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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 Sackcloth has been replaced by mask-cloths.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- 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.


ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

From dust we came, and to dust we will return.

But between those two truths is a whole lot of life to be lived and work to be done.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the season of Lent, a time for reflection on how God’s intentions for the world – and how far our current reality is from that promise. It is a time to reflect on death and to repent for the ways in which we have allowed God’s promise of life to remain hidden from our own eyes and the eyes of our neighbors. Lent is a reminder of our own wanderings in the wilderness, away from our Creator.

Yet, Lent is also a reminder of the road ahead. The ashes are a reminder of mortality; the empty cross that they form on our foreheads is a reminder of the resurrection. We repent for how far we have strayed from God’s plans for us – and how far God has come to find us.

This Lent, ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving draws together the themes of repentance, self-reflection and renewal by focusing on the four spiritual practices, or disciplines, of the season: self-reflection and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving, and works of love.

We are formed in these disciplines to be church – together and for the sake of the world. After a generation in the wilderness, the Hebrews came to the Promised Land as a people consecrated by God to be a “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). After facing down temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee and declared the “good news” to the people (Luke 4:18). The journey of Lent is not the end of the story, for them or for us.

There is life to be lived and work to be done between the dust from which we came and the dust to which we shall return.

ELCA World Hunger, as a ministry of this church, is shaped by the Lenten disciplines. In repentance, we recognize the ways sin continues to disrupt communities and contribute to hunger and poverty. Through the ancient practices of prayer and fasting, we are renewed in our commitment to “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). By sacrificial giving, we support ministries around the world that give our neighbors a chance at new life and livelihoods. And in works of love, we accompany our neighbors toward a just world where all are fed.

In Lent, we “take hold of the promise” of God’s grace together, knowing that the road does not end at Calvary but at an empty tomb – and the assurance of new life for us, for our neighbors and for all of God’s creation. It is the promise of a world in which all shall be filled, that turns us to the work of ending the hunger that confronts us.

There are resources available at to help you and your congregation be part of this effort. A Lenten calendar, with verses from scripture, reflections on Lent, and short snippets of stories from projects we support together can be used by individuals and families. Coin jar wrappers can be printed and attached to glass jars or cans to collect gifts this season, and a Lenten devotional study with discussion questions and reflections can be used at home or in small groups. There is also a promotional video that can be shared via e-newsletters or during services.

If you plan to lead your congregation in this effort, there is also a handy leader’s guide with tips on how to get started. A weekly email series is also available.

This Lent, journey with ELCA World Hunger and congregations across this church as we share in the work to which God has called us – and, in the words of Martin Luther, “take hold of the promise” of what is to come.