Extravagance — a very great outlay of resources exceeding the limits of reason and necessity; an instance of excess.

“Mary too a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.” (John 12)

Martha, Mary, and Jesus are sitting around the table having a resurrection party with Lazarus. Perusal, Martha is the busy body, and Mary in one way is no help at all, that is, until she helps the rest of the world see Jesus, really see Jesus. Just a few days ago he told them all the was resurrection and life, and then made Lazarus the parable. Now the Sanhedrin had an all points bulletin out. It was the promise and reality of resurrection that put Jesus on the most wanted list. Consider that both Mary and Judas are there considering the one who is about to suffer and die for both of them!

Somewhere in the celebration something happens to Mary. She is overwhelmed with the sense that what has happened to Lazarus is also in store for her. Mary, that one who sat down at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn about him, she remembers that as he rose up her brother he put his finger in his chest and said, “I am resurrection and life…everyone who believes in me will never die”, and that word everyone, everyone just lingers with her, and she realizes right in the middle of dinner that the words are for her, and she is overwhelmed, and has to do something. So she gets up and finds her treasure, a pound of costly perfume (that’s a year’s wages!) and comes and kneels down again and pours it all out over the feet of Jesus. Then she lets down her hair and dirties herself to wipe his feet clean.

What she does in ludicrous, wasteful, inappropriate, completely beautiful and extravagant. She anoints him not as a king which would be oil on the head, but as a corpse, the anointing of the feet being the final stage of burial. And immediately Judas, the chair of the Messianic trustee board, judges it all to be such a waste. But Jesus doesn’t think so, and tells them to let her go, and leave Mary alone.

In John’s gospel this action of Mary begins the passion narrative of Jesus. The Passover festival is only six days away, and here already and all ready is the Passover lamb of God, the lamb who is God. Mary herself is the parable of God’s love for the world in Jesus. What we see Mary do on this day with perfume we will watch Jesus do in days to come with his very life and breath….break it open and pour it out, all of it, because of love. The precious vessel in God’s hands will not be preserved; the precious substance will not be saved. It will be opened and poured out for the life of the world, emptied to the last drop.

Mary comes face to face with the impending death of Jesus, and all driven by God’s extravagant love. She is overwhelmed. So too may we be as we realize how God once and forever has loved us.


Peter Hawkinson

Somewhere around the Spring of Deception…

About this time, every year since I moved to the Midwest, a meme starts circulating on my Facebook feed.

It lists, with a few variations, in chronological form the 11 seasons of the Midwest, starting with winter.

Next up is fool’s spring, second winter, the spring of deception, then third winter, mud season, and only after alllllll that: actual spring.

I’ve seen a few others that add “the great pollination” in – particularly important, and poignant, for those seasonal allergy sufferers among us. I think this comes just before actual spring.

It’s always good for a few laughs, a few more groans, and the reminder to recalibrate expectations for the wildly looping, backwards and forwards journey that is the pathway to spring in this part of the country.

I was thinking about it a lot today, not just because I’ve gotten my parka and my dog’s winter coat back out for another morning walk in 20 degrees, but because of our Backyard Pilgrim prompt for today.

We’re invited to walk around our neighborhood and look for something that is “growing – or struggling to grow – into what it was created to become.” I think every single flower on my street feels that way right now, but Matt (the author) invited me to think about how I might feel that way too.

How I, like Jacob, might be wrestling with God or otherwise struggling to become who God wants me to be.

Lent is a particularly good and important time to look deeply at that kind of wrestling and to engage in it. After all, we’re trying to place ourselves in the wilderness with Jesus, a place where there are much fewer distractions, and more time and energy to focus on that wrestling or struggle.

What’s so great about the story of Jacob is that he was always wrestling – grabbing his brother Esau’s heel as they came out of the womb, vying for birthrights, conniving for his wives – and it was usually not to the glory of God. But one time, he wrestled all night long, refusing to give up until his mysterious wrestling partner would give him God’s blessing. That was the night when Jacob did indeed get a blessing, and also a new name: Israel, he who wrestles with God.

Jacob and his wrestling were redeemed and ultimately used as an important part of God’s story.

Even though he, like the flowers on my street waiting to bloom, like the many things that are struggling to grow at any given moment, went backwards and forwards on his journey.

In this moment, somewhere around the third winter or the spring of deception, the fourth week of Lent, the third year of COVID – if you feel that way too, if you feel deeply inside of you the struggle of becoming who you are meant to be, take heart.

Not only are you not alone, you’re in really, really good company. So many of the enduring characters in our scripture stories are men and women who moved forward, and backward; who stalled out; who stopped and started again. Who wrestled and wrestled and wrestled.

It’s a journey, and not a linear one.

But ultimately that journey will lead us toward God using or redeeming all parts of us, and to me that seems eminently worth sticking it out for.

So today, I am going to take some deep breaths, to witness the flowers in their struggle to bloom, and to feel the kinship we have with each other. The wrestling will endure for a time, but joy always – always – comes in the morning.

-Pastor Jen

The Power of a Good Story

“Story is the most natural way of enlarging and deepening our sense of reality, and then enlisting us as participants in it. Stories open doors to areas or aspects of life that we didn’t know were there, or had quit noticing out of over-familiarity, or supposed were out-of-bounds to us. Then they welcome us in. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.” (Eugene Peterson)

I can’t wait for Sunday! I mean, I am always renewed by the worship of God in community, but this Sunday we get to hear and ruminate on what to me is the Gospel’s most formative story, what most call the parable of prodigal son, and some call the parable of the waiting father. (Luke 15). We’ll be talking about it tomorrow evening during our zoom bible study if you can join us at 6:30. I would wager that if this story doesn’t welcome you in to wondering, you lack a human pulse. But I digress.

I wonder what for you is your life’s most formative story that invites others in? Here’s mine!

It’s the summer of 1976, and I’m 12 years old. I’m in the church parlors after my older cousin Tim’s wedding, realizing along with my friend Clement that almost everyone from the neighborhood is occupied by the celebration. Looking at each other, we realize that this means if we leave without being noticed, we might get away with something!

In my parents’ bedroom there is a little dresser drawer that represents the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — in other words the one place, the only place I’m not not allowed to go. And it’s exactly where I go with Clem nagging behind, nervously asking over and over again, “Are you sure?” And there I find the keys to my dad’s new, used bright red BMW 2002.

It’s parked along the curb outside, along with all the others a block away at the wedding party. Ignition. The clutch I can hardly reach, so Clem shifts the stick while I lift up the gas much too quickly, lurching us forward with force enough to put grandma Rafas’ car up over the curb and on the lawn.

Clement is gone before I even notice; I can only see him running like a blue streak out the rear view mirror back toward the church. Making my way to the front of the car, I see that there’s no front at all anymore. It’s all ruined, along with my life for sure. I kneel down in a deep on the front lawn waiting for my dad’s voice, which comes quickly.

“Peter, Peter!” he’s screaming as he runs toward me. Coming closer, he doesn’t even glance at the car, running right by and coming to his knees, takes me in his arms, with words I never expected — not “Peter, what have you done!” but instead — “are you okay, are you alright?” and then realizing so, “I love you so much, I’m so glad you are ok” with the loveliest and most desperate bear hug I have ever known. Tears of his, and mine — tears of shame for breaking trust, tears of sorrow for having ruined something he treasured, but mostly — God be praised — tears of love, of mercy, of forgiveness, right then and there on that hot summer day. My father later told me what I don’t remember, that I was crying out over and over again that I wanted to kill myself that day. But in the most dire moment of my dreadfully exposed brokenness, my father loved me most of all, and right when it surprised me because I knew I’d hurt him so.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were hard conversations and consequences to come. I’m not sure why I didn’t get my drivers license until the age of 19, 7 years later, but I wonder. Still this horrible moment turned holy for me, and has remains a living, breathing parable reflecting the love I have experienced from the God of grace and mercy.

The poet and priest Gerard Manly Hopkins writes:

“For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

Stories are verbal acts of hospitality. What’s yours? And are you telling it?

Peter Hawkinson


“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

I have neighbors I know and neighbors I have yet to meet. I learned that lesson again last week. On Thursday came a text from our dear neighbor Nancy. She lives a couple of streets over and her dog Bodie and our beloved Silas were best buddies. Nancy and her family belong to the Winnetka Presbyterian Church, just down Hibbard Road from our church.

Well, the text was asking if we could help with our church bus. Nancy asked if we could help transport thirty Afghan refugees from the Residence Inn hotel to their church, where a big party was in store.

I was floored! That hotel takes me 432 steps to arrive at. It is literally just over our backyard fence.

Arriving there Sunday afternoon, I found out that these refugees have been my close neighbors for a couple of months, as a lack of affordable housing keeps them from moving into a place of their own. I have walked back and forth past them for some time without even knowing they are there!

I don’t know how many times I have treaded the tar of Hibbard Road over the last two decades. Has to be in the thousands. The ride on Sunday afternoon was the one I’ll remember the most. I had all the kids! And they were singing songs in English, evidence of their technique for quick learning. The one dad sitting in the passenger seat didn’t speak, but kept looking at me, smiling, and putting his hand over his heart, saying more than words ever could.

The church was ready! A cadre of smiling faces welcomed us, along with Chai tea and snacks familiar to these new neighbors. Hugs and tears and hands over hearts evidenced deep human connections. The church was a holy mess! The sanctuary space filled not with people but with bedding and furniture and lamps and diapers and towels and TVS, just waiting for a chance at an apartment! The hallways were filled with shoes, and classroom transformed into toy and clothing stores.

Plowing through a number of football pizzas and fresh fruit with some of the boys, they pointed as if to say, “teach me.” “Strawberry.” “Watermelon”. “Banana.” “tell me your names” I asked them, and they laughed as I tried with little success to repeat them. One of them led me by the hand as we all went over to the foosball table, where I was on the losing team every time.

We left in the dark, everyone of them, large and small, hauling heavy bags of new necessities. he bus has a great storage space in the back! Unloading at the front door, my new neighbor boys lined up, gave me fist pumps, and said, “Bye Peter!”

All this, because one neighbor connected me to another.

Refugees are people forced to flee their country due to war or persecution. They want to return home, but can’t. Most often their fleeing is sudden and unplanned. They leave behind family, friends, homes, belongings, jobs, and everything familiar in order to save their lives. The vast majority of refugees end up in refugee camps in a neighboring country where they will likely live for years and continue to experience suffering. Estimates are that there are currently 26.4 million refugees world-wide, the largest number ever recorded. Less than one percent of all refugees are resettled to a new country each year. About half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18.

And, and, I have found out they are now my neighbors, 432 steps away.

I hope you will have the chance to meet these friends soon. Our church has one thing that the Presbyterians do not, and that’s a GYM! So we’re planning for some times to welcome our neighbors into our space. And who knows if we can finally start some joint refugee re-settlement ministry with our friends down the street?

One thing I deeply feel is that this ministry of welcome, hospitality, love and care will be front and center for us in months and years to come, as it should be, because our Lord Jesus, who himself with his parents were refugees, places at the center of life the love of neighbor. And as now millions — imagine this number! — millions run for their lives out of Ukraine, you and I have new refugee neighbors right down the block, who are waiting for us to help them find home again.

Let’s get to holy work on this! Let’s turn our church into a holy mess! We have neighbors we know and neighbors yet to meet.

Peter Hawkinson


This blog post is dedicated with gratitude to Dan and Joan Erickson, who have generously gifted our church with a magnificent new bus. May it serve as yet another vehicle expressing the love of Jesus for our neighbors.

The Time It Takes

As I sit here, writing this, in my office – mask off, puppy at my feet, window shades open to see the sunshine outside, I’m keenly aware of where I was sitting two years ago today.

At home, anxious. Watching the news more than was helpful – but at a loss for what else to do. It was a Saturday, and I was contemplating the first Sunday in my ministry life when I wouldn’t be at church not because of weather or travel plans or unforeseen illness, but because of a pandemic.

Over the last forty-eight hours previously, I had met with Pete and Joel over pancakes (little did I know, the last meal I’d eat inside a restaurant in over a year) to discuss a temporary closure to WCC because of COVID. The next morning, I met a friend at Jewel Osco to panic shop for vegetables, baking materials, comfort food, and – yes- wine before locking down in my apartment for…two weeks? A month?

I think it’s helpful to look back because sometimes time feels so strange and fluid that it’s hard to know how I got here. Here, where I’m finally feeling safe and brave enough to venture out, to eat indoors, to travel, to entertain, to take more risks and bigger ones because maybe, just maybe, it’ll be ok after all.

Here, where I could not have anticipated being two years ago. Or six months ago.

The truth is, it took a lot to get here. A lot of care to protect myself and others. A lot of patience, when it felt like forever to get back to “normal.” A lot of thought and prayer about what normal should actually look like; what I wanted to get back to and what I was glad to let go of. A lot of time.

I was reminded of all this, today, when I read our prompt in Backyard Pilgrim. It talks about gardening; specifically, about the long, slow work of it. Matt writes, “There is something about gardening that grounds us in the basics of being human: the time it takes, the relationships that grow, the fruit that finally comes.”

And he asks: “What can a garden teach you about your relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself?”

We’re in that time of year, finally, when little shoots of green are starting to peek out of the ground. In the midst of brown, dead-looking grass and old leaves and dirt, a few tendrils of early flowers are appearing. I am beginning to hope again.

I am remembering that life comes after death. That spring comes after winter. That the snow and the cold allowed the land to rest, and it is coming back to flower and bloom again.

Just as we are coming back, in many ways, again.

But it is long, slow work. It has taken two years, and it will take yet more time.

Gardeners know that kind of time intimately, and I am learning it now too.

And still…I am starting to see the fruits of that long time, those two hard years; the knowledge of what God has been doing in the midst of great pain and suffering:

the gift of people coming back together genuinely grateful for companionship and community, the recognition that all of life is precious, the awareness of how interconnected we are and how much we need each other – all of that is deeply good. All of it is deeply God.

It takes the time it takes. But be reassured, that God is working all the while.

God’s peace be with you today.

-Pastor Jen

Pumping Gas With Tears in Our Eyes

One of the most poignant images of Jesus’ passion often goes unnoticed, because of all the fanfare and celebration of Palm Sunday. It comes at the end of that memorable day. Only Luke Gives it to us:

As the came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41-44)

His words and his tears are timeless, because peace is so elusive. Now we are in the days he laments. I saw with my own eyes last night a hollowed out and burning children’s hospital, with piled up corpses out in the street. I watch a father moan over his dead teenage daughter covered up by a blood soaked sheet. I see this morning a family of four laying dead outside their smoldering home. Tears come. Clearly, clearly, we still don’t recognize the things that make for peace. Clearly now peace is hidden from our eyes. There is so much to weep for these days.

Frederick Buechner moves the narrative close to our tear ducts, when he says “If Christ were alive in the world, his eyes would still have tears, and of course he is, and the tears are yours and mine.” We can distance ourselves because we are on the other end of the world, or because we locate this evil acted out by just one man, or because its all just too painful to hold onto. Tears might not come after all.

But that’s impossible if the suffering and dying love of Jesus is beating in our hearts.

A friend relayed her sorrow at the gas pump yesterday. She talked about how she lamented getting out of the car the expense, until she started to pump the gas, when she was overwhelmed with tears in thinking about mothers in Ukraine. Suddenly, she said on Facebook, “pumping gas, even at this price, and getting in my car to go to work, was a privilege, while I drove away with my heart breaking for those who are being needlessly slaughtered.”

This would be a good time for us, friends, to pump gas, and to go to work, and to drive back home with deep sorrow and tears for his dreadful war and suffering going on. As those who long for, and work for, and seek and speak peace, the peace of Christ, let our hearts be heavy and our prayers be many, and let weeping come. This is our way of loving and caring or the suffering of others; this is how we allow ourselves to suffer with them, even from here.

And here or there, wherever you are, “turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps. 34:14). And “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you have been called.” (Col 3:15) And remember what Jesus said as you pump gas with tears in your eyes: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Peter Hawkinson


‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)

Thus begins Psalm 126, one of the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) which are multi-dimensional in meaning. They were spoken, and more often sung by pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem for one of the great religious festivals. Every road to Jerusalem is a road up, an ascent. Also, the number of Psalms of Ascent, fifteen, corresponds to the number of steps up to the great Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as if there is one psalm for each step. Fascinating!

I have been captivated of late by number 126. It captures and invites the people to relive the moment when Israel came home from captivity in 538 BC, after 50 years of life in Babylon. It speaks of laughter and joy repeatedly, of “watercourses in the Negeb” — streams in the desert, a miracle! The breath-taking joy of this time of restoration. What grabs me most these days is how they became dreamers again, how having their hope restored gave them permission to contemplate a future after all, to begin dreaming again about what might be.

I believe it’s high time for us to dream again, as we find ourselves in another moment of restored fortunes. We have the chance now to imagine a future once more!

It is two years ago now that our lives her taken captive by a dreadful pandemic, which took the lives of a million Americans and six million of our fellow human beings. We became quarantined from one another, our lives thrown upside down in every way imaginable. COVID’s tentacles of devastation reached all of us. Fearful, grieving, and exhausted, we have been ravaged.

But now Spring is coming, quickly on its way! The pandemic is losing its grip on us, and we are coming back home to life as it was before: “Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy!” (v.2). It is time to come home to life again, and nowhere is that more exciting than in the church, where we locate our primary community of belonging in this world. God is good!

I’d like to invite you to dream with me anew and again as we look forward into a new season of life and ministry. The Dream Team will be a group of us who gather together to intentionally look ahead with hope for renewed healing and joy in the church. As we think about the rest of this year, or the next three or five years, what dreams fill your spirit? What visions for Church renewal bring you joy and hope? What plans might we make to build up our community again, to re-connect, and to celebrate anew God’s love and goodness?

If you’d be interested in joining this group, please be in touch. We’ll likely gather 2 to 4 times in a casual atmosphere (maybe around a fire pit?) to dream together, and make some new plans for fun things.

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!”

Love from Here,

Peter Hawkinson