For Life!

“The “Readers” did not come to the Bible because they had been convinced by theological and dogmatic discussions of its inerrancy and infallibility. They came, and continued to come, because they had found life and inspiration for themselves. They knew that speaking about food could not satisfy hunger and that speaking about thirst could not quench thirst. They trusted the Bible to be its own defense as well as their own, not by speaking about it, but by proclaiming its message in testimony and sermon, song and living…they spoke of themselves as gathering around the Word as if to encircle it, like gathering around a campfire on a cold day or a dark night.” (Eric Hawkinson, Images in Covenant Beginnings)

Our particular theological history with the Word of God is unique, rich, and inviting. Metaphors abound of satisfied hunger pangs and quenched thirst, of a garden of life and fragrance. We come to the scriptures for life! For life! And What gives us life is not doctrines, or dogmas, but living experiences of grace and mercy, of Jesus’ own presence that causes our hearts to flutter, of a Holy Spirit in and around the words that speaks to us about the Kingdom of God, and calls us into New Life.

This is what I often saw come to life in the watery eyes of otherwise stoic Swedes during church coffee hours, when conversations about the goodness of God would overwhelm. This is what I heard from the pulpit week after week when invited into the wonder of the Good News of Jesus.

Drawing Rev. Steve Elde.

An example of this pietism, this strangely warmed heart living with simple faith comes to life in these words from a sermon of C. A. Bjork, given at a mission meeting in Bethesda, Nebraska, July 7, 1876: “But now, thus says the Lord, he who created you O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.‘” (Psalm 43) Listen — Now, now says the Lord, your Lord and Creator. Oh, all you who are comfortless, who have sought after comfort and found none– now, now, you are offered the solace of comfort. And you do not need to wait until you because so and so and so. No, now, now, now says the Lord — just now, in this moment! — sinful as you are and lost as you are, unclean as you are– now God has a word at the right time for you…While you are still far away — far away from you ought to be, far from the kind of repentance which you ought to have, and everything, everything is far from what it ought to be. Oh, you are far away! And all this you think about, and this causes your steps to be so slow, your knees so weak, and you trudge home so slowly…In this distress your Father sees you. He sees that if he does not come to meet you, to take you in his arms and carry you, you will never get home. Oh, hear his urgent concern for you. You walk–he runs! See how much more concerned he is about your rescue than you are yourself. But what will the meeting be like? You think he has the rod near him, that he will reproach you because of your sins, that he will see if you are properly anguished and if you mean it seriouslybut No! This is only a distorted judgment about your Father which the serpent has given you. The right portrait his Son has given us. He has been with him and knows him from eternity. He has given us the parable of the prodigal son. And he was not even taken to the water to cleanse him of his filth before he kissed him. No, not a word about sin, or amends, but just as he was, he embraced him and kissed him. The Son did not even have time to tell him that he did not expect to be received as a son but would be glad if he could remain as one of his servants…. Now, do you have anything against this, if he does the same with you?Now, then, listen, “But now thus says the Lord…he who created you…’Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'” What does this mean? You are redeemed, and you already received a name, and this name is “You are mine.” See, this is the way it happens. While the son was still in the strange country, the father prepares ed clothing, ring and shoes, and the fatted calf. Think, if the son had known this and believed this, how sift his steps then would have been.

May we never lose our love for the good news of this gospel, and may it find a place to dwell, to come and stay, in our hearts. For Life!

Peter Hawkinson

The Prayer of Faith

Yesterday, I got to do my first-ever “pulpit swap.”

Thanks to my colleagues, and fellow clergy, I was able to trade places for a day with Pastor Jon Fogel, a child of our church and now the lead pastor at Hope Covenant Church in Orland Park, Illinois. He came to preach at Winnetka, and I went to Hope to share a word with the congregation there.

It was a gift to be with them, and I also missed being with all of you. So today, in lieu of a reflection, I share with you part of the message I preached at Hope yesterday. It’s about prayer, something I think we all struggle with at times, and yet that our scriptures make clear is an important part of our discipleship.
I needed to hear this word as much as I needed to share it, and my hope is it may speak to you as well.

-Pastor Jen

James 5:13-20

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.


So often when we talk or think about prayer, the focus is on whether it works – meaning, usually, whether it gets God to do what we want.

And it seems clear enough that sometimes God will answer in the way that we hope, and sometimes not. But what I find much more interesting is a different question: what happens to us when we pray?

One of those happenings is brought up in our passage: when we pray, we turn from focusing just on our circumstances – or those of someone else – to focusing on God.

That’s why, I think, the writer begins with those who are “cheerful” – certainly, when we think about prayer mainly as a means to solve our problems, the people who least “need” to be praying. They aren’t in trouble, so there’s no need to go to God to fix it – and yet the author of James makes it clear that they, still, should pray.

The troubled should pray, the sick should get the elders to pray, those confessing to each other should pray for one another, and those concerned about someone gone astray should pray – but the cheerful should too.

They should all, no matter the season or the circumstance “look to God in prayer.”

They should look to practice seeing beyond their own circumstances, but also perhaps because the key is in the looking; in the gaze; in where we put our attention.

When Barbara Brown Taylor writes about prayer, she calls it a spiritual practice: “the practice of being present to God.”

Note that her words imply God is already present to us – what happens in prayer is us deciding whether to return that presence, that attentiveness, that responsiveness.

“Prayer,” Barbara writes in An Altar in the World, “is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer.”

Considered this way, perhaps prayer is about looking to God and orienting ourselves accordingly: recalling who and whose we are; accepting how little we control, and entrusting ourselves to the one who is truly in control.

Looking at God like this reminds us to look at others differently, too. Maybe that’s why the writer of James encourages his readers to pray for each other, to pray for the sick, to pray for the sinner wandering from God – because it changes us. It changes our posture towards one another, when we pray for each other. We are no longer adversaries with one another, judges or critics, but advocates and partners – those seeking each other’s good, and healing, and wholeness.

Prayer changes us.

I don’t know about you, but these words seem especially important to me right now.

In the place where we are in the world, in our country, in the pandemic, it’s so easy to be angry with each other. To store up our hurts and nurse our grudges, and to move further and further apart. I know I’ve been feeling that in myself lately, and it troubles me even as I feel somewhat powerless on my own to resist it.

At the same time, I can spend a lot of energy trying to remake the world around me in a way that makes sense; trying to control situations and fix problems even when they’re obviously beyond my grasp.

But this passage from James, this simple set of exhortations reminding us all to pray – whatever the circumstance – reminds me that prayer is about so much more than trying to get God to give me what I want.

Prayer is about my needs, yes, but just as much about the needs of others. About my community. About lifting others up, and about looking to God. God, who is already present and active even in the midst of our troubles.

Prayer shapes me – shapes all of us – as it reminds us our place in the world and even in our troubles. It points us toward God, and puts us mindfully back in the posture of those who receive and follow, not those who determine the way.

And yet, despite all that, prayer is still mysterious.

I can’t tell you how it works, or why, or when. Or what “working” even means. I can’t explain why Elijah’s prayers seemed to stop rain for three and a half years, and why mine can’t help my neighbors sell a condo.

I doubt the writer of James can either.

But what he is confident of, what I am willing to trust and follow him on, is that prayer connects us to a God who can heal the sick, raise the dead, and transform our hearts – and so it’s worth doing. In every season, and every circumstance. 

All thanks to be to God.


Uncle Zenos

My uncle, Zenos Hawkinson (1925-1997) was named after his Father’s beloved professor of Biblical Theology, Andrew Zenos. The name “Zenos” means stranger in greek. For the first 18 years of my life he lived down the alley in the beautiful house near the Sweden Shop. He taught history for 34 years at North Park University, and though I didn’t matriculate there, others have told me they would attend his lectures even if not in the class, because of how history came to life in his cadences. He was my father’s older brother by five years. I’m told when he was young he could hit a softball a mile, and once found himself expelled from the very institution he would give his life’s work to.

He sat with Navy comrades aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo bay when World War II came to its end. He was earthy and poetic, carried with him a certain delicious melancholy, and lived with faith and love. He made delicious fermented root beer in his basement, smoked his pipe to beat the band, and loved to sail. He was deeply involved in the urban development on the north side of the city.

I miss him so, with so many others who if they were still with us would be our wise sages through the challenges of life.

In the winter of 1978, before talking to the Covenant ministerium, during some challenging days in the church — when aren’t they!– here is how he prayed. It’s a fine prayer for these days:

Our Father, we give you glad thanks for this unbelievable, imperishable, unmerited fellowship. Help us to continue to enjoy each other as we pasture in your meadows, in places that have been made available to us through your grace, because you love us– not because we earned it, but because you love us, because you are who you are. And help us thus to love each other even when we disagree, even when we see things differently, but understanding that we are sheep of the same Shepherd, even our Lord Jesus Christ. Help that whatever is said or understood among us may suffer the winnowing of your good sense, that what is good seed may fall into good ground, and what is nonsense may dry up quickly, blow away, and be forgotten. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Amen. May it be so.

Peter Hawkinson


since our time together a week ago, a few of you have reached out to chat about something I said: “the love of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is by its nature divisive. This is what the prophetic witness of scripture and the life and death of Jesus show us. In this sense, “divisive” or “potentially divisive issues” are not by nature wrong because they are divisive. Such is the hard and courageous work of the Church when following Jesus.” I’m grateful for the conversation!

My pre-marital counseling plan with couples includes something called “the pre-marriage awareness inventory.” It’s 125 rather simple questions that each person responds to on their own, and then gathering back together we have conversation about important aspects of a marriage: Expectations, Communication, Sharing Feelings, Relating styles, Family and Friends, Faith, Sexuality, Finances, and last, but not least, Conflict Resolution.

One of the first questions they respond to is this: Conflict is not a good thing in marriage. Agree or disagree? How do you answer? What do you think? We go on to reflect on how conflict is a natural and necessary part of married life (or if a life-long relationship is going to continue on). We must have freedom and space to share our hurts, disappointments, and differences. There is not something wrong when conflict comes; the key, of course, is how we move through it; how we acknowledge and address it. How do we resolve it? There are those helpful guidelines we’ve heard before:

Try to win an agreement, not an argument. Look at what you’re saying from the other’s point of view. Spend as much time listening actively as you do making your own case. Recognize and acknowledge the significance of the other’s position. Lose your temper and you lose your point. The list goes on. All Good and important stuff.

The point is movement — a commitment to work through it in as healthy a way as possible. In her book High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, Amanda Ripley reflects on common human behaviors when faced with conflict: Running Away, Fighting, or Staying Silent. I’ve had experiences with all of these! And the sad truth, she says, is that any one of them just turns conflict into “an us-versus-them” conflicted that is perpetuated instead of resolved. Ripley’s central thought is what she calls the fourth way, which is “Leaning into the conflict.” As uncomfortable as it feels, to actually move further into conflict with the hope of coming out the other side. Ripley calls this “Good Conflict”, which is friction that can be serious and intense but leads somewhere useful. This conflict does not collapse into dehumanization.”I believe this is what we are attempting to do together in this season of speaking and listening, praying, and continuing to live together.

The Church is very much like a marriage we commit ourselves to. We’re interested in settling down into life together over the long haul, for years and decades, hopefully for a life-time! And if we’re in touch with the life and ministry of Christ, there will be tension in the church and outside of it, as we seek to wrestle with the call he gave his disciples: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Conflict has the potential to divide us, and divorce us from one another. But if we are willing to lean into it, to commit ourselves to each other as loved ones and the process of discerning the way through it, we can grow closer to one another and to Christ, the Lord. The key to the process we have now is not running away, making it a fight, or staying silent, but moving through it with love and respect for each other, as we seek to do what God wills.

Love from here, and the coffee’s always on!

Peter Hawkinson

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

I grew up on music that, in the 90s, we called the “Oldies” – much of it from the 60s and 70s, when my parents were growing up, hitting their teenage years, and becoming young adults.

Now, of course, there’s a lot more that I could consider “oldies,” but still some of these early tunes that my mom and dad played in our house or in the car – when I was too young to assert my own musical choices – they have burned themselves into my brain.

And one of them, a 1965 song by The Byrds, called “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” has been coming to my mind more and more lately.

As the song reminds me, with words plucked straight out of Ecclesiastes,

to everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

and a time to every purpose under heaven

This is the time of year when I start thinking about seasons much more, because I’m excited for them to change: after all those months of summer heat, I’m ready for fall colors and flavors and chilly nights and warm sweaters.

But even as I get ready to bring out my flannel shirts again, I am mindful this year that there are several season changes that we’re all navigating right now, ones that are hard and may even bring some grief with them.

Last year, as the pandemic was just exploding onto our local scene, no longer a headline from oceans away but right in our community, my sister came to stay with me. And she stayed for six months; six of those long, lonely, scary first months when we were only venturing to the grocery store twice a month, wiping down all of our packages, and wondering if we should wear masks when taking my dog for a walk. It was wonderful to have her around, to have someone to hunker down with while the world seemed to devolve into chaos all around us.

She left in the fall, to go pursue other work – but as luck would have it, she came back this summer for a couple of months. A couple of months when I was moving into my very first home of my own, and navigating the world as a fully vaccinated individual; when we were starting to meet in large groups at church again, and even venture to restaurants and baseball games.

It was different this time. A different season.

We both realized it, and were grieved by it even as we celebrated some of our new freedoms, rediscovered from pre-pandemic days. It was no longer us hunkered down against the chaos without, but us navigating a new season that we didn’t yet understand. A season somewhere between the height of the pandemic and the hoped-for end of it. A season where the world was knocking at our doors again, and we had to figure out how to let it in, and when, and what we would welcome back.

And those conversations with my sister helped me to realize that we’re all struggling in this new season. Struggling to know what feels safe, what is safe for us to do, in these days of the Delta variant and back-to-school and booster shots and more. Struggling, some of us, with the demands to leave home again and go back to offices and get out in the world. I know I’m having a hard time with the pace of life ramping up again, with the pressure to get busy and get back to my pre-COVID rhythms.

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a wonderful essay (for subscribers) recently about this struggle, and she included a line that has stayed with me:

“I haven’t been the me I am now for very long.”

The “me” I am now has been through some serious challenges this past 18 months, and she is just learning what she can and can’t do as this person who she is now:

A person, it turns out, who can open her home to some friends, and take an airplane to see her parents, and go to see the Cubs play.

But also a person who won’t go back to living a highly-scheduled life with commitments stacked on top of each other and no buffer room between them.

Someone who, despite it all, can still do hard things, but who gets to choose what some of those are.

The same is true for all of us, my friends. We haven’t been the people we are now for very long. And we will need to be gracious with ourselves, and so very patient, as we navigate this season, and figure out who we are now.

We can do this. We can do more than we realize. In this season, as we strive to do some returning, let’s be brave, as Nadia reminded me, but let’s also be so very gentle with ourselves and with others.


A Prayer

The calligraphy is hard to read but it’s a wonderful and heartfelt pastor’s prayer, presented to my father by his congregation, Redeemer Covenant Church then on Chicago’s south side, 65 years ago when he was ordained. I read it every day! It comes from Martin Luther.

Maybe though you are not a pastor, it’s spirit and urgency can connect with your own journey with the ministry of Christ:

Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it all long ago. Therefore do I invoke Thee. How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate my heart and mouth to this ministry! I desire to teach the congregation. I, too, desire ever to learn and to keep Thy Word my constant companion, and to meditate thereupon earnestly. Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service. Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.

With you in Prayer,

Peter Hawkinson

Day By Day

Over the last year of my mother’s ferocious fight with cancer, she was heard to say repeatedly “one day at a time.” It became her lifeline on her way home to God. Mom died in January of 2015.

I have taken that motto with me into life’s forward flow, and I whisper it to myself or share it with someone else every day, not because I’m mortally ill (at least that I’m aware of!), but because times are tough. The days, one after another, are filled with many ills and sorrows, and threatening realities.

The Old Swedish Hymn, Day By Day, and With Each Passing Moment, reminds me that these kind of days are nothing new, not unprecedented. Here’s the Text:

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet each trial here. Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear. He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what he deems best– lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord himself is near me with a special mercy for each hour. All my cares he fain would bear and cheer me, He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r. The protection of his child and treasure is a charge that on himself he laid: “As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,” this the pledge to me he made.

Help me then in ev’ry tribulation so to trust your promises O Lord, that I lose not faith’s sweet consolation offered me within thy holy word. Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting, E’er to take as from a father’s hand. One by one, the days, the moments fleeting, till I reach the promised land.

Lina Sandell wrote these words of comfort and assurance. With them she shared this allegory:

An old wall clock stopped suddenly, and the dial decided to investigate and discovered that the pendulum was at fault. It had become bored and tired of swinging back and forth 86,400 times each day. “Try swinging six times” said the dial. The pendulum agreed and admitted that it was not wearisome, “but it’s not six times, or sixty; it’s the thought of six million times that disturbs me.” “But bear in mind,” said the dial, “that while in a single moment you can think of the millions of swings you must make in a lifetime, only one at a time will be required of you.And no matter how often you must go through the same movements you will be given a moment for each one.” The pendulum admitted that it had acted foolishly in going on strike and promptly resumed its work.”

In writing this hymn, Lina commented on the allegory, saying “It is foolish to put future burdens upon the present moment. We are given one day at a time, and for each day new grace, new strength, new help. Then she quoted Leviticus 33:25: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (Twice Born Hymns, J. Irving Erickson, Covenant Press, 1976).

Oscar Ahnfelt found the tune.

In an ironic twist, my mother, when we were talking about her funeral wishes, said “Please not “Day by Day!” She went on to say how much she loved the hymn, but how over-used she felt it was. But not these days! Let’s dust it off, and singing it, own it’s simple faith.

See you Sunday at the communion table!

Peter Hawkinson