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Lent Reflection 5: A Way in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 5: A Way in the Wilderness

“Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Read

  • Isaiah 43:16-21
  • Psalm 126
  • Philippians 3:4b-14
  • John 12:1-8

Reflect

Each of the sessions of this Lenten study has been grounded in a verse from this week’s readings:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).

From the first-fruits offering of Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, our reflections have pointed to how God continues to “make a way in the wilderness” and calls us to be part of that journey for ourselves and our neighbors. The Scripture readings this season remind us of the promise of new life in Canaan for our ancestors and new life in Christ for us all.

We have imagined a world without hunger, heard of God’s abundant provision of manna and seen the ways the church has worked tirelessly, in the past and today, to end hunger.

Now we reach the culmination of this movement toward the fulfillment of God’s promise, wherein Jesus announces: “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8 NIV).

It’s not the most encouraging verse in the Bible.

How often have people twisted these words into an excuse for passivity or a sneering retort to proclamations of hope that hunger and poverty can, one day, end? Along with its partner in 2 Thessalonians (“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”), it’s one of the “hard passages” for people of faith eager to inspire others to respond to hunger and poverty. These troublesome verses are often used to support restrictive, counterintuitive policies and practices that inhibit real progress against hunger and poverty. Why try harder to end hunger and poverty if even Jesus says poverty isn’t going away?

The passage yields more when we dig a little deeper. Jesus may actually be referring to an earlier part of the Bible here, and in that earlier verse the words are no statement of fact but a challenge to the people of God. The verse appears in a section of Deuteronomy about the Jubilee Year, a time every seven years when debts were forgiven. That earlier passage sheds new light on the verse from John:

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Far from resigning us to poverty in the world, the verse challenges followers of Christ. In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Martin Luther writes, “‘The poor you always have with you,’ just as you will have all other evils. But constant care should be taken that, since these evils are always in evidence, they are always opposed.”

For Luther, to “always have the poor among you” meant to be confronted always by God’s call to respond to human suffering and oppose the evil that creates it. This is not resignation but activation of the people of God in the service of the neighbor.

What’s more, we may find in Jesus’ words a lesson for our identity as church together. “You will always have the poor among you.” If we are truly the
people of God, then we are called to be in community with neighbors who have been marginalized, excluded, oppressed and impoverished by the world’s injustice.

As church, our calling is not merely to minister to our neighbors but to bear witness to the “new thing” God is doing in our world, a new community God is making possible. This is not easy work. Confronting hunger and poverty alongside our neighbors means facing the dangerous realities that impact our neighbors.

In Palestine, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP), supported by ELCA World Hunger, works with children and families to protect their rights and give them the care and support they need. Settlement expansion in the West Bank and increased military presence in daily life put children at risk of negative encounters with Israeli forces. Children detained for
violating the often-discriminatory laws of Israeli occupation risk abuse from both Israeli and Palestinian forces. Despite significant legal reform in recent years, DCIP has found that practices have yet to fully align with domestic or international legal frameworks for juvenile justice and that children are paying the price, navigating a military legal system that fails to meet the minimum international standards, particularly for juveniles.

DCIP provides both legal and social support for children accused of crimes, and it works with their families, many of whom live in poverty, to improve their situations emotionally, socially and financially through vocational training, the support of social workers and more. This support is critical to addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty in Palestine.

Responding to hunger means accompanying neighbors as they confront the systems of injustice that create hunger. It means facing harsh realities with realistic perspectives. This is not the false “realism” that twists Jesus’ words in the Gospel but the realistic acknowledgement that we face our own journey in the wilderness before we reach the fullness of God’s promise. Friends, we have a long way to go.

And yet … and yet …

As we have seen throughout our Lenten journey, we are not going it alone. God is with us along the way, inspiring hope and courage and revealing Godself in the neighbors we encounter along the way. We know that this Lenten journey is not the end. The season’s fasting, praying and selfreflecting spiritual disciplines prepare us for the road ahead, the road that leads to the cross — and beyond, to a new community God makes possible.

This is not an easy road to travel. But we know that, even amid the challenges ahead, the “new thing” God is doing “springs forth,” that God is even now working to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

Do you not perceive it?

Ask

  1. What does it mean for the church to “always have the poor” with us? How might we rethink Jesus’ words in light of the study session for this week?
  2. In what ways does your congregation act as a neighbor toward people in need in your community?
  3. Why is the church called to work for justice in the world? What might the work of DCI-Palestine teach us about being the people of God?
  4. How can the church inspire hope when the promised future can seem so far away?
  5. Where is God calling you and your congregation to be today? How can or will you be part of the “new thing” God is calling forth?

Pray

God of the poor widow, the lost sheep, and the wandering Aramean,
God of the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger,
God of the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned,

We confess before you that the church has not always been where
you have called us to be. We have failed to seek your face in our
neighbors in need. We have allowed despair to bind our hands and
feet. Change us, O God. Free us to act with hope and courage.

Open our hearts to perceive your presence in and among our
neighbors. Inflame us with holy passion for the work you invite us
to in the world. Breathe new life into your church, that we may be
the people you call us to be in the world you call into being:

A church of the poor widow, the lost sheep and the wandering Aramean.
A church of the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger.
A church of the naked, the ill and the imprisoned.

Do a “new thing” with us and through us, that we may be a
community of hope, comfort and welcome — a living sign of the
way we are making in the wilderness. Amen.

 

SEMANA 5: Un camino en el desierto

“¿No se dan cuenta?” (Isaías 43:19).
Lecturas: Isaías 43:16-21, Salmo 126, Filipenses 3:4b-14, Juan 12:1-8

Cada una de las sesiones de este estudio de Cuaresma se ha basado en un versículo de las lecturas de esta semana:

¡Voy a hacer algo nuevo! Ya está sucediendo, ¿no se dan cuenta? Estoy abriendo un camino en el desierto, y ríos en lugares desolados (Isaías 43:19).

Desde la ofrenda de primicias de Deuteronomio, hasta la enseñanza de Jesús en el Evangelio de Lucas, nuestras reflexiones han señalado cómo Dios continúa “abriendo un camino en el desierto” y nos llama a ser parte de esa jornada para nosotros y nuestro prójimo. Las lecturas bíblicas de esta temporada nos recuerdan la promesa de una nueva vida en Canaán para nuestros antepasados y una nueva vida en Cristo para todos nosotros.

Hemos imaginado un mundo sin hambre, hemos oído hablar de la abundante provisión que Dios hizo de maná, y hemos visto las formas en que la iglesia ha trabajado incansablemente, en el pasado y en la actualidad, para acabar con el hambre.

Ahora llegamos a la culminación de este movimiento hacia el cumplimiento de la promesa de Dios, en la que Jesús anuncia: “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” (Juan 12:8 NVI).

Este no es el versículo más alentador de la Biblia.

¿Cuántas veces la gente ha tergiversado estas palabras en una excusa para la pasividad o una réplica burlona a las proclamas de esperanza de que el hambre y la pobreza pueden, algún día, terminar? Junto con su versículo compañero en 2 Tesalonicenses (“El que no quiera trabajar, que tampoco coma”), es uno de los “pasajes difíciles” para las personas de fe ansiosas por inspirar a otros a responder al hambre y la pobreza. Estos versículos problemáticos a menudo se usan para apoyar políticas y prácticas restrictivas y contraintuitivas que inhiben el progreso real contra el hambre y la pobreza. ¿Por qué esforzarse más para acabar con el hambre y la pobreza si incluso Jesús dice que la pobreza no va a desaparecer?

El pasaje brinda más cuando cavamos un poco más profundo. En realidad, Jesús podría estar refiriéndose aquí a una parte anterior de la Biblia, y en ese versículo anterior las palabras no son una declaración de hechos, sino un desafío al pueblo de Dios. El versículo aparece en una sección de Deuteronomio sobre el año del jubileo, un tiempo cada siete años en que las deudas eran perdonadas. Ese pasaje anterior arroja nueva luz sobre el versículo de Juan:

Gente pobre en esta tierra, siempre la habrá; por eso te ordeno que seas generoso con tus hermanos hebreos y con los pobres y necesitados de tu tierra” (Deuteronomio 15:11).

Lejos de resignarnos a la pobreza en el mundo, el versículo desafía a los seguidores de Cristo. En su comentario sobre Deuteronomio, Martín Lutero escribe: “‘El pobre siempre lo tienen con ustedes’, así como tendrán todos los demás males. Pero se debe tener el cuidado constante de que, dado que estos males siempre son evidentes, siempre se les presente oposición”.

Para Lutero, “a los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” significaba ser siempre confrontado por el llamado de Dios a responder al sufrimiento humano y oponerse al mal que lo causa. Esto no es resignación sino activación del pueblo de Dios al servicio del prójimo.

Lo que es más, en las palabras de Jesús podemos encontrar una lección para nuestra identidad como iglesia juntos. “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes”. Si realmente somos el pueblo de Dios, entonces estamos llamados a estar en comunidad con los vecinos que han sido marginados, excluidos, oprimidos y empobrecidos por la injusticia del mundo.

Como iglesia, nuestro llamado no es simplemente ministrar a nuestro prójimo, sino dar testimonio de “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo en nuestro mundo, una nueva comunidad que Dios está haciendo posible. Este no es un trabajo fácil. Enfrentar el hambre y la pobreza junto a nuestro prójimo significa enfrentar las peligrosas realidades que afectan a nuestros vecinos.

En Palestina, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP) [Defensa Internacional para los Niños de Palestina], con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, trabaja con niños y familias para proteger sus derechos y brindarles la atención y el apoyo que necesitan. La expansión de los asentamientos en la Ribera Occidental y el aumento de la presencia militar en la vida cotidiana ponen a los niños en riesgo de encuentros negativos con las fuerzas israelíes. Los niños detenidos por violar las leyes a menudo discriminatorias de la ocupación israelí corren el riesgo de sufrir abusos tanto por parte de las fuerzas israelíes como de las palestinas. A pesar de la importante reforma legal de los últimos años, el DCIP ha descubierto que las prácticas aún no se han alineado plenamente con los marcos jurídicos nacionales o internacionales para la justicia de menores, y que los niños están pagando el precio, navegando por un sistema legal militar que no cumple con las mínimas normas internacionales, particularmente para los menores.

DCIP da apoyo legal y social a los niños acusados de delitos y trabaja con sus familias —muchas de las cuales viven en la pobreza— para mejorar emocional, social y financieramente sus situaciones a través de la capacitación vocacional, el apoyo de los trabajadores sociales y más. Este apoyo es fundamental para atacar las causas profundas del hambre y la pobreza en Palestina.

Responder al hambre significa acompañar a los vecinos mientras enfrentan los sistemas de injusticia que crean hambre. Significa hacer frente a realidades duras con perspectivas realistas. Este no es el falso “realismo” que tergiversa las palabras de Jesús en el Evangelio, sino el reconocimiento realista de que enfrentamos nuestra propia jornada en el desierto antes de alcanzar la plenitud de la promesa de Dios.  Amigos, nos queda un largo camino por recorrer.

Y sin embargo… y sin embargo…

Como hemos visto a lo largo de nuestra jornada cuaresmal, no vamos solos. Dios está con nosotros en el camino, inspirando esperanza y valentía y revelándose a sí mismo en los vecinos que encontramos en el camino. Sabemos que esta jornada cuaresmal no es el fin. Las disciplinas espirituales de ayuno, oración y autorreflexión de la temporada nos preparan para el camino por delante, el camino que conduce a la cruz; y más allá, a una nueva comunidad que Dios hace posible.

No es un camino fácil de recorrer. Pero sabemos que, incluso en medio de los desafíos que tenemos por delante, el “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo “brota”, que Dios incluso ahora está trabajando para “abrir un camino en el desierto y ríos en lugares desolados” (Isaías 43:19).

¿No se dan cuenta?

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa para la iglesia que “a los pobres siempre los tendremos con nosotros”? ¿Cómo podríamos replantearnos las palabras de Jesús a la luz de la sesión de estudio de esta semana?
  2. ¿De qué maneras actúa su congregación como el prójimo de las personas necesitadas en su comunidad?
  3. ¿Por qué está llamada la iglesia a trabajar por la justicia en el mundo? ¿Qué podría enseñarnos la obra de DCI-Palestina en lo que respecta a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. ¿Cómo puede la iglesia inspirar esperanza cuando el futuro prometido puede parecer tan lejano?
  5. ¿Dónde está llamando Dios a su congregación y a usted a estar hoy? ¿Cómo puede ser o será parte del “algo nuevo” del que Dios está hablando?

Oración

Dios de la viuda pobre, de la oveja perdida y del arameo errante, Dios del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero, Dios del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado:

Confesamos ante ti que la iglesia no siempre ha estado donde nos has llamado a estar. No hemos podido buscar tu rostro en nuestros vecinos necesitados. Hemos permitido que la desesperación nos ate las manos y los pies. Cámbianos, oh Dios. Libéranos para actuar con esperanza y valentía.

Abre nuestros corazones para percibir tu presencia en nuestros vecinos y entre ellos. Enciéndenos con santa pasión por el trabajo al que nos invitas en el mundo. Sopla nueva vida a tu iglesia, para que podamos ser las personas que nos llamas a ser en el mundo que llamas a ser:

Una iglesia de la viuda pobre, la oveja perdida y el arameo errante. Una iglesia del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero.

Una iglesia del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado. Haz “algo nuevo” con nosotros y a través de nosotros, para que podamos ser una comunidad de esperanza, consuelo y bienvenida; una señal viva del camino que estás abriendo en el desierto. Amén.

 

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Lent Reflection 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 4: Transformed in the Wilderness

“They ate the crops of the land” (Joshua 5:12)

Read

  • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm 32
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Reflect

The reading from Joshua for this week is brief, but it recounts the time the Hebrews, who left Egypt under God’s care, had so longed to see: the end of their exodus and the beginning of their life in the Promised Land of Canaan. No longer would their food rain down from the heavens; now, they would be fed by their own produce:

The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year (Joshua 5:12).

Certainly, the people’s entrance into the Promised Land is not the end of their dependence on God. Their food may no longer miraculously fall from the sky, but a new miracle springs from the land God created and is nurtured by farmers who embody God’s creative care. Settling in Canaan is just the beginning of the story of God’s people — not the end.

But there is a transformation in the now-settled people, evident in the difference between manna from heaven and “the crops of the land.” In the common language of today’s world, we might call this the difference between charity and self-sufficiency.

The church has been involved in responding to human need, especially hunger, since its very beginning. The sacrament of Holy Communion began as a full meal in the Christian community, particularly for those who otherwise might not have been able to feed themselves. By the second and third centuries, care for people who were hungry or poor was so central to the church’s identity that bishops, whose roles included managing the church’s social ministries, were sometimes called “lovers of the poor.”

Feeding people who hunger is still crucial to the church’s identity. Our latest survey data show that well over 70% of ELCA congregations participate in direct-feeding ministries. Early numbers indicate that over 95% of congregations participate in some form of response to hunger. Feeding ministries can be crucial lifelines for the more than 38 million people in the United States who are uncertain of their next meal. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with sudden job loss and supply chain shortages, feeding ministries such as these swiftly adapted to meet the exploding need. This was critical support, particularly for those neighbors unable to access social safety-net programs such as SNAP or the federal stimulus payments.

Feeding ministries stand at the forefront of hunger work, providing opportunities for neighbors to build relationships and for communities to draw together toward effective solutions. But ending hunger requires more. As theologian Samuel Torvend has written, “In addition to charitable response is discerning why people … are suffering in the first place. And that moves us from charitable giving … into asking the larger question, which is, ‘Why is there injustice? What is it within the larger system in which people live that produces this kind of suffering?’”

Behind the long lines at food pantries and the pallets of goods at food banks lies the reality that ending hunger will require more than food. There are some times when we must focus our efforts together on meeting immediate need. But at all times, the church is called to something more.

The church’s work in hunger responds not only to a problem but to a promise. We know by faith that hunger is not what God intends, that the One who created and sustains us is leading us to a future in which all will be fed, as surely as God led our ancestors through the desert to the Promised Land. The response of the church is rooted in the larger witness of faith holding that the systems and conditions that create scarcity are wrong, and that we can still create a life of security and sufficiency, even on this side of the fullness of God’s reign.

In Pueblo County, Colo., Posada accompanies neighbors who experience homelessness as they work together toward this vision. With support from ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspires to provide for the immediate needs of people who lack stable housing while enabling them to address the problems that have led to their situation. Daniel is one of many people Posada has worked with to secure housing. Assisted by Posada, Daniel was able to transition from a long-term care facility to stable housing that he can call his own. Posada continues to work with him so that he can pay for utilities.

Posada helps neighbors meet their most immediate needs, connecting them to programs that offer funds for food and shelter. But the work doesn’t stop there; Posada works with neighbors to secure the housing, support and stability they will need to thrive in the future.

As Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, they were sustained by God’s gift of manna. This food from heaven satisfied their hunger and helped them survive their time in the wilderness. But God had more in store for them — not just an end to their hunger but a new life and hope, a future as a people renewed in their relationship to God, to each other and to a land
they could call their own. Eating their fill of manna was not the end but the means, allowing them to reach a place where they would thrive on “the crops of the land.”

Amid our own trial and challenge during a pandemic that stretched our food systems and charitable ministries to near-capacity, we might forget the vision that inspires the church’s hunger ministries in the first place. But during Lent, a season of self-reflection and renewal, the crossing over of the Hebrews from the wilderness to Gilgal, where they would become the nation Israel, reminds us of that vision. We cling to this promise that God will provide not just manna today but “crops of the land” tomorrow, granting us a new opportunity to build community and share in God’s journey toward a just world where all are fed.

This is the vision that inspires, motivates and shapes the many ways this church is active in the world, responding not just to the problem of hunger but to the promise of God for a future in which all who are weary — from journeying, from struggling, from working, from waiting — will find rest.

Ask

  1. What does “home” mean to you? What do you think it meant for the Israelites to settle in their new home and to eat the crops of their own land?
  2. How might uncertainty about housing impact other aspects of someone’s life?
  3. What might Posada’s ministry say about what it means to be the people of God? How does addressing housing insecurity reflect the church’s calling to be the people of God?
  4. Consider your community. What housing issues do you and your neighbors face? How might your congregation be part of addressing these issues?

Pray

God of our wanderings and our settling, you guided your people through the wilderness with gifts of manna and water to sustain them. Be with us in our own times of uncertainty and fear. Send your Spirit among us, that your church may be a sign of welcome in the world. When we are comfortable, open our hearts to our neighbors’ discomfort. When we are uncomfortable, sustain us with hope and courage. Bless us, that we may be blessings to one another. In your name we pray, amen.

 

SEMANA 4: Transformados en el desierto

“El pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra” (Josué 5:12).
Lecturas: Josué 5:9-12; Salmo 32; 2 Corintios 5:16-21; Lucas 15:1-3, 11b-32.

La lectura de Josué para esta semana es breve, pero relata el tiempo que los hebreos, que salieron de Egipto bajo el cuidado de Dios, habían anhelado ver: el fin de su éxodo y el comienzo de su vida en la Tierra Prometida de Canaán. Su alimento ya no iba a llover más de los cielos; ahora iban a ser alimentados por sus propios productos:

Desde ese momento dejó de caer maná, y durante todo ese año el pueblo se alimentó de los frutos de la tierra (Josué 5:12).

Ciertamente, la entrada de la gente en la Tierra Prometida no es el fin de su dependencia de Dios. Tal vez su comida ya no cae milagrosamente del cielo, pero un nuevo milagro brota de la tierra que Dios creó y es cultivado por agricultores que encarnan el cuidado creativo de Dios. Establecerse en Canaán es sólo el comienzo de la historia del pueblo de Dios —no el final.

Pero hay una transformación en la gente ahora asentada, evidente en la diferencia entre el maná del cielo y “los frutos de la tierra”. En el lenguaje común del mundo de hoy, podríamos llamar a esto la diferencia entre caridad y autosuficiencia.

Desde sus inicios, la iglesia ha estado involucrada en responder a las necesidades humanas, especialmente al hambre. El sacramento de la Sagrada Comunión comenzó como una comida completa en la comunidad cristiana, particularmente para aquellos que de otra manera no habrían podido alimentarse. En los siglos II y III, el cuidado de las personas que tenían hambre o eran pobres era tan central para la identidad de la iglesia que los obispos, cuyos roles incluían la gestión de los ministerios sociales de la iglesia, a veces se llamaban “amantes de los pobres”.

Alimentar a las personas que tienen hambre sigue siendo crucial para la identidad de la iglesia. Los últimos datos de nuestra encuesta muestran que más del 70% de las congregaciones de la ELCA participan en ministerios de alimentación directa. Las primeras cifras indican que más del 95% de las congregaciones participan en alguna forma de respuesta al hambre. Los ministerios de alimentación pueden ser líneas de vida cruciales para los más de 38 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos que no están seguras de su próxima comida. Durante los primeros meses de la pandemia de COVID-19 en 2020, con la pérdida repentina de empleos y la escasez en la cadena de abastecimiento, los ministerios de alimentación como estos se adaptaron rápidamente para satisfacer la creciente necesidad. Este fue un apoyo crucial, particularmente para aquellos vecinos que no pueden acceder a programas de redes de seguridad social como SNAP o los pagos de estímulo federal.

Los ministerios de alimentación están a la vanguardia del trabajo contra el hambre, brindando oportunidades para que los vecinos construyan relaciones y para que las comunidades se unan a favor de soluciones efectivas. Pero acabar con el hambre requiere más. Como ha escrito el teólogo Samuel Torvend: “Además de la respuesta caritativa, es discernir por qué las personas … están sufriendo en primer lugar. Y eso nos mueve de las donaciones caritativas… a hacer la pregunta más amplia, que es: ‘¿Por qué hay injusticia? ¿Qué cosa dentro del sistema más amplio en el que la gente vive es lo que produce este tipo de sufrimiento?’”

Detrás de las largas filas en las despensas de alimentos y las paletas de mercancías en los bancos de alimentos se encuentra la realidad de que acabar con el hambre requerirá más que alimentos. Hay ocasiones en las que debemos centrar nuestros esfuerzos juntos en satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas. Pero en todo momento, la iglesia está llamada a hacer algo más.

El trabajo de la iglesia en relación con el hambre responde, no sólo a un problema, sino también a una promesa. Sabemos por fe que el hambre no es lo que Dios quiere, que Aquel que nos creó y nos sostiene nos está llevando a un futuro en el que todos serán alimentados, tan seguramente como cuando guiaba a nuestros antepasados a través del desierto hacia la Tierra Prometida. La respuesta de la iglesia está enraizada en el testimonio más amplio de la fe que sostiene que los sistemas y las condiciones que crean escasez son incorrectos, y que todavía podemos crear una vida de seguridad y suficiencia, incluso en este lado de la plenitud del reino de Dios.

En el condado de Pueblo, Colorado, Posada acompaña a los vecinos que experimentan la falta de vivienda mientras trabajan juntos por esta visión. Con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, Posada aspira a satisfacer las necesidades inmediatas de las personas que carecen de vivienda estable, al tiempo que les permite abordar los problemas que han causado su situación. Daniel es una de las muchas personas con las que Posada ha trabajado para asegurar una vivienda. Con la ayuda de Posada, Daniel pudo hacer la transición de un centro de atención a largo plazo a una vivienda estable que puede llamar suya. Posada continúa trabajando con él para que pueda pagar los servicios públicos.

Posada ayuda a los vecinos a satisfacer sus necesidades más inmediatas, conectándolos con programas que ofrecen fondos para techo y comida. Pero el trabajo no se detiene ahí; Posada trabaja con los vecinos para asegurar la vivienda, el apoyo y la estabilidad que necesitarán para prosperar en el futuro.

Cuando Moisés y los hebreos salieron de Egipto fueron sustentados por el regalo de Dios llamado maná. Este alimento del cielo satisfizo su hambre y les ayudó a sobrevivir su tiempo en el desierto. Pero Dios tenía más cosas reservadas para ellos —no solo poner fin a su hambre, sino también una nueva vida y esperanza, un futuro como pueblo renovado en su relación con Dios, de los unos con los otros y con una tierra que podrían llamar suya. Comer maná hasta saciarse no era el fin sino el medio, lo que les permitía llegar a un lugar donde florecerían con “los frutos de la tierra”. En medio de nuestra propia prueba y desafío durante una pandemia que estiró a casi su capacidad nuestros sistemas alimentarios y ministerios caritativos, pudiéramos olvidar la visión que inspira los ministerios de hambre de la iglesia en primer lugar.

Pero, durante la Cuaresma, una temporada de autorreflexión y renovación, el paso de los hebreos desde el desierto hasta Gilgal, donde se convertirían en la nación de Israel, nos recuerda esa visión. Nos aferramos a esta promesa de que Dios proveerá no solo maná hoy, sino también “frutos de la tierra” mañana, otorgándonos una nueva oportunidad para construir comunidad y participar en la jornada de Dios hacia un mundo justo donde todos sean alimentados.

Esta es la visión que inspira, motiva y moldea las muchas formas en que esta iglesia está activa en el mundo, respondiendo no solamente al problema del hambre, sino también a la promesa de Dios para un futuro en el que todos los que están cansados —de la jornada, la lucha, el trabajo, la espera— encontrarán descanso.

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa “hogar” para usted? ¿Qué cree que significaba para los israelitas establecerse en su nuevo hogar y comer los frutos de su propia tierra?
  2. ¿Cómo podría la incertidumbre sobre la vivienda afectar otros aspectos de la vida de alguien?
  3. ¿De qué manera abordar la inseguridad de la vivienda refleja el llamado de la iglesia a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. Considere su comunidad. ¿Qué problemas de vivienda enfrentan usted y sus vecinos? ¿Cómo podría su congregación ser parte de la solución de estos temas?

Oración

Dios de nuestras andanzas y nuestro asentamiento, guiaste a tu pueblo a través del desierto con regalos de maná y agua para sustentarlos. Quédate con nosotros en nuestros propios tiempos de incertidumbre y temor. Envía tu Espíritu entre nosotros para que tu iglesia sea una señal de bienvenida en el mundo. Cuando estemos cómodos, abre nuestros corazones a la incomodidad de nuestros vecinos. Cuando nos sintamos incómodos, sostennos con esperanza y valor. Bendícenos, para que seamos bendiciones los unos para los otros. En tu nombre oramos, amén.

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Lent Reflection 2: Vulnerable in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 2: Wandering in the Wilderness

“I must be on my way” (Luke 13:33).

Read

  • Genesis 15:1-12;17-18
  • Psalm 27
  • Philippians 3:17-4:1
  • Luke 12:31-35

Reflect

As we saw in the reflection for Week 1, Lent is a story of the journey of God’s people. It is our story, or more appropriately the story of “God with us.” During Lent, we remember the ancient Hebrews’ journey from slavery in Egypt and a generation spent wandering in the wilderness, as recounted in the offering of the “first fruits” in Deuteronomy. We also reenact, in our own small ways, Jesus’ journey into the wilderness as it was described in the Gospel of Luke in the first week of Lent. The fast that many Christians commit to during Lent reflects Jesus’ own fast in the wilderness.

In this sacred season, we turn inward, reflecting on our dependence on God’s grace. Marked by ashes at the start, we enter the 40 days of Lent with penitent hearts and awareness of our need for God’s mercy. Repentance and self-reflection are important practices, but it’s easy to stay here, forgetting that the season is about so much more than our own self-examination.

Martin Luther captured this well. Luther defined repentance in two ways: “contrition…and in taking hold of the promise.” Certainly, confession of the many ways we have fallen short is a key part of the spiritual practice of Lent. But the season of Lent also leads us to turn outward, as Luther wrote, “taking hold of the promise” of God as we both yearn for and proclaim Jesus’ words that define his time in the wilderness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [the Lord] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor … [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

The promise of good news is the gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a promise of new life in the fullness of God’s reign. It is the promise of the Gospels and the prophets, the promise clung to by our ancestors in faith and the promise that sustains the people of God today in communities
around the world who accompany one another amid staggering challenges
of poverty, hunger and injustice.

Jesus not only proclaims the promise but lives it. He shows us what it means to live according to the promise — boldly, courageously, and with faith unceasing — from Galilee to Calvary. In the face of religious and political persecution, Jesus lives the daring life of faith in God’s grace.

While his trial before Pilate gets more attention, Jesus’ unrelenting march toward Jerusalem is one of the clearest examples of how to “take hold of the promise.” He travels from town to town, “teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). At one stop, a group of Pharisees warns him that he
must flee because Herod wants to kill him. Jesus responds: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work’” (Luke 13:31-32).

Herod is coming for him, and Jesus responds, “I have work to do.” Jesus demonstrates a daring confidence that not even death can stop the work of God in the world. People of faith bring Jesus’ daring, grace-formed confidence to the calling of the church: seeing — even amid the threat of death — that there is work to be done.

In Indonesia, the threat from HIV and AIDS is very real. The island country is currently experiencing one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world. In 2018 (the most recent year for which data are available), 38,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness, an increase of 60% from 2010. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 640,000 people in the country were living with HIV as of 2018, but WHO estimates that only about half of people infected with HIV are aware that they have it.

The Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), a companion church of the ELCA in Indonesia, is helping people throughout the country confront the deathly disease with courage, hope and the resources they need to survive. Arjen first came to HKBP’s AIDS Ministry (HAM) when he was 12 years old, but he was born with HIV. By the time he came to HAM, he had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was malnourished and very sick. His father passed away, and Arjen’s mother couldn’t afford the cost of transportation to the nearest hospital or the expensive treatments for her son. With the help of HKBP, the family was able to have Arjen evaluated at a hospital and to start him on antiretroviral medication to keep him healthy. HAM workers regularly check in on the family, helping Arjen’s mother meet his nutritional and medical needs. Seeing the mother’s financial situation, HAM also provided a revolving fund for business capital that has allowed her to secure a more stable income to support her family.

A year into Arjen’s work with HAM, his health is improving and his mother’s business is growing. Amid poverty, hunger and a deadly epidemic, God is at work through families such as Arjen’s to bring about a future with hope. In Lent, we remember Jesus’ long walk to Jerusalem and to Calvary. And in faith, we know that nothing can stop the work of God. Together we “take hold of the promise” with confidence, knowing that, even out of death, God will bring new life and hope to the world.

Herod wants us dead? “I am casting out demons and performing cures” (Luke 13:32).

The shadow of the cross looms ahead of us? “I must be on my way” (Luke 13:33).

Poverty, hunger and disease threaten our community? Go and tell that fox that God isn’t done with us yet.

Ask

  1. Think of a time when fear impacted your ministry. How does Christ encourage us to venture outside our comfort zone to love and serve our neighbors?
  2. What does it mean for you and your congregation to “take hold of the promise” in your community?
  3. How can programs such as the HKBP AIDS Ministry (HAM) help us learn about what it means to be the people of God in the world? What does Arjen’s story mean for your own ministry and life?
  4. In the face of death, disease and poverty, God continues to bring new life and hope. How do you, your family and your congregation bear witness to courage and hope in an uncertain world?

Pray

Gracious God, amid the challenges our world faces, you remind us of your promise for the future of our world. Draw near to us and draw us near to our neighbors, that we may be inspired with hope, courage and audacious faith to be the people you are calling us to be. Be present with our companions and partners around the world as we work together toward a just world where all are fed. In your holy name, amen.

 

SEMANA 2: Vagando por el desierto

“Tengo que seguir adelante” (Lucas 13:33).
Lecturas: Génesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Salmo 27; Filipenses 3:17-4:1; Lucas 12:31-35

Como vimos en la reflexión de la Semana 1, la Cuaresma es una historia de la jornada del pueblo de Dios. Es nuestra historia o, más apropiadamente, la historia de “Dios con nosotros”. Durante la Cuaresma recordamos la jornada de los antiguos hebreos desde la esclavitud en Egipto y una generación que pasó vagando por el desierto, como se relata en la ofrenda de las “primicias” en Deuteronomio. También recreamos, en nuestra propia y modesta medida, el viaje de Jesús al desierto según fue descrito en el Evangelio de Lucas en la primera semana de Cuaresma. El ayuno al que muchos cristianos se comprometen durante la Cuaresma refleja el propio ayuno de Jesús en el desierto.

En esta temporada sagrada, nos concentramos en nosotros mismos, y reflexionamos en nuestra dependencia de la gracia de Dios. Marcados por las cenizas al inicio, entramos en los 40 días de Cuaresma con corazones penitentes y conciencia de nuestra necesidad de la misericordia de Dios. El arrepentimiento y la autorreflexión son prácticas importantes, pero es fácil quedarse aquí y olvidar que la temporada es mucho más que nuestro propio examen de conciencia.

Martín Lutero registró esto bien. Lutero definió el arrepentimiento de dos maneras: “contrición… y en apoderarse de la promesa”.  Ciertamente, la confesión de las muchas formas en que nos hemos quedado cortos es una parte clave de la práctica espiritual de la Cuaresma. Pero el tiempo de Cuaresma también nos lleva a voltearnos hacia afuera, como escribió Lutero, “apoderándonos de la promesa” de Dios mientras anhelamos y proclamamos las palabras de Jesús que definen su tiempo en el desierto: “El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, por cuanto [el Señor] me ha ungido para anunciar buenas nuevas a los pobres… [y] a pregonar el año del favor del Señor” (Lucas 4:18-19).

La promesa de buenas nuevas es el don de la gracia a través de la fe en Jesucristo, una promesa de nueva vida en la plenitud del reino de Dios. Es la promesa de los Evangelios y los profetas, la promesa a la que se aferran nuestros antepasados en la fe y la promesa que sostiene al pueblo de Dios hoy en las comunidades de todo el mundo que se acompañan mutuamente en medio de abrumadores desafíos de pobreza, hambre e injusticia.

Jesús no solamente proclama la promesa, sino que también la vive. Nos muestra lo que significa vivir de acuerdo con la promesa   —con firmeza, valentía y fe incesante— desde Galilea hasta el Calvario. Frente a la persecución religiosa y política, Jesús vive la valiente vida de fe en la gracia de Dios.

Aunque su juicio ante Pilato recibe más atención, la marcha decidida de Jesús hacia Jerusalén es uno de los ejemplos más claros de cómo “apoderarse de la promesa”. “Continuando su viaje a Jerusalén, Jesús enseñaba en los pueblos y aldeas por donde pasaba” (Lucas 13:22). En una de sus paradas, un grupo de fariseos le advierte que debe huir porque Herodes quiere matarlo. Jesús contesta: “—Vayan y díganle a ese zorro: ‘Mira, hoy y mañana seguiré expulsando demonios y sanando a la gente, y al tercer día terminaré lo que debo hacer’” (Lucas 13:31-32).

Herodes viene por él, y Jesús responde: “Tengo trabajo que hacer”. Jesús demuestra una audaz confianza en que ni siquiera la muerte puede detener la obra de Dios en el mundo. Las personas de fe llevan la confianza de Jesús, audaz y producto de la gracia, al llamado de la iglesia: ven — incluso ante la amenaza de muerte— que hay trabajo que hacer.

En Indonesia, la amenaza del VIH y el SIDA es muy real. El país insular experimenta actualmente una de las epidemias de VIH de más rápido crecimiento en el mundo. En 2018 (el año más reciente del que hay datos disponibles), 38,000 personas murieron de una enfermedad relacionada con el SIDA, un aumento del 60% desde 2010. La Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) estima que para 2018, 640,000 personas en el país vivían con el VIH, pero estima también que solo alrededor de la mitad de las personas infectadas con el VIH saben que lo tienen.

La Iglesia Protestante Cristiana de Batak (HKBP), una iglesia compañera de la ELCA en Indonesia, está ayudando a las personas de todo el país a enfrentar la enfermedad mortal con valor, esperanza y los recursos que necesitan para sobrevivir.

Arjen llegó por primera vez al Ministerio de SIDA (HAM) de HKBP cuando tenía 12 años, pero había nacido con VIH. Cuando llegó a HAM había contraído tuberculosis pulmonar y estaba desnutrido y muy enfermo. El padre de Arjen había fallecido, y su madre no podía pagar el costo del transporte al hospital más cercano ni los costosos tratamientos para su hijo. Con la ayuda de HKBP, la familia pudo llevar a Arjen para que lo evaluaran en un hospital y comenzara a tomar medicamentos antirretrovirales para mantenerlo saludable. Los trabajadores de HAM verifican regularmente con la familia el estado de Arjen, y ayudan a su madre a satisfacer las necesidades nutricionales y médicas de él. Al ver la situación financiera de la madre, HAM también proporcionó un fondo rotatorio para capital empresarial que le ha permitido asegurar un ingreso más estable para mantener a su familia.

Un año después del trabajo de Arjen con HAM, su salud está mejorando y el negocio de su madre está creciendo. En medio de la pobreza, el hambre y una epidemia mortal, Dios está trabajando a través de familias como la de Arjen para lograr un futuro con esperanza.

En la Cuaresma recordamos el largo camino de Jesús a Jerusalén y al Calvario. Y en fe sabemos que nada puede detener la obra de Dios. Juntos “nos apoderamos de la promesa” con confianza, sabiendo que Dios traerá nueva vida y esperanza al mundo, incluso de la muerte.

¿Herodes nos quiere muertos? “Estoy expulsando demonios y sanando a la gente” (Lucas 13:32).

¿La sombra de la cruz se cierne sobre nosotros? “Tengo que seguir adelante” (Lucas 13:33).

¿La pobreza, el hambre y las enfermedades amenazan a nuestra comunidad? Ve y dile a ese zorro que Dios aún no ha terminado con nosotros.

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. Piense en un momento en que el miedo afectó su ministerio. ¿Cómo nos anima Cristo a aventurarnos fuera de nuestra zona de confort para amar y servir a nuestro prójimo?
  2. ¿Qué significa para usted y su congregación “apoderarse de la promesa” en su comunidad?
  3. ¿Cómo ayudan programas como el Ministerio de SIDA de HKBP (HAM) a que aprendamos sobre lo que significa ser el pueblo de Dios en el mundo? ¿Qué significa la historia de Arjen para su propio ministerio y su vida?
  4. Ante la muerte, la enfermedad y la pobreza, Dios sigue trayendo nueva vida y esperanza. ¿Cómo usted, su familia y su congregación dan testimonio de valentía y esperanza en un mundo incierto?

Oración

Dios misericordioso, en medio de los desafíos que enfrenta nuestro mundo, nos recuerdas tu promesa para el futuro de este. Acércate a nosotros y acércanos a nuestro prójimo, para que podamos ser inspirados con esperanza, valor y una fe firme para que seamos las personas que nos estás llamando a ser. Está presente con nuestros compañeros y socios en todo el mundo mientras trabajamos juntos por un mundo justo en el que todos sean alimentados. En tu santo nombre, amén.

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Lent Reflection 1: Journey in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

Week 1: Journey in the Wilderness

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor”
(Deuteronomy 26:5)

Read

  • Deuteronomy 26:1-11
  • Psalm 91:1-2, 9 -16
  • Romans 10:8b-13
  • Luke 4:1-13

Reflect

We have a curious set of readings for this first Sunday of Lent. Biblical scholars believe that Deuteronomy 26:5-10 is a script for someone making an offering of what was called the “first fruits,” a religious practice for farming communities. Following the first harvest that the Israelites reaped in the Promised Land, they were to gather a basket of select produce from the fields and carry it to the priest. When the priest laid the basket at the altar, the person making the offering would then say the following:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

These verses fit well with this somber season. Lent is, if nothing else, a time of looking backward and a time of looking forward. In its 40 days, we remember how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. In it, too, we look ahead with longing to the breaking of the Easter dawn and the unveiling of the promise of God, who by grace offers us a future we could never earn.

With Lenten memory, we recall the journey of our biblical ancestors, the Hebrews led by God from slavery to freedom through generations in the wilderness, and we too reflect on what being descendants of oppressed slaves whom the Lord brought “out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” means for us today. The formulaic verses of Deuteronomy recall this history, reminding the worshiper with their produce just how far God has carried God’s people, from the “wandering Aramean,” Jacob, through Egypt, and to a new life and new covenant with God.

The danger inherent in this journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is difficult for us to capture today. Even without the threat of Pharoah’s army, to wander in the wilderness without permanent shelter, a stable source of fresh water or the means to grow food meant risking death from all sides. The lament of the people is understandable. They cry out to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt … for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). The Hebrews, led by Moses, were dependent on God’s response to their complaint: manna, a bread-like substance, rained down at night to fill them.

For our ancestors, the wilderness may have seemed like a trial to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

Perhaps that trial isn’t as hard for us to relate to that trial as it might seem. How often do we experience life as having more risks than rewards or more trials than triumphs? With rates of hunger around the world skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, natural and unnatural disasters wreaking havoc, and conflict uprooting lives, the world can often feel like a wilderness to be endured and, if lucky, survived.

The witness of our biblical ancestors is critical for us during Lent. The history recalled in the ceremony of the offering of the “first fruits” in Deuteronomy reminds us of two important truths as we begin this season. The first truth is that God is not the source of suffering. Even as the wandering Hebrews saw their time in the wilderness, at times, as a grueling test administered by an exacting God, it was God who journeyed with them. God responded to their cries with sustenance and protection that enabled them to survive.

The second truth might best be summed up in the popular quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Even when the way seemed uncertain for Jacob, the “wandering Aramean,” he was never alone as he sought a land to call his own. God was leading him somewhere as surely as God had greater things in store for the Hebrews than a mere flight from Egypt.

These truths lie at the foundation of the church’s witness today — even as so many of our neighbors face the uncertainty of survival in a world where as many as 811 million people are undernourished. In the Chiredzi District of Zimbabwe, Emma Mangwende gives voice to this uncertainty when she wonders, in her words, “how to survive as an old lady looking after seven grandchildren.”

What would being grounded in these truths look like for us — a church accompanying neighbors with challenges like Emma’s?

We can start by responding to the realities of hunger and poverty now and working with companions and partners with a vision for the future. In Zimbabwe, Lutheran Development Services (LDS) embodies this vision, working with Emma and other residents of the Chiredzi District to implement new models of farming that conserve water, preserve soil and increase yields. This work reflects the LDS vision of “transformed, robust and resilient communities living a just, peaceful and dignified life manifesting God’s love.” It is a testament to the two truths revealed in the story of God’s journey with God’s people in the readings for this Lent.

As we respond to hunger in the world, we do so knowing that God has provided abundantly to meet our every need, even as inequities and injustice prevent so many of our neighbors from enjoying the fruits of God’s creation. Our response — and our Lenten confession of the ways we have fallen short in responding — bear witness to the truth that inequities ought not to be. Amid risk and uncertainty, the work of neighbors such as Emma and LDS and of congregations in the United States and around the world is a testament that, even now, God is giving life to a promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey,” a world in which hunger and poverty will be no more.

This Lent we look back, remembering the ways God has been with us in our journey, and we look forward, longing for the fulfillment of God’s Easter promise. And we work, trusting that the God of our wandering ancestors is being revealed still today in our neighbors as we find our way through the
wilderness together.

Ask

  1. Think of a time when a situation seemed particularly uncertain or challenging. In what ways was God present with you?
  2. How might the church’s work alongside people facing hunger and poverty bear witness to God’s promise for the future?
  3. Imagine you had to rewrite the offering prayer from Deuteronomy 26:5-10. What would you include? What moments or events from your life or the life of your community would be part of your prayer?
  4. How does (or should) being descendants of “a wandering Aramean” such as Jacob shape the work of the church today?

Pray

God of our yesterdays and tomorrows, you guided our ancestors through the wilderness to freedom, a new home and a future with promise. Turn our hearts toward our neighbors who face uncertainty, insecurity and risk today. Inspire within us compassion for their needs, gratitude for their gifts and a holy yearning for justice, that all may experience safety, security and hope in our world today. In your name, we pray, amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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Lenten Reflection 5: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

 

Action

“They are working together, united, to show the country and the world that this is the way to fight for peace.”

Thus far this Lent, we have heard stories of God working through this church, our companions and our neighbors to end hunger. We have heard stories from India, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., and heard of the stories that cannot be shared. We have learned that ending hunger means committing ourselves to a more inclusive vision of community, to honesty, to justice and to one another. Here, in this last week, companions from Colombia will help teach us about the final tool: action.

As much progress as the world has made to end hunger, we still have a long way to go. Nearly 690 million people around the world are undernourished, and more than 35 million people in the United States don’t know where their next meal will come from. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of hunger around the world was on the rise after a decade of decline. With the pandemic, we have seen historic levels of unemployment, and even the most conservative forecasts warn that hunger and poverty could increase with nearly unprecedented rapidity in the coming years as we recover from its effects.

In his response to the plague that reemerged in Wittenberg in 1527, Martin Luther addressed the question of how a Christian is to act in a pandemic. After highlighting the ways God shows concern for good health in Scripture and exhorting his readers to care for their neighbors, Luther writes that prayer, though important, is not enough. Christians, he proclaims, must do more than pray. They must act.

Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others.

Pray. Then act.

These past 40 days of Lent commemorate the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and facing down temptation. In the first temptation, Satan placed the “famished” Jesus before a pile of stones and demanded that Jesus prove his power by turning the stones to bread that would end his hunger (Matthew 4:1-3). How tempting that must have been! How many parents with not enough food for their children would wish for such a miracle so that their family might be fed? How many of the 690 million undernourished people around the world would welcome the power to turn stones into the bread they need?

Yet the choice Jesus faced was not between stones and bread but between truth and lies. No sudden miracle will end the world’s hunger. Ending hunger is not about wishing or praying for the power to alter reality. Hunger does not end because of a miraculous intervention. It ends because of the persistent work of God with, among and through people striving for change. It is sometimes slow work, accomplished one step at a time. But it will not stop until we realize that vision of a time when we will hunger and thirst no more.

Carolina Camargo, a nurse from Villavicencio, Colombia, knows that this is what it will take. Carolina is part of the work God is doing through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Colombia (IELCO) and the church’s Justicia y vida (Justice and Life) initiative, which is supported by ELCA World Hunger. Together with others, Carolina works toward future reconciliation in Justicia y vida’s “From War to Peace” project, which weaves ties of solidarity between the church and communities in Colombia that have been beset by violence for many years.

Carolina and other volunteers are at work in the area of Urabá, which means “promised land” in the Indigenous Embera Katío language. Since the 1990s, Urabá has witnessed a war involving the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), insurgents, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and paramilitary groups. The conflict led to more than 103 massacres in the region and 32,000 people displaced between 1998 and 2002. Today, social leaders remain at risk from paramilitary units over disputes involving land.

The peace process has been a long road for Colombia, and IELCO has been traveling it for many years. In San José, former combatants and their families are given a chance to start again through the work of the church. In San José de Léon, they are able to build and maintain homes and resume their former lives raising fish, pigs and chickens. It’s a chance to rebuild some of what was lost in the years of conflict.

Addressing conflict and working for peace are central to ending hunger. Conflict is one of the most significant reasons for hunger increasing around the world. When people’s lives are threatened, they do not feel safe going to work or staying home. Many are forced to migrate to protect their families. Land may be stolen or destroyed, and markets are closed or empty. Parents and workers may be injured or killed in the violence. The United Nations estimates that up to 80% of humanitarian needs around the world are caused by conflict.

Building peace is a critical step in ending hunger. But it is a difficult step to take.

Carolina has learned this through her work with IELCO. “There are people who believe that you can close your eyes and yearn for peace without making an effort towards it,” she says. “What God allowed me to know is very different from that idealism, the reality I could observe and live, expressing hope in all the people who are part of this change.” The idealistic belief that peace means simply transforming swords into plowshares ignores “the struggle against negative feelings associated with the traumatic experiences” of the people with whom Carolina works. Yet together they “walk towards the goal of peace and reconciliation.

“They are working together, united, to show the country and the world that this is the way to fight for peace.”

We know that we cannot merely declare or call for “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Building peace and ending hunger take action within community and are fostered by the hope and trust that, with each step, God is moving our world closer to that goal.

In this study, we have read stories of people at work around the world. Their situations may differ, their needs may differ, but what unites them is the commitment to an active hope that refuses to stagnate or stay silent. It is the hope of the vulnerable guests seeking care at clinics and shelters, of women and girls in India, of advocates in Milwaukee and of peacemakers in Colombia.

It is the hope of Lent, which propels us on this arduous journey to — and beyond — the cross. This hope empowers us see a number such as 690 million hungry but to refuse to despair. It can be sustained only by our trust that God is with us in each small step, guiding us toward a promised future. In hope, we expand our vision of what it means to be “we.” In hope, we are honest about the challenges we face. In hope, we invest in our shared future. In hope, we speak up for justice.

And in hope, we act, knowing that a just world where all are fed is not just possible but promised — and knowing, too, that we are called to be part of building that future. This is not the idealistic prayer spoken but a realistic prayer lived in solidarity with one another in cities, towns, shelters, clinics, classrooms, gardens, statehouses — all the places where God is at work.

This is the prayer of an Easter people, and this is our prayer — that God will not merely turn stones into bread but build a new world on that rocky soil, a just world where all are fed.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when you acted and it created a positive change. What did you do? What happened? What did it feel like?
  2. Where have you seen God turning prayers into action?
  3. Think about the prayers you share during worship. Bring one prayer to mind. How might your community turn this prayer into action? What small or large steps could you take?
  4. Where is there a need for action to end hunger in your community? What will it take to move this action forward?

Prayer

God of promise, God of hope, God of fullness, God of peace, guide us, your people, to be your hands and feet, to work together as you build on our rocky soil a new, just world where all are fed.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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Lenten Reflection 4: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

Investment

“[The vision is] that we get to invest money in our families and in our community.”

The first reading for this fourth week of Lent is from the book of Numbers. The people have been on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land for years, and the goal is nigh. They have received the law from God through Moses at Sinai and are now on the final leg of their journey. Yet, rather than be hopeful and eager, they are tempted by impatience (Numbers 21:4) and dissatisfied with the leadership of Moses and even their “miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). The exodus they thought would bring them to a new land has instead been a seemingly interminable journey in the wilderness. God’s response is swift and harsh: “poisonous serpents” sent by God “bit the people, so that many Israelites died” (21:6). The people repent, Moses prays andGod grants Moses a staff that will provide healing to all who are bitten.

It’s not the kindest of stories. The psalmist gives it a different sort of spin, omitting any mention of the venomous snakes and lifting up the healing of God, who heard the cries of the people and “saved them from their distress” (Psalm 107:19b).

Despite the psalmist’s sanitized take on the story, this pattern can be found throughout the story of the exodus. God rescues the people, they succumb to temptation, they repent, God shows mercy. Over and over and over.

These biblical narratives are often used to extol the merciful nature of God, who repeatedly forgives the people despite their sin. Truly, God does show mercy. But perhaps mercy is not the only lesson to be learned from the story of the people’s walk with God.

The exodus begins in Egypt, where God’s people are enslaved and oppressed. God seeks out Moses to lead the people, lays low the unjust Pharaoh and accompanies the people across the wilderness for generations, providing food, water and safety along the way, even when the going is tough and the relationship between the people and God is complicated.

Simply put, God is invested in this community. God has a vested interest in its future. The covenant inaugurated between them leaves both parties vulnerable to the other. By leading them from Egypt and entering into a covenant with them, God has tied their futures together. God has a plan and has invested much to ensure that the people are part of it. This people, this nation, is God’s future. The provisions God grants are not mere merciful gifts but further investments toward a shared future for God and the people that will become Israel.

Now, of course, the church is not God; we are spiritual descendants of the wandering Hebrews, dependent still on God’s promise of this future. Yet, perhaps there is something we can learn here about what it means to pursue a promise.

People often view the church’s work to end hunger in light of the virtues of mercy and grace. Food, clothing, shelter and donations might be interpreted as mercies showered on suffering people or as gifts given to neighbors in need. But the reality is that our response to hunger goes beyond a desire to meet immediate needs. Our response to hunger is nothing less than an investment in that shared future articulated in the tagline for ELCA World Hunger: a just world where all are fed.

What difference might it make for the hunger ministries of this church to see the work we do together as an investment in this vision?

In Washington, D.C., the Beloved Community Incubator is based on the idea of investing in the people and in the Logan Circle neighborhood. The project began with a listening campaign by Luther Place Memorial Church, with support from ELCA World Hunger. In this campaign, residents of the community expressed their desire for cooperatives that would allow them to use their skills and talents to build wealth and income that would stay in the community.

The first cooperative incubated by Luther Place was Dulce Hogar, a cooperative of women who provide cleaning services for homes and businesses. Together, the women learned how to run a business, pursue just employment and develop their own skills as leaders. As one participant describes it, “The vision of the cooperative is that all eight of us are well-paid and well-trained, and that we get to invest money in our families and in our community.”

The members of the cooperative were even paid for the times they spent in meetings and trainings. They learned together that their time and labor had value far exceeding the wages they had been offered before. And now, with an investment in them, they will be able to invest in others.

Projects such as the Beloved Community Incubator offer a counter witness to the policies and practices of disinvestment that have created communities with high rates of poverty and food insecurity across the United States. These policies and practices are rooted in the misperception that some communities are worth investing in and others are not. But the residents of Logan Circle know that, despite the challenges they face, their community is worth the investment and a better future is worth pursuing.

We know this, too, by faith. Every community is blessed by God with assets and strengths, even as the people face barriers to using or developing those assets. And we know by faith that the future we pursue together is a shared endeavor. The future God has promised is a future for us and our neighbors. We will get there together, or we will not get there at all.

To end hunger is to recognize that responding to need is a matter not of merciful intervention but of investing in a shared future and trusting that the work of God toward that end will be revealed in those very communities that the profit-driven economy so often leaves behind. If we are going to end hunger, we need to invest in one another by sharing resources, listening to each other and building the relationships that will ensure the justice God has promised.

Discussion Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when someone showed you kindness and mercy. What was that like? How did it feel?
  2. Think, share or journal about a time when someone used their time, skills and/or talents to invest in your growth. What was that like? How did it feel?
  3. Now compare and contrast these two experiences — one of kindness and mercy, and one of investment. How are they different? Which experience made a more lasting impact, and why?
  4. Does your community take time to invest in the long-term growth of its neighbors? How so? If not, how might your community begin investing in others? What might that look like?
  5. Where is there a need for the kind of investment that can end hunger in your community?

Prayer

Covenant God, since ancient times you have led and fed your people through many wilderness journeys. In this time, give us strength to invest your gifts in our neighbors and communities, that all might be fed. Amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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Lenten Reflection 3: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

Justice

“The direct service of providing filter pitchers and the organizing work of bringing demands to our alderpersons, health department and mayor all lead us back to the font, where we stand with people at the holy water that makes us God’s children and sends us out to serve God’s justice.”

 

If we don’t listen carefully to Jesus’ words, we might think of him as meek and mild-mannered, the patient and perfect willing sacrifice, who admonishes his followers to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Some might even think we are called to be docile and, at times, subservient. In many forms of American Christianity, believers are encouraged to acquiesce to their circumstances, to accept their lot in life with, if not good cheer, at least indifference. In fact, for some Christians, protest or rage must be reserved only to chastise “sinners” for their “immoral” ways.

If there is a story from the Gospels that challenges this picture of Jesus and Jesus’ followers, it may be the story from this week’s reading of Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. The man who would stand reserved before Pilate here is described by the author of John’s Gospel as angry, wielding a whip and overturning tables. Clearly, even for the normally peaceful Son of God, there are some things that are too much to bear in silence.

The temple was the center of worship for the community in Jesus’ time. Here, the faithful would gather for holy days, as Jesus did in the story, or to offer the required sacrifices. The temple was also a center of commerce, with merchants selling wares to travelers outside the court. Because Roman money bore the likenesses of Roman leaders, it could not be used in the temple and needed to be exchanged to pay the temple tax, a fee assessed on all who entered.

There is some debate about the fairness of the moneychangers. While some writers claim the moneychangers were greedy or predatory, others note that, in general, the moneychangers at the temple dealt fairly with their customers. In any event, they were a necessary fixture at the temple, as were the merchants selling animals for sacrifice. Wealthy Jews would purchase sheep or cattle whereas working-class or poor Jews would opt for cheaper animals, such as doves. To say that the system was necessary is not to say that it was fair. Even if the moneychangers did not engage in outright exploitation, the temple tax was especially felt by people living in poverty, for whom even a half shekel would have been more than they could afford. When added to the cost of sacrificial animals, the financial burden for people in poverty was high.

What drove Jesus to fashion a whip and erupt in anger was not the mere presence of commerce — after all, both the tax and the animals were necessary — but the unequal burden borne by the very people for whom the temple should have been caring. What inspired Jesus’ rage was not the temple or trade but the way these two systems combined to leave people in need at a disadvantage, day in and day out. This injustice is simply too much for anyone to remain docile. Docility in the face of injustice is complicity.

Still today, an unequal burden continues to be fostered by systems and structures that leave many communities bearing the marks of injustice — sometimes in the very bodies of the people.

We’ve known for decades the dangers associated with lead, a metal that for many years was used in plumbing and paint. This hazardous metal can cause severe, long-term effects, including stunted brain development, anemia and kidney damage. As older pipes corrode, lead can seep into drinking water, and particles from paint in older homes can be inhaled. It can become part of the very water we drink and the air that we breathe, making it hard to keep adults and children safe. Over the last decade, lead contamination has been found in water systems in Flint, Michigan, Newark, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and many other cities, both large and small. It has been found in homes, hospitals and schools and has been recognized as a national problem across the United States.

But that is not to say that the burdens of unsafe water are shouldered equally by all communities. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found, African American children are nearly three times as likely as white children to be exposed to lead. Some studies have found the prevalence of lead poisoning in some Black and Latino neighborhoods to be as high as 90%, which means that as many as nine in 10 children have tested positive. Children living in poverty are also at higher risk, with higher rates of exposure and fewer means to address lead poisoning to prevent long-term consequences. This can create a vicious cycle. Families living in hunger and poverty are more vulnerable to environmental risks that can lead to high health care costs, illnesses that keep adults home from work, and developmental delays that can inhibit children’s education — the very stressors that contribute to long-term, generational hunger down the road.

At Hephatha Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis., a city with high rates of both poverty and lead exposure, leaders are working hard to keep children safe. The church, with support from ELCA World Hunger, provides lead-free kits with water filters, tape and mops. The tape can cover lead paint that is chipping, and the mops clean up dust from the paint so that children don’t inhale it. The church also helps adults learn about the dangers of lead.

But filters, tape and mops can go only so far. The issue of lead — and the crisis of unsafe water, more generally — is an issue of justice. Environmental policies, housing regulations and health care access are all woven together when it comes to keeping people safe from lead poisoning. That’s why Hephatha also worked with neighbors to start an advocacy group to talk with legislators about keeping the community safe. At a deeper level, access to clean water is not just a matter of what comes out of our taps but what goes into our laws. It’s about the community we live in and not just the water we drink.

Pastor Mary Martha of Hephatha links this work to the calling of the church. Advocacy and education “[lead] us back to the font, where we stand with people at the holy water that makes us God’s children and sends us out to serve God’s justice.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus recognizes the necessity of institutions such as the temple and commerce. But he also believes these same institutions should be held accountable for how people in need experience them. In Milwaukee, God is at work through a community driven by hope that things can change — and guided by the wisdom that what we need is not just clean water but justice.

As we continue in our Lenten journey, learning about the tools we will need to share in God’s work of ending hunger, the story of God at work in Milwaukee reminds us that the future we seek is a world where “justice will roll down like waters” — clean, safe, lead-free and life-giving waters accessible to all.

Reflection Questions

  1. Think, share or journal about a time when you felt that something was unfair or that you were at a disadvantage. How did you react? What did you do to try and change the situation? What powers resisted attempts at change?
  2. Jesus’ display of anger in the temple is often categorized as righteous anger or anger over mistreatment, insult or the malice of another. When can anger or even rage be a productive emotion?
  3. How can you identify anger that is helpful and not harmful? How can you use anger in a productive way, to help your neighbors in need?
  4. Where is there a need for justice in your community? What will a “just world” look like in your neighborhood?

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, at the font you wash us in water and the word, and name us all your beloved children. With that love, inspire our prayer, work and generosity, that all people may have an abundance of clean, safe water. Amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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Lenten Reflection 2: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

Honesty

“For [God] did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; [God] did not hide [God’s] face from me, but heard when I cried” (Psalm 22:24).

 

When Kamini Dhurvey was just a child, her mother died and her father remarried. Her stepmother abused Kamini, and her father did not step in to protect her from his new wife. Unprotected and unsafe, Kamini left home when she was older and eventually found a place to rent and a job in a small shop.

Even out on her own, she did not feel safe. Kamini feared that the landlord who owned her residence would hurt her. The security she tried to find in leaving home eluded her. Through a door-to-door survey, Kamini learned about Naari Shakti, a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madhya Pradesh in India supported in part by ELCA World Hunger. Naari Shakti works for gender equality through advocacy for women’s rights, provides training in tailoring and computer skills, and offers emergency medical support to girls and women in vulnerable situations. The project also provides housing assistance and psychosocial support to those who need it.

At the Naari Shakti project office, Kamini found a safe space to tell her story and people who would welcome her. With counseling and support from the project, she was able to leave the place she was renting and move into a hostel for girls. The project later arranged for Kamini to stay in a women’s rehabilitation center, where she is living and pursuing her studies.

Before Kamini moved to the rehabilitation center, project staff tried to contact her father. But her father told the staff that he no longer wanted anything to do with her and that it was up to her to live her life as she wanted. She was no longer welcome in her father’s home. With nowhere else to go, Kamini has found a home at the center. The Naari Shakti program provides her a safe place to live, books and additional support for her education.

Around the world, 690 million people face hunger, and each of them has a story to tell. Hunger is rarely just a matter of lacking food. Rather, it is often a pernicious and persistent symptom of much deeper pain, of much deeper need. Unfortunately, stories like Kamini’s are not uncommon. For women and girls around the world, abuse, violence and inequality lie behind the higher rates of hunger they face. Globally, women are 13% more likely than men to experience food insecurity and almost 27% more likely to be severely food insecure. They are also more likely to be victimized by violence, more likely to do work with little or no pay, and less likely to have access to credit to start a home or business.

If we are going to end hunger, we have to start by being honest about the stories of pain, exploitation, injustice and violence that lie behind it. We must start with honesty about what hunger is and what it is not.

Hunger is not accidental. It is the result of inequality, marginalization and injustice that inhibit one’s ability to access the resources one needs to live.

Hunger is not merely the physical sensation of going without food. It is an insidious reality that affects the whole person — physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially.

Hunger is not merely a calculation of calories. It is a measure of the extent to which a person is constrained in the pursuit of their own well-being.

Ending hunger means being willing to enter into the sometimes painful stories of neighbors in need. It requires that we accompany one another down difficult roads with honesty about what we may find. Lent commemorates Jesus’ journey to the cross and thus demands of us honesty about the death-dealing pervasiveness of sin that would crucify truth in order to silence it. This makes Lent an appropriate season to consider what it will take to arrive at the vision of a just world where all are fed. Lent, after all, is about honesty. In this season, we are called to be honest about the depths of our sin, including the many ways that we, as the church, have fallen short in meeting the needs of our neighbors. Lent is about being honest with ourselves and with others about the depth of need in our world.

And Lent is also a season to be honest about the God who calls to us. In the psalm for this second week in Lent, the psalmist rejoices that God “did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted … [nor] hide [God’s] face from me, but heard when I cried” (Psalm 22:24). In the Gospel story of Jesus’ transfiguration, we hear the voice of God echo over the mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

The honesty to which we are called compels us to confront the pain of the world with a vision to transform it. Both the pain of the world and the vision to transform it are clear in the stories of Kamini’s life and the Naari Shakti project. It is the difference between the father who rejects her and the God who welcomes her. To know ourselves as claimed, named and welcomed by God is an act of truth-telling about who we really are — and how much that may differ from who the world thinks we can be. Abuse and rejection are part of Kamini’s story, and accompanying her means being honest about that. But they aren’t the whole of her story, and accompanying her means being honest about that too.

The honesty formed by faith compels us to tell the truth about hunger — and the truth about the God who promises its end. God’s promise of a just world where all are fed pulls us into the world to confront sin in all its forms, refusing to hide from affliction and yet refusing to let affliction be the end of the story for ourselves, our neighbors or our world. It is the honesty of an Easter people, who can deny neither the reality of the cross nor the reality of the empty tomb. To end hunger, we will need to be honest with ourselves about both.

Reflection Questions

  1. How have you experienced or felt God sustaining your strength in challenging circumstances?
  2. What are some things you hunger for other than food (such as companionship, love and acceptance, or justice, clean air and water)? Does your community provide these things? How might you and your community better provide things that feed people in mind, body and spirit?
  3. In the Naari Shakti project, Kamini found the resources she needed to develop her strengths and make meaningful choices for herself and her future. How does your church create opportunities for neighbors to develop their strengths and make meaningful choices for themselves and your community?
  4. What kind of honesty will it take to end hunger in your community? Where is there a need for truth-telling and truth-seeking when it comes to the challenges you and your neighbors face?

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, through the power of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb, you bring us the truth of your love for us and for all people. Help us to live into that truth and to share it with the world. Amen.

Learn more and follow ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of giving throughout Lent by visiting ELCA.org/40days.

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Lenten Reflection 1: What Will It Take to End Hunger?

 

A Bigger “We”

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you”
(Matthew 6:4).

 

 

Almost eight years had passed since Marina set foot inside a church building. A car accident when she was in her late 40s had left her homebound with chronic pain and without use of her legs. One of her favorite visits in her home was on Sunday afternoon, when her pastor would come by to give Marina Holy Communion and pray with her. With a half flight of stairs leading up to the church door and more stairs between the foyer and the sanctuary, worshiping with her congregation was not an option.

That’s why Marina was so surprised to get a call from her pastor in July 2020 asking her to be part of a conversation about reopening the building for worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was quiet in that first Zoom meeting, listening to the other 10 people share their ideas and concerns. Some were scared, some weren’t, but most were exasperated and at a loss. One man seemed to put it best when he said, “This is all new to us. We’ve just never had to think about what it would mean to not be in church together ever.”

Before anyone could murmur agreement, Marina made her sole contribution to the discussion: “Whaddya mean ‘we’?”

This “we” — or, more specifically, this call to reexamine “we” — is at the core of the gospel message for Ash Wednesday this year and, indeed, of the church’s vision of a just world where all are fed.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21 is the starting point on the journey through Lent. In this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonishes his audience about public, showy displays of spirituality. Rather than take pleasure or pride in giving alms, we are to hide the deed even from ourselves. Rather than pray in public, we are to retire to private rooms. Rather than display the effects of our fasting, Jesus tells us, “put oil on your head and wash your face” (6:17).

In fact, each of Jesus’ directives seems to contradict the very notion of what we have come to call “being a public church.” The sermon of Jesus appears to favor private spirituality over public displays of faith. He seems to suggest that faith is best lived out in the quiet and private spaces of our hearts rather than in public.

However, reading the sermon in this way misses the fact that the Gospel of Matthew is a call to be this very public church, which will “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). We might believe that the message of Lent is to practice private piety, yet Jesus focuses here not on the mere practices of faith but on the community of faith. In other words, Jesus is talking not about the what but about the who — who we are and who God is.

Michael Joseph Brown hints at this in his commentary on Matthew in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Fortress, 2007), noting the subtle assumptions about privilege in Matthew 6. Jesus’ command to the disciples to pray in their “room” (6:6) assumes they have a private room to retreat to, even though Jesus himself “has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “Almsgiving,” as Brown writes, “assumes that you have something to give.” Even fasting assumes that one has the means to make choices about when to start and stop their own hunger

Jesus’ message is a challenge to a privileged church to think more carefully about who they are. The problem isn’t that they are doing the wrong things. Giving alms to support neighbors is a good thing. Praying in the synagogue is, well, what is supposed to happen when the community is gathered. They are going through the right motions. But they have forgotten why they are doing them, and they have forgotten who they are. Their practices are no longer about the good of the community or the good of the neighbor but are mere performances, focused entirely on themselves.

Almsgiving, praying, fasting — these are practices meant to remind us of each other. But has being faithful become a matter of making sure we are seen rather than of training our hearts and minds to see each other? Marina’s fellow congregant in the Zoom call was more than willing to help the church with what it needed to do. But as her question revealed, he had forgotten who the church is called to be. His “we” was no more than an “I.”

Yet even when the church forgets, God remembers. In each of the dictates to his followers, Jesus reminds them of the “Father who sees in secret.” He reminds us that God’s concern for us is not measured by our conspicuousness, nor is it limited by our narrow imagination.

Accompanying our neighbors in God’s work of building a just world where all are fed means reimagining who we are and who we are called to be. There are so many stories shared across this church about friends and neighbors addressing hunger and poverty together. But perhaps the significance of faith in God, who “sees in secret,” is best exemplified not by the stories we can tell but by the stories we can’t — stories of God at work “in secret” and in hidden ways. These are the stories we don’t hear, of neighbors whose names can’t be shared.

They include the story of the clinic that cannot be named because unjust laws would put its noncitizen clients at risk. They include the story of women in a shelter whose names must be hidden to keep the women safe from their abusers. They include the story of ministries in conflict zones whose details cannot be shared without exposing workers and guests to violence.

These are the stories that cannot be trumpeted but are nevertheless triumphant examples of the work of God, “who sees in secret.”

Ending hunger means seeing what unjust power tries to keep hidden. It means defining “we” in a way that threatens the principalities and powers — including our own privilege — that make everything about “I.” And it means remembering, when we are isolated or marginalized, that “I” am never excluded from God’s “we.”

Jesus’ call in the Gospel reading reminds us that being the church requires a definition of community that is more expansive, more diverse and, thus, more beautiful than the exclusive vision put forth by
those in power.

Reflection Questions

  1. Think, journal or share about a time when you felt left out or unable to speak because of fear. How does that memory impact your reflection on this reading and devotion?
  2. The members of Marina’s church were unable to see that their ability to climb stairs gave them the privilege to gather together in one space. The members of the ancient church to which Jesus was speaking were unable to see that their ability to give alms, fast and pray in private rooms was a privilege. What are some ways that privilege might affect who feels included in your community?
  3. What does your church community look like? In what ways are all neighbors in your community invited to share their experiences and ideas openly and freely with your congregation?

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, you bring light and life for all the world. Help us to listen, learn and love until your light and life fill every community. Amen.

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ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter: Ash Wednesday

 

These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone.

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Fast from indoor gatherings.

Fast from outdoor gatherings of more than twenty-five people.

Fast from unnecessary travel.

Fast from in-person school (but over-indulge on virtual meetings).

Fast from expecting a quick resolution, and please fast from political posturing for a minute. Please.

Fast from uncovered faces, and indulge in imaginative masks.

Fast from indoor dining, but indulge on take-out, especially from the small stores who are just trying to make it!

We’ve had so many instructions these last eleven months. Fasts have been declared. Sackcloth has been replaced by mask-cloths. What are we to make of all of this?

The prophet Isaiah provides a beautiful column of words from which to build a thoughtful sermon, but truly on this Ash Wednesday the sermon will not be built by words, but by the world that is still trying to stop the hemorrhaging of our much loved friends and family. Truly we sit upon an ash-heap of tears and unrealized hopes in this pandemic.

In the process, we’ve drawn all sorts of images upon our brows: political D’s and political R’s and “sick” and “tested” and “vaccinated” and…

And we’re tired.

This Ash Wednesday, we don’t need a reminder that we are dust; I have a feeling that we’re all too aware of that by now, Beloved.

This Ash Wednesday, we need a reminder that, as the Gungor song says, “God makes beautiful things out of dust.”

The feast that God desires is one of justice. In a pandemic, that looks like wearing a mask, and abstaining from gatherings, and putting off travel in deference to the vulnerable. It means taking seriously the needs of communities of color, of indigenous communities, and our community of elders that are created by inequitable access to resources and care. It means learning, too, about “co-morbidities” and how these can exacerbate vulnerability. Although, if we’re truly honest, we all have co-morbidities we’re unwilling to acknowledge and face.

All humans have the co-morbidity of being made of dust.

God is in love with people with co-morbidities, Beloved.  Let’s not pretend they’re expendable.

And not just in this pandemic, but long after it. God makes beautiful things, and it’s high-time we not just acknowledge it, but behave as if it is true!

We behave as if it is true not just by wearing a mask, but by honoring our neighbor after this is all over and done with. We behave as if it is true not just by abstaining from mass gatherings, but by finding ways to lift up the overworked and underpaid who don’t get to participate in mass gatherings no matter when they happen because they are hampered by poverty.

This Ash Wednesday we mark ourselves on our brow not with a D or an R or a “vaccinated” or an “employed,” but with a cross. A cross that says, in no uncertain terms, that all those other markings pale in comparison to the mark we received on that brow in our baptism, and that biological mark that all creation received in being formed from the dust that we use in remembrance.

Fast, Beloved, from elitism, not just from mass gatherings.  Fast, Beloved, from ableism, not just from running at the gym. Fast from every -ism, not just traveling to exotic places to be waited on by underpaid workers.

This year, we have had the opportunity to see what a fast truly means, by God: it means remembering that we are not gods, but dusty-ones.

And God is in love with dusty things, so we can be in love with them, too.

All of them.

Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters for the months of January and February. Pr. Tim is a Gifts Officer and Mission Ambassador for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a pastor and writer out of Raleigh, NC. He likes to write on the intersection of faith and doubt, and is a regular contributor to Living LutheranSundays and Seasons, and The Christian Century. He’s a husband, father of two, a dreamer, and you’re more likely to find him at a coffee shop than in an office.

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