Learning to See With Kingdom Eyes

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above.” (John 3:3)

In the middle of an excruciating summer, our men’s group is being blessed with great community. We are having an intentional, steady, and rich conversation about our own journeys of life and faith and seeking to grow in our understanding of the possibilities of racial reconciliation. We are being helped by one another and using the book White Awake by Daniel Hill as a resource. Daniel is pastor of River City Community Church in the Humbolt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Like most of us, he is a white Christian who’s trying to grow in his understanding of reconciliation too.

The beginning of my book is all marked up. He shares his story of a long, hard, and transformative reflection of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, who is a leader of the Pharisees and comes to him at night, who has a deep sense that Jesus is indeed sent from God and wants to meet him. What Jesus says you can see above.

Pastor Daniel’s reflection settled on the words SEE and KINGDOM. Regarding SEE, Here’s his own words:

I knew I had been asking the wrong question when it came to racial reconciliation and cultural identity. Each step of my journey had been driven by the question “What am I supposed to do?” But now that question made far too many assumptions about the foundation I was launching from. The far better starting point would have simply been Can I see?with the obvious answer being no. That would then lead to the true question of transformation, the question that needed to define my journey from that point forward: “Jesus, will you help me to see?”

and regarding KINGDOM, this:

While Kingdom represents numerous layers of theological depth, for the purposes of this journey, I saw it a synonym for reality. Jesus was showing Nicodemus that he most needed to see that two different realities were colliding. Through his natural eyes, Nicodemus would remain limited as to how much he could see of the world around him. But through eyes that were spiritually reborn by the Spirit, he would see the reality of God in an entirely new fashion.

Finally, this:

There’s a reality that belongs to God alone, and Jesus is the one who ushers us into it. This is a journey he longs to lead us on and a journey we’re invited to participate in. But the price of admission is a full acknowledgement of our utter blindness. Only when we embrace our lack of sight can Jesus begin the process of illuminating the truth that we so badly need to see.

Like Nicodemus, we stumble toward Jesus in the dark. Though not in the text, I can imagine him saying, “Jesus, help me to see. Help me to see.”

Now I may be wrong about this, but I think in our forever politically charged climate of slanted soundbites and breaking news every hour on the hour that causes our wrists to beep, we MUST root ourselves instead, and defiantly in the narrative of the Kingdom of God, that is apolitical and fundamentally other than any empire, anywhere, ever. We need the Church, and each other, and the scripture and the Spirit to lead us to the Living Word of Life, Jesus the Christ. It is here, and only here, that we can begin to see with new eyes and enter into the world’s pain with humility and resolve. Our hearts and minds are in constant need or rebirth; our hands and feet then can follow Jesus into the broken world with healing reconciliation. We are going to spend much of this next year together trying to focus more intentionally on a growing understanding of this, taking the advice, the pleading invitation of Jesus: “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well…”

The hard thing is that all this involves my beginning with owning my blindness to see. I am left with a simple breath prayer that I’m going to keep now as long as I’m still alive. Jesus, help me see. Jesus, help me see. I hope you find yourself in this honest, desperate, and longing place with me. Then we are ready, really ready, to meet Jesus, and follow him too!

Sending love, prayers, and my longing heart to you where you are.

Say with me, together, “Jesus, will you help us to see?”

Peter Hawkinson

Being the Church

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand — shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5, the Message)

The Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson died two years ago. Among the many treasures he left to the Church is The Message: The Bible in Contemporary language. I find there to e so many places where the words and images he finds share a stunning beauty, and help the old, old scripture come alive in new ways. One of those is Matthew 5:16, where “In the same way, let your light shine before others” (NRSV) becomes “Shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives.”

Since the translation came out in 2002, I’ve ruminated long and hard on this image of my life as an “open house”. I find that image to be especially poignant these days as most of us are living much more of our lives at home than we ever have. We are being forced (not a bad thing!) to re-image the concept of church, as less something we come to, and more that church is what we are. We don’t COME to church, we ARE the church, out where we live, and work, and spend our life. These days that is more or less home.

So what if as terrible as this time is, as isolating as it can be, it is also a prime time when we can be the Church, right where we are, at home? How might your life become an open house for others to come into, and look around, and envision life in a new way? I’m wondering if our neighbors and friends are longing for a soothing hospitality, and if that’s our primary call to ministry in this diaspora, in this scattering of ours?

We can lament the loss of our times to gathering together. We should. What we shouldn’t do is miss the opportunities around us to be gatherers of others, to extend hospitality to strangers — new neighbors, maybe, or old neighbors you really don’t know? To contemplate what it might look like for your own life to be a shining light in a dark time, an open house in a time of isolation and fear.

Most of us have back yards, and front yards, or driveways, or patios, or shady places in the park nearby. And most of us have more time than we have had in a while. And all of us have this blessed summer weather calling us outside, and that’s the safe gathering environment just now.So reach out. Be safe, but also take the risk of inviting others into your life. Create community right where you are, in ways that you can. It’s God’s call to us nowadays, and it’s a lot of fun!

In a time when we struggle to come to Church, let’s spend our time instead being the church. Here’s to the potential of your “open house” life. Get something on the calendar. Form the physically distant circle. shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Peter Hawkinson

Looking back, looking ahead

Yesterday, Pastor Pete preached to us about Psalm 124. One of the songs of ascent, it is meant for singing as you go up to worship, most traditionally for pilgrims as they journeyed up the road to Jerusalem and to the temple there – a steep climb up.

“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” the psalmist writes, “let Israel now say – if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive […] the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us […] over us would have gone the raging waters.”

But, as he reminds the reader, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

If it had not been for the LORD on our side…

Pete encouraged us, even in these strange and anxious times, to look back over the story of our lives and recount all the ways that the LORD has been on our side, been present with us and a help to us.

It’s a timely word, these days, as we sit in the in-between space between the lockdown of previous months, the (relative) freedom of our current situation, and the anticipation of increasing restrictions due to growing case counts of COVID-19. In-between places like this are uncomfortable. And yet, we are stuck in this one, without much control over when it ends, or what happens next.

So I’m determined to try and use this time not to worry, but to reflect on how God has been present with me in this time, on what I’ve learned, and what I’d like to keep when I have a choice about going “back to normal.”

I have learned that – for me – there really is no solace like being outdoors. That running away to the woods and camping is all the escape I really need – even if it’s not all that I wanted. That I feel close to God there, at peace and still.

That as much as I want to be informed, sometimes the best thing I can do is turn off the news and go outside. Leave it to God’s hands, and go do something with my own: bake bread, or pot plants, or practice yoga.

I could go on and on. Living with my sister again these past few months, I’ve learned a lot about myself (and her!) – like our very different opinions on whether dirty dishes can sit in the sink. Or whether watching Top Chef counts as relaxing or stressful television.

But the things I want to really reflect on are these: what brings me joy, even in hard times? What feeds my anxiety and stress, and what quiets them down? What helps me to live more deeply into the person God is calling me to be, and what pulls me away from that?

If it had not been for the Lord on my side…

But God has been on my side, and your side too. This week, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time to reflect on God’s presence in your life this season, and what it has taught you, to carry into the next one.

-Pastor Jen


Our July Book of the month is Reaching Out: The Three Movements of The Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. It is one of his first books and most important. We will have a zoom gathering to discuss it next Thursday, July 23 at 7 p.m. Here is the link if you’d like to join: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89517912687

The heart of the book is Nouwen’s reflection on moving from Hostility to Hospitality: “In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture, and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and from God, we witness a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Hospitality is the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends.”

Nouwen’s conviction is that this movement is a process of maturing from our fear and self-centeredness to becoming a listening, opening inviting person for others. He says, “Our most important question as healers is not, ‘What to say or do?’ but, ‘How to develop enough inner space where another’s story can be received?'”

The word he settles on in a positive way is Poverty: “Poverty makes a good host.” He is talking about poverty of mind and heart: “When we say, ‘Please enter — my house is your house, my joy is your joy, my sadness is your sadness and my life is your life,’ we have nothing to defend since we have nothing to lose but all to give.”

Henri’s conclusion is that “Real hospitality is not exclusive but inclusive and creates space for a large variety of human experiences.”

I wonder, as we see endless Church leadership conferences — where are the Christian conferences focused on hospitality, on servanthood, bursting at the seams? As followers of Jesus, why are we not more enthralled with emptying ourselves out rather than filling ourselves up? When am I going to learn that “Training for service is not a training to become rich but to become voluntarily poor; not to fulfill myself but to empty myself; not to conquer God but to surrender to his saving power…our fulfillment is in offering emptiness, our usefulness in becoming useless, our power in becoming powerless…it is not the movement from weakness to power, but the movement in which we become less and less fearful and defensive and more and more open to the other and their world, even when it leads to suffering and death.”

I’m spending a lot of time in my driveway lawn chair contemplating the call and opportunities of an emptied out life — a decluttering of spirit, an open heart, ready to listen, wanting to love. Jesus did share that riddle about finding your life by losing it. and his own journey became a parable of hospitality extended to us through his own poverty.

Work on it. Do some deep digging. Get moving. Reach out. And pray with longing for hostility to go hang, and hospitality to fill the days of our lives.

Hope to see you on the screen next Thursday!

The Good Old Days

“I miss the good old days…”

It’s a phrase we have most certainly heard of before, if not uttered ourselves.

We’ve probably heard someone say: “I miss the good old days of drive-in hot dogs and root beer floats.”

I can get behind that; there’s something special about eating your meal on the hood of your car with your family. Whether your drive-in was A&W or Sonic or a mom and pop joint- it was a good time!

We’ve also probably heard someone say: “I miss the good old days when we we could hug a friend and go to a sports stadium or a concert with thousands of other fans and not think twice about it.”

Amen to that! Covid-19 has changed how we interact with loved ones and strangers alike, and it can be very difficult to adjust. I’m thankful that we have adapted though, because of the lives that we can save by wearing a mask and physically distancing ourselves in this time.

But you want to know the good old days that I miss the most…

I miss the good old days when I was newly committed disciple of Christ and the passion for the work of the Kingdom was so fresh!

I miss being a high school kid at camp, who just prayed with my counselor in chapel to have Jesus Christ be the Lord of life. There is something so beautiful about that time, about that posture, about that mindset.

As we get older and more removed from the beginning of our commitment to a faith journey with our Creator, it can be easy to become jaded. We see people do things that are against the will of God, all while claiming to be Christ followers.

We learn that life can be mundane, can be painful, can be complicated. We are faced with the reality that we don’t have all the answers- something that are world is terrified to admit.

Matthew 18:2-3, “He (Jesus) called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”

Now I know all of us did not come to faith as children, but I want us to go back into our minds to when we first committed our lives to Christ. My hope for us today is that we could get closer to that faith & not stray away from it. My prayer is that we would be reminded of God’s transformational love that we experienced for the first time. My invitation to us today, and everyday, is to keep going back to this faith and never forget the good old days.

-Pastor Joel

Seeing Jesus, then Jesus Seeing

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I’ve been reading more this summer than I have in years for obvious reasons. It’s one of the unexpected blessings of a terrible time. For me, the best books are the ones I mark all up, filling the few blank pages at a book’s beginning and end with words I want to ponder and never forget. One of those reads lately has been Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ”. Rohr is a Franciscan Catholic priest, and he pounds away at this premise, that when we see Jesus, when we look at Jesus, we are meant to grow into people who see the world and others with His eyes, not merely our own:

We need to look at Jesus until we can look out at the world with his kind of eyes. hen Christ calls himself the light of the world, he is not just telling us to look at him, but to look out at life with his all merciful eyes. We see him so we can see like him.

Rohr’s conclusion is that “The world no longer trusts christians who love Jesus but do not seems to love anything else. In Jesus Christ, God’s own broad, deep, and all inclusive worldview is made available to us. In God you do not include less and less; you always see and love more and more.”

What I’m left with is his haunting question: “Does the Almighty One operate from a scarcity model of love and forgiveness?”

The challenge to us who would shout out a hearty NO! is to seek to nurture a ministry practice that speaks more than words…to take up the pattern of God, who in the bible time after time loves by becoming, by including, not by excluding, symbolized by a cross, which is God’s great act of solidarity with humanity — the judgement once and for all is grace.

Who have seen Jesus need to work continually at seeing the world with the eyes of Jesus. Ephesians 1:9-10: “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Seeing Jesus, may we now become more and more those who see like him.

About Love and America

This year, my 4th of July celebrations looked quite different than usual.

I know I’m not alone in this – not in the least! – because for all of us, the reality of an ongoing pandemic meant that our normal ways of marking this holiday were subject to review, if not outright cancellation.

I live on the parade route in Evanston, which means that for several days before each 4th of July, the sidewalks are covered with chairs, blankets, and staked-off sections marked by rope and caution tape, as people reserve their viewing spots for the festivities. There’s something sweet and fun about this time, counting down the days, feeling the excitement build; even if it means a week of trying to coax my dog away from sniffing (or running off with!) all of these new and intriguing items on her walk route.

But this year, all of that went virtual: virtual parade, virtual fireworks, virtual contest for most patriotic pet. And we decided to embrace the oddness of this year, to go camping for the weekend.

It was a different holiday in that regard, but perhaps even more so it was a different holiday because I have some conflicting feelings about America this year.

There is much I love about this country, which is my home, which I missed terribly when I lived abroad in college, which I have studied and traveled and tasted and seen – but these days there is also much about America that I am lamenting. I am grieving our deep political divides, our ongoing systemic racism, our problems with violence, our inability to respond cohesively to this pandemic. I love my country, and I worry about it often.

I thought about this a lot over the weekend, while I toasted marshmallows, and grilled hamburgers, hiked through the woods and swatted away dozens of mosquitoes. How do you love something and celebrate it, while not ignoring its failings and imperfections?

And then I realized that – though they are not, admittedly, the same – I can learn a lot about this from the way that God loves me, and indeed all of God’s children.

God loves us as we are, embraces us wholly, and yet through that love, leads us as disciples deeper and deeper into lives lived wholly to God’s glory. This means that God does not hesitate to root out the sin in us – because to ignore it would be to love us less. To leave us in our sin and wrongdoing wouldn’t be love – it would be neglect.

Acknowledging that God’s love for me is not the same as mine for my country, I still think there is something valuable to reflect on, here. The way that God loves me, reminds me that part of loving something is seeking its good. So when I think about my country, I believe that part of loving America means affirming what is wonderful about it while working to make it better. That I can celebrate some of the values our country was built on, and seek to get to a place where liberty and justice really are “for all” not just for some.

It’s not easy, and it’s much more complicated than falling into the “either-or” setup, that you can either love your country and support it or you must hate it. I think we can do both. And I am trusting God to show me how, in the weeks and months to come.

– Pastor Jen