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 Sackcloth has been replaced by mask-cloths.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.