Skip to content

ELCA Blogs

Shouting in the season of Lent

by Abbigail Hull, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow – Washington, D.C.

The courage of a middle school boy stayed with me after my first opportunity as an ELCA Hunger Fellow to facilitate faith advocacy training and lawmakers meetings for a Lutheran youth group visiting Washington, D.C. from Massachusetts. During one of those meetings, he forthrightly told a policy-maker that addressing educational disparities is necessary to eliminating hunger in our country. “Shout out, do not hold back!” Like the exclamation of Isaiah 58:1 which we hear on Ash Wednesday, this student was calling out the sinful inequalities of the world.

During this season of self-reflection, humility, of fasting, what does it mean when we hear the Lenten verse from Joel 2:12-17,  “blow the trumpet of Zion…for the day of the Lord is near…sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people”?

When I initially think of fasting, I think of a personal spiritual practice – a personal decision and action that requires abstaining from some behavior. This can be a positive experience. However, when I view fasting in this way, I have the tendency to use it to punish myself for the things I do not like about myself. I often eat too much chocolate, for example, so no chocolate in Lent. This turns me inward and not outward to the world and my community.

This is not the fasting Isaiah is talking about when he proclaims:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Isaiah 58:6-7

I believe Isaiah is calling me and other Christians to turn outward – fast and repent from the injustices seen our community. He calls us to envision fasting as a tool for communal reflection and action to better align ourselves with our neighbors and with God’s vision for the world.  It is an engagement of our hearts and bodies.

Last year, the ELCA participated in a campaign to #PrayFastAct with our Episcopalian siblings in solidarity with our hungry neighbors and in response to potential cuts in anti-poverty programs. When the pang of hunger is felt when fasting, we are reminded of the shared mortality of our human bodies. We are all from ashes and to ashes we shall return. We are also reminded that many of our neighbors have no choice in this fasting. We see the sinfulness of the world and are called to repent from the sinfulness in ourselves and our world.

In that solidarity, may we all have the same humble courage of that young man to gather together, shout out, and work toward justice in our society.


February 14, 2014, Lead Me Not Into Temptation

Erik Ullestad, Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

What’s one thing you couldn’t live without for a month?

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

The hit television show The Biggest Loser is wrapping up its 17th season. The premise of the show is simple – a group of people compete in a contest to lose weight. Different challenges and mini-contests are introduced throughout a given season. Most often the group is secluded in a boot-camp setting, removed from the distractions and bad habits of their normal life. This season’s theme is temptation, which means contestants will spend more time off-campus than in previous seasons. They will learn to deal with temptations and indulgences of daily life, ranging from food to money to electronic devices.

shutterstock_350734811-1  Critics of the show throughout the years have expressed concern that the producers put entertainment ahead of health. Former contestants, like season three winner Kai Hibbard, did not appreciate some of the tactics employed by the show. “It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Hibbard confessed. Another former contestant, Suzanne Mendonca from season two, believes some of the style-over-substance approaches don’t help contestants in the long run. “We’re all fat again,” she lamented. The producers of Season 17 hope that bringing the gap between the Biggest Loser gym and the real world will help contestants navigate the many challenges that can be stumbling blocks to living a healthy lifestyle.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever watched The Biggest Loser? What do you think of the show?
  • In 2014, Gallup indicated that 27.7% of adults in the U.S. are obese. What factors do you think contribute to such a high obesity rate?
  • The people on The Biggest Loser face significant temptation to eat unhealthy amounts of food. What unhealthy habits tempt you to do things you know are unhelpful?

First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Jesus begins his ministry in a rather strange way. After he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days. Throughout those six weeks, he was tempted by the devil. At the very end of this fast, the devil tried to take advantage of Jesus’ extreme hunger. The devil poses three tests — turn a stone into bread, worship the devil, throw himself down from the temple — as an attempt to demonstrate his power. Jesus rebukes the devil each time. So the devil goes away. And Jesus returns to Galilee.

There is a lot happening beneath the surface of this war of words between Jesus and the devil. One of the fascinating aspects of their duel is that they both quote Scripture. Jesus references Deuteronomy in Luke 4:4 and 4:8, and the devil invokes Psalm 91 in Luke 4:10-11. This is a cunning attempt on the part of the devil to bait Jesus into doing something he shouldn’t do. It seems that Luke wants us to know that there’s more to knowing Scripture than simply reciting it. The devil uses Scripture for an inward, selfish purpose, whereas Jesus realizes that Scripture compels us to a life of obedience and self-sacrifice.

This story ushers lectionary-minded Christians into the season of Lent. It is no accident that Lent is forty days long; the same number of days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. People often observe a Lenten discipline by fasting from something (candy, soda, social media, etc.) or by starting a new habit (writing a daily thank-you card or giving money to a good cause). Sometimes people refer to this as “giving something up for Lent.” The purpose of these disciplines is not to show how holy a person is or to draw attention to oneself. The goal of a Lenten discipline is to follow Christ’s example of humility, self-denial, and reflection.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the hungriest you’ve ever been?
  • How did the devil try to tempt Jesus?
  • Have you ever gotten into a Scripture-quoting argument with someone? How did it end up?
  • What do you think is the purpose of a Lenten discipline?

Activity Suggestions

Develop a Lenten discipline for your group. Solicit input from everyone to come up with something that will be attainable and meaningful for everyone. Perhaps you’ll all decide to read from the Bible every day. (There are lots of good Lenten reading plans online.) or encourage daily prayer. The group may want to commit to giving time or money to a local organization that fights hunger. Whatever you decide, encourage everyone in the group to participate earnestly and honestly. Having this kind of accountability can add a sense of camaraderie among your group and may help breathe new life into the season of Lent.

You know about Advent calendars, right? How about making a Lenten calendar. The season of Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays. Individuals can make their own Lenten calendar by using two pieces of cardstock, an exacto-knife, and a glue stick. This simple craft will help people observe a ritual of daily walking through the journey of Lent. It might help them with a Lenten discipline as well.

Closing Prayer

Holy God, we give you thanks for the witness of your son, Jesus. Help us to fix our eyes on him as we journey to the cross. Turn our thoughts from selfish desires toward your will for our lives. Help us to love others as you have loved us. In Jesus’ name, amen.