Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

Advent Study Series: Movers and Shakers (Week 3)


Week 3: Movers and Shakers


Have you ever thought of the “movers and shakers” in your community? This is one collective term we often use to describe the people we think of as powerful, important or effective in their leadership. Perhaps they have enough money to buy whatever they want or need. Perhaps they have a seat at important tables where decisions are made. Perhaps they have friends in high places or are in positions of influence.

These are the people who “keep the world turning.” At least, that’s what most of us think.

The Gospel reading this week describes John the Baptist encountering people sent by the Pharisees as a sort of screening committee, checking his references and reviewing his qualifications for ministry. “Are you Elijah?” they ask. “Are you the prophet?” (John 1:21). John the Baptist replies in the negative. He is simply a camel-hair wearing, locust-eating “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (John 1:23). Yet, this “voice” is one of the most important the people can hear at that moment. The questioners go away dissatisfied; clearly, this crazed man does not have the pedigree it takes to be baptizing and preaching.

Pharisees often get a bad rap in Christian Scripture and history, though they were devout Jews, who believed sincerely in God’s law and God’s promises. Until the middle of the first century, they were known for their ministry among the people in what might have been called the working class of Palestine. Like John the Baptist and other Jews, they knew what Isaiah has prophesied about “good news to the oppressed” (61:1) and “the year of the Lord’s favor” (61:2).

The problem wasn’t that they didn’t believe, or worse, that they didn’t want release for those held captive. The problem was that they didn’t believe God would choose to announce this through a person who wasn’t a “mover or shaker” in the Jewish world.

Yet, the people God chooses to work through in Scripture are often not the people we see as successful, powerful and important. They are tax collectors, shepherds, fishermen, women, craftspeople and even former criminals who would barely merit a second glance in the templeĀ – unless of course, the temple authorities wanted to throw them out.

Yet God lifts them up as disciples, prophets, rulers and priests.

So often, our attention is focused in the wrong places, and we miss what God is working on in our midst. Our eyes are on people with wealth, power and influence – at least, the kind of wealth, power and influence our culture deems worthwhile – and we can fail to see the transformation God is enacting in the overlooked spots in our communities. While the Pharisees were looking for salvation in other places, a poor young woman from an unimportant town was carrying a child that would announce the Advent of Isaiah’s promise.

As many of us look to the traditional centers of power for signs that the world is turning, the world is already turning in our communities. In Minneapolis, youth participating in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church’s Young Leaders Program are taking part in the transformation of their community through art, gardening and entrepreneurship. The word “youth” often implies negative stereotypes – too young, too unruly, too childish. But at St. Paul’s, the community knows that “youth” often means creative, intelligent and motivated leadership – the kind of leadership that can change a community for the better.

Their world is turning because God is working through youth and adults who know that real power is not always found in the places we expect. Their work is supported in part by ELCA World Hunger.

While Advent is a season of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises, the Gospel of John, the prophecy of Isaiah and the song of Mary (Luke 1:46b-55) invite us to recognize that God is already at work, “moving and shaking,” in communities our stereotypes about power might make us overlook.

Reflection questions

  1. What does it mean to have power? Who has power in your community?
  2. How have we acted as “screening committees,” denying the worth of the people God might work through in our community or church? How can we remain open to God at work among and through everyone we meet?
  3. What are some ways that our congregation can be part (or is part!) of the transformation God is enacting in our community?


God of all our hopes, we wait with expectation for the coming of your son into the world. Forgive us for the ways in which we have been blinded to your presence by worldly wealth and success. As we long for Christmas Day, keep our eyes open to your presence in our midst – in one another, in our neighbors, in the people at our doors. Open our hearts to receive the promise you reveal to us through each other and all creation. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Hymn suggestions

Unexpected and Mysterious ELW 258

All Earth is Hopeful ELW 266

My Soul Does Magnify the Lord ELW 882


To download this entire study, or to see some of our other congregational resources, please visit

Advent Study 2017

ELCA on the Travel Channel

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is currently running two ads on the Travel Channel. You can view them here. According to the ELCA News Service:

“‘We hope that through television, billboards and printmedia, members of the
ELCA will be equipped to own and tell this church’s story, the story of what God
is doing in us and through us for the sake of the world,’ Bangert said.”

We in ELCA World Hunger especially like these two ads because in addition to telling what it means to be Lutheran, they also demonstrate that there are many ways to approach the problem of hunger. Again, from the ELCA News Service:

“One television spot — “Hope” — shows a woman quizzing her daughter as they
walk along a road near Yeumbeul, Senegal. It highlights Senegal Lutheran
Mission, which teaches women how to start their own businesses.

The other spot — “Dignity” — opens with workers setting tables in a fancy
restaurant. The “restaurant” is actually Trinity Lutheran Church, Bismarck,
N.D., and volunteers are preparing a banquet for homeless neighbors.”

I’ve written before about the importance of girls education to reducing poverty and hunger. Teaching women how to start their own businesses falls along the same lines and addresses the 3rd Millennium Development Goal: Promote gender equality and empower women. Poverty is disproportionately prevalent among female-headed households. In many places, patriarchal societies make it difficult for women to own property, find work, or participate in decisions that effect them. Thus marginalized, they lack the means to provide for themselves or their children.

On the other hand, women who are able to earn their own incomes have more choices and greater ability to lift themselves out of poverty. What’s more, this ability typically spills over to their children. Educated women are better positioned to tend to their children’s health and educational needs, thus raising a future generation that is also healthier and more skilled. Beyond education, women with their own income have greater access to resources, and more power in their communities. The work the ELCA is doing in Senegal and other places to help women start their own businesses is critically important to ending hunger.

The ad about serving a meal to homeless neighbors is another part of the fight to end hunger. Education is critically important, but when you’re hungry right now, simply eating is top priority. Without adequate food and nutrition, people are more vulnerable to illness, lack the calories to physically move through the day, and are less able to concentrate. Is it any wonder that hungry people are unable to work and, without work, unable to pay for shelter? In such cases, food aid is just as important as longer-term solutions like education. Again, the work of the ELCA is critically important to ending hunger.

It’s a lot to think about during that next commercial break.

-Nancy Michaelis

The Nature of Power

One of our hunger volunteers, Mary, forwarded me a link to an interesting blog posting. It’s written by Brian Konkol, a missionary who has recently moved to South Africa. In his March 11th post, he talks about a class he’s taking with several African students from different countries. They are discussing power in the world, who has it, how they use it, etc. The Africans point out to Brian that regardless of its popularity, the United States holds great power and influence throughout the world. The discussion causes Brian to ponder whether “we Americans… have used our vast collective power wisely.”

Brian, in turn, has caused me to ponder. The word “collective” really got my attention. What is the role of an individual American in wielding American power? I have absolutely no data to support this next claim, but here it is: I think that most Americans feel pretty divorced from the actions of the government, and especially its foreign policy. Of course there are exceptions. Politicians, lobbyists and activists are obvious ones. But how many of us, our friends, our family, feel they have anything to do with the Farm Bill? With federal budget allocations? With diplomatic relations?

Of course many of us vote, and that’s important (though many of us don’t!). But it’s often an isolated act. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t usually feel responsible for the ultimate outcome. I pick the candidate that seems to most closely align with my values and then hope for the best. Or I vote punitively, selecting the opposing candidate, regardless of who it is, in hopes of getting rid of the incumbent. Either way, once the voting is done, many of us return to our lives and shake our heads if the news is bad. Outside of this occasional activity, I suspect most Americans don’t feel they have a role in how American power is used in the world.

I’ve sometimes heard statements like, “We don’t have anything against the American people; it’s the government (or policy, or administration) we have issues with.” I think this statement is meant to make criticism easier to accept, but I wonder if instead it doesn’t just further divorce us from our government and policies. “Oh. They’re not talking about me! I’m not part of the government. I’ll just get back to what I was doing.” But is that true? Don’t we claim a representative government? Don’t we claim it represents its citizens – us? me?

Like Brian, I don’t really have answers. If you do, I’d love to hear them – please leave a comment! But I will continue to ponder what it means for an individual American to wield American power outside of a career in politics. Because American power in the world certainly has a role in ending hunger, and if I can wield some of that, I want to.