Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

Advent 2021- Week Two Study Guide and Children’s Sermon

Advent Week 2

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.”

-Luke 1:78

This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2021 Advent Study and ELCA World Hunger’s weekly Sermon Starter emails. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here. You can sign up for the weekly Sermon Starter emails here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone.


Zechariah’s prophecy in the first chapter of Luke, our reading for this second Sunday in Advent, is sometimes overlooked in favor of the  Magnificat of  Mary in the same chapter. Mary’s song, which we will read later in Advent, is a theological ode to God, who “lift[s] up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). Zechariah’s prophecy, however, is a cry of joy for the God who fulfills God’s promise. Both Mary and Zechariah have longed with their people for this moment, have yearned for

the fulfillment of the promise that we heard on the first Sunday of Advent, when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety” (Jeremiah 33:16). Now, as Zechariah proclaims, “the dawn from on high [has broken] upon us” (Luke 1:78).

What does it mean for this new day to “dawn”? All too often, the church has tended to conflate metaphors of light and darkness with good and evil. The darkness of night is tied to fear, uncertainty and even despair, whereas the brightness of day symbolizes hope, joy and, in some cases, wisdom. But Zechariah’s proclamation of the coming dawn reveals more than the difference between light and darkness . Indeed, in much of Scripture the dawning of the day of

the Lord is far from a happy occasion. The prophets Micah and Joel both refer to it as “terrible,” and Amos chastises the people who long for it to arrive.

In the Bible and in life, metaphors of light and darkness are more complex than we sometimes assume. In life, the darkness of night can bring risk and uncertainty, as we heard in Charity’s story in the first session of this Advent study. Yet night can also be a time of rest, a symbol for the end of our labors. For the people of the Bible, living in hot, arid climes, the sun was necessary for growing food but its setting would bring a cool, restorative break.

For many of our neighbors who face housing insecurity, night and day each carry their own risks. As the sky dims, the need to find safe, suitable shelter intensifies. As the day dawns, the threat of eviction or displacement looms.

St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) in Cairo, Egypt, a ministry supported by ELCA World Hunger, accompanies vulnerable neighbors through these risks. The community­ based organizations supported by StARS are key partners in this work. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many governmental agencies to close down or scale back their support of refugees

in Cairo, these community-based organizations remained open, providing critical support.

Hala, a 37-year-old Sudanese mother, was one of these neighbors. Her husband passed away during the first wave of COVID-19 in Egypt, leaving Hala to care for their four children. Forced to support them on her own amid the widespread economic uncertainty of the pandemic, Hala soon fell behind in her rent payments.

Knowing she needed some support, Hala turned to Amal School, an organization supported by StARS. Amal School provided her and her family with an emergency grant so that they no longer had to fear eviction. The school also provided Hala with a caseworker who helped her find a job. Now, her family has stable housing, her job provides much-needed income and Hala has the resources she needs to care for her family. She no longer worries about what they will eat during the day or where they will lay their heads at night.

The season of Advent invites us to journey with our historical forebears, such as Mary and Zechariah, and with our neighbors today, such as Hala. This journey is no metaphorical shift between night and day, darkness and light, but a real, lived transformation from the vulnerability we know surrounds us to the promise we know includes us. For Mary, this meant seeing the proud brought low and “the lowly” exalted by God. For Zechariah, it meant seeing the dawn break from on high. For Charity Toksang, in our first session of this study, it meant seeing the sunrise over a health care clinic in Juba, South Sudan. And for Hala and her family, it means sleeping in a home they won’t be forced to leave the next day.

God meets us where we are with a promise – that we will be reconciled, that the world is being transformed, that we

will live safely, securely and abundantly. God also meets us with an invitation – to participate in this reconciliation and transformation in the world.

Where is God meeting you this Advent? And where is God calling you to be in the new year?


  1. What does it mean to be vulnerable? What are some ways Hala and her family may have felt vulnerable? What are some ways you feel vulnerable in this Advent season?
  2. What does God’s promise of salvation mean for us today? What will “the dawn [breaking] from on high” look like in our lives?
  3. The term “housing insecurity,” used in the reflection above, includes not just homelessness but a variety of obstacles people face in finding a safe, stable and affordable place to live. Consider the terms “housing-insecure” and “homeless.” What’s the difference? What does it mean to have a “home”? What challenges does your community face in ensuring that everyone is “housing secure”?
  4. Where is God calling the church to be this Advent? How does our faith call us to accompany neighbors such as Hala as they work toward a better future for their families?


God of promise, we thank you for the darkness of night and the brightness of day, for the change of seasons, the passing of time and the promised future toward which you lead your world. Be present with us and with our neighbors around the world, especially those left vulnerable by rising costs and declining opportunities. Inspire your church to be part of your work in the world, ensuring that all can enjoy the blessings of safety, security, peace and hope that you provide. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Children’s Sermon

By Pr. Tim Brown for ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters

Today the theme of “names” is noticeable by the Gospel writer. 

Bring in a bunch of, “hello, my name is” name tags and a sharpie marker.  You’ll need enough for each child plus enough for each child to take with them, with a few that are blank, and the rest filled in with “Lovely,” or “Beloved,” or “God’s Child,” or “Wonderfully Made.”

“Hi all!  I’m so glad you’re here today.” Hold the name tags tightly in your hand out of sight. “Does anyone want to guess what I have here?” Give appropriate time for guesses “They are nametags!  Tell me look at one youth What would you like me to write on your name tag? It can be your name, or it can be any name that you really, really like.”

Allow time for them to answer and write it on the tag.

“Anyone else?” Call on another youth “What name would you like?”

Allow time for them to answer and write it on the tag. Now, look out at the adult congregation.

“How about anyone in the seats?  Anyone want a name tag? What would you like on your tag?”

Call on an adult. Allow time for them to answer and write it on the tag.

“In today’s Gospel lesson the writer names all these names: Pontius Pilate. Tiberius. Herod. John the Baptist. Zechariah. They name all these names because they want us to know what was going on in the world and who these people are.  Names are important.  You all have names.  And God knows all of your names!  But you know what?  You also have other names given by God in your baptism, names you might forget.  I want to show them to you, but they’re a surprise, so come in close.”

Invite the youth in close and show them the name tags.

<whispered> “You are all Beloved.  You are all Lovely. You are all Children of God. And you know what?  They are, too. <point to the assembly>  “Each of you take a nametag to wear, and then take a name tag to give to someone out there, so that they can know what they are named by God, too.  Ready? Go!”

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.

Preaching on Palm Sunday


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 on a mobile device. 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. 

April 5- Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Preaching to a camera or a livestream is no easy task, so before we dive into the text, let me say a few things from a preaching perspective.

First, give yourself lots of grace. These are weird times, and no one can plan for this.

Second, do the best you can with what you have. Whether you’re in full vestments in an empty sanctuary, a talking head in your living room, or even just a voice on an audio recording uploaded to a church website, don’t fret too much about what everyone else is doing. You do the best you can.

Finally, as we’re heading headlong into Holy Week, these are rough waters. Holy Week is an embodied week for the church and really is experienced in and through our bodies and other bodies. Figuring out a way to do some of what this week embodies when we’re all finally able to get back together may be important for you, and for your community.

Ok, on to the text we go.

If you decide to preach from Isaiah for Palm Sunday, you will find an abundance of themes that intersect both with the holy day and our current situation.

The prophet begins with, “The Lord God has given me…” which can be a good segue if you’re doing a livestream with audience participation, into a naming of gifts that people can lift up in these days. Invite the congregation to follow Isaiah’s lead and name gifts God has given. They can list them in the chat thread during a livestream or write them down on a piece of paper if following along with a recording.

Isaiah then continues to note that God cajoles the people to wake every morning and to “listen as those who are taught.” How can we be attentive, even in these strange days, to what the Divine is saying to and through us? And, in light of this festival day, how can we be attentive to what Jesus is saying, both in his words and in his actions, as he rides into Jerusalem atop a donkey? What is God in Jesus saying about humility here? What is God in Jesus saying about the journey? How are we, in these days, able to figuratively, and perhaps literally, take off our coat and cut our palm branches and spread them on the ground, making the path easier for others?

One of the points about social distancing is that it makes the road of life safer for the most vulnerable populations in these pandemic days. By pausing our routines, sacrificing school or finances, and fasting from social interaction, we are helping to “flatten the curve” so that the most vulnerable among us may be safer. How does this exemplify serving and honoring Jesus by serving and honoring our neighbors?

Finally, the prophet ends with a reminder that it is the Lord God who helps them and entreats us to remember that, though we may be going without for a little while, we are not going alone.  God continues to walk in the midst of us, to guide us, to help us…and so we are not without help and aid.

As Joseph Sittler notes in Gravity and Grace, the “authority of the Scripture has to depend on the text’s internal congruity with the human pathos” (p. 47).  In other words: it must speak to this time, now.  And I dare say that, although this is Palm Sunday, this is for many people the “Third Sunday after Social Distancing”…and maybe the fourth, depending on where you are located.

Preach accordingly.

Matthew 21:1-11

Here’s the decision on every Palm/Passion Sunday, whether you are physically in the parish or virtual: which Gospel to preach on?

Let me make a recommendation.

If you decide to do the Passion Story, which is wonderful, go ahead and recruit some readers ahead of time, and split it into parts to read.  This works especially well if you’re able to record it in the sanctuary as a group of 4 (keeping an appropriate distance, of course), or could work equally well if you’re doing a video conference, with four different persons taking the roles. You could also record it ahead of time and edit the clips together or consider asking your youth to make a video representation of the story by filming clips from their homes. There are many good ways to split up this long part of Matthew’s Gospel.  Choose a way that makes sense, and go with it, and that should serve as the “sermon” for the Sunday.

If you’re choosing not to go that route and want to preach on the “Entry into Jerusalem” text offered from Matthew 21, there is also plenty to go on for a homily.

One of the considerations here is figuring out how many of your parishioners will be around to view/hear the Good Friday narrative.  If many will tune in, go with the Palm Sunday “Entry into Jerusalem.”  If not, go with the Passion.

The following will assume you chose the Matthew 21 text.

The question, to begin with is: “What is God saying to your people, with this Palm Sunday text, now?”

An entry might be to acknowledge that, without palms and a procession, it doesn’t feel a whole lot like Palm Sunday, right?

Except we have many processions going on at the moment.

Many of our parishioners have just processed to the ballot box, or have been told that their ballot procession will be delayed until this pandemic is in the past.

Many of our parishioners have processed to the grocery store to stock up on staples, and what is a parade when you’re mandated to stay six feet apart?!  It’s no parade at all…

There are many processions to lift up, even in these times, as our communities are in the diaspora.

And that might be a great place to start, by the way, noting that we are in the parade, the march of the faithful, even in the diaspora.

Ancient Judaism made such a claim when Babylon shipped them off to parts near and far. Our Christian heritage is not one that is unaccustomed to having the procession of the faithful in spirit rather than body, and we can note that honestly on this day.

We wave our palm branches in a long procession of the faithful, both present and long departed, believing that the thing that connects us is not proximity, but rather the God who knows no such thing as “social distancing.”

In Jesus, God is extremely close, even acutely close.

And we have the duty, on this Palm Sunday, to walk ahead of the Christ processing into our reality, exclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Because even as we are a part, we are brought together in our praise for the God seen in Jesus.

And take the moment to expand upon this reality, because every Sunday the church gathers not just with those who are within the walls, but also those who are across the continents, in the fields, in the valleys, in those places we never think of on a pedestrian Sunday morning. ELCA World Hunger continually invites us to consider our neighbor far away and unseen, and on this Sunday when even our closest neighbors are far away and unseen, we are once again invited to consider the distant neighbor, reminding us that this, and every Sunday, we are in the long procession of the faithful.

God always connects us.  Always.  Not just when we are practicing conscious social distancing, but also in those times when we don’t even perceive that we are distant from one another. Hosanna, indeed!

Children’s Message

Online children’s messages can’t reliably lean on congregational participation, especially if the kids aren’t old enough to type in a chat box, or if you’re incapable of hearing them.  I’m going to assume that you’re recording this for them to experience online.

Have an ELW nearby to teach a processional song and have a branch or a limb from a tree (it doesn’t need to be a palm tree) to wave. You could even cut one out of construction paper.

Hi everyone!

I know we’re not in person together for this, but you have people in your homes that can help you with what I’m going to ask you to do.

Today is Palm Sunday, and it’s a day for parades. So, what I want you to do is ask your parent, grandparent, or whoever is with you, to cut off a branch or a limb from a bush or a tree to wave around.  And (if you made one from construction paper) you could even create one like this!

Show a sample branch and include simple instructions on how to create it.

Now, today is a day for a parade, like I said, so I want you to walk either in your home, or if you want, up and down you drive-way or even street, waving your branch up and down.  And I want you to sing this song with me!

For this portion, you can choose a song to sing from the ELW that has a short, simple refrain.  The chorus from the traditional Palm Sunday processional “All Glory Laud and Honor” (ELW 344) is easy enough to sing.  You can even sing the verses, and encourage them to join you on the refrain.

Another option could be to make up your own refrain or take one from another Augsburg resource that incorporates “Hosanna! In the Highest!”

And you all: don’t be afraid to get silly! It’s a parade, after all, where we celebrate Jesus and his work in our lives.

If we can’t be near one another, let’s all have a parade at the same time!  Send me videos of your parades, singing this song, and waving your branches!

Post the videos, with permission, to your social media sites.

Advent 2019- Week 4 Reflection and Children’s Message



This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2019 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. The children’s messages 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. 

Week 4

God is with Us

“‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23).



You are loved.







No, really.







That’s it.







That is the message of Advent, Christmas — the entirety of the gospel story, in fact.






You are loved.




In the baby — whose name shall be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” — God has drawn near to humanity in familiarity, intimacy and even identity. God has become human, entering into our world and our very existence. And the message God has brought? You are loved.

Two thousand years of Christian history, and yet that basic message has not changed. God has drawn near, and the message brought to all creation is “you are loved.” Scripture is filled with stories of God speaking to God’s people. Sometimes God speaks to them directly. Moses approaches a burning bush and hears God “informing him, ‘I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt'” (Exodus 3). In the middle of the night, Samuel hears God calling his name (1 Samuel 3). At other times, God speaks through the prophets to the people.

But here …

in this manger …

in this moment …

on this night …

There is no mountain-splitting, quaking prelude like Elijah heard outside his cave (1 Kings 19). There is no opening in the heavens, no descending Spirit, no voice from the clouds (Luke 3.) The baby in the manger is God’s whispered good news: “You are loved.” In the first session of this study, we read a sampling of modern-day billboards warning us of God’s coming wrath. The writings of our biblical ancestors reflect a similar level of trepidation about the day God would draw near. What judgment might befall them when God arrived? What word might God speak?

In the manger in Bethlehem, God did show up. And the word was “love.”

As gospel people, the church proclaims this message: “You are loved.” Obviously, such a simple message doesn’t give us the directives that are to be taken in the many complex situations in which the church finds itself in daily life. Such a simple message does not give us all that we need to make the many minute decisions that organizations and individuals must make. But it does give us a clear message and identity.

Who is the church? The beloved of God.

Who is my neighbor? The beloved of God.

Who is this stranger in my midst? The beloved of God. 

To be the church, to be people of the gospel, called to spread the good news, is to ensure that every person we encounter leaves knowing they are loved. To be “evangelical” is to be sharers of the good news – and that good news is that we are loved by the very creator of the universe.

This almost seems too simple, and in some ways, it might be. But how often does the message the world sends us undermine our confidence in this message? How often are we told that we must make ourselves lovable enough, work hard enough, look good enough, decide wisely enough, or behave appropriately enough to merit the concern or consideration of others around us? The church has a different message: You are loved because the One who created you has marked you as loved. Christ-centered ministries have this message of Christ at their heart.

Rain or shine, the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen opens each Tuesday without fail, serving up nutritious fare — with an extra helping of love — from the basement of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. Volunteers offer weekly breakfast, lunch and dinner to more than a hundred guests, many of whom face the challenges of poverty and addiction. Guests can also pick up hygiene kits or a set of clean clothes and access social services.

“This space is where we all come together and treat each other with love, with that respect and dignity that we all like to receive,” says Sandra Aleman-Nijjar, the kitchen’s lead volunteer. “We give that to everyone that walks through those doors.” Eddie, one of the guests at East Boston, knows this to be the case. Having lived on the streets since he was 18, Eddie calls the ministry “my home,” a place of belonging and acceptance where his needs — physical, spiritual and emotional — are met. “He feels loved, that someone cares,” says Sandra. “You can see it in [each of] them, that sense of belonging, that sense of acceptance. That someone cares about them, that someone is watching and looking out for their well-being.”

To be “evangelical” is not merely to share the basic facts about faith but to live out a faith that assures us — and our neighbors — that we are loved. For guests at the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen, that means that every plate of food served is a form of evangelism, a way of sharing the good news that is the very message of “Emmanuel”: you are loved.

God’s love calls us to active love and service of one another. Authentic love — the love God shows through Christ — sets tables where all are welcome, calls religious and political leaders to repentance for their treatment of neighbors facing poverty or vulnerability, and testifies to new life in the face of death-dealing powers. It is not merely a word spoken but a life lived, walking with and standing by our neighbors.

This is the Promised One we have been waiting for, and this is the message we have been longing to hear. Through Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, through John the Baptist’s hours of ministry at the Jordan, through our expectant longing in Advent — this is the message we have been waiting for. And the message many of our neighbors continue to pine for.


You are loved.

Now, love one another.

Reflection Questions

  1. When during this season have you felt loved?
  2. How does your congregation share the message “you are loved” with neighbors in your community?
  3. Watch ELCA World Hunger’s video “East Boston Community Soup Kitchen” at How does the ministry in East Boston help guests feel “that sense of belonging, that sense of acceptance”?

Children’s Message

Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of this Advent children’s message. 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. This Advent Children’s Message is cross-posted from ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters


The season’s texts provide the leader with an opportunity to practice Advent anticipation, and each children’s message with grow week to week until Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

This is the last week, and there should be a small box with a pocket mirror inside. A large yellow star should be on the outside of this small box, with the poem below printed on it.


Invite the youth to come forward.   

“Look here, folks, I have that final box here, and I can tell there are things inside of this one, too. How can I tell?  Just listen!” Shake the box “Now, remember what was inside of last week’s box? Right!  Band-Aids. And what did we do with those Band-Aids? Right, we gave them away as reminders that God invites us to heal the world.  Some of those people out there even put them on. What do you think is in this box?” Field answers as time allows “Could be any of those things! But look, on here is also a yellow star.  Ah, look, here’s a poem on the yellow star. Can someone read it?” If the youth are too young or too shy to read, go ahead and read it aloud:

The baby is coming soon

And we’re dreaming of the child

And the night will arrive

So meek and so mild

But until then God’s dream

Is for someone else to be a life-changer

We don’t need to wait for the babe in the manger!

And just who should it be?

Open me up to see…

Should we open it and see what’s inside?” Open the box dramatically. If it has a lid, unveil it with panache. If it is sealed in wrapping paper, invite the youth to help you tear it open. Show the box with the mirror inside.

“Wow, a mirror. ‘But until then God’s dream/is for someone else to be a life-changer/we don’t need to wait for the babe in the manger/and just who should it be? Open me up to see…’ Who do you all see? Hold up the mirror.

“Yes!  It’s you. You are the one God is dreaming of who will start the change the world. And we can change the world by giving our gifts to help those who don’t have much, by being a good friend at school to kids who are picked on, by making meals and sharing it with our neighbors. Who else can think of a way we can start to change the world?” Field answers as time allows.

“But, there’s one more thing, come close! Make sure your mic is off “Those people out there? They need to start changing the world, too. So, I want you to go ask them a question, an important question this Christmas. Ask them how they will change the world this Christmas. Say, “How will you change the world this Christmas?”

Go ask them. And if anyone gives you an answer, come back and tell me. You can tell me now or after church. Ready? Go!”

Advent 2019- Week 3 Reflection and Children’s Message


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2019 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. The children’s messages 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. 

Week 3

Signs of the Promise

“[John the Baptist’s disciples said to Jesus,] ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them’”
(Matthew 11:3-5). 

At only 17, Dawit (not his real name) has already faced a long and harrowing journey. He was born in Eritrea, and in 2017, he and his brother escaped lifelong military service by crossing into neighboring Sudan. On the border, they were intercepted by a group of traffickers. Dawit’s brother escaped, but Dawit was held by the traffickers for almost nine months and regularly threatened and beaten while they demanded money.

Eventually, Sudanese police raided the traffickers’ camp and took Dawit to a hospital in Khartoum, where he found his brother again. During their initial journey, Dawit had broken his leg while jumping out of a car. Although he had surgery in Khartoum, it was too late to fully repair the damage to his leg, and he can no longer put any weight on it.

In 2018, Dawit arrived in Cairo, Egypt, and connected with St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS), which is supported by ELCA World Hunger. StARS provided Dawit with a caseworker and helped him meet other immediate needs, such as food, hygiene supplies and, importantly, medical care. StARS also connected him to Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), which is helping provide Dawit with psychological care and support.

Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt. Dawit’s story, like many of the stories of our siblings in Christ around the world, can seem so far away from communities in North America. Even within our own geographic region, communities can seem farther apart than the miles may suggest. Maybe it is the divide between rural and urban cities, or the gulf between affluent areas and areas facing disinvestment and job loss.

Of course, the distance between our communities belies the reality that, as a global community, we share many of the same challenges. Human trafficking, such as Dawit faced, is “a global phenomenon to which no country is immune,” according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of State. And research reminds us that even the most affluent counties in the United States are home to people facing food insecurity and challenges with access to housing.

Yet, it is not merely our shared problems that connect us. This season of Advent, the Scripture readings remind us that, in Christ, God has drawn near to us and to our neighbors. As God draws near to us, we, too, are drawn near to each other — in hope, in faith and in our mutual need.

Seeing this is easier now than it was for the followers of John the Baptist. Jesus was, by no means, the first to be considered (or to declare himself) the Promised One sent by God. So perhaps no one should be surprised that John and his followers were a bit suspicious. “Are we to wait for another?” is the question of those who have long awaited the Messiah — and may likely have been disappointed before. This isn’t the pleading of the psalmist crying, “How long, Lord?” but the cynical question of the skeptic whose faith is sure but whose trust must be earned.

And to some extent, this is our question, too. How do we know that God has drawn near? How can we be certain that the Messiah has come? In our day, we are confronted with promises of salvation from every quarter. Commercials and mass media hold out the pursuit of wealth as the path to new life. Social media seem to suggest that our lives will be transformed once we get enough “likes” or followers. For victims of human trafficking such as Dawit, the promises are more nefarious. Many victims were first lured by their traffickers with promises of resettlement in a new, safe country. Or they were deceived by promises of stable employment.

Jesus understands the skepticism of the question. In response, he shares with John’s followers the evidence he knows will convince the Baptizer: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Echoing the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus makes clear the signs of the Messiah’s coming, signs John the Baptist would seem to recognize: healing, restoration and hope. John the Baptist can trust that the one interrogated by his followers is the One sent by God because following in Jesus’ wake are those characteristics of God’s transformation of the world: healing, restoration and hope.

As we look for the promise of God in our midst, we are called to look for those signs of healing (physical and spiritual), restoration (of relationships with God and neighbor), and hope (for those who are poor or vulnerable). Our shared need for each of these is what draws us together with neighbors near and far as we long together for the transformation of the world. And make no mistake, God is with us in our need as well.

We are united in our common need with neighbors around the world. And yet, the miles are bridged by something greater — our shared participation in the promise God is unfolding in our world. The vocation to be a healing, reconciling, hopeful presence in the world is shared across the church universal in every community. United in trust that God is at work transforming the world, the church is called to participate in the signs that inspired the confidence of John and his followers — and inspires the confidence of our neighbors and ourselves today.

To share in the stories of neighbors near and far is to share in the work God is doing through them in the world. It is to seek together — and to be, together — those signs of healing, restoration and hope. In Advent, the expectant longing gives way to bold confidence that God is at work, revealing the promise that all shall be well and drawing us together in mutual need and mutual hope.

There may be much that separates us, but the promise that unites us can bridge any divide.

Reflection Questions

  1. What experiences have reassured your faith that God is at
    work in the world?
  2. Why is it important for the church, as the people of God, to
    help neighbors such as Dawit meet their needs for healing
    and care?
  3. Where do you see God’s promise taking root in your

Children’s Message

Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of this Advent children’s message. 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. This Advent Children’s Message is cross-posted from ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters


The season’s texts provide the leader with an opportunity to practice Advent anticipation, and each children’s message with grow week to week until Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

As with last week, make sure this week’s box includes the smaller box surrounded by Band-Aids, one inside the other, like nesting dolls. 

Inside the smallest box should be a pocket mirror. Draw a large yellow star on the outside of this smallest box.  On today’s box draw a large red cross on it like an Emergency Aid kit, and tape one of the ELCA Good Gifts cards to the top.  You can find them here:


Invite the children to come forward.   

“Look here, folks, I have that other box here, and I can tell there are things inside of this one, too.  How can I tell?  Just listen!” Shake the box. “Now, remember what was inside of last week’s box?  Right!  Stickers.  And what did we do with those stickers?  Right, we gave them away as gifts of love. What do you think is in this box?” Field answers as time allows. “Could be any of those things!  But look, on here is also a red cross.  Has anyone seen anything like this before?  Where?” Field answers as time allows. “Right.  On hospitals and ambulances and first-aid kits.”

“You know, we all have built-in first-aid kits.  Want to see one?” Hold up your hands. “Yes, I know, these look just like hands.  But they’re more than that.  With hands like these we’re given the ability to help and heal others.  We can work, and through that work, we can offer help to others.  Hmmm…let me try to explain a little clearer.   Ah, look, here’s a card near this red cross. Can someone read it?”   If the youth are too young or too shy to read, go ahead and read it aloud:

“This is a card from ELCA Good Gifts, where people can buy animals, seeds, or other goods for people all around the world.  We work with our hands, and with the money we get for our work, we’re able to buy these gifts to bless others.  In this way, we help people who don’t even know to live well!  Should we open it and see what’s inside?”  Open the box dramatically.  If it has a lid, unveil it with panache.  If it is sealed in wrapping paper, invite the youth to help you tear it open. Show the box full of Band-Aids, and the other box inside.

“Wow, there’s a bunch of Band-Aids in here, along with another box.  This other box we can’t open until next week, I think, but what do we do with these Band-Aids?” Pretend to think.

“Wait, I have an idea!  Come in close.” Invite the youth forward and turn off your mic. “Go and give a Band-Aid to someone out there and say to them ‘God helps us help others.’.  Make it someone you don’t even know!  If they’re brave, they’ll even put it on today!  Go and remind them that God invites us to help others, and next week we’ll see if God has a new surprise for us in this other box.  Are you ready?  Go!”

As they give out the Band-Aids, you can make a general announcement about ELCA Good Gifts to the whole assembly and invite them to learn more by placing a bulletin insert in their hands, or point them to the ELCA World Hunger website.

Advent 2019- Week 2 Reflection and Children’s Message



This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2019 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. The children’s messages 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. 


Week 2

From Good New to Bad News

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness, he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:3b-4a).

In many rural villages in Guatemala, families tend to be large, and due to poverty, cultural traditions and other factors, daughters are often given away for marriage early. At 12 to 14 years old, girls are matched with husbands who are at least twice their age and sometimes older. Pastor Karen Castillo of the Augustinian Lutheran Church of Guatemala (ILAG) knows many of the girls’ stories well. Pr. Castillo hears their frequent concerns about the lack of educational opportunities that can change the future for girls and women throughout Guatemala. Schools are often far from people’s homes, and if instruction is available, boys are often given precedence. When girls are excluded from continuing their education, they are also excluded from new opportunities, including the opportunity to make many decisions about their futures.

Holy Scripture assures us that God hears their stories, too. The promise of Isaiah, indeed the promise of many of the writings in the Old Testament, is that God has heard the people’s pleas for liberation and salvation and will deliver them (Exodus 3:7-8). God’s intimacy with the people of God is such that God is attuned to the many obstacles that undermine the people’s well-being. God’s anger is revealed most clearly in those places where injustice and inequity reign – and God’s loving concern is revealed equally clearly when the children of God are blocked from enjoying life abundantly.

In the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist echoes this anger when he sees a group of Pharisees and Sadducees gathered among those desiring baptism. “You brood of vipers!” he calls out. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7). John is not the meekest character in the Gospel, but here, he’s about to get medieval before there was a medieval to be gotten. What was it that so incensed the Baptizer? We get a clue about the fault of the Pharisees and Sadducees later in Matthew, when Jesus denounces both groups: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others … they love to have the place of honor at banquets … [they] lock people out of the kingdom of heaven … [they make] gold sacred … [they] have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith,” and so on (23:4-23).

The Pharisees often get a bad rap in the Gospels. They serve as foils for Jesus and the disciples so often that the reader might think “brood of vipers” is John the Baptist’s way of going easy on them. In reality, the Pharisees were one of several Jewish groups at the time and, in some ways, weren’t quite as bad as they might seem. They understood the life of faith as a life focused on obedience to the Law, so they rigorously held themselves to its high standards. The problem was, they held others to those standards, too, even when the Law seemed unclear or when the literal, traditional punishments for violations were downright deadly. For the Pharisees, being faithful meant obeying the Law and tradition, no matter what the consequences were.

Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels present a different understanding of faith. For Jesus and his followers, a relationship with God is not meant to be a burden. In fact, quite the opposite: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Isaiah, whom John the Baptist quotes in Matthew, describes what true righteousness looks like for God’s people: justice and equity, particularly for “the poor [and] the meek,” those without the social or economic status to demand these things for themselves.

As God draws near through the One prophesied by Isaiah and John the Baptist, the bad news of exclusion is transformed into the good news of hospitality, and the bad news of judgment is transformed into the good news of justice — for them and for the community. It is from among these people, whose lives are so circumscribed by legalism, tradition and inequity, that Jesus will draw both followers and leaders.

In Guatemala, where poverty, traditions and sexism prevent communities from benefiting from the gifts and skills of girls, the ILAG is helping provide new opportunities. Opened in 2018 at the Augustinian Lutheran Center in Guatemala City, the MILAGRO (“miracle”) Women’s Education Center is a place for young women from these rural communities to continue their secondary education, faith formation and development of vocational and life skills that will help them be financially independent in the future. With support from ELCA World Hunger and ILAG, the young women at MILAGRO Women’s Education Center are part of the work God is doing in their communities, proclaiming the good news of justice, equity and life abundant for all.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does it mean for God to hear the cries of people who face oppression, exclusion or injustice?
  2. How does the church listen attentively to the voices of people facing poverty or hunger in the community today?
  3. What is the difference between seeing faith as obedience to God and seeing faith as liberation?

Children’s Message

Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of this Advent children’s message. 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. This Advent Children’s Message is cross-posted from ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters

Set up:

The season’s texts provide the leader with an opportunity to practice Advent anticipation, and each children’s message with grow week-to-week until Christmas Eve/Christmas Day.

Bring in a large wrapped box. Inside the box make sure to include two smaller boxes, one inside the other, like nesting dolls.

Inside the smallest box put a pocket mirror. Draw a large yellow star on the outside of this smallest box.  Inside the second-largest box put the smallest box along with a bunch of new Band-Aids and draw a large red cross on it like an emergency first aid kit. And inside the largest box, put the other boxes along with a bunch of stickers. On the outside of this larger box, put a picture of a stump with a stem springing forth. On the tree you’ll write the riddle below. Invite the children to come forward.


“Look here, folks, I have this box here, and I can tell there are things inside of it. How can I tell? Just listen!” Shake the box. “What do you think is in here?” Field answers as time allows. “Could be any of those things!  But look, on here is also a tree stump with this little twig coming out of it. It reminds me of what the prophet Isaiah said today that sometimes, out of things that don’t look alive anymore, new things can spring. And look, it has writing on it!  Can someone read it?   If the children are too young or too shy to read, go ahead and read it aloud:

At Christmas God does something new

And we can do something, too!

With each day comes the chance

To make another heart sing and dance!

Do something kind without pay

Go and make someone’s day!

“Huh, I wonder what that means. Should we open it and see what’s inside?” Open the box dramatically.  If it has a lid, unveil it with panache. If it is sealed in wrapping paper, invite the children to help you tear it open. Show the box full of stickers, and the other box inside.

“Wow, there’s a bunch of stickers in here, along with some other boxes. This other box we can’t open until next week, I think, but what do we do with these stickers?” Pretend to think.

“Wait, I have an idea!  Come in close.” Invite the youth forward and turn off your mic. “The riddle invited us to go and make someone’s day, so I think you should go out there to the people in the pews and stick a sticker on someone. Make it someone you don’t even know! Put it on their hand, their shirt, or even their forehead! Go and spread some love today with this new thing in church, and next week we’ll see if God has a new surprise for us in these boxes. Are you ready? Go!”

Forgiveness: A Lifestyle for Renewed Community

This post comes from ELCA World Hunger’s weekly email list, “Sermon Starters.” For this week, Rev. Angela Khabeb of Holy Trinity Church in Minneapolis, shares with us her reflections on forgiveness and how we are called to make this gift more than an act, but a lifestyle as followers in Christ.

If you’d like to receive posts like these ahead of the liturgical calendar, please subscribe to ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters by clicking on the link, or email us at

Here is a recent review of the resource from Vernita Kennan of the Saint Paul Area Synod:

“I receive the ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters each week from the ELCA and find it is a helpful way for me to look ahead and “preach my own sermon” in preparation of what I will hear next Sunday at my home church, Incarnation Lutheran…You needn’t be a rostered person in the ELCA to find them inspirational.”


February 24, 2019 – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 6:35

Luke 6:27-38

We continue this week with the Sermon on the Plain. We hear Jesus proclaiming a new way. “Turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love your enemies.” Unfortunately, this passage has been misused in some religious circles.

Please allow me this commercial break…

If someone is in an abusive situation, they are not required to stay and risk their life and/or the lives of their children. There are times when it is best to forgive from a distance. We can continue to love the person but if the relationship is physically, verbally, emotionally, or economically abusive, the most loving and faith-filled response we can have is to practice self-care. When we try to enforce forgiveness like it is a law and not an act of God’s love and grace, all of humanity is in jeopardy.

We’ve heard these passages many times before. But for the original hearers, these words were earth-shattering. Jesus’ words were radical. More to the point, his life was radical. After all, Jesus constantly challenged the status quo. He repeatedly broadened the center so that those on the margins of society would be included.  He challenged the religious leaders of the day and caused so much political upheaval that he received the death penalty.

Jesus was revolutionary in ways that people never expected. Even today, Jesus enters our lives in unexpected ways and I love it. After all, Christianity should not be comfortable for us. The Gospel should not be like our favorite pair of jeans or a pair of old shoes or a worn-out sweater that we drag out this time of year. Certainly, we find comfort in God’s word. But we don’t need to have a hold on the Gospel because Jesus does not belong to us. Rather, the Gospel needs to have a hold on us because we belong to Jesus. Otherwise we are just nominal Christians playing church. We create our own brand of Jesus that suits our needs and pets our egos. We manipulate Jesus into whatever makes us feel safe, or superior, or righteous. So, what is the earth-shattering news we need to hear?

You see, the life changing power of the Gospel message has the greatest impact on our lives when it is destabilizing. Whenever we are challenged to redefine or examine who we understand Jesus to be, we grow. Whenever we challenge what it means to be a Christian in our world today, we grow.

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus is encouraging his followers to abandon business as usual. Through his sermon, Jesus turns the accepted societal norms inside-out. This is Good News because even when we dishonor God by our actions or inactions, God still seeks after us. Now, for the life of me I cannot figure out why. But Jesus chooses to use us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus chooses us even though we are broken, selfish, and woefully imperfect. Jesus chooses us to broaden the center in our own communities so that all God’s people have a seat at the table. Jesus uses us to increase God’s healing and hope in the world. Is this the earth-shattering news for us?

Genesis 45:3-11, 15

It’s hard to ignore the theme of forgiveness in this week’s lessons—and believe me, I tried. Yes, the story of Joseph is a powerful illustration of love and forgiveness overcoming hatred and bitterness. But even as I encounter this undeniable witness to the hidden hand of God, I find myself distracted by many questions.

Firstly, what does true forgiveness look like for us? What happens to trust? Is it wise for me to trust this person again if they had deliberately betrayed me? What if the best I can do is just be cordial to them? Isn’t that enough? Isn’t it enough for me to simply not hate the sight of them? Let’s face it, forgiveness is hard. There’s no “forgiveness switch” on our hearts that we can simply click on or off when we need more or less of it. I’ve been wondering if forgiveness is like love. You know, when you give away love it multiplies and comes back to you.

Sometimes it seems, in our country, we are more concerned with punishment than we are with peace. We seem more concerned with revenge than reconciliation. We find it easier to fight than to forgive. No wonder some of us find it difficult to accept God’s extravagant gift of love. Even when we are receptive to God’s mercy and forgiveness, we may yet be reluctant to give mercy and forgiveness to others. Maybe we feel that we are giving away our power when we forgive. Maybe we are simply afraid of being hurt again and use our grudges to keep us safe. But, at the end of the day, ministry involves risk.

It can feel like a risk to forgive. But what exactly are we risking? Our power, position, politics, morals, self-constructed ideas of who we are and how others should perceive us seem to be potential risk-factors to forgiveness. But on the other side of forgiveness, on the other side of the tension and resistance we often experience when confronted with someone who has “wronged” us, we find relationship. We find a leveling and sharing of power, we find mutual respect and dignity, and we find the Holy ground that lives between us all. If hunger and poverty are symptoms of deeply broken relationships around the world, forgiveness could be our first-step on the path to living lives of abundance and sharing.

Forgiveness is not necessarily an event, but rather a lifestyle. God doesn’t expect us to forgive perfectly every time. But God is encouraging us to live our lives with forgiveness as our North Star. In doing so, we honor God and we help heal the body of Christ. C.S. Lewis illustrates forgiveness as part of our baptismal identity as Christians:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

This is both gift and challenge.

To be clear, forgiveness cannot erase pain or eliminate the need for justice. But forgiveness is God’s gift to us. The Holy Spirit empowers us to share that gift with others. Fortunately, forgiveness, like most things, gets easier with practice. The more we remain open to the Spirit, the more able we are to forgive. Forgiveness can be extremely difficult, but it is possible. In fact, God makes all things possible for us. This is good news.

Children Sermon

Forgiveness seems to be an overarching theme in this week’s lessons. Forgiveness is an important concept that might be difficult for children to grasp. We learn to say we’re sorry but that does not always lead to forgiveness. Have you ever heard a child offer an angry “sorry!” because her mother told her she had to apologize?  It happens with my kids on occasion.

So, it might be a good idea to ask the children to help you describe forgiveness. This way you can gauge the understanding of the group. Invite the children to share examples of times when they needed to receive forgiveness or times when they needed to forgive someone (be prepared to share your own examples if need be).

For an object lesson, bring two items–something rather heavy and something rather light. A brick and a feather would work well and pretty easy to get. Grudges are heavy like this brick (or rock or concrete paver–probably less than $1 at your local hardware store). Forgiveness is light like this feather (or cotton ball or stuffing from a pillow). You could get a sturdy backpack and put several heavy objects in it and invite a child or two to try and carry it. Ask who would rather carry the heavy bag or the cotton ball all day.

Remind them of the words about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. Say it out loud, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Encourage the children (and adults) to listen for those words later in worship. Remind them that Jesus helps us forgive and forgiveness brings joy.