2018 New Year Updates

Kids are back in school in U-46, and programs are resuming at Elgin Covenant. The list below shows January start dates for music practice, $2/Plate dinner, Kids Club, and Adult Sunday School. At the bottom of this post is an explanation of our preaching themes in 2018, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”

Wednesday, Jan. 10, evening: Redeemed Worship Team practice at 6:30, Choir at 7.

Wednesday, January 17, evening: The $2/Plate Dinner will resume at 6 PM. This is also when the January Kids Club meets.

Saturday, January 20: We have signed up to participate at Feed My Starving Children in Schaumburg.

The Adult Sunday School Schedule, Sundays 9:15 AM, Conference Room. The theme is on Prophecy and Fulfillment, especially in reference to the person of Jesus Christ, and to the People of Israel.

January 14, session meets.

January 21, session does not meet.

January 28 – March 18, session every week.

Sunday Worship: Preaching in 2018

Our main worship event every week is at 10:30, with G-3 Children’s programs (primary grades) and Confirmation class (junior high) dismissing to their rooms early in the worship service.

A Theme for 2018: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the heirs of God (Matthew 5:9). 

Throughout 2018 we will be preaching on the theme of conflict and peace. Conflict between believers need not be avoided; often conflict can be prevented outright when the parties involved in a disagreement remember what it means to be Jesus to each other. The solution may be as simple as acting on the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1, ” A soft answer turns away wrath.”  When conflict comes, there are productive ways to resolve it, as in the system of reconciliation and accountability Jesus established in Matthew 18:15-17.  Sometimes, victory and vindication is found in the appearance of defeat, when one chooses to turn the other cheek, bear the insult, suffer the persecution, and even carry the cross, rather than pursue a cause by promoting anger, retribution, and alienation.

2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War I. This cataclysm set in motion the geo-political history of revolutions, colonial withdrawal and post-colonial instability, arms races, the widening gap between industrialized wealth and the poverty of developing nations, and the resulting conflicts that have occurred over the past hundred years. World War I — how it began, how it was conducted, how it ended, and its aftermath — is a case study in all the worst ways to handle conflict. Sadly, a large number of combatants  from Ireland to Russia were Christian, at least nominally. Many had been baptized into their national churches or into their homeland’s tolerated, non-conforming churches,  or as in the case of Americans, were thoroughly encultured Christians even though no one church was  an official part of government.

World War I was devastating not only in lives lost, but also in faith lost. The godless horrors of mechanized warfare increased, for many, skepticism towards the Christian faith and its claims of an all-powerful, all-present, all-loving God. In turn, the appeal of secular gospels and ideologies increased.

While we will not be focussed on the details of World War I, that event serves as a back-drop to remind us of what is at stake when Christians become opposed to one another in terms of ideology or self-interest.  We are called to remember what the belligerents too quickly forgot one hundred years ago: That our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the deceiving spirits of the world’s darkness who want nothing more than to see the Church implode. The war that concerns us is spiritual, and so are our weapons, and so are our victories.

Getting 2018 Started

2017 was a landmark year at Elgin Covenant Church as we celebrated 500 years of the Reformation. This was followed by a blessed Christmas season of worship and special events that kept our hearts warm during a cold snap.

January 7 is still in the midst of school vacation in Elgin public schools district U-46, as kids don’t return to class until Wednesday the 10th. It is also the Sunday which celebrates Epiphany and the baptism of Jesus. We at Elgin Covenant will have our monthly communion service at 10:30, with Children’s Sunday School dismissing during the service. Other programs will resume after the start of the school year: stay tuned for pending announcements on the  $2/Plate Wednesday Dinner, choir rehearsals and anthems, and monthly midweek Kids Clubs.

Adult Sunday School will resume on January 14 at 9:15, on the topic of Prophecy and Fulfillment.

Christmas at Elgin Covenant 2017

Our calendar for the Advent and Christmas Seasons wrap up an exciting 2017 which had Elgin Covenant commemorating and celebrating the launch of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. The birth of Jesus the Christ of God and of Israel, in very nature God wrapped in very human flesh, occurred over 2000 years ago but is marked every year by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. At the Evangelical  Covenant Church here in Elgin, Illinois, we observe Christmas in ways that most traditional American families would find “typical,” but always with a joyful spirit to keep the events fresh and exciting for all ages. Part of what is “typical” is that each church, much like each family, contributes its own “wrinkles” to the traditional pattern. We hope you can join us for our Christmas celebrations as we celebrate how our Triune God gave himself to the world as the greatest gift of all, wrapped in flesh and delivered in Bethlehem in Israel’s Promised Land over two thousand years ago. All events listed here take place at 1565 Larkin Avenue unless specifically noted otherwise.

December 2, 2017, 9-11 Am: Santa Lucia Breakfast Coffee open house. A long-standing tradition which honors the congregation’s Scandinavian roots, this event features continental breakfast treats and the best coffee of the year. Admission is free, a donation basket is available at the end of the buffet.

December 3, 10:30 AM. First Sunday of Advent. Communion for the month of December will be served.

December 3, 4-6 PM: Taste of Christmas family gingerbread-house decorating. Pizza dinner. $10.

December 10, 10:30 AM: Second Advent Sunday. A benevolence offering will be taken. We support three community ministries: Elgin Salvation Army, Elgin Interfaith Food Pantry, and Wayside Elgin Ministry to the Homeless.

December 10, 5 PM: Night of Christmas Music. Refreshments will follow.

December 17, 10:30 AM. Third Advent Sunday, the Choir and Family Ministries Program.

December 24, 10:30 AM. Fourth Advent Sunday.

December 24, 7 PM. Christmas Eve candlelight service. A special offering for the sponsorship of our World Vision Congo Child will be taken.

December 25, 6 AM: Christmas Morning, Julotta service. Also hearkening to the church’s Scandinavian roots, this English-language service is open to all. A breakfast follows as the group gathers at Randall Pancake House.

December 31, 10:30 AM. Christmastide.

December 31, 6 PM. New Year’s Eve Potluck, then worship around 7, then dessert and games fellowship until ???

We look forward to seeing you!

A Comment Regarding the Shooting Tragedy in Texas

On all Saints Sunday, 2017, 26 martyrs for Jesus Christ entered into glory. Having attended their small Baptist Church in Texas and, because of their presence there,  fallen to a murderer, a troubled young man who became an instrument of evil, they are now in the communion of the saints, never to suffer again.  For their loved ones left behind, for whom faith is still lived in a curtain of uncertainty, who are suffering the aftermath of this mayhem caused by evil, “Thoughts and prayers” is a very empty consolation. This post is NOT intended to minister to those whose grief is now raw for the sake of loved ones who are victims of violence. To those close to situations and walking alongside the grieving, different expressions of presence, consolation and patience are needed. This post is written by and intended only for those who are several degrees removed from the event, but who feel visceral responses of anger and disgust at this uncurbed epidemic of mass murder through fire-arms.
We clamor for people to “do something.” For some the solution is to disarm everyone, which means we clamor for Congress to do something, and for others the solution is to arm everyone. so we clamor for regular folks to go out and get their conceal and carry permits.
In whichever way a believer in Jesus may be convinced on that social-political question, we must all admit and confess that evil is real, evil actively seeks to do harm, and evil finds a way to do harm no matter the precautions taken by society. The alternative is a society that is itself evil for being repressive. To believers Jesus also gives the warning that in the midst of such persecutions as these “love of many will grow cold.” To encourage us to keep our love for God, our neighbors and our enemies (those who would harm us) warm and engaged, I have two comments on the politics of guns, followed by two comments on Christian witness.

On the Politics

1. My first comment regards the Constitution of the United States and its second amendment. Those who oppose guns think the problem is with the amendment. Those who are advocates seem not to give equal weight to both sides of the statement, which reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus the point of the Second Amendment is to promote security by regulating the militia — that is, the great mass of armed citizens who are NOT professional soldiers but who DO bear arms. The purpose of this regulation of fire-arms owners is to promote the common defense and guard against tyranny. Thus an interpretation of the Second Amendment that makes society less safe and secure is a poor one. Yet that is our condition in society today.
Guns are rampant and available, with no discipline or accountability to a public militia.
It would thus be in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Second Amendment to require criminal background checks, mental fitness examinations, courses in usage and safety, and oaths of loyalty to the US Constitution. This can and should be done right away, while local jurisdictions should begin to consider again establishing public militia — probably the state, although militias might also be raised at county levels.  Thus gun-owners could be required to report twice a year at a militia station for continuing education units. By excluding from these restrictions weapons that are designed and marketed for hunting/sport, these regulations could cover every fire-arm sold which is designed for anti-personnel and is marketed for personal and home defense. All of this together would be a means of improved domestic security through an established public militia, while upholding and safe-guarding all parts of the Second Amendment.
2. Those who suppose that wide-spread conceal-and carry or holstered fire-arms would be a deterrent to the deranged mass murderer need to consider America’s own past. Many frontier towns began to pass ordinances during the Wild West days because it became apparent that easy access to holstered weapons promoted rather than deterred gun violence. Many times those who advocated for these local laws requiring guns to be turned in at the town limits, were the churches.
I applaud the courage of the two men who engaged the shooter outside the church at their earliest opportunity. Perhaps other lives were saved, it is still early in the developing narrative to know. It is one thing to post on how things should be,  but that in no way implies a criticism for those who acted in the power they had in the circumstances that now pertain.
Two comments on Christian witness:
1. Some pastors are advocating armed security at their churches. I disagree. The historical witness of the church is non-violence and sanctuary. If that means we become as sheep to be slaughtered — then we continue to fulfill the New Testament picture of faith.
2. We mourn with those who mourn, we continue to shine the light of gospel and grace into a world that hates the light because its deeds are evil.  Too much of the testimony of the Church is stained in the blood that Christians have drawn from others in the advance of the Church’s causes. There have been plenty of occasions where the testimony of believers has been of martyrdom and meekness, and these are the occasions to which the ethics of Jesus and of the New Testament describe. In the meantime our assertive witness to a holy and merciful God should continue unabated, in the attitude of Paul that to live is Christ and to die is gain, and that whether we live or die we belong not to ourselves but to Christ.

Celebrating Five Hundred Years of Reformation

Starting October 1 Elgin Covenant is ramping up our commemoration of the Protestant Reformation with special events and guests. You are welcome, and please bring your friends! To the question: Why are we celebrating the Reformation? See below.

October, every Sunday, 9:15: Adult Sunday School Class, “The Ongoing Need for Reformation Among Protestants and Evangelicals.”

October, every Sunday, 10:30: Worship and Preaching Series on “Grace Alone.” Each message stands alone on that morning’s scripture text, and texts are chosen that have played an important role crafting the beliefs of leaders in the Protestant movement.

October 1, 10:30 AM, Communion service for October. In the Covenant Church we practice “open” communion. You do not have to be a member of this congregation or this tradition, we only ask that you be believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is your savior from sins and that you desire to live your life for him.

October 8, 5 PM: Soup Supper and a Movie, A Man Named Martin. Admission and supper are FREE.(CVLI license information is available in the office.)

October 22, 5 PM: Soup Supper and a Movie, Luther. Admission and supper are FREE.(CVLI license information is available in the office.)

October 29, 10:30 AM. Guest Choir, the German American Singers and Guest Quartet, the Alpine Brass. This special service order will feature special music presentations and four anthems, including a joint rendition of the Reformation Hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

October 31, Reformation Vigil, 8 PM – 9 PM

With trick-or-treat over by that time according to local ordinance, people are encouraged to gather for hymns, prayer, communion, and a presentation of one of Luther’s written homilies, “On Indulgences and Grace,” his sermon for lay-people based on his 95 Theses.

We hope you can join us for some or all of these events. Centenary celebrations only come once per century!

Why Celebrate the Reformation?

Many Protestants are not treating the five century mark of the Reformation as an occasion to celebrate, for a number of valid reasons that will differ according to each congregation or denomination. Indeed, there has been no denomination-wide program for a Reformation emphasis this year in the Evangelical Covenant. The reasons this is “muted” in various places are varied:

1. Some groups that rose out of the Radical Reformation, such as Anabaptists, do not see themselves as “Protestant” in the same way. The Swiss Reformer. Ulrich Zwingli, whose movement was one out of which early radical reformers emerged, was at work independently of Luther, so that the Wittenberg Door event on Oct. 31, 1517 does not carry the weight of a narrative of origins for Anabaptist groups.

2. Some Protestants identify with origins that precede Luther. John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) each preceded Luther by more than a century. Moravian Churches own the heritage of Hus, while the English Reformation does not trace itself particularly through Luther’s thought.

3. Perhaps the most important reason is that many, including direct theological and institutional heirs of Martin Luther’s efforts, are embarrassed that the Protestant Reformation was the occasion of schism and violence within the Church. This included wars among European princes who used denominational affinities as an excuse for campaigns of conquest and the oppression of segments of their own population. In the early 1600′s, for example, Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed tore at each other for thirty years, with the German states providing most of the battlefields. Anabaptists were almost universally persecuted; toleration was rare and fickle.

4. Embarrassed by the violence on the one hand, many do not see the point in revisiting old misunderstandings and out-dated causes on the other. In the twenty-first century, sixty years after Vatican II began and marked a turning point for the warming of ecumenical relations, and after a succession of popes that have displayed integrity and humility and been more reflective of the global Catholic community, to be trumpeting the themes of the Reformation is seen by some as downright obnoxious.

There may be other reasons that others have; these are the reasons of which I am aware that many either have little enthusiasm to celebrate the Reformation or even disapprove of its being celebrated. In the best tradition of the Evangelical Covenant let me quote the Apostle Paul, “Let each one be convinced in their own mind.”

As October advances it is quite likely that more will be heard from various leaders in the global Church who, even though they are marking the Reformation, do so with sensitivity to the points of view expressed above, and will emphasize their regret for the schisms and especially the tragedies of violence that resulted.

The Reasons to Celebrate

The reasons I, Pastor Jonathan, choose to celebrate the Reformation and the Protestant movement’s narrative of origins, are as follows:

1. Celebrating Faith: Others before Luther had indeed recovered important features of the gospel of God’s grace on the sinner, the importance of scripture as revelation, and the importance of the laity to the Church. Starting in late 1517, however, there was a convergence that led to a deeper and more complete recovery of the “faith once given to the Saints,” that is, of the redemptive life with God by grace alone through faith alone which was the teaching of Christ carried forward by his apostles.

2. Celebrating God’s Word: The emerging Protestant groups used the new technology of movable type presses to democratize the Christian faith, taking it back from a clergy elite and putting the Word of God into the words, and the hands, of common people. Translation into the languages of the world continues apace through missionary outfits like Wycliffe. This organization is named for the proto-Reformer who lived over a century before Luther, but this organization could in no way have gotten going and been sustained without a much broader movement than what Wycliffe had inspired.

3. Celebrating Positive Change: Although many of the initial reactions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy were unproductive (e.g. they excluded Protestants from the Council of Trent in order to retrench untenable doctrines, went to war on Protestant princes, etc.) other reactions have proven to be a positive leavening of the faith and integrity in the Catholic Church elite over time. Vatican II in c.1960 is impossible without having the Protestant movement in view.

4. Celebrating People: The movement that led directly to the expansion of literacy, of democracy, and of modern liberal convictions that accord high value to the individual’s conscience, ought to be lifted up and celebrated in the twenty-first century. All of that got rolling when the monk named Martin tacked a list of arguments onto the door of a church on October 31, 1517.

Wherever you may be, I hope you can join Evangelical Covenant in Celebrating Faith, Celebrating God’s Word, Celebrating Change, and Celebrating People, if not in spirit, than in prayer. May this Centenary celebration bring glory to God, and declare the assurance of grace to repenting hearts.

Parking 2017-2018 NOW OPEN

Larkin High School students and U-46 employees are invited to make use of our church parking lot, as we are located across the grass ditch near the west (auditorium) exit. The entrance to the parking lot is from Jane Drive. A fixed donation for the whole year ($90) or each semester ($50 each) reserves your spot. All money raised goes directly into the maintenance and repairs of the parking lot, none of it is transferred to the general ministry of the church. To download the application please go to the student parking tab where you will find links to the materials. Applications for 2017-2018 will open July 10 with updated links. Some priority will be given to those who had used the lot last year, however there are plenty of spaces available.

Programs Continue in Summer 2017

At Elgin Covenant the Sunday worship and events schedule is remaining the same through the summer, with worship, learning and fellowship events for all ages, and the same year-round worship start-time of 10:30 AM.

Summer means that some programs are on hiatus, but others keep humming along. We will miss the choir and our Wednesday evening fellowship dinners until they resume in the fall. Obviously with school out our Wednesday morning donut-and-hot beverage that we provide for Larkin High School students on their way to school will wait until the school year resumes. But though some of our energies are diverting to things appropriate for the summer, some patterns will remain unchanged. Most of all, our Sunday morning scheduled is remaining in place and unchanged.

Our church will continue to meet at 10:30 on Sunday morning, the same as all year-round. In addition our G-3 Kids will continue to meet, adjourning to the classrooms during the sermon, our adult Sunday School will continue to meet at 9:15 (starting June 11), and our fellowship hour of snacks and refreshments will continue after worship.

Some of the summer’s unique opportunities are: Summer camps, which are pulling several of our kids ages 7 to 13 to either Covenant Point in Upper Michigan, or to Covenant Harbor in Lake Geneva just across the Wisconsin border. These are award-winning camping opportunities, you can explore their websites at covenantharbor.org. Those kids in town will be participating in three mission field-trips. The first is at Feed My Starving Children in Schaumburg on June 10. Two more local opportunities are being scheduled with ministries in the Elgin Community.

Memorial Day Observance

The following, a reflection by Pastor Jonathan Wilson of this church, connects themes from 500 Years of Reformation to the 100th Anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I. It would be an appropriate resource on November 11 as well. It concludes with a prayer.

One Hundred Years: World War I and the Reformation

Dr. Jonathan M. Wilson, Pastor, Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin, IL[1]

 2017 marks the 500th Jubilee Anniversary of the Reformation. This is also the first time that there is a truly global and truly ecumenical effort among Christians to mark the moment. The 400th Anniversary, in 1917, might have been so marked, for many Protestant groups in the western world had learned, on the mission fields in Africa and Asia, to see beyond their differences. In 1910 there was a gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a world congress of the Christian faith. Sadly, the West’s imperial and political powers did not catch this vision; indeed, the Great Powers were in the midst of an arms race. Tensions erupted and by August 1914 the European powers, with their colonial proxies, were enveloped in what history now remembers as World War I. The United States entered this conflict one hundred years ago, in 1917. On this Memorial Day week-end when we honor America’s war dead, it is time for a sober reflection on this one-century mark of the First World War.


The American poet Alan Seeger, serving during World War I, wrote these lines:

I have a rendezvous with death

at some disputed barricade;

When spring comes back with rustling shade,

and apple-blossoms fill the air.[2]

On May 28, 1917, General John “Black Jack” Pershing, a veteran of the United States Cavalry, embarked for Europe in command of the American Expeditionary Force. Six weeks earlier Congress had acted on the request of President Woodrow Wilson to declare war on Germany in retaliation for its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. It was almost another year, in the spring of 1918, before American ground forces saw major action, with over 53,000 meeting their rendezvous with death in a little over seven months. The involvement of the United States broke the stalemate. American manpower, fire-power and industrial power overmatched that of the German Empire, which was exhausted by four years of attrition on its western front.

It was with idealism that Wilson saw the dawn of the American Century and the nation’s involvement on the world stage. He hoped, by America’s involvement, to become a broker of peace and reconciliation, to see a new world order established on the rule of law in a League of Nations. Nevertheless, though Congress applauded his request to declare war, in private he stated: “My message today was a message of death for our young men. How strange it seems to applaud that.” It is said that the President began to weep.[3]

Early on, optimism swelled all sides of the battle and every home front. God’s providence was seen in the provocation of the contest; once the pecking order of global interests and imperialism was resolved the project of advancing Christian civilization could continue to its glorious conclusion. On the other end of it, once they dusted themselves off and shook hands and redrew the world’s maps, there awaited a world-wide millennium of peace. For the drafted and the recruited and the American public that supported them, the American cause was to make the world safe for democracy. This is a worthy cause to motivate patriotic zeal. Alas, that which rallies the soldiers in the rank-and-file is often a spin put on motives much more banal among the elites, motives tinged not with idealism but with avarice.

What occurred was mechanized slaughter on a scale never before seen in western civilization. The edifice of Christendom had been founded on civic duty, optimism, imperialism, and idealisms related to manifest destiny and the White Man’s burden. This edifice sank in the slog of mud-filled trenches, it was battered to ruins by heavy artillery, it was drowned in the tears of comrades and family. Faith was shattered in many, in others a new and virulent nationalism grew like a poisonous thorn-bush from out of Europe’s mud.  World War One unmasked the lies that tied the church to the power of the state in a triumphant march of progress. The Church of Jesus Christ stands true and forever because his Word stands true, though every person be a liar. Christendom, however, meaning everything that makes being a Christian convenient and lawful and acceptable in the world, has never recovered from World War I. At the end of it the world was not safer for democracy, it was instead a fertile seed-bed for the most virulent totalitarianisms the world had ever seen, under dictators who steered the world to the brink of extinction a little more than just twenty years later.

World War II is inextricably linked to the outcomes of World War I: the holocaust has its precedent in the genocide of millions of ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks – a crime which Turkey has yet to own and repent. The Cold War’s cause is in the manner of World War II’s end, and radical Jihadism has its roots in the deals struck and arms traded during the Cold War. The legacies that continue to cast their shadow over us and our emerging generations: the global economy and exploitation, ethnic conflict, ideological radicalism, these are the legacies of World War I. Yet the miserable lessons of a hundred years of hate refuse to be learned by a manifestly sinful human race who repeat these mistakes generation after generation.

Still, among many Christians, 2017 marks the first real opportunity for cooperative, global commemoration of the Reformation. Those in charge of “official” observances see 2017 as a means of owning the sins of the Church, and of telling the world that Jesus wants us all to get along, because after all, the stakes are too high to risk perpetuating the cycles of violence. These are the dominant themes for the commemorations in the ecumenical setting. These themes are true in part, but not where they connect with and foster notions of human optimism and the belief that peace has its foundation in some other truth than Jesus Christ, King in Heaven and Lord of all creation.

The commemoration of 500 Years of Reformation, and 100 years since America’s entry into World War I, should bring together two themes in our hearts: First, that repentance is the whole life of the Christian. Second, that we must not forget, but must continue to lay the wreaths on the graves and at the monuments for the war dead, those who paid the price for the propaganda and idealism and nationalism and imperialism that drove them on to the battlefield in causes which the verdict of history now, rightly, condemns.

No longer should Christians wave the banners of partisan, alienating slogans; let us lead the way in repentance, in meekness, in humility. Jesus Christ has ascended and is enthroned as the right hand of power. Before him alone we must bow as our highest allegiance, repenting of all others, of every flag and every ideology that would pull us into vain causes and endless cycles of godless violence.  The stakes are too high to forego what must be our whole life as Christians.

Memorial Day 2017 Prayer

Lord God, we gather before you thankful that in this land, by your providence, we continue in freedom to worship you. We honor at this time those who served faithfully and gave their all, even their lives, that we might continue secure in the blessings of liberty. In honor of them help us to remember human vanity and sin, help us to be discerning, that we the people would not allow for our sons and daughters to be sent into harm’s way for causes that are superfluous, doubtful, or a shame to our consciences. For as King David refused to drink for himself and his own refreshment the water brought to him from behind enemy lines by valiant men, but instead offered it as a libation to you, so let us not forget that the courage of our soldiers

and sailors is not for us to exploit, but to deploy only in causes that are just and true in the wisdom you give us to discern the right. Help us always to recall our debt of gratitude to those who serve and have served. In Jesus’ name, amen.

[1]This article is original with the author who takes sole responsibility for its point of view. The author may be consulted for a short bibliography of influential resources that shaped his perspective. The resource for quotes and citations included in this commemoration is Daniel Levy, “World War I: The Great War and the American Century,” LIFE, vol. 17 no. 6, (March 17 2017).

[2]Quoted in Levy, “World War I: The Great War and the American Century,” 25.

[3]Levy, 29. 

Serving: A Lent Appeal

Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017, begins the season of Lent. Elgin Covenant will have worship at 7 PM, with songs, prayers, and preaching on repentance. While it is not our custom to impose ashes, every person is welcome to come and hear the truth about yourself, that you are a sinner in need of God’s amazing grace through salvation in Jesus Christ. This post contrasts how we in our culture often view Lent and our personal “sacrifices” with what God wants true “fasting” to look like — serving our neighbor. A list of local community ministries we support comes at the end of the article.

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see one naked, to provide clothes, and not turn away from your own neighbor?”             —Isaiah 58:6-7

Some view Lent as an opportunity to get back on the diet that had lapsed some time after the New Year’s Resolution. Some see it as a reason to try some new kind of discipline, for example to watch t.v. less and try instead to read start to finish one book a week, or get some daily exercise. These might have some religious, Jesus-centered motivation, but this kind of Lent observance is mostly a mostly rather than a spiritual response.

There are some for whom Lent is an important time of year for religious observance. Marking the days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness as an analogy to his whole life of sacrifice and suffering, Lent was begun in the early centuries of Christian faith to motivate repentance, contrition, and a desire for deeper holiness. So for many the fish-only Fridays and other attempts at fasting or “doing without” a favorite, such as chocolate, combined with the extra prayers and worship services, are performed with a religious zeal in the hopes that these acts of worship will atone for sins and balance the account in God’s eyes.

Many Protestants and Evangelicals like Pastor Jonathan the author of this post, call this idea “works righteousness.” We believe that those who do religious works as a way of paying their penalty for sins have the wrong idea about God, the wrong idea about sin, and the wrong idea about what it means to become holy.

The Prophet Isaiah cautioned the people that God even in the Old Testament did not demand religious works and penalties as a way of becoming righteous. Instead God wanted the people to address the root causes of their problems; that the people who humbled themselves and fasted during special days, were the same people who were guilty of  greed, covetousness, gossip and extortion. It did no one any good to cheat someone else and then go on a religious fast, as though this atoned for cheating. If people wanted to experience the blessing of God, they needed to restore their ill-gotten gains first, and then, begin to be generous towards others. That is what God can bless.

Going on a self-discipline during Lent for a religious reason or a cultural reason is okay provided that it does not spring from magic thinking, which is the notion that by saying an extra prayer or going without chocolate, you are making yourself righteous and forcing God to do something nice for you in return. God has already given you everything! Let your religious works be expressions of thankfulness. Meanwhile, the true worship of God, the true “fasting” that God desires, is that you be generous to those who are worse off than you. The question to ask during Lent is not “How can I show God I’m a better person?” but instead “How can I show my neighbor the love of God?”

At Elgin Covenant we provide many opportunities, listed below, to minister locally with compassion to our neighbors through volunteer support and financial giving. If you would like more information on how to get involved please call our church office, 847-888-2302.

-Larkin High School-

Donut Klub: Free food every Wednesday before school.

Tutoring: Wednesday after school by appointment.

-Our Benevolence Ministry Partners–

Benevolence offerings ever 2nd Sunday of the month support:

The Interfaith Food Pantry. Located in historic downtown Elgin at First Congregational Church.

The Salvation Army. The Elgin location is just north of historic downtown on Douglas Ave., they provide direct aid in food and clothing and holistic ministry.

Wayside Elgin. On Berkeley Avenue in the industrial district between Elgin Community College and US Route 20, Wayside provides holistic ministry and day-time shelter to the homeless.

-Local Mission Volunteer Projects and Annual Support-

TLC Life Center of Elgin. We provide budget support, regular volunteer support, and on a weekly basis permit the use of our parking lot to the Mobile Ultra Sound Unit.

Feed My Starving Children. We are developing a rhythm of sending 25 volunteers to a two-hour work session at the FMSC location into Schaumburg, twice each year. (This is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.)

Operation Christmas Child. Shoe-box sized packages are filled with Christimas gifts each fall for delivery to children in poverty by Christmas day. (This is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.)

Fox Valley Christian Action. This receives budget support from our church and occasional volunteer help.

Covenant Harbor Bible Camp. A little over an hour drive’s north and across the Wisconsin border, our district Bible Camp has a Lake Geneva waterfront. We offer budget support and volunteer work teams twice each year.

500 Years of Reformation: Celebrate, Learn, Discuss

2017 marks 500 years of the beginning of the Reformation of Western Christianity.  To commemorate this event I am making two resources available on this site which the Elgin Covenant Church will be using. First, is a lectionary supplement designed to be a companion to the Revised Common Lectionary Series A for a year-long emphasis on the Reformation. That can be downloaded from the “Reformation 500 Years” tab or here:

2017 Celebrating the Reformation

Second, the adult Sunday School is working through a paper written by me, the church’s  pastor, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Wilson, on “Repentance is the Whole Life of the Christian: Some Points on the Ongoing Need for Reform.” All are invited to download this paper and to respond to it. The full text can be found on the “Reformation” tab as well.

The paper describes various ways that the heirs of the Protestant Reformation are ourselves in need of ongoing reform, and treats Repentance as the premise of ongoing reform and the Christian life. The paper is a critique of many errant customs and beliefs across the spectrum of the Protestant Faith: Liberal, Fundamentalist, and “Middle Way.” It does not engage the Anabaptist tradition, and only discusses the Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions insofar as they are participants in the Protestant spectrum.

The purpose of the paper is to challenge, discuss, and where conviction has been aroused, to call to repentance.