Servant Life

“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13)

Knowing the commands of Christ, let this be our way of life: let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink, let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers, let us visit those in prison and the sick. Then the judge will say even to us: Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the realm prepared for you! (Byzantine Vespers)

It must be that I receive an invitation to a leadership conference almost everyday. And it must be that I have not received a flyer for a servanthood conference in years! Why is that? If we are at least trying to follow and emulate our Lord Jesus, why is that?

It’s Jesus, God incarnate, who gives bread and wine to his disciples while he says, “My body, broken for you, my blood shed for you” — it is Jesus, God incarnate, who then ties a towel around his waist and bows down to wash the feet of his friends. That task is one saved for the lowest level servant/slave in a household of the day. This, he says, is the example he leaves behind, and he talks about DOING it — you should DO for each other as I have DONE for you.

This servant life, this life of self-sacrifice, self-giving, is not merely or mostly a frame of mind, or a preferred posture. No, it is what we DO. We DO with ourselves — our bodies, our calendars, and our checkbooks — what Jesus has done for us. We are constantly looking for ways to love others by serving them — their needs, their comfort, their well-being.

It’s interesting to reflect on this DOING for others in light of our lenten disciplines which tend primarily toward our own selves– that is, what food I will not eat, and what spiritual disciplines I will embrace. The exception it seems is almsgiving. Alms or Almsgiving are physical gifts intended to help those who are poor or in need. I think Almsgiving gets short shrift; it’s almost always third on the list. I also think Almsgiving gets us closet to our foot-washing, cross bearing Savior.

The 17th century poet Robert Herrick was thinking on this when he wrote “To Keep a True Lent”:

Is this a Fast, to keep the larder lean? And clean From fat of veals and sheep? Is it to quit the dish of flesh, yet still To fill the platter high with fish? Is it to fast an hour, Or ragg’d to go, Or show A down-cast look and sour? No: ’tis a Fast to dole Thy sheaf of wheat And meat With the hungry soul. It is to fast from strife And old debate, and hate; To circumcise thy life. To show a heart grief-rent; To starve thy sin, Not bin; And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Here’s the thought, the invitation, the command, that our Self-giving, our service, our DOING for others become the fruit of our personal spiritual disciplines. So our praying leads us to practical acts of service. Our fasting leads us to pack up a meal for others.

the point is that as soon as the Good News of the Gospel is about us — and it is about us — it is not about us anymore, but about our friend, our neighbor, and especially others in the world who are diminished. “I once was lost and now I see” — I have experienced the loving act of Jesus washing my feet. Now this love is what I am called to DO! It’s wonderful, and challenging.

Servant Life!

Peter Hawkinson

Honesty, All Around!

All over the gospels there’s a common occurrence, when Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, is eating and having fellowship with “sinners” — and folks are grumbling, grumbling. It seems he’s trying to get the religious folk to understand the grace of God, and that it’s only by grace that anyone, including them, CAN find life with God!

In our early Covenant Church days, there was a man in 1871 identified only as “L. Peterson from Princeton Illinois” who was asked to pray at the end of a church meeting, and prayed thus:

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 and 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 others, and myself have struggled mightily with the nature of grace — that it can only be accepted as a gift, never earned — and 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 so gladdens the heart.

I knew another old man a hundred years later in 1971. I’d watch Milton during the weekly time of congregational confession do the same thing every week: he’d lay his head down on the pew in front of him, hands folded above him, sometimes 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, who is, after all, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and waiting for us who come honestly with mercy and 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

What’s Helping Right Now

Well, friends, as I sit down to write this we’re experiencing yet another snowstorm in Chicagoland.

I’ve lost track, to be honest, but I think this is maybe the third significant snow this winter, and certainly the sixth or seventh (at least!) snow of any accumulation…and today we appear to really be in for it: maybe a foot, maybe more.

The things that were helping a few weeks ago aren’t helping so much anymore.

Several weeks ago, it was warm enough to take walks with friends, or sit in backyards around a firepit for an hour; it was possible to lace up my sneakers and go for a run without leaping over snowbanks or risking life and limb on ice patches. I could take Zoe out for long walks to get steps in and stress out, and breathe fresh air.

But those aren’t going to cut it, when the high temperature is six degrees, and the roads are all but impassable.

So what do I do?

I pivot.

I try new things.

Spiritual practices, if you will, for surviving a pandemic winter – which, even as the vaccine gets out slowly but surely into our communities, and the hope of an ending draws near – is still hard. I’m finding that certain practices, rituals or behaviors will help me for a time; connect me closer to God and other people; return me to something like myself, instead of an anxiety-ridden and irritable mess. But they won’t last forever, not in a pressure-cooker environment like this one, so I have to keep changing them out.

Trying new things.

This is part of my exhaustion at this stage of COVID; I’ve gone through so many phases of these practices: first, like many people, it was making bread. Calling friends I hadn’t talked to in ages. Writing cards.

Then it was finding 100 ways to be outside: camping, hiking, swimming, walking.

Then more baking, and working my way through TV shows on Netflix.

Then running, and fall camping.

Then winter walks with hot cups of coffee and heavy boots.

Now…I’m trying again. Attempting new things. Seeing what works.

In the hopes that maybe it will help or inspire you in your February doldrums, here is a short (by no means exclusive) list of what’s helping right now:

  1. Books I can get lost in, and not want to put down: this week, it’s Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; previously, it was Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
  2. A small, fresh pot of coffee brewed every morning (instead of reheating day-old).
  3. A doggie sweatshirt for Zoe and cozy blankets for me.
  4. Designating one night a week for an actual movie, not just Food network reruns and old House Hunters episodes.
  5. Leaving fresh-baked cookies on my neighbors’ doorsteps, just because.
  6. Taking time away from Instagram, just for a bit, every day to read scripture and pray.
  7. In lieu of running, dance workouts (free on YouTube!) that can be done from the safety of my living room and still get my heart pumping.

None of these require a lot of money, or time, or materials beyond what I have at home. And yet every single one is a way of caring, gently, for myself and for others, reminding me that we are all in this together. That it will not last forever. And that, even as isolated as I feel, God is still with me, and others are still near me, even if just in my heart.

And the best part of all this? It really and truly does help.

What is helping you right now?

-Pastor Jen

Holding God To It

“So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.” (ex. 32:14)

This morning I wake up with a restless spirit. “Where are you this morning, Lord?” is my honest question.

Well into my second cup of coffee, the words I locate for how I feel are “deep longing”. Deep longing for all that’s wrong to be made right, and that’s a big ALL these days. At least it sure feels that way. Sheltering in place grows so old and painful, like the frost-bite on my finger tips as I walk the dog. We have a virus with creative pension for varied mutations, as if it’s angry and wants to hurt and kill as many of us as possible. Meanwhile, so many are suffering devastating losses of life, of vocation, of hope for the future. words and images of insurrection fill our national landscape. Trials ensue. Issues of safety are real for so many, and for many, with all kinds of different perspectives, the future of our democracy is in doubt. Our anger with each other is disturbingly normative around every social issue imaginable. Our most treasured relationships with family and friends are strained if we’re fortunate, and fractured in so many cases.

I feel this morning like I want to hold God to God’s own promises…I will be your God, and you will be my people…I will never leave you or forsake you….I am the shade at your right hand, the sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night….come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.. It’s all so good, such good news, so comforting, yet there are days when those promises along with the presence of God seem so distant to all of our pain and suffering.

I know, I know it’s haughty to think and feel and say such things. I know that the sufferings we endure are largely of our own doing and not God’s doing. But sometimes it’s important to just be honest. This is why I find the little story of the Golden Calf being built at the base of mount Sinai so weirdly comforting. Check it out — Exodus 32. While God is ordering life ahead for Israel with Moses up on top, down below the people become bored and intrigued with making a golden calf to put their hope in in the meantime. God is angry, really angry with what they have done: “Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blame against them, and I will destroy them.” But Moses stands toe to toe with God, quite a courageous thing. He reminds God of God’s promises: “Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself to them with an oath to them saying, I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants.”

And God changed his mind.

Even though all of the chaos at the bottom of the mountain was not God’s doing, Grace abounded. Mercy won the day. God stuck to God’s promises, with the prodding of Moses, who was surely shaking in his boots. wait. He had no boots, he was on holy ground and taken them off. You know what I mean.

It’s a scary proposition to take God on, to hold God to holy promises. But we are allowed to do so when we feel the need, when we wake up with that restless spirit, that deep longing that wants God to come and act, come and heal, come and bring order to our chaos.

That’s where I am this morning. “Remember, dear God, remember your promises, and bring life, and not death, to your creation you have redeemed.”

Peace on your journey. It’s ok to hold God to his promises. God is up to the task!

Peter Hawkinson


Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in God’s love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16)

“These three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

We are contemplating love, always, always, and especially now in Black History Month. God IS love is what the good book says. and Jesus, being God with us, makes his own active love the standard by which we love each other in the world. And love is the greatest power at work in the world to transform — as Dr. King says, “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Pastor and blogger Carlos Rodriguez captures my imagination often and did so earlier this week when reflecting on Black History Month he wrote: “I see no color” is not the goal. “I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against the racism that harms you. You are beautiful. And I will do better.” That’s the goal.

Sitting with those words for a while, and keeping in mind the pattern of love Jesus gives me, I write down on legal pad the following the ways I’m challenged: 1) Learn a Story that helps me better understand. 2) Act for the good of others. 3) Seek in myself to move from darkness to light.

Learn a Story. The way of Jesus is displacement, radically other centered. He is born into the pain and suffering of humanity. Indeed, he himself suffers for the sins of those he comes to love. As we will soon ponder again, “amazing love! How can it be that thou my God should die for me?” Jesus suffers and dies with a deep understanding of our story. So what would it look like to make contact with a black friend or neighbor NOT to dialogue, but simply because I want to learn your story, to understand your lived experiences, to just listen and learn a story?

Act For The Good Of Others. The love of Jesus is other-centered in it’s activity. He is not concerned with his own rights, privileges, and power, no — his concern is for wounds of others, for the sins of humanity, for the brokenness of the world. He embraces his own suffering — loss, less, pain, even death — so that others may have new life. So when Jesus compels us to love each other as I have loved you, we are commanded to a love that is active, embraces suffering, and is focused on the needs of others. “I will work against the racism that harms you.” This is the love of Jesus we now embody in the world. What might that kind of love look like for me? Having listened to the story and experiences of another, I might ask them, “How might I be able to work together with you for justice?”

Seek in myself to move from darkness to light. I need to locate the darkness that is at work in me, and naming it, move toward and into the light of Holy Love. I want to locate ways that I can better love. This is the constant rhythm of confession (“I have not loved like Jesus”) and repentance (“I will! I want to better love like Jesus.”) I must stop being defensive and fearful about my own complicit partnership with darkness — This is part of every human lived experience — and seek a new way forward, a new way of loving. Bishop Desmond Tutu writes: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” Here the question is, “Will I commit myself to grow, to change, to be formed more and more into the love of Christ?”

I the end, that the goal of Christian life, to grow through life more and more fully alive to the love of Jesus Christ, for me, and through me, for me, and through me. It is this love that has the power to and will end all hatred, oppression, and injustice. It is this love that God intends for his creation to be fruitful and multiply in. In his great work, Strength to Love, Dr. King invites us: “We have before us, ever before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.

Peter Hawkinson

Oxygen Masks and Buttercream Meltdowns

Some days, I do okay.

I have my dog, Zoe, and a nice apartment, more than amply supplied with food and books.

I have a working laptop, and a smartphone, and now, thanks to stimulus money, an iPad to video call friends and family, to text and email and even play online versions of our favorite board games together.

So far, I also have my health, and plenty of internet streaming services to watch movies and tv shows when I’m bored.

Some days, this is more than enough.

But we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s also the dead of winter in Chicago, and my family is far away…so there are days when I do not do okay.

Days, like last Monday, when I find myself weeping into buttercream as I attempt to frost a cake for my online baking class.

I think that’s pretty normal, actually, for the season we’re in right now. I think it’s healthy, even, to find ways to “feel your feelings” and process through them; express them and let them out.

But when it happens, I am always reminded of those security videos on airplanes that cautioned you (in the event of a drop in cabin pressure) to put on your oxygen mask before helping anyone else.

That’s solid advice, always. I try to follow that in non-pandemic times, too. But what I am thinking about lately is not just putting my oxygen mask on when the pressure drops and I can’t breathe well, but also checking that mask regularly and making sure it’s there when I need it.

On an airplane, thank goodness, technicians do this for you – make sure that your mask is working so that when you really need oxygen, it’s there.

On the ground, though, we have to do this for ourselves. And I’m not always good at remembering. I’m wired to go, go, go, until I can’t anymore. Until the stresses build and the cumulative trauma of the last eleven months lands hard on me, and I’m standing over a bowl of butter and powdered sugar sniffling woefully.

This week, I am trying to do a little differently.

I am reaching out to friends, and colleagues in ministry, to shore up my oxygen supply before it crashes. I am building the structures of self-care and support that will help me weather storms when they come – as they almost certainly will.

I am inviting you to do the same.

We are all going to have good and bad days, and in this season, they are (as likely as not) going to feel intensely good or intensely bad. We’re living in a pressure cooker, and while we have in some ways gotten used to it, the fact remains: this is not normal. This situation is extraordinary, and extraordinarily hard.

But we are not in it alone – even if we feel alone, even if we live alone. We have our faith to lean on, and we have each other. We are all experiencing this together, in different ways and with different worries, but all at the same time and all with extra stress and difficulty.

So this week, let’s try a new thing together. Let’s shore up our supplies of oxygen – of friendship, of love, of laughter and silliness – before we think we need them. So we are more than ready, when we do.

with love,

Pastor Jen

(If you need an idea of where to start, try getting in touch with us, your pastors, and other members of your church family. We love and miss you, and are eager to partner with you in these difficult times.)