Is What We Share Enough?

(written in 2006, during a challenging church season. A good question for us again now)

So we, who are many, are one body in Christ,
and individually we are members of one another.
(Romans 12:5)

It was a Thursday afternoon, and this text was roaming around in my spirit. As often is the case, I found myself feeling restless, and I decided to get lost in the crowd at the food court in the mall. I sat down with my Caesar salad and a plan to read the whole letter of Paul to the Roman church straight through. Somewhere in the middle of chapter 8 a three-year-old boy and his mom sat down at the table next to mine. I noticed how excited he was about their order from McDonald’s, until he realized there was no Happy Meal. There was just one bag containing two cheeseburgers and one box of fries for the two of them. His question mirrored the worry on his face: “Do we have enough to share?” His mother didn’t hear him, she was too busy trying to organize it all. So the boy asked again, this time mixing up his words: “Mama, is what we share enough?” She comforted him, and I watched, and it was enough.
I went home that day with that haunting and inviting question following me: Is what we share enough? That question returns to me early each Sunday morning at the communion table, where we come to what we share: the redeeming grace of God, new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit alive among us still, and in all these things the life we are called into, the mission before us. Is what we share enough? Is unity possible—the kind of unity that Christ prayed about just before his arrest? “That they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:22-23).

Is there anything more crucial to our mission and witness than our unity? Why do we struggle to get along in the body of Christ, even as we take in Christ’s body? Why is it normative these days for churches to linger in conflict that leads to fracture? Why are so many colleagues in ministry resigning without a new call or leaving vocational ministry all together? Is what we share enough?

The table ever before us, spread with grace, proclaims Christ’s sufficiency. Scripture bids us to prepare for the meal by going to brothers or sisters with whom we have broken relationships, and do the work of reconciliation. Having come to the table, we are reminded that we are no longer free to withhold mercy and grace from each other. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about our life together, “We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for eternity. Unity is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in which we may participate.” Our lingering capacity for sin does not let us off the hook. The unity of the church is not one of the fruits to be harvested at Christ’ return. Instead, unity is to be that unique, present, daily reality that causes the Christian Community to love well and contagiously in the world.

Paul proclaims to the struggling early church who they really are: “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.” (Romans 12:5). The word isn’t that we are like a body, or that we can be members of one another. Paul proclaims the reality of who in Christ we are, and what the reality of our life together is. It is as our spiritual forebear Carl Johan Nyvall said it one day standing at the Lord’s Table: “It is not identity in thought and comprehension of all possible particulars that constitutes our unity, but our unity is the mutual filial condition into which we have been birthed, from above, by Jesus, in the Spirit’s power.”

If this is true, then for all of us who live by faith in Jesus, there shall be no issue that keeps us from sharing this feast and living together in community and doing God’s restorative work of love in the world. There shall be vigorous discussion about every moral issue, even passionate disagreement, but we shall come together to the table before, and return after. Differing worship approaches and ministry directions and theological interpretations, as important as they are to us as individuals, are set aside when we hear this invitation: “Come to this table, not to express an opinion, but to seek God’s presence and pray for his Spirit” (Covenant Book of Worship).

What is to be radically different in the church from the world is the order of things, that we submit everything having to do with our individuality to Christ, and to one another. We, though we be many, are one people in the Lord. I miss that hymn from the Red Covenant Hymnal of 1973:

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will walk with each other hand in hand, and we will work with each other side by side, because it is the Christ of God and the Spirit of God who makes us one people.

So will we do this, really? Even though we share different political views about the second amendment, and immigration and health care reform, can we look into each other’s eyes and say, “This is the body of Christ, for you”? Even though we feel at odds with each other about many theological issues flowing out of scripture, will we still stand side by side because together we love Jesus who wants us to feed someone who is hungry? Is what we share enough?

If our differences lead us to become divided, it is because we have lost Christ at our center. For this reason I imagine that the risen Christ is still praying with passion and longing for his church.

This has always been a particular challenge for our Covenant Church. We have gathered from our beginning around this word from the psalmist: “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts” (Psalm 119:63). We are a church that has found membership in the church to be about new life in Christ, and baptism into this new life with Christ. Out of that simple and clear reality we serve on boards together even if we interpret scripture together differently, we worship together even though we have a hard time understanding our different theological viewpoints. We share the good news in our neighborhood and the world because we embody the reality of God’s grace in Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit makes us one people. We come from many cultures and every imaginable Christian tradition under the sun, and from no tradition at all. But there is one essential thing we share in common: Love for Jesus Christ, faith believing he has saved us from our sins. This is what we share, and it is enough for us!

Found among the remains of a woman at her death in early nineteenth-century Ireland was her Bible, with a not tucked into the page of John 17. It read: “Read the prayer of Jesus, both its weight and wonder, and bow down under a sense of it, in the dust before God. You are one of Jesus’s redeemed people. You bear his glory! We together as one with him, now we can be one with each other. Hallelujah!”

Is what we share enough?

We come to this question again and again at the Lord’s Table. What we share, we see with our eyes, and taste with our mouths. This is grace and mercy, new life with God for broken people. The question remains, asked by the lingering Christ, and the watching world. May our answer be a stubborn and labored “YES!” That comes from the hard work of doing this love of Jesus in our community.

Peter Hawkinson

Almost Christmas

I write this from a cozy, for-once-crowded apartment, with Mom and Dad and sister, all safely arrived on their flights to Chicago.

The kitchen counters are all taken up with cookies that Mom brought, and about three left from the one batch I baked (it’s been a weird year).

There are some presents under the tree, and several more hidden in a box beneath my bed.

The trappings of Christmas are largely here – the tree is lit, the candles are on in the windows; I even added an IKEA paper lantern to the dining room door – there are meatballs in the freezer for Christmas Eve…and I’m not really feeling it, to be honest. I’m grateful, deeply grateful, for what I do have (and who I have)…yet something is still missing.

Usually, by these last few days before the holiday, I’m on a wave of Christmas fever – fueled by coffee and cookies, listening to carols, plowing through tasks to get to the feasting and resting. I’m joyful and full of anticipation, counting the days, looking forward to the candlelight service at church and getting to sing Silent Night with all of you.

But right now, I’m mostly tired.

I’m afraid, too, because COVID is rearing its ugly head in the most unfair and poorly-timed way possible, with huge spikes in positive cases and low numbers of open hospital beds right as people are preparing for gatherings all across our country and world.

I don’t want to have to worry about this again, after an exhausting year vacillating between freedom and restrictions, between hope and hurt.

I want to gather without fear, to have the energy to make double-batches of sugar cookies and mince pies and gingerbread for friends and neighbors, knowing I can see them and hug them and laugh and maybe even cry a little with them.

I don’t want another COVID Christmas.

But here we are (again).

Doing our best. Doing what we can.

At breaking point, or one bad day removed from it, or (I hope) doing decently well.

Here is where we are.

And as I spend time with the story in Luke 2 of Jesus’ birth this week, I am reminded that “here” is exactly where Jesus showed up.

Here, in the dead of a winter’s night, to a group of forgotten shepherds – probably themselves weary and worried too.

Here, in a lonely stable, laying his head on a hard stone manger, nestled among scratchy pieces of hay for his first sleep on earth.

Here, in the midst of harshness and hardship and a world that was and is not perfect.

Here, is where we will find him.

Here, where we find ways and reasons to celebrate still. Where we care for each other, where we find light in the darkness and warmth from the cold.

Here, where we are tired and need rest, or where we have it in us to help others who do.

Here, where we glimpse beauty, or here, where we mourn and grieve what is lost.

Here, in all of it. Here, for all of it. Here, is where Jesus is.

That’s the promise of Christmas, after all. On a year when we’re eager and ready for it, or a year when we want more time, when we want things to look differently than they do. He comes here. Into whatever we are going through, to be with us in it and to walk with us through it.

Perhaps that doesn’t feel like much – but my hope is that, in a year when we’ve had to hold too much, this is a small promise, but a precious and holy one, that we can carry with us.

May you find the light of Christmas this week, and may its warmth and brightness both surprise and comfort you.


Pastor Jen

Finishing Well and Starting Strong

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.” (Henri Nouwen)

This last month of the year finds us, as usual, worried about financial things in the church. As our fiscal year comes to its end, it’s a race to see if we can cover our ministry expenses. We hope to finish well! Along with that, we depend on giving pledges for year next budget planning. We hope to start a new year strong!

There is much that conspires against us moving forward into another year finishing well and starting strong. Current estimates are that post-pandemic (who knows when that will be?) levels of participation and giving to churches will greatly diminish, that will see a new permanent 40 percent drop. This pandemic will forever re-shape church life. Part of this is necessary and good, and some of this change will be very difficult. Add to this our own current discernment process, which is both energizing and exhausting — and makes for an intense season of community life and ministry. Some of us are captivated by contemplating new seasons ahead of life and ministry, and others are concerned we’ll never get there together.

In the midst of this all, we might choose to be people of hope; we might decide to double-down, go all-in on gratitude and joy. We might choose hope, even if defiantly so. We might fall apart, but we also might decide to re-commit ourselves to Christ and to one another in a manner of which the balladeer Bruce Cockburn sings: “But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.” (Lovers In a Dangerous Time, 1984). Maybe we can come together to finish well and start strong in these next couple of weeks.

Stina’s coming home Friday. Can’t wait! And now I’m thinking about one night about fifteen years ago when I came home from a tough meeting, in the midst of a hard chapter in our church journey. I was really discouraged, maybe even really despairing, until I came up the stairs and found Stina singing in her room as if the whole world would hear it: “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love.” (Godspell via James 1:17). Her spirit infected me with gratitude and joy, and got me through those tough days. I was able to live, even then, from a place of plenty to give thanks for.

And that’s my hope for these days, that we together can see and be light in the darkness, that we might choose to hope still, even still now! That gratitude might carry us to the end of this year and into a new one, with thanks for this particular Winnetka Covenant Church family, and that our financial giving and planning might give us hope.

Love From here

Peter Hawkinson

Some Favorite Hymn Lines

In this Advent season of deep reflection, repentance, and preparation, so many hymns enter my spirit. And in particular are particular lines of hymns that always stop me in my tracks, asking me to unpack their meaning as I sing/say them. So here are a few I’m ruminating on today; what are some favorites of yours?

“Safe in God’s keeping, but never secure…” (Now, Anxious Heart, #472, verse 3). Some friends have expressed their reservations about this. While I understand, I find it to express the honest reality that people of faith suffer trials and tragedies just as all human beings do, while carrying with them the sense that “all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” (Julian of Norwich, 1343-1420). The long future view (safe in God’s keeping) informs the struggles (but never secure)of the present. The whole verse says it like this:

“Are not the saints a trifle confusing, they speak of joy but great trials endure, kingdoms possessing, pleading a blessing, safe in God’s keeping but never secure.”

The invitation is to live with hope whatever the present moment holds.

“Prone to Wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…(Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing, #68, verse 3). Again, it tells the truth, that there is this part of me that is restless, and listening to another voice, another spirit that seems to want to pull me away from my new life in Jesus. It’s a beautiful and honest, heart-felt prayer that stunningly turns into a prayer..“Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” The invitation is to offer this moment, these moments of my life back into God’s hands — God, who is faithful to bring mercy and grace.

“If you seem empty of any feeling, rejoice– you are his ransomed bride!” (O Let your Soul Now Be Filled With Gladness, #494, v. 2). The great reversal! All’s lost, all’s found it seems, if it be true. Realities are not what they seem to be. God’s holy love turns sadness into joy. This is the fullness of the Gospel in only 13 words. This speaks of God’s coming into the present moment, of incarnation, of God With Us.

It’s interesting to me how my soul seems drawn to these words which express both current realities into which God is coming to make everything new. That sounds like advent. Much to Ponder.

So what are the hymn texts that hold you?

Peter Hawkinson

The Gift of In-Between Times

Throughout this holiday season, I’ve been having a recurring feeling – somewhere between nostalgia and relief.

Relief, because things are nowhere near as locked-down as this time last year, when few if any of us were vaccinated, and COVID numbers were steadily rising. Relief, because we can travel and meet indoors even if there are masks involved, and because it’s safer to do more of the Christmassy things that we love.

But nostalgia too, because it’s not quite normal yet. Because friends are still getting sick, and there are still these pesky masks, and yet another variant requiring that we put our guard up yet again.

Whereas last year represented a truly extraordinary time, this year is closer to ordinary, but still not quite there yet. And because of that, because I can’t just jump back into a “normal” mode of celebrating the holidays, I’ve been thinking more this year.

Thinking about what feels important, after a year when nothing felt quite right, and when more possibilities are open to me now – when I have options, and choices, about what to buy and give and how to gather and when.

In the spirit of this, I’ve seen a rewritten Christmas list circulating on the internet lately, and it struck a chord with me – maybe you’ve seen it too.

Instead of buy presents, it says: be present.

Instead of wrap gifts: wrap someone in a hug.

Instead of see the lights: be the light.

There are more reminders on the list, but all of them the same: calling us back to a way of living in this season that is more present and gracious and gentle.

What we had last year was a forced interruption to all of our rhythms, and that meant sadness and sacrifice, but it also means opportunity. A chance to rethink what is most important in this season.

For me, that has meant less baking than usual, but more thoughtful bakes. What do my friends need and want? Is it all sweets, or something salty and savory too?
Is it lots of gifts, or a few thoughtfully chosen ones?

Is it me keeping busy and churning out lots of cards and gift boxes, or being more rested and present to my people, to the stories of how they are and what they’ve been through this year?

As people of faith, we know what the reason behind all of this holiday bustle is – but we’re still susceptible to the rush. To the pressure to do more and be more and produce more. Last year, the pressure was off in a lot of ways – but this year, it beckons us again.

And so in this year, I hope we take the invitation that is before us: to reflect, and to pray, and to adjust where we feel called. To listen to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to, in this Advent and this Christmas, and to follow. Even if it’s somewhere new, somewhere different than where we have been before.

That’s the gift of these in-between times.

-Pastor Jen

Missing and Remembering Friends

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” (Philippians 1:3)

This beautiful stained glass candle holder was a gift to me last Christmas from Dave and Jane Westerfield, dear WCC friends who made the move to Michigan a few years ago now. I miss them so, and they come to mind almost everyday when I light the candle inside and the warm glow appears. It’s a powerful thing, this remembering, because it leads me to gratitude for those I’ve been blessed to spend a season of life with. yesterday after lighting the candle I decided to find some old church directories and look at the faces of so many who once were part of my daily life and no longer are. Many have moved; some have transitioned to other faith communities; others I have lost track of. I spent about an hour remembering moments together — conversations, mission trip experiences, small group sharings, times of praying together, and sharing communion, and watching children grow. The power in this is not just in remembering, but in how this remembering leads me to a time of thanksgiving, of telling God I’m grateful for so many who have filled my life’s journey with friendship and joy. That must have been what Paul had in mind in so many of his letters, when he remembers his days spent in different church communities and thanks God.

The gift the Westerfield sent my way also helps me reflect on the wonderful way that the church connects us, and gives us a close gathered community of support, friendship, worship and work that never completely fades away. So many remark how Winnetka Covenant Church remains one of their “home places” even though life’s journey has moved them on somewhere else. So I’m learning that when I have the chance to remember and miss friends, I find myself grateful for the memories and experiences we once shared, as I wonder when we’ll see each other again.

And there is something practical I can do to find this gratitude. I can put things in my way — in my daily eyesight — that connect me to so many of you who I have loved.

Time moves us on, and that’s as it should be. But I’m thinking back over my last twenty-one years here, and looking at the names and faces of many of you who I no longer see, but remember with gratitude and joy. rule I do thank my God when I remember you.

Thanks for getting that party started, Westerfields!