The Downward Pull

You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36)

Classics come in all forms! Timeless works of art. A symphony or a song, for me say Elgar’s Nimrod and George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun. A painting, for me say Van Gogh”s The Starry Night and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. And books, for me say Homer’s Odyssey and London’s The Call of the Wild. Let me add one more, Now 50 years old, it remains my most marked up book outside of the Bible: Compassion: A Reflection on The Christian Life by McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen. Get it, and mark it up your own way!

Here’s the cliff-notes: 1) The Great news we have received is that God is a compassionate God. 2) The great call we have heard is to live a compassionate life. 3) The great task we have been given is to walk the compassionate way. 4) The means by which we do this is by disciplines of prayer and action.

Rooted in the central text of Philippians 2, the call is to what the authors call “The downward pull” that we first see in Jesus and learn as we follow him to embrace as our own way of life. Reflecting on the words of Karl Barth, who says “Jesus moves from the heights to the depth, from victory to defeat, from riches to poverty, from triumph to suffering, and from life to death”, the authors posit that “Jesus’ whole life and mission involve accepting in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God’s love...compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.

The call is to a constant reflection on the love of God we see embodied in Jesus and his imitation: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This is our work for the season of Lent, just ahead — to wonder in all that Jesus sets aside of his glory and power to serve, for love’s sake, and to contemplate the journey we have before us. The lingering question the author’s leave us with is a haunting one: “Can we be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, powerless with the powerless?” Our life of faith is incarnational, like the Christ of Christmas. Others will know and experience the near presence and love of God through us — through the Christ who is at work in us and through us.

The problem is this, that compassion — “To suffer with” — is challenging because we deceive ourselves into thinking it’s natural response to human suffering. And it is not! We are pain and suffering avoidant. Compassion is not our central concern as much as making it, getting ahead, winning, avoiding pain and being successful. Isn’t it true, really?

we must look outside of ourselves in a radically different direction. We must be filled with a new Holy Spirit, we must encounter the God of all compassion, we must learn and follow Jesus Christ into the world. It is here, here, in our new life in Christ that the tables turn, that instead of upward mobility, we embrace the downward pull and become servants of the Holy One. We become a community of displacement. We lay down our rights and privileges. Our hearts beat for what is just and right, and our hands and feet find us laying down our lives for others. What is unnatural and distant in our human experience becomes as natural as breath when the Spirit of God has had its way with us.

We become living manifestations of God’s presence in this world.

Have mercy on us, O God, and lead us to this place!

Peter Hawkinson

Seeing the Light, Being the Light

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world…” (John 8:36) “You are the light of the world– like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

At the inaugural celebration this morning, the Unites States Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gordon read a poem for the occasion, entitled “The Hill We Climb.” The transcript of the poem is available here:

Her words end like this: “For there is always light if we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” Hearing those words on a rare brilliant sunny day in this dark winter is moving. I don’t know about you, but I’m certain I suffer from some kind of seasonal affective disorder, especially this winter! Isolated and needing to largely remain inside, I simply can’t wait for spring’s warmth and light. Soon enough.

Much more importantly, though, is the poet’s image connecting light to living, which gives hope for the future. This is a deeply biblical idea. We are to love God with all of who we are, and that love issues in the face of our neighbor. Jesus, who looks out into the world one day and says, “I am the Light of the world” looks at his disciples and says on another day, “You are the light of the world.” For us as those who follow Christ, this means that we are to live out the very love of Christ — in the world, now, just as he did long ago. A world that is dark, divided, violent, and power-hungry, we are Christ lights that shine into it all with unity, peace, and righteousness. Into the darkness of injustices of many kinds, we speak and act with courage for what is just. It is a constant process of hits and misses, of confessing our failures and starting anew, again, with new possibilities at hand for Kingdom come.

Maybe when Jesus said not long before his death to his friends, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works…” (John 14:12) this is what he had in mind, that we, who are filled with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, might not underestimate what we are capable of doing to redeem, to do what is right, to act justly.

What we DO know for sure is how often we don’t think we’re capable — because we are allured with power, or because we are afraid, or because we’re too focused on on our own security and comfort — because we’re human, after all. This is why these words of Jesus are hard to understand and make us uncomfortable. What we MUST remember is that we are capable of good and powerful, holy activity — together as the Church, great works that keep Jesus’ body active and present and at work in the world.

So I am renewing my commitment to trust in Jesus, and to embrace fresh attempts at courage, love, and self-sacrifice. Can you join me? Can we do it together and find strength to renew our world, even on or little corner? We must see the light, and we must be the light.

Lincoln’s words, spoken one hundred fifty-six years ago, remind us that this struggle for light, for right, for love is nothing new: “With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan– to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Every time we pray “May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it its in heaven” we must remind ourselves that we bear this responsibility, that we engage in this work, and that we have everything we need to do it. The Love of Christ fills our spirits. The Holy Spirit empowers our spirits. We must engage the work of making this world new. We might imagine as we pray that we hear God speaking to us and praying, “May my Kingdom come, and my will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The future unfolds with limitless possibilities for us to do God’s work.

So In a new way, let’s see the light, come home to the love of Christ, the grace of God. Then, in a new way, let us as the Christian Community join together to be the very light of Christ, actively shining, like a city on a hill, with all kinds of good and right consequences. God bless us, one and all.

Peter Hawkinson

A Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Dear friends,

It is a hard time. These past couple of weeks especially have brought simmering tensions in our country to a head, and every day brings new difficult news – of coronavirus deaths, of vaccine distribution problems, of threats of political violence and deepening partisan divides.

This year, MLK Jr. Day seems to fall at a particularly tender moment, and so it invites us to reflection – reflection about a lot of things, but especially about the state of our world and the work of seeking justice in it.

I don’t have many words this day, but I am deep in prayer.

I encourage you to read Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail today, and to join me as I pray these words on behalf of all of us…

with love,

Pastor Jen

A prayer for MLK Day


We thank you that we have this space each year to reflect on the life and ministry of Martin Luther King Jr.,

To listen again to his words,

To be inspired by his courage and commitment to the long fight for justice.

We recognize now the magnitude of his life and legacy,

And yet it is easy to let time and space inure us to this fact:

That in his time, he was a radical.

Preaching and teaching and living controversial messages of justice and reconciliation,

Messages that got him threats, got him cursed, got him killed.

Help us today to remember that sometimes your word of truth isn’t always welcome,

That, just like a carpenter’s son in Nazareth, sometimes your prophets and your messengers aren’t greeted with open arms,

But criticized and questioned, dismissed and reviled.

Grant us the courage to look at that reality head-on,

And to join with those prophets and teachers advocating for justice, and do the work anyway.

To stand alongside them, to join our voices with theirs, to move our hands and our feet in steady marching rhythm to the drumbeat of your kingdom coming.

 God, grant us the humility to always be listening and learning,

To take in new information about the world around us,

To be concerned about injustice and oppression of our brothers and sisters,

To recognize that our well-being is tied up with that of our neighbors, our kin.

To work to reimagine a world where someone’s skin color doesn’t determine their opportunities or their future,

But where people who look, and love, and believe, differently than us are valued every bit as much,

To dream a new dream, like Martin did, of redemption and restoration.

Guide us, O God, as we go.

Make our paths straight, our feet strong, our steps determined,

Keep us on course, and

on this day when we remember, help us to truly look and see and hear, as you would have us do.


Giving Up Everyday

“I come to the end — I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:18, NRSV)

There’s an invitation to give up everyday! In Psalm 139 it’s a kind of giving in to the grand, Holy realities of Almighty God. It’s a letting go. It’s a resting, finally, in the midst of everything else going on in the world, and in my own spirit, in God-things.

The writer (likely David) makes this grand, reflective list of all God’s ways, and this settles him down:

You know me…you know what I say and what I do…you search out my path…you know my thoughts even before they become words…You go before me, and follow after me, and your hand is on me…and then he pauses and reflects that “All these ways of yours are too much for me to understand.” Letting go, giving up, giving into the things of God.

But he’s just getting started! Continuing on…I can’t get away from your Spirit, your presence is everywhere — in heaven or hell, on the wings of a new dawn or at the farthest seashore — even there, everywhere you are holding onto me and protecting me. Even the darkness is as bright as day for you! It was you, God, who formed me, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Pausing and reflecting again, “Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” Letting go, giving up, giving into the things of God.

It is all these things together which overwhelm David in a wonderful way! I imagine him kind of throwing his arms up in the air and saying, “I Give Up!”, not from frustration, but with wonder, with joy and peace. As he writes, “How weighty are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them– they are more than the sand; I come to the end– I am still with you.”

If all these God-realities exists and persist, then the invitation for us is to let go, to give up everyday, to lose ourselves into the wonder of the presence of the Holy One — our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer– who is always with us, and who will never let us go. How much I’d like to engage these realities as I wake up and as I end the day closing my eyes, taking a Divine perspective into all the challenges of the day, of living, of life.

Well do we know the anxieties and challenges of these days! And so as I invest my own spirit in attaching the rhythm of my days to these wonderful God-things, I invite you too, as one day ends, and as another begins, to find the words and images of Psalm 139, and to let go, to give up again your life — past, present, and future– to the Good Lord who is holding onto you, and will never let you go.


Peter Hawkinson

Words to Guide our Reflection and Prayers

I have no words today; just deep, deep sorrow. Time to be quiet and find the words of others in scripture and history. Pray for our nation, our leaders, and the citizenry to which we belong. We must do better. We must repent of our hateful rhetoric, pensions for violence, deceit and villainizing of one another. One plea as you live with these words: Do not read them at or toward others, but grapple with them in your own spirit.

“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare…Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit…” (Proverbs 13)

“Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2)

“Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD. Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace and seek to maintain it. The Lord hears his people when they call too him for help; he rescues them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34)

Portions of Senate Chaplain Rev. Barry Black’s prayer following the attack:
“Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world. Bless and keep us. Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to do your will and guide our feet on the path of peace.”

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5)

“work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life…look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12)

Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying, for jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, for wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.” (James 3)

“God opposes the proud and gives strength to the humble. So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Come close to God, and God will come close to you.Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief….confess your sins not each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 4)

“so get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech….I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage wars against your very souls.” (1 Peter 2)

You say “I am allowed to do anything”– but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”– but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” (1 Cor 10)

‘when you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissection, division…but the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…Let us not become conceited or provoke one another…(Galatians 6)

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.” (Rev 22)

Praying with You!

Peter Hawkinson

A Time For Lament

The roads to Jerusalem are in mourning, the crowds no longer come to celebrate the festivals. The City gates are silent.” (Lamentations 1:4)

If you want a good read, find Lamentations. It gives words to where my spirit is as this year comes mercifully (and mercilessly!) to its end. “Let 2020 go hang!” I say.

Lamentations, anonymously authored, is attributed to Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC. This is vividly portrayed in Lamentations’ 5 grief poems. Loss of home, Loss of temple (and so God, it seems), loss of culture and ritual, all ending in exile. Lamentations are read to this day each week in their entirety at the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in Old Jerusalem. And these poems show up in our Christian liturgy on the last three days of Holy Week as Jesus suffers and dies. The images are stunning…“Jerusalem is like a widow, weeping bitterly in the night.”..”The Roads themselves are in mourning, desolate” … “her oppressors have become her masters and her enemies prosper”…”The LORD in his anger has cast a dark shadow over us”…and then, getting more personal, “God has led me into darkness, shutting out all the light, he has broken my bones, besieged and surrounded me with anguish and distress.” Take up and read, and find the holy sorrow of your soul for our troubles these days.

There are five chapters, five poems. Find them. What will shock you is that the third — right in the middle of all the sorrow and trouble and grief and loss — the third is this stunning doxology of hope in God’s faithfulness! In the heart of lament there is hope:

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still still dare to hope when I remember this: The Faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease! Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance. Therefore, I will hope in him!” (NLT)

What the scripture teaches us is what our God invites us to — Honest Lament, that is rooted in God’s faithfulness, and so in spite of all evidence to the contrary, holds onto hope. There is the “This is the way it is, and this is how we/I feel”, and there is also the “But this I call to mind” or the “Yet I will trust in you.” This is what constitutes faith itself, our trust in another to lift us, save us, redeem us, heal us, set us free. And God will, because God has a proven track record of faithfulness.

After this pause to reflect on the bigger picture, the writer returns to Lament: “The elders no longer sit in the city gates. the young men no longer dance and sing. Joy has left our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The garlands have fallen from our heads. Weep for us because we have sinned. Our hearts are sick and weary, and our eyes grow dim with tears.”

God’s faithfulness does not remove our pain and suffering it seems. The great questions of mortal life linger, like a virus that grows more ferocious all the time. Here’s how the lamenting ends, with a heartfelt prayer: “Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had! Or have you utterly rejected us? Are you angry with us still?”

If ever in our lives there was a time for honest lament — for crying out, questioning God, saying exactly what our spirits have to say — this would be that time. Fire away! But do so also with deep and desperate faith in God’s faithfulness and fresh mercy — God, who is with us! Continue to hope. “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow” is the way we sing it.

Here’s to 2021!

Peter Hawkinson