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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 Sackcloth has been replaced by mask-cloths.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.


ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter: World Food Day


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.

The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson is the writer of this reflection. Pr. Carla serves as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, PA. She is also co-chair of Lower Susquehanna Synod’s racial justice task force and a member of LAMPa’s (Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of PA) statewide policy task force. A former Poet Laureate of York, PA and professional cultural competency trainer for the secular business world, Carla’s greatest joy is partnering faith and education with great storytelling.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Just for fun, try something. Take this short passage and rewrite it as if it was being written about you. Imagine the saints of the church; the missionaries and the fundraisers and the preachers and the public demonstrators who were even willing to go to prison rather than turn their back on the hungry and the poor people that Jesus made a point of eating with and saying the kingdom of heaven was prepared for. Imagine they looked at you and said, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, siblings, beloved by God, that he has chosen you.”

How does it feel to be addressed with that much love and gratitude? Do you feel as if you have lived up to those words? Do you feel challenged by them, knowing it was regular neighborhood folks just like you and me who they were written about? One of the glorious things of the early church was how much space was made for everyday people. Regardless of gender, birth, ability, or socioeconomic status, the gifts of salvation and a nurturing earthly community were available without restriction. An image we see repeatedly in scripture that represents what this open and steadfast loving God-family looks like is the table where are all fed. The house with rooms for all. We use that as a frequent ELCA World Hunger tagline as well; a reminder that “until all are fed” isn’t just a fundraising or donation goal-setter, it’s a Biblical call for justice and equity.

On October 16th we celebrated World Food Day. World Food Day remembers the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United States. As far back as 1945, the United Nations recognized that enough food to eat is not a privilege, but a human right, and created World Food Day, to be observed every year, in1979. Why do we need a holiday to celebrate something that should be so simple as that eradicating hunger is a good thing? We should all get that, right? Well, why do we need such a simple and loving passage in the Bible as this reading from 1 Thessalonians? There are no parables, no miracles, no heavy-laden charges, or complex life-guiding wisdom.

We need both World Food Day and 1 Thessalonians for the simple reason they help us remember to stay encouraged because injustice CAN be ended. Success is possible. We ARE making a difference, and we must continue in our efforts. This passage contains a key reminder to us; stay grateful, keep praying, work in faith, remain steadfast. “The word of the Lord has sounded forth from you… in every place, your faith in God has become known.” Around the world, the table of God is being made bigger and seats are being set at the table, one food pantry or one bag of crop seed or one donated farm animal at a time. I think that’s worth celebrating.

Matthew 22:15-22

Oh, how often do we feel the sharp sting of sarcasm when a sly tongue lashes out at us? Whether it is a family member with a backhanded compliment or a co-worker with a sarcastic aside, there are many names to describe this type of gilded assault. “Microaggression” or “passive aggression” are good examples but they both contain a very telling word: aggression. Even when we coat it with padding to make it more intellectual, more palatable, less uncomfortably confrontational, to be deliberately unkind or flat out mean is an attack. To say something meant to entrap or intended to highlight another’s area of struggle or challenge is an attack. In our reading, we see that attacking another is not the way of Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus is the intended victim of an aggressive attack wrapped in a charged conversation that was likely harmless in appearance to an uninformed passerby. Pharisees, (“a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity,” according to Oxford Dictionary) are joined by Herodians (“a party that favored the dynasty of Herod and stood for the Roman connection who cared little or nothing for religion and normally were bitterly opposed by the Pharisees,” according to Jesus is asked about the payment of taxes knowing that if he decrees that money should be given to God over government he will be called treasonous and if he calls for resources to go to the government over the needs of the people he will be denounced by the priests. The dialogue is rife with sarcasm and meant to set up an impossible situation that will make Jesus look a fool. Ironically, when we hear about microaggressions today it is usually the most marginalized among us who are targeted; sly remarks aimed at those speaking English as a second language, or a poor woman holding up a grocery line to pay for necessities with a food stamp card.

Instead of playing into the aggression or repaying injury with insult, Jesus cleverly avoids the trap by saying that both God and the emperor should be given what belongs to them. I like to think it’s because Jesus has the same high school counselor as I did or at least a mentor who gave similar sage advice. Ms. Fran took me aside when I was tempted to react with anger, respond with insult, or rise-up in aggression, and she told me about ‘results-oriented thinking.’ “You are here for a reason child, don’t let anyone distract you. You have bigger fish to fry.”

As I type this, we are heading into certainly the most controversial election season of most of our lifetimes. We are struggling as a country with the most faithful response to a pandemic. I get it. As a pastor and a justice advocate, I’m in the thick of it too. The temptation may be anger or frustration. It may be disengaging and shutting down. As hard as it is, my siblings in Christ, I am asking you to remain focused in this season. As you can read on the ELCA World Hunger website, 821 million people around the world – that’s more than 1 in 10 – can’t access the food they need to live active, healthy lives. We have important work to do my friends. Alongside Jesus, we are called to talk to those willing to listen, to sidestep those who are not, and above all to remain focused on finding creative and dynamic ways to teach and serve the most vulnerable among us. When we refuse the distractions of the devil (and hopefully practice some healthy self-care to strengthen our spirit), like the Pharisees, they often ‘leave us and go away.’

Children’s Sermon

Have a picture of a large sad face or an angry face. Have several smaller cut out hearts. Ask each child to share something they can do that brings them joy or makes them happy. Try to lead them to say something they can do with friends or family or that they can do for others or positive self-care actions such as deep breathing or taking a time-out break. Each time a child offers a suggestion write it on a heart and have the child tape the heart over a part of the sad/angry face. If you are virtual, make the suggestions yourself and let the viewers see the sad/angry face being covered and made to go away by doing kind actions for others. Remind children that the sad or angry face might still be under there and might even come out sometimes and that’s okay, but when it does, God helps up find ways to get through it so we can keep doing the things we love and having fun with our friends and family.


ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter- Pentecost


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. This reflection was written by Rev. Dr. William Flippin. Rev. Dr. William Edward Flippin, Jr. served as an ELCA parish pastor in Columbus, Ga., and Atlanta, Ga., for eleven years. He was the first African-American pastor at both churches.  He currently serves as Assistant to the Bishop, Director of Evangelical Mission for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. He served on the ELCA Church Council 2013-19 and is on the Lutheran World Federation Church Council as Co-Chair for Advocacy and Public Voice. He received the “Prophetic Voice” Award in 2016 for Faith in Public Life, Washington, D.C., and serves on the Alumni Board for Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He also was inducted in 2017 to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers and Laity at his alma mater Morehouse College. He has been married for seventeen years to Kedra Phillips-Flippin, a nurse care manager, and are the proud parents of Shamel Emani.

May 31- Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost, a day for remembering where the church came from, how the church came to be, and for asking what on earth the church is for and where in heaven’s name the church is headed. This is the day when we should envision what the Church could be, what its field of dreams would look like — and to start working to bring that dream to reality.

The disciples who were situated in the Upper Room, as the poet Langston Hughes described, had a “dream deferred” vaporized in their Messianic expectations. Despite their realities, Pentecost came with the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on them in a topsy-turvy world. How can we still have hope for a field of dreams?

We must pour out our hearts: Jesus always reminds religious leaders, spectators, and followers that humanity examines them from the outside, but the spiritual dimensions are found in the heart. Pentecost reminds us that the authentic expressions of disbelief from the disciples were the catalyst of transformational change. This birthday celebration of the church reminds us that we do not need a lovely building, a good choir, a well-run church school, or any ordained clergy to be a church. Instead, we need the Spirit of Christ in order to be a Christ body community. This allows Christ to be enfleshed, incarnated, embodied through a Spirit-filled community, the Church must pour out a heart filled with self-sacrificing love.

Even in our present “dreamless” state, the church has managed pretty well to offer to helping hands to people in need. We run soup kitchens, stock food pantries, and provide showers, online worship and devotions, and shelter. But there should be a difference between being a “good citizen” and being the church. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA World Hunger is expedited and advocated through the means of sacrificial giving through accompaniment and trustworthy service to neighbors. Through being the embodiment of God’s hands, the works of love  are manifested in the global realities of hunger being minimized. To find stories about ELCA World Hunger’s transformative work, read the reproducible stories found here:

There is a new field of dreams that are endless for those to hear the clarion call of leadership. Jesus affirms that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Why is the church stagnating? Could it be that the church, which began as a field of dreams for the outcast and outsiders, has become a field of keeping the status quo? An area of ideas seems outside the reach of even the highest imagination.

Nearly two centuries ago (August 18, 1807), someone watched as Robert Fulton tested his steamboat. He kept yelling, “It’ll never start! It’ll never start!”

Just then, the steamboat pulled away from the dock and moved majestically up the Hudson River. That observer quickly changed his tune.

He yelled: “It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!”

We all know these people. They go by different names: the failure-predictors, the trouble-warners, the obstacle-visionaries, the problem-imaginers, the “we-can’t-afford-it” cost-estimators.

The truth is that the church — no matter how stodgy and out-of-shape it has become — is still in God’s hands. The church’s future is never predictable or plotted out because the Holy Spirit, the animating breath of the church, blows up storms and whirlwinds without any notice.

The Spirit must be allowed to circulate through the sanctuary, pushing us to our knees at unexpected moments. Does anything ever bring tears to our eyes in Church (besides the annual budget report)? Can the Spirit make us smile, or even laugh out loud in church?

 Just as found in the impetus of the Spirit, it is time for the church to spread her wings in being willing to “trust the Spirit.” We cannot take flight under our own power. Peter Pan’s “flying song” in the Disney version of this childhood dream story still offers sound advice. To soar, “all it takes is faith and trust … and a little bit of pixie dust. The dust is a definite must!”

As Christians, we can provide the faith and trust — while still admitting that we are mere dust and to dust we shall return.

At its heart, this is what building a church that is a “field of dreams” takes — the willingness to spread our wings and step off the edge, believing that the breath of the Spirit will bear us forward into the future.

John 7:37-39

In 1999, I was a Peace Corps Intern for Mickey Leland Institute of World Hunger and Peace, residing in the remote villages of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). My primary task was health education and the building of water latrines. On the surface, the water looked clean, but the children kept getting sicker and sicker. Malaria was the cause of this dilemma, affecting sixty percent in the village and within a fifty-mile radius. As I was treating water sources with chemicals, I would always think that new life begins with just one drop.

Jesus knows this, which is why he cries out, “Let anyone thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

Whenever the Bible speaks of “living water,” it is pointing us in several directions. Living water can mean fresh, running water – water from a spring, as opposed to a container. It can also mean life-giving water. In this case, Jesus is suggesting both because he knows that fresh, running water is also life-giving water – something everyone needs for a life of health and vitality. Just ask the residents in countries I witnessed in the remote villages of West Africa.

But John, the gospel writer, offers a third meaning in the very next verse: “Now [Jesus] said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified” (v. 39, emphasis added). John believes that living water Jesus offered is nothing less than the fresh, running, life-giving Holy Spirit of God, which comes to Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost.

Living Water. Holy Spirit. Both change our lives. Both give us hope for the future. Clean water and the Spirit of God can flow together in some powerful ways in the mission of the church today. The simple presence of one clean-water well can transform a community. Clean water leads to health, which leads to productivity, which leads to education and commerce and forward progress.

It isn’t just about a cup of cold, clean water. It’s about the future.

Jesus tells us the power of the Holy Spirit has the same effect. When we turn to Jesus in faith, we receive a free-flowing and life-giving Spirit who can transform our lives. The Spirit makes us happier, healthier, and better able to serve God with passion and purpose.

Just one drop. That’s where it begins. Then the flow of the Spirit in Pentecost and Christ’s divine breath becomes a river of living water.

All were together and filled with the Holy Spirit. The river of living water drenched all.

Our transformation begins with just one drop – a drop of concern for a child in poverty. If the Holy Spirit is working for health, welfare, and education, then we should too. We can volunteer at a free medical clinic, deliver food to a low-income family, or tutor a child requiring help with homework.

Such a drop turns into a trickle – a trickle of help for a neighborhood in need. If Jesus is the embodiment of divine power, overcoming the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness on humanity, then our challenge is to be Jesus’ healing and helping hands in our communities. We can support dental clinics for the homeless, affordable housing for the working poor, and English classes for immigrants.

This trickle can become a river of living water – a river that carries the good news of God’s love around the world, washing over people with improvements to their spiritual and physical health. Whether

fighting cholera in Haiti or installing water filters in my own experiences in

West Africa, Christians are changing lives as they follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. Jesus’ words are coming true: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

It can start with just one drop. The installation of one water filter. The digging of one well. But once the water begins to flow, nothing can stop it. Same for the Holy Spirit.

Children’s Message

Pour a pitcher of water into a bowl and let the children watch and listen to the flowing water. Explain that this is what the Bible means by “living water” (v. 38) – water that’s fresh and running freely instead of sitting still. Then ask if everyone needs to drink water in order to stay alive. Nod your head yes and say that a person can live for only about three days without water . As you put your hand in the bowl and stir the water, share this second meaning of “living water” – life-giving water, the water we all need to stay alive. Then say that Jesus defines “living water” in a third way: He says that it is the Holy Spirit, which believers in Jesus receive from God (v. 39).

The world is mostly water, but most people can’t drink safe water that we can get at home in the United States and use for drinking, cleaning or bathing. Emphasize that this Spirit is like water because it’s running freely, and it gives everlasting life to us in this world and in heaven. Let them know that each of us has a soul and a body, and our soul needs the Holy Spirit just as our body needs fresh, clean water.


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. Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of these reflections. 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. You are invited to use the message below for personal devotion as well as prompts for sermon writing. 

February 26- Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21

It’s curious how Jesus will use soil to heal things.

Like the man Bartimeaus, who is blind. He gets mud rubbed in his eyes to help him see. That makes no sense.

Or, how Jesus will draw in the sand as the woman about to be stoned is held on silent trial. Why would he turn to the dust to draw as charges are being brought up?

Or, consider the resurrection itself. How could the ground, the earth, the grave, bring about eternal life?

And yet soil is how Jesus seems to choose to heal.

If you want further thought on the healing properties of soil, consider this Irish idea about the healing properties of dirt. I’ve felt something like this, actually. Every time I put my hands in the earth of my yard, as I toil away growing and pruning and planting, I find my soul as improved as the soil.

What is it, Beloved, about dirt that helps to heal things?

We embrace this notion on Ash Wednesday. As we pull the dust of our lives and have it placed on our brows; as those burned Alleluias of praise become marks of humility (as, ultimately, all words of praise, should), we hold tightly to the belief that this dirt will, by God, heal us.

Matthew’s Gospel warns against practicing our piety in public. But on this day we hold that advice loosely as, though our piety is marked on our brow, the reasons themselves stay mute inside of us.

Because, honestly, we all come to Ash Wednesday with different, specific reasons: those moments we thrust needles into our veins to feel something; those moments we lashed out in rage, cursed out of fear, or judged out of prejudice; those times we cheated to get ahead, or because we are born ahead and denied someone their God-given dignity with impunity.

We all come to Ash Wednesday with a personal confession on our lips.

And yet we all, no matter our confession, receive the same sign of redemption: a dirt cross that intends to heal.

And note that the symbol on our brows is not just any sign. It is not a money sign, as if that can save and redeem us. And it is not the sign of this political party or that political party, as if our politics can save us.

All these things we rely on in life to save us: money, status, politics…they all blow away, like dust, as that dirt cross is smudged into our brows as an act of redemption.

On this day, though our piety is public, we don’t wear it with any sort of pride, Beloved. Because we all know, deep in the recesses of our hearts, that those things we bring to the altar on Ash Wednesday are not a moment of pride, but implicit acknowledgments that we cannot do this thing called life without the kind of redemption that our God in Christ gives.

Soil heals.  Perhaps it does every day, if you believe the websites. But even if you don’t, you know it does on Ash Wednesday, by God.