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


Advent week 3

“In reply [John the Baptist] said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.'”

-Luke 3:11

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.


In December 2019, then-Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would have increased restrictions on eligibility and caused the loss of benefits for many Americans. In doing so, he told reporters that the changes would help move “more able-bodied recipients off of SNAP benefits toward self­

sufficiency.” His argument, like so many arguments against SNAP and other public assistance programs, was that these programs make people dependent rather than self-sufficient.

There’s nothing new in this (though one might wonder how “sufficient” the average SNAP award of $121 per month was at the time). For decades, self-sufficiency has been celebrated as the ideal marker of success. In 2019, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, famously altered the words of Emma Lazarus enshrined on the Statue of Liberty when he defended new restrictive immigration policies: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he opined. His message was clear: self-sufficiency is not just an ideal but a prerequisite for being part of American society.

By contrast, our faith is rooted in the idea that we are not self­ sufficient but dependent and interdependent. Advent is the story of a dependent people being saved by God for the very reason that we could not save ourselves. We were and have always been dependent. From the first humans in Eden, relying on the gifts of the Creator, to our ancestors, wandering in the wilderness totally dependent on the protection and provision of God, Scripture is the story of God with us – because we can’t do it alone.

In the Gospel reading for the third Sunday in Advent, John the Baptist chastises the crowd, calling them a “brood of vipers” and comparing them to chaff – the waste from processing wheat – that would be left on the threshing floor. When they ask what they ought to do, John’s response is intriguing. He doesn’t advise them to pray harder or attend synagogue more frequently. Rather, he urges them to restore their relationships with one another. In short: share and be fair. Share with one another (Luke 3:11) and be fair in your business dealings (Luke 3:13-14). John’s response is to recognize and respect our dependence on one another. When we are in need, we depend on the generosity of others. And in daily life, our well­ being depends on trusting others to act justly.

The early church took this to heart. In the book of Acts, we learn that the first Christian communities “had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This kind of sharing distinguished Christian communities for centuries afterward.

For early Christians, dependence on one another went beyond just being nice. It was deeply rooted in the common understanding of property, human nature and God. Charles Avila, in his masterful book Ownership: Early Christian Teaching, describes how, for the early writer Clement of Alexandria, the purpose of property was twofold: autarkeia, or the ability to care for ourselves, and koinonia, the obligation to care for others in the community. Ultimately, Clement says, we are created for koinonia, for community.

Autarkeia, the “self-sufficiency” provided by property, finds its truest meaning in the freedom it provides us to care for each other. No one can live, let alone thrive, without help from others.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of this interconnectedness. Even as we kept physical distance, the deep needs that stemmed from the pandemic couldn’t be ignored. Hunger around the world increased dramatically. In the United States, food insecurity and economic insecurity led to massive spikes in the numbers of people using food pantries and other community assistance resources.

Ellie Puente saw this firsthand in her community in Fuquay­ Varina, N.C. When the pandemic hit, she worried about her son’s friend, Carlos, and his family. She knew Carlos’ family had trouble

making ends meet, and the pandemic only made the situation more challenging. Ellie met with a friend and a few teachers from the school where she volunteers. Together, they identified 20 families, including Carlos’, that were in need. They rounded up donations and started making daily deliveries of lunches and other food supplies to their neighbors. Every time they thought they would run out of money to pay for food, local supporters stepped in.

Abiding Presence Lutheran Church became a partner in the school’s program and provided food for the families with the help of a Daily Bread Matching Grant from ELCA World Hunger.

Their relationship with the families has been crucial during the pandemic. “Our food delivery program has been instrumental in meeting a physical need by providing food to our families,” says Ellie. “More importantly, our food delivery program has helped us create a deeper connection with families……………… [The] families know we

love them, and they know they belong.”

The sharing that John the Baptist called his early followers to practice, and that Ellie, Abiding Presence and the school practiced, is about more than the things we distribute. It’s about who we are created and called to be. As this Advent season reminds us, God promises not that we will be fine on our own but that we will be made whole in reconciled and transformed relationships with God and one another. From the joy of Zechariah in the second week

of Advent to the proclamations of John the Baptist this week, the message of Christ’s coming is that we can’t do it on our own – nor do we have to.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the ways we depend on one another and showed us just how effective we can be when we recognize that interdependence and respond to it in love.


  1. How are the terms “self-sufficiency” and “interdependence” related? How are they different?
  2. In your own life, how has the support, care or presence of others helped you? Thinking about it another way: in the story of your life, who else might play an important part?
  3. How might the work of Ellie’s school and Abiding Presence Lutheran Church have helped the families “know they belong”? How is your congregation helping your neighbors feel welcomed and supported in your community?
  4. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic reminded you of our dependence on God and one another?


Gracious God, you have brought your people together into one community, reconciling us in Christ one to the other. Forgive us for the times when we have isolated ourselves or others, and inspire us with the love that binds us together. When we feel alone, remind us that we are loved. When we are estranged, remind us of your love for others. Bless us with the memory of our dependence on you and each other this Advent, that we may be part of the community you have created in our midst. In your name, we pray. Amen.

Children’s Sermon

By Pr. Tim Brown for ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters

In response to this coaxing work that God in Christ does upon us, follow the suggestion that ELCA World Hunger’s Advent Action Guide suggests on page 6 and debut one of the posters that gives testimony to what your gifts to ELCA World Hunger does in the world. 

Pre-order one of the posters ELCA World Hunger provides, and have it on hand, rolled up behind your back.

“Hi all!  I’m so glad you’re here today.” Hold the poster out of sight. “Today we are introduced to someone very wild, very interesting, does anyone know who it is?”

Allow time to field responses.

“Yes! John the Baptizer. He was loud and proud and was baptizing people in the River Jordan. Come here, let me show you something…” Invite the youth to the baptismal font, keeping the poster behind your back. “John the Baptizer was baptizing people, just like we do right here at this font. He was baptizing them into a new way of life, reminding them that God loved them and invited them to live like they are loved.”

“And you know what loved people do?  They love other people!  Loved people love people.  How do you show your love to someone?”

Allow time for them to answer.

“Right, they do all those things.  Want to know one of the ways our congregation, all together, loves people?  We give part of our offering to ELCA World Hunger <unveil poster> and we help feed others around the world, or help them get jobs, or help them afford homes.  Being baptized reminds us that we’re loved by God, and loved people love people, and so we love people all around the world through giving support to ELCA World Hunger. I’m going to hang this poster out there <point to the narthex> so that we can remember how loved people love people the rest of the month, but I want to tell you a surprise. Ready?  Come close”

<whispered> “You are all loved, and loved people love people. And those people out there?  They need to remember that they are loved. Dip one finger in the font, and go up to them and draw a cross on their forehead, saying, ‘Loved people love people.’ Can you do that?  Ready? Go!”

ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter: Ash Wednesday


These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone.


Isaiah 58:1-12

Fast from indoor gatherings.

Fast from outdoor gatherings of more than twenty-five people.

Fast from unnecessary travel.

Fast from in-person school (but over-indulge on virtual meetings).

Fast from expecting a quick resolution, and please fast from political posturing for a minute. Please.

Fast from uncovered faces, and indulge in imaginative masks.

Fast from indoor dining, but indulge on take-out, especially from the small stores who are just trying to make it!

We’ve had so many instructions these last eleven months. Fasts have been declared. Sackcloth has been replaced by mask-cloths. What are we to make of all of this?

The prophet Isaiah provides a beautiful column of words from which to build a thoughtful sermon, but truly on this Ash Wednesday the sermon will not be built by words, but by the world that is still trying to stop the hemorrhaging of our much loved friends and family. Truly we sit upon an ash-heap of tears and unrealized hopes in this pandemic.

In the process, we’ve drawn all sorts of images upon our brows: political D’s and political R’s and “sick” and “tested” and “vaccinated” and…

And we’re tired.

This Ash Wednesday, we don’t need a reminder that we are dust; I have a feeling that we’re all too aware of that by now, Beloved.

This Ash Wednesday, we need a reminder that, as the Gungor song says, “God makes beautiful things out of dust.”

The feast that God desires is one of justice. In a pandemic, that looks like wearing a mask, and abstaining from gatherings, and putting off travel in deference to the vulnerable. It means taking seriously the needs of communities of color, of indigenous communities, and our community of elders that are created by inequitable access to resources and care. It means learning, too, about “co-morbidities” and how these can exacerbate vulnerability. Although, if we’re truly honest, we all have co-morbidities we’re unwilling to acknowledge and face.

All humans have the co-morbidity of being made of dust.

God is in love with people with co-morbidities, Beloved.  Let’s not pretend they’re expendable.

And not just in this pandemic, but long after it. God makes beautiful things, and it’s high-time we not just acknowledge it, but behave as if it is true!

We behave as if it is true not just by wearing a mask, but by honoring our neighbor after this is all over and done with. We behave as if it is true not just by abstaining from mass gatherings, but by finding ways to lift up the overworked and underpaid who don’t get to participate in mass gatherings no matter when they happen because they are hampered by poverty.

This Ash Wednesday we mark ourselves on our brow not with a D or an R or a “vaccinated” or an “employed,” but with a cross. A cross that says, in no uncertain terms, that all those other markings pale in comparison to the mark we received on that brow in our baptism, and that biological mark that all creation received in being formed from the dust that we use in remembrance.

Fast, Beloved, from elitism, not just from mass gatherings.  Fast, Beloved, from ableism, not just from running at the gym. Fast from every -ism, not just traveling to exotic places to be waited on by underpaid workers.

This year, we have had the opportunity to see what a fast truly means, by God: it means remembering that we are not gods, but dusty-ones.

And God is in love with dusty things, so we can be in love with them, too.

All of them.

Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starters for the months of January and February. Pr. Tim is a Gifts Officer and Mission Ambassador for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a pastor and writer out of Raleigh, NC. He likes to write on the intersection of faith and doubt, and is a regular contributor to Living LutheranSundays and Seasons, and The Christian Century. He’s a husband, father of two, a dreamer, and you’re more likely to find him at a coffee shop than in an office.

ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter: World Food Day


These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone.

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

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

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

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

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

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

Matthew 22:15-22

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

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

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

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

Children’s Sermon

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

ELCA World Hunger Sermon Starter- Pentecost


These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone. This reflection was written by Rev. Dr. William Flippin. Rev. Dr. William Edward Flippin, Jr. served as an ELCA parish pastor in Columbus, Ga., and Atlanta, Ga., for eleven years. He was the first African-American pastor at both churches.  He currently serves as Assistant to the Bishop, Director of Evangelical Mission for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. He served on the ELCA Church Council 2013-19 and is on the Lutheran World Federation Church Council as Co-Chair for Advocacy and Public Voice. He received the “Prophetic Voice” Award in 2016 for Faith in Public Life, Washington, D.C., and serves on the Alumni Board for Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He also was inducted in 2017 to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers and Laity at his alma mater Morehouse College. He has been married for seventeen years to Kedra Phillips-Flippin, a nurse care manager, and are the proud parents of Shamel Emani.

May 31- Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 7:37-39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Message

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

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

Easter Sermon Starter: 5th Sunday of the Pandemic



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 12- Easter Sunday

Jeremiah 31:1-6

Should you decide not to preach on Matthew’s resurrection account, my suggestion would be to choose the Jeremiah offering (the alternative option) rather than the reading from Acts as the basis for the sermon. And the choice is purely contextual, if I’m honest with you, because fine Easter sermons can be crafted from either text.

But the Jeremiah reading has this wonderful cadence that dances a bit on this day of celebration, and the wonderful theme of “Again” used in the text can be played with to craft a sermon of resurrection hope that might be most impactful in this strange time of wilderness.

“Again, I will build you…” says the Lord. “Again, you shall take your tambourines…” says the Divine.  “Again, you shall plant…” says the Holy Gardener.

“Again” might just be the message your people need. For though it is Easter, it is also “The 5th Sunday of the Pandemic” for most of us, and perhaps the third or fourth Sunday of “shelter-in-place.”  These realities must be spoken of, too.

In fact, I dare say that every year, Easter speaks to these kinds of realities; we just fail to recognize that fact most years from the comfort of our new dresses and freshly pressed suits with floral print ties.

Your people will gather together, in person, again.  Your people will be able to embrace one another, again. Families separated by quarantine will be able to kiss one another, again.

It will happen again! There will be a time after this pandemic. If there’s one thing Easter makes abundantly clear, again and again, every year, it’s that there is always an “again.”

Neither life, nor pandemic, nor crucifixion nor death can stop that. On this Sunday above all others (but also, all the others!) this is the Gospel message.

A final lovely nugget hidden in this prophetic text is the heavy but heartening truth that the people of Israel didn’t just find grace after they were through the wilderness period, but rather, as Jeremiah says, they found “grace in the wilderness.”

There is grace in the wilderness. And I’m not talking about silver linings or optimism or “glass-half-full” sort of grace, but rather the kind of grace that knocks you off your feet and helps you survive another day sort of graces.

I’m talking about Easter-sized sort of graces.

Reminding people that though shopping is suspended, and socializing in person is suspended, and yes, Easter sunrise service is suspended in these days, grace is not suspended.  God’s grace is never suspended.

Grace is found again and again, even now, even in these days.  Which is worth celebrating and shouting “Alleluia” for this morning.

Again we will hold hands. Again we will join together. Again there is grace to be found, even today.

Again and again and again — and no quarantine, no shelter-in-place, no tomb will ever cause that not to be true.

Matthew 28:1-10

On this Easter, many churches around the world are empty, just like that tomb was empty in ancient Palestine on that “first day of the week.”

In this pandemic, the most honest sign of love that the Christian world can give to the greater world, and to one another (and by extension, to the God seen in the risen Christ), is an empty church building. I’m serious.

There may be a few places in the world where the pandemic has not yet reached levels where churches are empty; places that may be far from you geographically but, through the faith that connects us, not so far at all. If there are, they will gather together in body for the rest of us as we all gather together in spirit on this Sunday.

Perhaps this is a good Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection as it is formally called, to remember that our church gatherings are both local and universal, every time we gather. Our communion liturgy connects us both with one another, but it also connects us across continents and cultures, and with the distant past and with the future, as we join the “saints of every time and place.” That “every” there really does mean every, Beloved.

This is what our theology tells us.

Notice how Matthew’s resurrection account opens a very poignant and timely door for us today, a door upon which the sermon can hinge. The angels, when greeting the women, tell them the resurrection news and instruct them to go tell the disciples to meet Jesus back in Galilee.

And then, the text says, they go “with fear and great joy.”

We often, I think, assume that great joy and fear are mutually exclusive, but this text reminds us that they need not be. We can be both fearful and joyful, which is probably where a lot of your parishioners are at in these days, right?

Yes, we may be quarantined, and there is some fear around the future, but on this Easter Sunday we are also filled with great joy because we remember the promise that the love of God cannot be stopped by anything, not even death.

Yes, we may have to shelter-in-place, and there is some fear about what that is doing to the economy, but on this Easter Sunday we are also filled with great joy because we remember the promise that God resurrects bodies, and they are paramount, and we are saving people’s lives in these days, just as all of us will one day dance bodily with the risen Christ.

Yes, we may be separated from one another, and there is some fear and anxiety about when we can be back together, but there is also great joy on this Easter Sunday because we remember that every Sunday leading up to this, we’ve been practicing in our souls and hearts for the day when we truly, truly need the Easter story, and by God, it’s today.

On this Easter Sunday, do not take the easy way out and present a rosy picture; Easter isn’t meant for rosy days.

Easter is meant, necessary even, for days of fear and tombs and women gathering in the darkness unsure of what they’ll find.

Easter is meant for today, by God.  Alleluia!

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 continue assuming that you’re recording this for them to experience online.

Have a huge Alleluia banner, or even a sheet of paper with an individual letter spelling out the word Alleluia, on it.

Welcome, everyone!

(name) here, and I’m so glad you’re here on this Easter Sunday! <pretend to look into the camera> Wow!  Look at all those Easter dresses and fancy clothes you all have on.

Well, oh, and someone is still in their pajamas! Which is great! God loves us no matter what we’re wearing.

And, in fact, God loves us no matter where we are! And just because we can’t be together today doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate Easter, right?

Now, there’s one word we haven’t been saying all of Easter. It starts with an A and…wait, I have something to show you. <pull out the Alleluia banner, or at least the first letter of the word, if they’re on individual sheets of paper> Here it is!

Alleluia!  It’s kind of like yelling “Yeah!” to God.

So, what I want you to do is shout it with me. Everyone. On the count of three.  Ready? 1-2-3 <hold up the banner> Alleluia!

You know what? If we all shouted that at the same time, we’re more connected than ever!

Can you do me a favor? Ask a parent or guardian to video you giving your biggest Alleluia. You can say it loud, sing it or even take a picture with you holding an Alleluia banner that you made. Can you do that? Have them send it to me.

Because on Easter we celebrate that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that even though we might be separate from one another this Sunday, we won’t stay that way forever, and that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

So, send the church those videos or those pictures, and let me see those resurrection smiles! Oh, and don’t worry. You can wear your Easter best or your PJs…God doesn’t care.  Jesus is risen, which means we can celebrate no matter where we are or how we are!

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

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.

Preaching in the Time of COVID-19



These reflections are a part of ELCA World Hunger’s Sermon Starter series which is published via email every Monday. You can sign up for the weekly email here on the right side of the page if on a computer or near the bottom of the page if viewing from a phone. Pastor Tim Brown is the writer of these reflections. Pr. Tim is a Gifts Officer and Mission Ambassador for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a pastor and writer out of Raleigh, NC. You are invited to use the message below for personal devotion as well as prompts for sermon writing. 

March 29- Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The enigmatic poet Emily Dickinson’s famous words are appropriate for a sermon that hangs off the Hebrew Scripture assigned to the day:

Tell the truth, but tell it slant

Success in circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm delight

The truth’s superb surprise

A lightening to the children eased

With explanation kind

The truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind

“Tell the truth, but tell it slant…” is Dickinson’s prescription for a humanity that truly has trouble bearing too much reality, at least all at once.

And, Beloved, let’s be honest: there is tons of heavy truth in these days. Truth about this pandemic, truth about the health of our loved ones, concerning truth about the health of our congregations…too much truth.

I don’t suggest you tell it slant. I don’t suggest you bludgeon people, either.

All this heavy truth is perhaps why we have historically destroyed those who tell too much truth.  In

ancient days they called them “prophets,” though you might not associate prophecy with truth-telling. So much of what passes for “prophecy” these days has to do with predicting the future, but that’s not actually what a prophet does, nor is it indicative of who a prophet is, at least in the Bible.

Prophets are truth-tellers.

Ezekiel was already a priest, but just being a priest doesn’t make you a prophet. Priests perform ritual acts, but prophets perform acts of truth-telling, often to powers that don’t want to hear it. Sometimes priests and prophets are one and the same…but it takes intention and risk.

And the book of Ezekiel is one of powerful truth-telling, using allegory to speak to Israel in a time of great confusion.

Because as he’s standing over this valley of dry bones God tells him to proclaim more truth: to the bones, and to the wind, forging an alliance between the human and the elemental to show forth God’s work in the world.

Is this not what we essentially do as pastors in the Rite of Baptism? Do we not prophesy to the human (the baptismal candidate) and the elemental (the water) at the urging of God to cause new life to enter into not only the human but the world writ large?

This text is a baptismal text. It’s a text about new life.

And what truths need to be told in these days of confusion? Perhaps there is a call to be honest and careful about human touch with Covid-19 spreading like wildfire.  And, along with that call, perhaps the prophet in the digital pulpit would do well to remind people that this is not a “foreign” virus, as viruses don’t have nationalities, and we must resist language that pits humanity against each other, especially in times of crisis.

New life will come for the world, but we are called practice caution in these days. That’s some tough truth, especially for those who already don’t get their touch-needs met enough: the lonely, the aged, the stigmatized, and the unwell.

So maybe some truth-telling today might name that, in this time of social distancing, we must find safe ways to reach out to those who already feel distant. That’s some deep truth.

Deep truth-telling can change things, by God.

It’s even been known to make things that were once dead alive again.

Perhaps that’s why it gets another hearing at the Easter Vigil every year.

Prophets don’t tell the future, they tell the truth. In this Lenten season, what is the truth your assembly needs to hear, by God? And what is the truth they need to say to this world too often dominated by dry bones and hot air?

John 11:1-45

This reading is plagued by a lack of brevity, which only works against the preacher if you’re not imaginative with how you proclaim it. I suggest, if possible in this new reality, you split up the text between several voices. I know in our digital reality this would require some planning and coordination, but it is worth it.

And once the text falls on their ears, you then have the ability nimbly navigate this longer reading in a way that lands with more than sentimental impact. Sentimentality is one of the dangers of this text, I think. And in the world of proclamation, sentimentality is akin to pity: it deflects true emotion by keeping distance.

Because the truth of the Lazarus story is that Lazarus is dead. Very dead.

We know this because the writer goes to great lengths to note that Lazarus has been in the grave for four days. In ancient Jewish lore, the spirit of the deceased hovered around the tomb for no more than three days (which, it is worth noting, John makes sure that Jesus actually does physical things post-resurrection, to show he’s not just a spirit appearing to people). The Gospel notes that Lazarus was there for four days, many hours past the time when he might have just been mistaken for dead, or that his spirit would appear.

Lazarus is dead. And in these days of rising death-tolls, this can be difficult to claim and name. But it also might be necessary to investigate.

What are the dead places in our lives? Our feelings of safety and normalcy? Our healthcare system? Our trust in our government?

Or, perhaps in these intensive quarters, we’re realizing our relationships are dead or dying? Our jobs?

What used to have life, but is long past that now? These questions bounce around the text this Sunday morning.

A different sermon might find another avenue, though, through the way that both indignation and hope hold hands in the person of Martha. Mary, rightfully, seems full of grief and regret. But Martha holds out the candle of hope in the shadow of the valley of death, noting that Jesus can ask anything of God and God will provide.

The imagery of holding both indignation and hope simultaneously strikes me as timely in these days, even as the Earth warms, our politics continue to be divisive, wars continue, and mass shootings become far too regular.

Perhaps you and your online-assembly will resonate with that theme as well. How do we hold indignation in one hand and hope in the other, well? It’s worth asking and pondering together as a church.

Or perhaps your assembly needs to ask openly what is binding them and keeping them buried in these days.  Is it a budget that can’t be met?  Is it division in the pews?  Or perhaps they’re tied to a past that is long dead or an uncertain future.  Or maybe all of this and more.

Lazarus is unbound in today’s Gospel, and if you read just a bit more in the scriptures, you’ll find that in the next scene he’s serving Jesus. Not only are his bindings keeping him buried, but they’re keeping him from serving.

Maybe yours are, too.

There is so much to pull from this Gospel lesson. Pick an avenue and follow it down that holy path.

Children’s Message

This might be a good time to allay fears around COVID-19, and explore how God calls us to gather together safely. You’re probably giving this online, and wanting to strike a balance between providing perspective while not alarming them.  Be cheery, but honest.

Have a box of tissues with you to lift up.

Alright, everyone, I brought something with me and I bet you know what it is.

Hold up the box of tissues

Right!  Tissues. When do we use these? Give space to pretend for an answer. The children watching will understand this pause. It is part of many shows they already watch. 

Right. When we have a runny nose, or we sneeze, or cough…when we’re sick.

Where is the best place to cough and sneeze if we don’t have a tissue though?

Give space to pretend for someone to answer.

Right! Doctors say that we should cough or sneeze into our elbows demonstrate so that we get good coverage over our mouth and nose with our arm.

We know that there is a virus going around. They probably have you washing your hands at home a lot right?  Yeah, they want to make sure we’re all healthy and don’t spread it around.

God wants us all to be safe. So, many of us are staying at home. And in this time when we’re being careful not to spread things around, we still want to be safe, right? Because we don’t want people who are sick to get sicker or people who may be very old or very young to get sick, right?

So, for a little while, I want to show you how to say “Peace be with you” in sign language. It’s something that we can do when we share the peace with one another, so we don’t actually have to touch hands while doing it. And I want you to send me videos of you doing it! Ready?

The sign for “peace” is made by putting your hands together and turning them over, then moving them apart in an inverted V.  “With” is simply bringing two closed fists together.  “You” is made by a simple point or gesture toward someone.  You can find visual directions here:

Practice this a few times with the youth, and then show them “Also with you!” which is just a simple point back at the person who offered you peace.

We want everyone to be healthy and safe. So, we can do this peace sign instead of actually shaking hands.  Or, if you’d rather, you can bump elbows demonstrate or bow demonstrate or even just hold up your fingers in a V demonstrate.

In this church, even when we can’t be physically together, we care about people who need caring for, and in this time it’s those who may get sick because we’re having too much contact. So, let’s practice safe ways of communicating!

Right now, let’s practice. Send me a short video of you giving the peace to someone using sign language, or bumping elbows, or bowing, or whatever way I just showed you. God wants us to be in community safely, so let’s do this for a little while!

Post the videos with permission. For other resources, you can check out the ELCA recommendations here:

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!”