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Reflecting on the United Nations High-Level Political Forum, Part III

 

In July 2023, four leaders from across the United States joined ELCA World Hunger and the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York City as delegates of the Lutheran World Federation at the 2023 United Nations High-Level Political Forum. The forum was an opportunity for UN member states, agencies and organizations to share updates on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. As our delegation learned, progress against the goals has been slow and, in some cases, has reversed. The delegation, representing the 149 member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, including the ELCA, was able to hear from leaders around the world, meet other advocates, connect with staff from the ELCA’s advocacy office in Washington, DC, listen to stories of changes and challenges, and consider together how each of us can be part of the work toward the Sustainable Development Goals in our communities.

Below is a reflection from Willie F. Korboi. Willie is Regional Representative of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), Media and Publicity Chairperson of the Association of Liberian Lutherans in the Americas (ALLIA), and Digital Evangelical Minister at Peoples’ Community Evangelical Lutheran Church, Baltimore. You can read other reflections from participants in this event here and here.

The author by quote in UN building: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”

Representing the Lutheran World Federation and the ELCA World Hunger program at the 2023 UN High-Level Political Forum (UN HLPF) was a remarkable experience. The UN HLPF allowed me to witness the extensive efforts undertaken by governments, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was interesting to note the repeated emphasis on “collective action” among the conversations and the recognition of the importance of collective action in realizing the SDGs.

This annual global event also afforded me the opportunity for networking, learning and knowledge-sharing, exposure to new ideas, awareness of global challenges, and a sense of my own contribution.

Like my colleagues, I engaged in activities of key interest, including thematic discussions, presentations, and side events with inter-faith organizations. My engagements on the SDGs mainly focused on conversations regarding eradicating hunger, poverty reduction, climate action, gender equality, access to education and healthcare, and the protection of children.

It was intriguing to learn at the side events session highlighting the role of the private sector as a driving force behind achieving the SDGs. Collaborative efforts involving governments, civil society and the private sector are crucial in realizing sustainable development. The emphasis on working together aligns with the initial vision set forth when the SDGs were launched.

During our time in New York, our group was able to attend a meeting of faith-based groups to learn and talk about the protection of children. The conversation on the protection of children within the context of faith-based initiatives was thought-provoking. The discussion centered around children’s well-being and safety as essential components of sustainable development and how involving faith-based organizations in these discussions can bring unique perspectives and solutions.

A call for action by Rabbi John from Baha’i International during the faith-based gathering highlighted the importance of moving beyond slogans and taking concrete steps to address the challenges facing children. While slogans may raise awareness, practical actions are necessary to make a meaningful impact. This underscores the need for tangible solutions and initiatives that directly address the well-being and protection of children.

I was encouraged that the call for action resonated with everyone at the table during the faith-based gathering. Emphasizing the importance of reporting suspected threats of violence against children is critical in ensuring their safety and well-being. Reporting such incidents can help initiate appropriate interventions and support systems to protect children from harm. This reinforces the notion that individuals have a collective responsibility to act when they witness or become aware of potential dangers to children.

It was also important to note that the discussion highlighted various channels through which individuals can effectively report suspected threats against children. Reporting to child rights advocacy groups, civil society organizations, government authorities through security apparatus and faith-based advocacy groups were all valuable avenues to raise awareness and ensure appropriate action is taken. The essence of these channels could not be over-emphasized, as they play a crucial role in addressing and mitigating risks to children’s well-being. Participants were encouraged to utilize these channels and promote a culture of reporting to protect children from violence and harm.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to ELCA World Hunger, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Lutheran Office for World Community for generously sponsoring my participation at the event. The experience and knowledge gained during this event have been invaluable, providing me with a deeper understanding of global challenges and the SDGs.

With continued support, I hope to create a positive impact, ensuring that the principles discussed at the HLPF translate into tangible improvements for individuals and societies. Once again, thank you, ELCA World Hunger, for investing in my development, and I look forward to making a meaningful difference in the field of education and sustainable development.

Willie with statue of Nelson Mandela inside the UN building

 

Lent Reflection 5: A Way in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 5: A Way in the Wilderness

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

Read

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

Reflect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet … and yet …

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

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

Do you not perceive it?

Ask

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

Pray

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

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

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

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

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

 

SEMANA 5: Un camino en el desierto

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

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

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

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

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

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

Este no es el versículo más alentador de la Biblia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Y sin embargo… y sin embargo…

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

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

¿No se dan cuenta?

Preguntas para la reflexión

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

Oración

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

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

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

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

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

 

New! “River of Life” VBS At-Home Guide

 

We are excited to share that the at-home guide for ELCA World Hunger’s “River of Life” Vacation Bible School program for 2021 is now available for download! This at-home guide is a supplemental resource for the full “River of Life VBS leader’s guide and includes modified activities, suggestions for online and at-home VBS, links to new videos and tips for parents, caregivers and other adults leading VBS with children at home!

Learn more in the video below:

To download “River of Life” VBS, including the full leader’s guide, the at-home guide and the toolkit with images and graphics to use on your website or social media, visit https://elca.org/hunger/resources#VBS.

To watch the story videos or the “Meet Our Neighbor” videos from ELCA World Hunger’s partners and companions, visit the ELCA World Hunger Vacation Bible School collection on the ELCA’s Vimeo page at https://vimeo.com/showcase/7224146.

Share your story! If you use “River of Life” with your congregation or group, let us know! Email Hunger@ELCA.org and share your feedback, stories or pictures!

Looking for more ideas? Join the community-run ELCA World Hunger VBS Facebook group and chat with other leaders from across the ELCA about VBS in 2021!

Ending Homelessness in Virginia

 

The following is an excerpt from “‘Big Dreams’ of Ending Homelessness in Virginia,” featured in Living Lutheran.

 

Last year, 25-year-old Maya (last name withheld), who lives in Virginia, was expecting her first child. Collecting unemployment due to COVID-19, she was staying with her parents when she got into an argument with them; they wanted more money to lodge her. After the altercation turned physical, Maya knew she had to leave the home for her baby’s safety. Two weeks before her due date, she was sleeping in her car.

Maya asked around and soon heard about ForKids, a nonprofit and partner of ELCA World Hunger that serves 14 cities and counties in southeast Virginia to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children. Soon she connected with a caseworker, Lisa Ellsworth, who shared these words of comfort: “After having the baby, you have a room.” ForKids set Maya up with emergency housing to come home to from the hospital.

This year, ForKids received a Big Dream Grant from ELCA World Hunger. Larger than World Hunger’s typical domestic grants, Big Dream Grants are designed to support ministries with transformative projects that will make a significant difference in their communities.

Photo courtesy of ForKids

To read more about this transformative ministry, check out “Big Dreams of Ending Homelessness in Virginia,” a recent article by Alex Baird in Living Lutheran, your source for news, reflections and stories from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and its local and global companions.

All photos courtesy of ForKids.

Christmas Hope for the Future in Romania

 

When it comes to breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty, few tools are as important as education. In fact, the World Bank estimates that each year of additional schooling can increase a child’s future earnings by 8-10%. Ensuring that children have access to education and educational support, though, is a difficult goal to reach, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created even more obstacles for communities in need.

In Romania, the Evangelical Parish in Sibu has been hard at work adapting to these new challenges. The “Open House” Day Center of the parish has provided support to children and families since 2001, accompanying 30-45 children throughout the year with its many programs. The center’s mission is to help families with children between six and 16 years old who face high rates of poverty, domestic violence, social and ethnic discrimination, and exploitation. To support them, the center provides counseling, food, preventative health care, and a safe place for children to learn and grow.

The pandemic has made this work much more difficult. The parents who had jobs have lost them, and many families cannot afford food, clothing, heating or school supplies. Many children don’t have access to the internet or the equipment they need to participate in online schooling.

The center, though, is adapting to the new challenges and pressing on toward its mission. This year, with support from ELCA World Hunger, the center continues to provide school supplies and clothing for children to help meet the increased needs of families, including for children who do not have the equipment they need for online learning. “Open House” has also adapted by sending care packages home for families and providing social worker home visits to make sure children and their families have the support they need.

The children are also able to participate in fun activities, such as making crafts. As Diana Fruman of “Open House” shares, “More and more children are getting enthusiastic about handicrafts. Some of them are very talented and create beautiful works.”

The “beautiful work” of God through the “Open House” center is not limited to crafts, though. It can be seen in the new opportunities created by the staff, volunteers, parents and children who are working together at the center. As Diana says, “Every hour [the children] spend here…is another chance for them and their future.”

That’s one of the reasons that, despite the ongoing pandemic, Diana is hopeful for the future and grateful for the support the center has received. “Thanks to your help,” she writes, “we were able to carry out further aid measures this year…[Your] great willingness to help and your donations have made and will continue to make our work here at ‘Open House’ possible.”

Because of the ongoing work of God through the center and its participants, we can join Diana in her hopeful wishes for what is to come:

“On behalf of all our children and staff, we wish you a blessed Advent season, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

 

Vacation Bible School – At Home!

 

It’s hard to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on our communities and our worship experiences. Summer 2020 has begun with a great deal of uncertainty – about our health, the health and well-being of our neighbors, jobs and more. But these past few months have revealed in surprising ways what we have known by faith – God is still at work in our world, inspiring hope, motivating change and leading us to a brighter future. And many congregations have been hard at work, adapting to meet the new needs and changing landscape of worship and faith formation.

To help with this, ELCA World Hunger is delighted to share an adapted version of this year’s Vacation Bible School: “On Earth As in Heaven…At Home!” This adaptation simplifies some of the activities in the original leader’s guide, offers tips for doing crafts and games at home, and provides links to pre-recorded videos you can share.

“On Earth As in Heaven…At Home” Leader’s Guide

The new leader’s guide for this at-home VBS provides simplified instructions for a shorter schedule, as well as alternative activities for parents or caregivers to use at home. The small-group times from the original format have been re-structured into short bible studies, with tips for hosting an online meeting or for households doing the activity on their own. We also included tips for helping children use a journal as part of the small-group times.

New game ideas have been added with an eye toward smaller households doing them, rather than large groups, and new craft ideas can be done with both younger and older children at home. There are also links to the songs for “On Earth As in Heaven” and to pre-recorded videos.

 

Videos

We are also happy to share that we have pre-recorded videos for the skits and for the Story Time station for “On Earth As in Heaven!” The skits were recorded and performed by Paige and Alexis Greve. There are five videos – one for each day – and these can be shared, posted to your congregation’s website, or played live during online gatherings. Each skit helps introduce the theme for the day.

There are also five skits that tell the stories of projects supported in part by ELCA World Hunger. ELCA churchwide staff tell the stories in the videos, so in each one, children will meet one person who works for the ELCA and hear the story of our neighbors working to end hunger around the world. Each story also includes some fun facts about the countries featured.

All of the videos can be viewed or downloaded from the ELCA’s Vimeo showcase page at https://vimeo.com/showcase/7224146.

 

Music

ELCA World Hunger also has original music for “On Earth As in Heaven!” There is a song for each day, and you can find zipped folders for each song on our resource page at https://elca.org/hunger/resources#VBS. Each folder will have a recording with vocals, an instrumental recording and a songsheet with chords.

In the leader’s guide for “On Earth As in Heaven…At Home,” we included a permissions letter that details the rights your congregation has to fair use and sharing of the songs and other materials associated with “On Earth As in Heaven.”

 

This adaptation of VBS for 2020 is the product of many conversations with leaders across the ELCA who provided their input and suggestions as it came together. All of the materials were developed, too, with the generous support of gifts to ELCA World Hunger, and we are happy to provide them for free because of this. If you use “On Earth As in Heaven…At Home,” please consider inviting participants to continue supporting the work of our church toward a just world where all are fed.

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact Ryan Cumming, program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger, at Ryan.Cumming@ELCA.org, or Brooke De Jong, program assistant for hunger education, at Brooke.DeJong@elca.org.

Blessings in your ministry!

Celebrating Maundy Thursday at Home

 

Ending hunger goes beyond providing calories. The ministry of ELCA World Hunger and the work we support together is about recognizing the significance of food and the ways it can bring us together with one another, with God, and with all of creation. In the sacrament Christ initiated on Maundy Thursday, we glimpse what the banquet table God has promised for our future might look like. Today, with churches closed and many fasting from the sacrament until we can be together again, the story of the first Maundy Thursday is particularly poignant. It reminds us of God’s presence at the many tables we dine at, and it reminds us of the powerful way God’s gift of food can bring us together in anticipation of that day when all will be fed.

In this spirit, Pastor Tim Brown offers a plan for an intentional meal at home for Maundy Thursday. 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. 

Maundy Thursday Family Feast

Below is a full reflection with additional ideas. Here is a quick guide you can print and follow with your family: Family Maundy Thursday Quick Guide

Maundy Thursday is an observance of intention.  The word “maundy” is taken from “maundatum” or “mandate,” where Jesus commands his followers to love one another.

The whole observance is a story in three parts: confession and forgiveness, acts of service, and a meal of love.  For an adapted family service around the table, a simple prayer will suffice for confession and forgiveness on this night and will open the observance with sacred empty space.  The washing and meal that follow can be done with as much joy or as much solemnity as your family dynamics dictate.  Remember that the point of this observance is not to feel anything in particular, but rather to participate in a larger story that these holy days narrate.

It’s also important to note that, while your family meal is certainly sacred, this is not the Sacrament of Holy Communion and not a “Christian Seder.”  This is recalling what every Eucharist reminds us: every shared meal is ordinary and extraordinary, and Christ is present in our gathering whenever we dine in fellowship.

Decide What You Want to Eat for Dinner

So, what should you eat for dinner? Frankly, you’re welcome to eat whatever you’d most enjoy on this night.  If you want a more traditional Middle Eastern meal, not unlike the food Jesus may have eaten, grapes, dates, figs, olives, and some crusty bread are good additions to the table if everyone enjoys them. Perhaps some crackers and hummus, too. But if these aren’t in your usual diet or don’t agree with your palate, the point is not to re-enact a meal, but to have a meal, together. Eat what you’d like.

If, as part of your Holy Week observance you’ve made some bread, enjoy that on this night. Bread-baking as a family is a time-honored tradition that spans cultures and ages. Remember to enjoy the gathering, don’t sweat the details too much and just do everything with intention.

Gather Around the Table

To begin, gather the family together around the table, standing or seated. Invite everyone to take a deep breath and quiet themselves.  Light some candles to use as a centerpiece for the table if you have them. If using candles is unwise, or they aren’t available, just take some time to be quiet in God’s presence.

Talk Together

After a while, invite everyone to share their favorite memory that involves a meal. It could be a favorite dish from childhood, a time they shared food with someone at school or on a trip, a special event that they attended, or even a perennial meal they enjoy. What do they enjoy about it? Why?

Pray Together

Then, invite someone to offer a prayer with these, or similar, words. Note that the prayer should both give thanks for the gift of shared meals and food and also acknowledge that we too often ignore the hungry around us.  In this way the prayer is both an act of praise and confession.

“Gracious God, you give us good things to eat and invite us to share with one another.  Thank you for the many ways you feed our minds, feed our hearts, and the very real ways you feed our bellies each day. We also know that we do not share our food, our minds, and our hearts in the ways that you would have us.  For the ways we don’t give of ourselves and our resources, we ask you forgiveness.  And for the many ways you sustain us, we give you thanks.  On this holy night when Jesus shared his last meal with his friends, we remember the great gift it is to eat and spend time with one another. Thank you for this meal, for this holy night, and for all your gifts. Amen.”

Wash Each Other’s Feet or Hands

Invite everyone to be seated with their chairs facing outward, away from the table. Have a bowl of substantial size nearby, like a mixing bowl, a pitcher or larger cup of warm water and a towel for drying.

Invite someone to read John 13:1-17, the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. After you’ve read the story, say the following (or something like it):

“On this night we have heard our Lord’s commandment to love one another as he has loved us. We who receive God’s love in Jesus Christ are called to love one another, to be servants to each other as Jesus became our servant. Our commitment to this loving service is signified in the washing of feet, following the example our Lord gave us on this night.”

Then invite each family member, in turn, to wash one foot of another member of the family, carefully drying it.  Only one foot is necessary, and each person should take a turn. If foot washing is not preferable, you can do hand washing instead, though there is something particularly special and intimate about foot washing.

If you’re performing this ritual with children, it’s natural for them to laugh and giggle during this. This is OK! This night should be about enjoyment as much as it is about sacred acts. Often, they are one and the same. During the foot-washing, it’s appropriate to sing if your family is a singing family. “Come by Here” is a great option, or even just a verse of a familiar song like “Amazing Grace” or “Jesus Loves Me” works well.

After foot-washing, you can invite people to wash their hands and turn their chairs to face back toward the table for the meal.

Eat Together

After everyone is seated and ready, enjoy the meal! Invite people to share reflections about their day, or perhaps ask them what they liked or didn’t like about the foot washing. You can ask those gathered what love means, how they like to best express love, and what the most beautiful act of love they’ve ever seen was.

Tell the Story Together

Toward the end of the meal, but before you’re completely done, invite everyone to quiet back down as you tell the story of the meal portion of the last supper. During this part, I encourage you not to lift up any bread or wine, but if there is bread on the table or a drink, you can reference it as a reminder of the meal. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, recalling Jesus’ last supper.

Then say these words, or something similar:

“Tonight we have participated in a supper like Jesus’ last as his disciples gathered together around him.  The Gospels tell us that after supper Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn together and went out to the Mount of Olives.  You’ll be given a few minutes to eat just a bit more and have another few sips, and then we’ll begin cleaning up quietly, without any loud talking, taking any dishes to the kitchen sink, wiping down tables, and sweeping up. Everyone gets to help.  After we clean up, we’re going to stay pretty quiet the rest of the night to honor this holy night.”

Clean Up

Invite everyone to clean up quietly. On this night where it’s tradition to strip the altar and take everything out of the sanctuary, you may want to take your clean up a little farther by sweeping the whole room, washing down the tables and chairs and countertops, and even keeping the table free from adornments like table cloths or candles. Make everything bare.

After the clean-up is done, invite everyone back around the table for a final prayer saying these words, or something similar:

“I’m glad we got to share this time together tonight!  As we remember Jesus’ last meal, let’s keep honoring it by spending some time together. But before we do that, let’s pray, ‘Thank you, God, for this most holy night, and for Jesus’ example of love.  Help us to love each other, and ourselves, as you love us, and may we always remember the deep love shown through Jesus, a love that will do anything for us. Give us a holy rest tonight, a sweet sleep, so that we may rise to praise you in the morning. Amen.”

Enjoy a Quiet Night Together

Then decide on a family how you will spend the rest of the night! You can read quietly together, or maybe read aloud all from one book. You can play a family game together, listen to music, or if it’s getting late for young children, a bath and story-time is very appropriate. In these days of shelter-in-place when screen-time has probably been at a premium, this is a perfect night to keep all screens off and keep visual distractions to a minimum, including phone distractions.

A Maundy Thursday service in the home should both feel distinct from a normal night routine, and also very familiar. After all, Jesus’ last supper was, at its heart, a simple meal with his friends. Though this Maundy Thursday doesn’t look like many in our lifetime, it can still honor the holiness of the night when done with a little preparation, intention, and a lot of sacred joy.

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 https://vimeo.com/293599869. 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

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.

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.

Script:

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 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.

Script:

“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!”