest with God – God is, after all slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and more than anything else, filled with grace. As my maternal grandmother used to say, “Sometimes a good cry is the best thing!” So consider a brutal honesty before God as the way to a Glad heart.

All Thanks be to God!

Peter Hawkinson

Family Dinner

From The Network, September 2018

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their
possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day,
as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their
food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the
people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:43-47

The professor of my Church History 101 class, my first year of seminary, loved this passage. He began each class session by reading it aloud to us; these verses were his prayer, his agenda, his benediction. For him, this description of the early church in Acts was the goal and the dream for our fellowship today.

Now, I’m still not sure how to interpret the bit about common property – we can tackle that another time – but I am drawn to this image of common life, of praying and praising, working and worshipping together. And in just a few weeks here at Winnetka Covenant Church, I’ve seen that you love and value this too. It has been a great delight for me to see how much you enjoy each other; how committee meetings start and end with conversation, with prayer requests and follow-ups; how worship spills out into the narthex with coffee and donut holes and hugs and laughter well beyond the last tolling of the bells.

All of this, in the quiet weeks of summer before our program year kicks off – and it has me eagerly anticipating the months to come, when we will have many more chances to learn and grow and serve together.

Yet, I’m reminded by this passage how there is so much more of life that is lived beyond these walls; how those early believers broke their bread together as well as worshiped. And that is my hope, in my first year here at Winnetka: that I will have a chance to break bread with all of you. I was part of a small group at seminary who met each week for what we called “Family Dinner”: a chance to tell our stories, to multiply our joys and divide our sorrows, to share our food while telling of our hopes and dreams. I’d like to do the same with you, my church family. You may have already heard that I love to bake…

So here is my offer: let’s eat – together! Let’s drink a cup of coffee while your kids play in the park or grab a slice of pizza after a long day at work. Let’s meet at your favorite neighborhood spot (including the Covenant Village Bistro!) or cook a family recipe together. I’ll bring dessert. Here’s how: send me an email or call me, Sunday to Thursday, at the church (847) 446-4300, ext.14.

With joy and anticipation for this time together,

Jen Christianson

The Journey Begins


Thanks for joining us on this new journey! We’re excited to debut the new Winnetka Covenant Church blog, a place where we can share writings from our pastoral staff and members about what’s taking place in our church, our community, and our hearts. We’ll share each month the cover piece from our church newsletter, the Network, as well as various other reflections written by the pastors and others in our church.

We hope and pray that this will be another space for us to grow together as a community, and welcome you!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.
Izaak Walton