Posts From January, 2021

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus' Authority

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Mark 1:21-28

January 31, 2021

"Cheryl Reimold, an authority about body language, once said, "If you stand up to address a seated person, you gain height and a certain amount of temporary power. But if you face a person directly, on his level (whether sitting or standing), you are more likely to establish communication."

Queen Victoria knew that.

The queen and her husband, Prince Albert, quarreled about something early in their marriage. Albert walked out of the room and went to his private quarters. Victoria followed, found the door locked, and began pounding on it.

"Who's there?" Prince Albert asked.

"The Queen of England," was the reply. But the door remained locked.

More pounding followed, but then there was a pause. The next sound was that of a gently tap.

"Who's there?" Albert inquired.

The queen's reply: "Your wife, Albert."

Prince Albert opened the door immediately."[1]


Jesus displayed a kind of authority that was accompanied by gentleness and compassion. Through his gentle authority, he opened the door to people to come to God through him. In his Gospel, the evangelist Mark makes a comparison between Jesus and the teachers of the law. He demonstrates the authority of Jesus over the teachers of the law. The worshipers at Capernaum synagogue were impressed by Jesus' teaching because he taught with authority, unlike the teachers of the law. There are two points in the Gospel that distinguish Jesus from the scribes:

First, Jesus taught new teaching—with authority! The teachers of the law interpreted the law and the prophets and gave relevant implications for people's present time. Still, Jesus gave an interpretation to be more relevant to people's life.[2] The scribes' teachings and authority were like a burden on the Jews. Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew 23:1-4 that the Pharisees and scribes "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them." It seems that misusing their authority closed the door to people to come to God. Jesus continues to criticize them by saying, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to" (Matthew 23:13).

Second, Jesus' exorcism demonstrates his authority over the teachers of the law. Healers, magicians, and exorcists were widespread in Israel and Hellenistic culture. Why did the Pharisees and the teachers of the law oppose him? The first reason, Jesus healed the possessed man on the Sabbath. The second reason, the statement that the possessed man uttered, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" represents the struggle between Jesus and the teachers of the law. The New Testament scholar, Ched Myers, notes that the unclean spirit speaks on behalf of the teachers of the law and presents their opinion toward Jesus' authority.[3] The evangelist Mark presents Jesus as a threat to the established power of the teachers of the law. Our Lord Jesus threatened the status quo of the religious leaders.


Jesus' teaching liberates people, unlike the teachers of the law that enslaves people. By healing the possessed man with an unclean spirit, Jesus demonstrates his messianic mission and the coming of the reign of God. "God's enemies are beginning to be defeated, and that Satan's rule over the world is about to end."[4]


The unclean spirit is very present in our life, our community, and the world. This unclean spirit aims to destroy and enslave us.  Examples of this unclean spirit could be addiction, discrimination, war, and so on. To eliminate this spirit, we need first to name it, and through the authority of Jesus Christ, we can destroy it.

I want to share with you my story. Losing my father made me very sad. It was hard to admit that he is gone. I intentionally made myself busy with my ministry to avoid acknowledging this significant loss. To refuse to recognize the loss of my father made me suffer more and more. The unclean spirit manifested itself in turning my back to my grief. I had to admit and name my loss. At that moment, through the help of God, I have started my first step to heal and recover. I firmly believe that naming your problem or the unclean spirit in your life will help you to transform it. Believe in the authority of Jesus Christ and trust him to liberate you. He had the authority to release the man who was possessed by the unclean spirit. Believe that he can do the same to you. God's grace and mercy are always available to you. Sometimes we do not value the treasure that we have until we lose it. Sometimes we do not pay attention or use the valuable resources that we have. We become busy finding solutions for our problems, whereas the solution is next to us all the time. God is always present in your life, but we do not pay attention. God is close to you as your skin. Pray to God through Jesus Christ to help you to destroy your unclean spirit. Jesus has the authority to liberate you, so open your heart to receive his precious grace.




[3] Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (p. 143). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.



Fishers of people: Invitation to involve in Social justice

Mark 1:14-20

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Mark 1:14-20

January 24, 2021


"The story is told about a group called themselves fishermen. There were many fish in the water all around this group. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be a primary task of fishermen.

Continually, they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing. Further they said, "The fishing industry exists by fishing as fire exists by burning." They loved slogans such as "Fishing Is the Task of Every Fisherman." They sponsored special meetings called "Fishermen's Campaigns" and "The Month for Fishermen to Fish." They sponsored costly nationwide and world-wide congresses to discuss fishing and to promote fishing and hear about all the ways of fishing such as the new fishing equipment, fish calls, and whether any new bait had been discovered.

These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings called "Fishing Headquarters." The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. There was one thing they didn't do, however—they didn't fish… Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never goes fishing?"[1]

In Mark's Gospel, our Lord Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, the fishermen, to follow him and make them fish for people. We have traditionally interpreted Jesus' invitation to grow the number of people in the kingdom of God. We hear evangelical preachers using the text in Mark's Gospel to encourage Christians to win souls for Christ. In other words, Jesus' statement, "fish for people," connotes the vocation of "saving souls." I do not deny this interpretation; however, I invite you to pay attention to this text's context.

In Jewish biblical tradition, to fish for people implies a divine judgment of God's enemies. The prophets Jeremiah (16:6), Amos (4:2), and Ezekiel (29:4) used the metaphor of "hooking a fish" as a metaphor for God's punishment on the wicked. For example, Amos warns the  rich Israelites of God's judgment if they do not repent, "The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: 'The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.'" If the Israelites biblical tradition understands fishing for people to mean punishment, why does Jesus use this metaphor? I assume that Jesus has two reasons:


First, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus started his ministry after "John was put in prison" (v. 14). Herod Antipas was responsible for beheading John the Baptist, possibly at his royal palace in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee's shores.[2] Jesus called his first disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John, sons of Zebedee, who witnessed Herod Antipas taking the Jews' land to Romanize the region and put it under the Emperor's control.[3] Those disciples were victims of Roman oppression.


Second, the villages that surrounded the Sea of Galilee were fishing villages. The Jews depended on fishing for their survival. But Herod Antipas' romanization project in Galilee had controlled the fishing industry by imposing taxation on fishers and exporting fish throughout the empire market, which benefited only the elites.[4] It seems to me that the first disciples suffered greatly from the Romans' injustices.



Jesus called his disciples who were anticipating God’s intervention to end the Romans oppression. Jesus preached the good news about the coming of God's reign to replace the Emperor and Herod Antipas’ reign. Jesus invited his disciples to join him in participating and preparing for the kingdom of God. When he says, follow me, and I will make you fish for people, he means to invite his disciples to resist the powerful and the elites who took advantage of the powerless. In other words, Jesus "is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege."[5]


To be a disciple of Jesus and his follower means that Jesus is your Lord, and he rules over your life. Following Jesus might lead you to the cross. Preaching the kingdom of God and speaking against injustices led to his crucifixion. Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher" (6:40). In other words, you are not better than Jesus Christ. Since you call yourself a Christian, you come to church to listen to his word and partake in his body and blood; then you have to live like him. We are called to fish for people, which means to improve people's life. We are called to make this world the kingdom of God. It is our responsibility as Christians to be the voice of Christ in every institution, organization, school, church, home, government. You name it.


It is not enough to talk about fishing and explain the best way to fish without going fishing. It is not enough to come to church and listen to the word of God. We are called to be Christ’s voice of love, peace, and justice in our communities. To be a follower of Christ and fish for people means to be the bridge that connects divided people.


After the election and the riot in Capital Hill, some people ended their friendship with their friends who have different opinions. A friend of mine told me that she lost a longtime friend over politics—other lost family members. Followers of Jesus Christ are invited to love one another and lay down their lives for one another (1 John 3:16). Despite our differences, Jesus is calling all of us—republicans and Democrats—to fish for people. You cannot call yourself fisher, and you do not fish. You cannot claim that you love Jesus and end your friendship or oppose your neighbor who has different political views.


Fishing for people has political and spiritual meaning. Through advocating for the oppressed and challenging the hostile order of hierarchy and privilege, you share the love of God with your underprivileged neighbor. You participate in helping people to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. You help them and allow yourself to be open to receive God's grace and mercy. It also means comforting one another and "carrying each other's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). In doing so, the Holy Spirit grants you peace and comfort in a time of need and strengthens you to continue to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ regardless of what the hostile world might bring.




[2] Ched Myers, “let’s Catch Some Big Fish!” Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in a World of Injustice,” Radical Discipleship, January 22, 2015,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995), 132.


John 1:43-51

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras
John 1:43-51
January 17, 2021
"In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days, he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus, he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.
So one Sunday, he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu." That usher's prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior."[1]
Many of us value people based on their ethnicity, zip code, and color. Prejudice clouds our judgment. The sin of prejudice is an age-old problem. We have many examples of stories of discrimination in our Scripture. In the reading today in the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus' disciple Nathanael, who used discriminatory language against Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel undermined Nazareth and its residents. He did not expect the Messiah to come from a village.
According to archeologists estimates, the population of Nazareth at Jesus' time was around 400 residents.[2] Nazareth was a small village settled by a few low-income families. Nathaniel did not expect the Messiah to come from an insignificant village. Maybe he expected the Messiah to come from a big city like Jerusalem, Capernaum, or Caesarea. Some scholars also suggest that the Judeans in Nazareth were strongly influenced by Jerusalem's Jewish and priestly leaders [3] who supported the Romans. It is possible that Nathaniel hated the Jewish religious and political institution in Jerusalem and assumed that Jesus was part of them.
Jesus did not meet the expectations of the Jews, who had a militaristic and priestly character of the expected Messiah. This Messiah, who grew up in an insignificant village, is the Lord and the Savior. Jesus was different than the Jews in Nazareth. He was not a Jerusalem-centered Galilean Jew. Jesus was the Messiah who cared about ordinary and low-income people. He chose simple fishers to be his disciples and to preach the good news about the kingdom of God. Philip said to Nathaniel, "Come and see." When Nathaniel encountered Jesus, it transformed Nathaniel and cleared his clouded mind from prejudice. Nathaniel was captured by stereotyped beliefs and tended to discriminate against people who supported the political and religious institutions in Jerusalem. The Messiah Jesus touched Nathaniel's heart and made him a more understanding and open-minded person.
          Prejudice is a heart issue. The prophet Jeremiah teaches that "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jeremiah 17:9). To purge our hearts from the sin of prejudice, we need to encounter our Lord Jesus. Through God's grace, our heart will be like Jesus' heart. God is full of love and compassion for every person. In the book of Acts 10:34-35, the apostle Peter says, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." If the church welcomed Mahatma Gandhi to worship with them, I believe Gandhi would have inspired many people in India to accept Jesus Christ.
"As partisans of our way of life', writes Allport, 'we cannot help thinking in a partisan manner . . . so that the very act of affirming our way of life often leads us to the brink of prejudice."[4] I am sure it is not easy to stop making generalizations about people.  However, unprejudiced Jesus gently confronted the prejudiced Nathaniel and changed him. Jesus did not get upset with Nathaniel or change his mind when calling on him to be his disciple. On the contrary, Jesus saw in Nathaniel a person who is ready to welcome God's grace and follow him. Jesus gave Nathaniel a chance because he knew that Nathaniel desires to repent and follow him. Jesus repeatedly gives us the same chance. Are we willing to take the chance?
To cleanse your heart from the sin of prejudice does not happen through taking workshops on anti-discrimination or by reading articles. You need the help of God to fight this sin. You and I would experience God's grace when we come before the throne of mercy, asking for help and direction. When we commit ourselves to discipleship, the Holy Spirit strengthens us. Our Lord Jesus gives Nathaniel and us an example of loving and respecting all people who may be different from us. He also teaches us that our transgressions are redeemable by the grace of God when we repent. Jesus is still calling each one of us to be his disciple.
Rely on the love of God for you. Depend on God's grace to transform you. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you. I assure you, you will become like Nathaniel, a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.

[2]Mark Allan. Powell, Introduction to the Gospels, ( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 4.
[3] Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, “What Was Wrong with Nazareth? (John 1.43-46),” Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, October 30, 2012,
[4] Gordon Allport, The nature of prejudice (New York, 1958), p 7

Mark 1:4-11: the baptism of our Lord

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Mark 1:4-11: the baptism of our Lord

January 10, 2021


Illustration: Baptism, Lost and Found[1]

A drunken man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the old country preacher. The minister notices the old drunk and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?"

The drunk looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher: I sure am." So the minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.

"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks." No, I didn't!" said the drunk.

The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?"

"No, I haven't, Reverend."

The preacher now holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water, and says in exasperation, "Man, have you found Jesus yet?"

The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"

Maybe the purpose of the minister is to wake the drunken man up. This short story might sound funny, but in essence, it reflects our misunderstanding of the sacrament of holy baptism. I invite you to explore the significance of Jesus' baptism and ours.

 The evangelist Mark gives more details on John the Baptist much more than Jesus Christ. Mark compares the baptism of our Lord with John the Baptist. John the Baptist "proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins "(1:4), whereas Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:8). What do these baptisms represent?


In writing about baptism, the evangelist Mark goes out of his way to describe John's unusual clothing. It is not only to show John's poverty, but his clothing signifies his identity and points to his baptism. For a Jewish audience, this detail linked John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah, who wore similar clothing. In 2 Kings 1:8, we read that "They answered him, "A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist." The king said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite."  In Matthew's Gospel, our Lord Jesus connects John the Baptist with the prophet Elijah (Matthew 11:11, 14). We understand that John represents the prophets and the law. His baptism has to do with the work of the law. The prophets encouraged people to repent and to follow the law to reconcile with God. The prophets Zachariah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah prophesied about baptism that cleanses the Israelites from their impurity. In this case, the baptism of John the Baptist and our baptism are similar. The big difference in Jesus' baptism is that he baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. According to Jesus' great commission in Matthew 28: 19, we are baptized in the name of the triune God. In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul emphasizes to the believers in the city of Ephesus, who were baptized by John the Baptist, that they need to be baptized in the name of Jesus and to receive the Holy Spirit because John the Baptist directed people to believe in Jesus (Acts 19:1-5).


In our baptism, we die with Christ and rise with him (Romans 6:4). We have the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We no longer need the law to guide us because we have the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Holy Spirit has renewed us in our baptism. The apostle Paul said to Titus 3:5, "He [God] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the believer's life because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before God (Romans 8:26-27).

After the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus, God the Father declared from heaven that "you are my Son, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased "(v.11). Likewise, in your baptism, God declares that you are a child of God, the beloved. In the letter to the Romans 8:15, the apostle Paul teaches, "you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" The adoption by God is not part of John's baptism. Therefore, my friends, the apostle Paul insists on the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that we will enjoy all the privileges that the holy Trinity bestows on us.

Baptism is not merely ritual practice, but it has a profound meaning for our entire life. In your baptism, God claims you a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is the work of God, not the work of a minister or a baptized person. In your baptism, you make a promise, or your parents and godparents made a promise on your behalf to continue to live your life for Christ alone. As the apostle Paul says to the Galatians 3:27, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." In our Lutheran tradition, baptism comes with significant responsibilities

to live among God's faithful people,

to meditate on the word of God and partake in the holy communion, to grow in faith and prayer, to trust God,

proclaim Christ through word and deed,

care for others and the world God made,

and work for justice and peace.[2]


Our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled these promises throughout his life. We are called to follow his example. Our baptismal vows affect every aspect of our lives and connect us with all Christians in this world. Because you are a child of God 24/7, you need to live your baptismal vocation 24/7. May the Lord grant you the strength to live your baptismal life faithfully.



[2] ELW, Holy Baptism, pg. 228

Luke 2: 1-20

Christmas Eve

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

December 24, 2020


Christ is born! Glorify Him!

This holy night is an unprecedented night for all of us. It is the first time in our lifetime, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ during a pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives. We have restrictions on our lifestyle and freedom. Most of the stores require wearing masks. Not all churches have in-person Christmas Eve worship service. Indoor Christmas gatherings with people from outside our household are not recommended. We have been affected badly by COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs, and many tenants have been evicted from their homes despite CDC locked evictions.

Amid our frustration and fear, The FDA announced the good news of great joy for all nations. To you are born Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, are effective at preventing COVID-19. The FDA's announcement echoes the angel's proclamation to the shepherds of the Messiah's birth, the Lord. The shepherds were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by many diseases and poverty. For the shepherds, the worst disease was not COVID-19, but the Roman military occupation of their land, Palestine. The Romans stripped the Jews of their humanhood by reducing them to a state close to slaves.

The context of the Nativity of Christ might disappoint you. We have romanticized Christmas by ignoring its context to make Jesus politically pious and feel good about ourselves when we do not challenge the oppressive status quo in our communities and the world. Colonization and occupation are the contexts of the Nativity of Christ. The evangelist Luke put the birth of Christ in the context of Emperor Augustus, who ordered the census, and Quirinius carried the order because he was the governor of Syria.

Judaea was an autonomous part of the Roman province of Syria, ruled by a prefect. Quirinius was ordered to organize the taxation of the new prefecture. Until then, taxes had been paid in kind [that is with goods or services rather than money]. However, during the census which Quirinius organized, the inhabitants were required to declare their property in money. There are no indications that the Roman money taxes were higher than the taxes they replaced, but taxes in money were more onerous than taxes in kind because a farmer had to borrow in case of a poor harvest.[1]


The shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the prophetess Anna and prophet Simeon were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by the Romans' unjust taxes. They were anticipating God to save them from their sins and their enemies, the Romans, and to restore the kingdom of David. The Romans humiliated the Jews daily. The only way out was for God to intervene. God did intervene by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to redeem them from their sins and show the Jews and us how to use nonviolence to resist their enemies, advocate for justice, and support the poor. Jesus did not separate his life and ministry from the Romans' colonization of the Jews. Christ himself was colonized.  He also peacefully resisted the Jewish leaders who complied with Rome's imperialism.


As of old times as now, Jesus comes to heal us from our brokenness and sustain us in our difficult moments. His birth was and still a sign of God's intervention to end oppression and injustice. It is also a sign of God's desire to reconcile with human beings by liberating us from sin and death. Jesus comes to tell you that you are not alone in fighting this pandemic, but he is fighting it with you. Jesus is born to redeem us from sin and the systemic sin that prevents poor communities to have an equal distribution of food and medicine like the COVID-19 vaccine.


The mystery of the birth of the Christ, "Emmanu-el is born, means to assure us that it is into our insecure and troubled life that Jesus comes again and again."[2] In your sickness, poverty, and fear, Christ is born for you. His birth has transformed the world, and it can transform your life, too. You might be like me, weary of coronavirus, or sad because you lost a loved one this year. For people like you and me, Christ is born. You might be struggling to make ends meet. Christ is born to sustain you and inspire us to work together to make ends meet for everyone and for everyone to have an abundance.


Jesus' birth is much more than cookies, Christmas decorations, a nice Christmas dinner, or gifts. It is about the incarnated God whose intention is to be in fellowship with you and to sustain you in your troubles. It is about the incarnated God who wants to work with you to make this world a kingdom of God on earth where everyone has enough food. Our Lord Jesus became a human being to work with you to wipe away each other’s tears, hold each other's hands, walk with the weary, speak peace to each other, and comfort one another.

This year we were bold in expressing our political views regarding the presidential election. Many people put their choice for presidential candidate signs in their front yard. When it comes to our faith, we are not bold. I noticed that two of our neighbors put Jesus' name on a sign in their front yard. The sign says Jesus 2020 with Democrats and Republicans colors—red and blue.  The signage of Jesus 2020 declares that Jesus is the center of life. I invite you to be bold in expressing your faith in Christ, as you are proactive in telling your political views. People are tired of politics and COVID-19. They need to hear about hope, peace, joy, and love. Politicians are unable to give you these four things. Only Jesus Christ, Son of God, can provide you with hope, peace, joy, and love. Therefore, share Christ with the world. People are hungry to hear the good news about the love of God for them. So be the messengers of Jesus Christ to the world.

Christ is born! Glorify him!