Works and Words for Lent

Seven Years ago our church created a daily devotional booklet for lent. Today we hear from two former members — Richard Spears and David Hazelwood — and remember them with gratitude. More will come each day during holy week!

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?” James 2:14

Merely talking about something is no substitute for actually doing it. That notion is woven into our culture. We see it evident in expressions like “Put your money where your mouth is,” “Pay lip service to something,” “Fine words butter no parsnips,” and “All talk and no action.” Does our faith require more from us?

James is taking us beyond our built-in cultural motivation to help others. He reminds us that we show our faith best by deeds that come from the heart and not as a religious obligation or for show. We long to live and practice our faith with the guidance of loving hearts. When our hearts lead us to respond to the needs of others out of compassion, caring, and respect, we are directing the flow of God’s grace through ourselves to other people.

Will people experience the peace of God’s grace because of my faith? What can I do to create a more loving heart in myself? What do I require to motivate me to do good works?

Lord, instill in me a wholeness of heart, and let me heart nurture compassion, caring, and respect. Lord, make me a channel of Thy grace and an instrument of Thy peace. Amen.

Richard Spears

What do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:12-13)

When I read how the crowd demands that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus, I am first struck by the magnitude of the injustice. It is hard for me to comprehend their choice. Can I relate to that crowd?

The truth is, Jesus didn’t fit their picture of the Messiah. He didn’t look like the king they imagined would free them from their current Roman captivity through political force. He was a disappointment.

I can relate to that crowd.

Often I have a picture of how things should be and it’s not working out — not the way it is supposed to. And I am angry. I don’t want to trust that God knows the best way and has the best picture. I want, in those moments, to make my own way. I don’t want the way of faith, but a way that I think will “work”. I want Barabbas and not Jesus.

In his great mercy, God, through Jesus and the cross, brings his Kingdom and does his will, so that I get his infinitely better picture, and learn to trust him.

Heavenly Father, keep us from our attempts to make our own, fear-driven ways, but rather, teach us to not be afraid and to trust your ways.

David Hazelwood

The Things that Make for Peace

Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep.

After a long day on Monday when I intentionally didn’t dive into the news, knowing I couldn’t process yet another mass shooting, I took a deep breath yesterday and started to read.

And my reaction was what I knew it would be: shock. Disbelief. Anger. And pain.

Emotions that sit heavy on my heart, and can’t easily be brushed off by distractions.

So it was no surprise that as I went to bed and tried to quiet my mind, all those feelings came roaring back. And as I laid there, trying to shut down for the night, two passages of Scripture kept running through my head.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

As he 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.” (Luke 19:41-42)

These passages competed for my attention, along with all the compelling statistics, quotes and images I also saw in my scrolling yesterday:

That the majority of Americans now want to see common-sense gun reforms

That America is the only country in the world to see this level of gun-related violence, and certainly this number of mass shootings

That guns are the leading cause of death for children in the country

That since Congress repealed the assault weapons ban in 2005, the lethality of mass shootings in this country has steadily worsened. (see especially this graph)

And finally, this image, shared by our own Pastor Pete, along with many of my other friends. (I’m unsure of the original creator, but found it on Facebook here.)

The debate over gun rights and gun control and gun violence in our country is so deeply divisive, and has such a long and turbulent history, that it’s hard to feel like any of us has anything new to say.

But here’s a thought, anyway.

As Pastor Pete reflected with me today, it seems like much of our conversations in recent years have taken our politics as a starting point and our theology as what follows. We come to church as Democrats or Republicans and look for a preacher, a bible translation, a denominational affiliation, that reflects how we vote.

But the call of the gospel, as I understand it, is the opposite. That we take the scriptures, and the person of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the work of the Holy Spirit among us and let those things inform our politics.

And those passages that I can’t get out of my head, they tell me that God’s vision for us is one of peace. That we are called to recognize and embrace the things that make for peace.

I cannot for a second imagine that more guns will bring peace. That arming teachers with AR-15s will remove the threat of school shootings.

What I can imagine is turning swords into plowshares. And teaching not about war anymore, but about peace.

To me, that means responsible gun ownership: safe storage, firearm locks, red flag laws and universal background checks. But it also means that weapons of war like assault rifles and high-capacity magazines should have no place in civilian life.

I get a lot of flack sometimes for combining my politics and my preaching. And the response I give, the response I will always give, is this: my religion informs how I think about politics. I cannot possibly separate the two. To do so would be dishonest, because I don’t enter politics as a democrat first, or an Illinois voter first, but as a Christian first.

And Christ tells me to pursue the things that make for peace.

So today, I will weep and I will rage and I will probably make myself get off the couch and go for a run because it’s the best stress relief I know.

But I will also get to work. Calling my representatives, donating to organizations who are working for peace, and speaking aloud what I understand to be the gospel’s message for us in this moment.

I hope you’ll do the same.

-Pastor Jen


As some of you know, The COVID-19 bug finally got to me. A sore throat, sloppy cold and a positive test sealed my fate for a few days. Nothing serious, thanks to shots and boosters! While I’m feeling better each day, and will be cleared to be back in circulation soon, I cannot comprehend that millions of folks have lost their lives to this virus.

I have been alone, obviously, for a few days now. Wait, I must take that back. Bonnie has hibernated in the other bedroom down the hall: she is doing well and wants to keep it that way! But bear has been my trusty companion. I have heard before from others how a pet seems to recognize illness or anxiety and draw especially close during such times, as if to comfort. This has been my experience this week. As I write even now bear is invading my personal space.

Bear came to us on July 4 last summer. We met his temporary keeper at a dog park and brought him home. Though we don’t know for sure his age, he’s definitely still very much a puppy. And though we don’t know what he went through early in his life, it likely involved moving from place to place and spending lots of time alone in a locked room. For a Labrador Retriever, both of these things are immediate crises!

We have enjoyed watching him settle into life in our home, and backyard, and we have been amazed by his constant nearness and love for snuggling, as if he’s still a bit worried about not being left alone.

This week I have experienced God’s love and presence and comfort through this beautiful creature. He twirls around and plops down, wedging his back into my right leg. I feel his touch. After a bit, he turns around and places his snout across my hip as I pet him for a while and we rest together. When the mail or a package from Amazon comes, he barks as if to protect me. By yesterday (Tuesday) I felt well enough too long for some fresh air, and so took him for a walk…or should I say bear took me! Pulling with excitement, greeting every person and other dog with eager joy. We did see a horse, and he wasn’t so sure about that creature he likely has never seen before!

Back at home, he is constantly with me. Reading while laying on the couch, he wedges himself in-between my legs, plops down and takes a deep cleansing breath. Working at the dining room table, he lays at my feet, literally on my feet to warm them. Where I go, he goes. Though isolated, I am never alone.

Wendy Francisco years ago created a song that became a book called God and God. Watch it here:

I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
Simple spelling G O D, same word backwards, D O G.
They would stay with me all day. I’m the one who walks away.
But both of them just wait for me, and dance at my return with glee.
Both love me no matter what – divine God and canine mutt.
I take it hard each time I fail, but God forgives, dog wags his tail.
God thought up and made the dog, dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now, it’s everywhere, amen, bow wow.
I look up and I see God, I look down and see my dog.
And in my human frailty…I can’t match their love for me.

This is my experience, day after day, and especially in these last few days. God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good! Bear reminds me of the “HESED”, the “steadfast love” of God that never ceases and is new every morning.

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!

Holy Discontent

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today I came across this prayer from Robert Raines:

“O God, make me discontented with things the way they are in the world and in my own life. Make me notice the stains when people get spilled on. Make me care about the slum child downtown, the misfit at work, the people crammed into the mental hospital, the men, women, and youth behind bars. Jar my complacence, expose my excuses, get me involved in the life of my city and world. Give me integrity, once more, O God, as we seek to be changed and transformed, with a new understanding and awareness of our common humanity.” (Wittenberg Door, 1971)

Discontent becomes a holy gift when it pushes us toward change. It causes us to notice all that is wrong, the structures and systems that cause pain and keep injustice alive and well. To be restless is not to be wrong in this context.

I have always thought of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as speaking about grief, about a sense of being defeated by life, maybe a kind of “defeated” spirit flowing from a life that has gotten the best of me one way or another. The greek word for ‘”poor” is ptochoi — miserable, oppressed, lowly, destitute, afflicted, humiliated.

But I’m wondering about the poverty of spirit that comes and is engaged, voluntarily — that is, not the results of life’s journey and pain just for me, but the miserable oppression and humiliation of others in the world that bothers me deeply, that troubles my spirit. In this sense, it’s interesting to read the beatitudes as an expression of our corporate “un-doneness” from all the pain, all the sorrow, all the tragedy, all the suffering, all the poverty going on in the world. All the poverty in the world sinks into my spirit. Here the text not primarily about me (though I have my own sadnesses and sorrows) but about you, about others, about neighbors, about all the sorrows of the world.

That’s holy discontent, a blessing according to Jesus, a kind of willingness to take on the sorrows of our broken world with a vision of how they might be soothed in the here and now, and find their end in the kingdom of heaven. To care deeply about the world’s poverty and work for its end is a blessed life indeed, albeit painful.

I’m thinking about that oft forgotten moment after the grand parade of Palm Sunday, when Jesus leans out over the city and weeps, and says, “If only you knew the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41). Here is Jesus, roundly celebrated as king, choosing to embrace a poverty of spirit for the city he looks over. And then he gets to work redeeming it.

It all sounds rather bleak and morbid, a lot like the weather these days. But listen to what Diana Butler Bass says, in her book Christianity After Religion: “Religious Discontent is indistinguishable from the history of spiritual renewal and awakening. Religion is often characterized as contentment, the idea that faith and faithfulness offer peace, security, and certainty. In this mode, God is depicted in kindly ways, the church as an escape from the cares and stresses of the world…But religion has another guise as well — the prophetic tradition. In the prophetic mode, faith discomforts the members of a community, opens their eyes and hearts to the shortcomings of their own lives and injustice in the world, and presses for human society to more fully embody God’s dream of healing and love for all people. (p. 88).

To walk around this world with the love of Christ in our hearts leaves us no other choice than to carry the burden of religious discontent, to find ourselves poor in spirit. And Christ, who died for us and our world, calls us to the same work. So don’t allow yourself to be numbed from the pain around you. And work with self-sacrifice to make thing right.

For all its struggle, this is what Jesus calls a blessed life. What do you think?

Love from here

Peter Hawkinson

A Halfway Lent Check

A couple of weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Lent, I preached about a different way to look at this season. Instead of making it the Olympics of self-denial or religious practices, I invited us all to take it as an opportunity to lean deeper into our identity as beloved children of God, and to take on whatever habits or practices helped us experience that belovedness. (If you missed this sermon or want to rewatch, you can find it here.)

Well, now that we’re halfway through the six weeks of Lent, I’m back to ask:

How’s it going?

Did you take up the invitation? Did you find that some of the things you were doing regularly left you feeling…something short of beloved? Did you find that there are practices or relationships or just things you can do that helped you feel special and valued and cherished by God?

Or did you sink back into the ordinary way of doing things, centered entirely around the hustle and bustle, the demands of each day that don’t cease, and did you find yourself listening again to the drumbeat of our culture: more, more, more? Did you succumb to the lie that no matter what you do, or how much you accomplish, you’re never enough?

You would be forgiven, of course, if you did. I admit that I have already more than a few times. It’s hard, to swim upstream against the flow of all the messaging that we get every day from our phones, radios, tvs, and computers. There’s always something more to buy, some more pounds to drop, some more muscle to tone, some new clothing to wear, to ensure that you are enough. To ensure that you are loved.

So says the world.

But the message of scripture, and I think especially the Lenten desert story, is that despite all these messages saying if you are God’s beloved child, planting a seed of doubt, the truth is: you are. Forever and always. No matter what.

I’ve been trying to practice my Lent in this way; to engage with the people, the habits, the behaviors and practices that help me really believe I am beloved, and feel it.

And I’ve noticed a couple of things.

The first is that this is hard. That the powers and principalities in this world do not want me or you to believe this. Because if we don’t believe we’re beloved, if we doubt it, if we refute it, then at the very least someone can make a profit off us. Selling us the beauty product or the home furnishing or the diet pill or whatever else will make us feel unique and special and important. But also we’ll be easily distracted from the call of the gospel and the building of God’s kingdom because we’re feeling too rotten in ourselves to do anything, to think we have a message worth sharing or help worth contributing.

There are probably many other reasons that this is so hard. Those are just two that I’ve come up against in a few weeks of this Lenten practice.

The second thing I’ve noticed is that God provides, even as we wrestle.

When Jesus withstood his own desert temptations, angels came and cared for him.

And I believe that when we stare down the voices and the influences that want to question our identity as beloveds, and when we bring those insecurities or fear to God, God will once again provide.

I was wrestling last weekend with feeling isolated, far from my community, too overwhelmed by all the tasks I had to do, to feel connected or valued. And I went on a retreat with some fellow ECC Clergywomen, and in a matter of two days I felt the opposite: wholly myself, wholly loved. It was not what I expected, but just what I needed.

Similarly, this Saturday I was having a hard day, feeling again lonely and disconnected, frustrated with some relationships in my life. And the next day, some dear friends I haven’t spent time with in a while invited me for dinner that night.

I wrestled, and God provided. And at the end of it all, I remembered that I was beloved.

I’m curious if you have experienced anything similar: the struggle, the questions, the gifts of grace. If you’re also finding it hard and ultimately very important to lean into your belovedness this way.

Whatever your experience in this season turns out to be, my prayer for you, and me, and all of us, is that we come to the other side of Lent assured and convicted: we are beloved. Forever and always. No matter what.

-Pastor Jen

The Pesky Call to Forgiving

“Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Luke uses “Hamartia”, the Greek word for sin. Matthew goes with “Opheilemata”, debts, a more familiar term in Jewish culture. The word trespass likely comes from translators William Tyndale (1494-1536) or John Knox (1514-1572) used in the first Book of Common Prayer published in 1549.

Collectively, they hold us day by day and week by week to an honest confession to God and a loving mercy directed at one another. Love of God… and love of neighbor is all bound up together here, as though they are dependent on each other. I can’t possibly love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and not love you. I can’t experience the forgiveness of my sins and withhold forgiveness from you. And in offering you grace I return again to what God in Christ Jesus has done for me.

It sounds good, and organic, and even kind of natural, but we all know how the challenge of our own egos sever this holy collective tissue. There is a requirement that goes with the mercy and grace of forgiveness. It isn’t fair, or just; and as such, I must lay down my stubborn pride that tells me I’m right, and justified therefore in continuing to hold our broken relationship at bay, at least until you confess your trespass, and bow before me owing a debt.

And where would we be, if such was God’s way? If Jesus, hanging on the cross, decided not to pray to his Father “forgive them all!” but instead, “Damn them all for what they have done to me!”, or “Forgive them when they realize what they’ve done, when they repent.”

But no, it is not that way. It’s “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” It’s Jesus’ own determinative action. He has power, holds real power to forgive, and does so, even though humanity holds no collective contrite heart. Blessed be the Lord! He lets go of his human impulse for holding onto hurt, he accepts the humiliation of not needing to win, and chooses to go with mercy and grace. Jesus becomes the running father embracing his runaway son. Carl Bjork (1837-1916), first Covenant Church President says it this way:

“No, not a word about sin, uncleanness, seriousness 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?” (Images in Covenant Beginnings, p. 138).

N.T Wright says that

“In particular, having received God’s forgiveness themselves, they were to practice it among themselves. Not to do so would mean they hadn’t grasped what was going on…failure to forgive one another wasn’t a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching. It was cutting off the branch you were sitting on.

So the more I am aware of God’s goodness to me, the more I am able to be gracious to those around me. Forgiveness has a dual purpose. It is intended to restore us to a renewed relationship with God AND with one another.

Yet “I forgive you” sticks to the roof of my mouth like a spoonful of peanut butter, as I hold not the right to judgement rather than mercy and locate my spirit back in the old worldly ways of revenge instead of the reconciliation Jesus so beautifully brings into the world. Cycles of violence develop in my heart and mind. Hatred lives and breathes. The establishment of God’s Kingdom come and God’s will being done is thwarted.

Into all this pain of our human condition — your ego and my pride — Jesus comes and teaches us, shows us how not to hold on to the pain, but work through it toward reconciliation. nd he empowers his disciples — tells them that they can and must do the same thing for each other, over and and over and over, that he is doing for them.

That’s the pesky and courageous call to forgive. Who comes to mind for you?

Love from here

Peter Hawkinson


“You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

“…so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…(Ephesians 1:18-19)

I’ve always wondered about that phrase, that image Paul uses, “The eyes of your heart…” the implication is that there’s a lot more having to do with seeing and sight than my eyes can handle. I wonder.

One of my most treasured old tomes is The Way of the World: Contemplative Reflections on the Gospels by Rev. William Martin, who was a pastor and spiritual director in the desert southwest. He writes simple poems leading to simple reflections. Yesterday I came to “Seeing and Believing”. Here it is:

There are two ways of seeing:

with the eyes, and with the heart.

Eyes respond to light waves

between 400 and 800 nanometers.

Most of the electromagnetic spectrum

lies outside of these boundaries,

and cannot be seen by eyes.

Only the heart has the capacity

to know beyond seeing.

Trust what the heart knows,

not the tiny bit the eyes see.

Wow! It’s good to know, and amazing that the ancients had a sense of this without the help of modern science. I’m thinking of the current worship song we often sing that goes like this:

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see you

I want to see you

It’s such an intriguing thought, but how? Like Nicodemus who’s wondering how in the world he can be born all over again, how can I open up wide the eyes of my heart? Is there a switch, or some thought process, or a certain prayer? I think not. It seems to be all bound up in this process of faith somehow, of relationship to the Creator who gives us eyes to see and as I’m learning hearts also to see with. I wonder how that works. What do you think?

“Seeing is believing” we say. Is that all there is to it? Or can we learn to trust what our hearts know and not just the tiny bits our eyes see?

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson