Posts From March, 2020

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Confession and Forgiveness

All may make the sign of the cross, the sign marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.

Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God,

who is present, who gives life,

who calls into existence the things that do not exist.


If you were to keep watch over sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3).

Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess.

Silence is kept for reflection.

Gracious God,

Open to me the doors of repentance, O Lifegiver;
For my spirit rises early to pray towards your holy Temple,
bearing the temple of my body all defiled
But in your compassion, deliver me and purify me by the lovingkindness of your mercy.

Lead me on the paths of salvation, my Savior and my God,
for I have profaned my soul with shameful sins,
and have wasted my life in laziness.
But, for the sake of your holy name, deliver me from all impurity.

Have mercy on me, o God, according to your great goodness, and according to the multitude of your compassions, blot out my transgressions.
When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am, I tremble at the fearful day of judgment. But trusting in your lovingkindness, like David I cry to you:

Have mercy on me, o God, according to your great mercy.


Receive good news: God turns to you in love.

“I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live,” says our God.

All your sin is forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ,

who is the free and abounding gift of God’s grace for you.




Prayer of the day

Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. we bring our nation before you. We ask that you purge the land of this virus. Restore peace and calm to our nation. Remove the fear and replace it with faith in Your Son. You are the reason we live and we declare that our nation is blessed with every spiritual blessing You pour out upon us as You heal our land and all nations. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Hymn                            Rock of ages, Clef for Me


1st Reading

Isaiah 6

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
10 “Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

Word of God. Word of life.

2nd Reading

James 4:7-10

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Word of God. Word of life


Gospel                            Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The gospel of the Lord.

Sermon                                                                           Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Hymn                                      Healer of our Every Ill


Lockdown – inspired by Brother Richard Hendrick OFM and revised by Rev. Sarras

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of New York
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that schools are shut down in Minnesota

bus drivers bring meals, smiles to home-bound students

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are closed but are still serving people in new ways

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,



Prayers of Intercession

God of Love, we the people of the Diocese of Clogher turn to you with prayerful hearts and with confidence in your loving presence among us now and in every moment of our lives. We stand before you as a people of hope, trusting in your care and protection. May we be comforted by your love in these anxious times.


Generous and Merciful God, fill us with compassion and concern for others, young and old; that we may look after each other in these challenging times, especially those among us who are vulnerable. May your example give us the courage we need to go to the margins, wherever they may be. Heal us of our fear.


Healing God, bring healing to those who are sick with the Coronavirus and be with their families and neighbors. We pray especially who those who are isolated, that they may know your love. Stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

God of life, you weep with those who grieve. Unbind all who are held captive by anxiety, despair, or pain especially Thelma, Esther, Barb Peterson, Pam (Rodney Riese’s wife), Kathrine Sylvia, Jezel, Joelle, Ibrahim and Odeh (Rev. Niveen’s family), Norm, April Winters,  Brieanna,  Alice, Charissa Helling, Scott Kurth, Phyllis, Mary Knott, Ashley Nickolai, Laura Beckman, David Schwarm, Sara Sopiesczyk, Jeff Groethe, Edie Smith, Joan Bonstead, Ted Sanders, and Al Solomonson. Fill us with compassion and empathy for those who struggle, and keep us faithful in prayer.


God of Strength, accompany all those who serve us with such love and generosity in the medical profession and in all our healthcare facilities. We give thanks for their continued work in the service of people. We ask you to bless them, strengthen them and guide them with your abundant goodness.


God of Wisdom, we ask you to guide the leaders in healthcare and governance; that they may make the right decisions for the wellbeing of people.


O God of creation and God of life, we, your people here in Wisconsin, place ourselves and our world in your protection and love. May your peace be with us and enfold us today, tomorrow and during the time ahead.


God of the living, United with all who have died in the faith, especially those we remember now, we pray that at the end we will join with them in your presence.


Merciful God, accompany our journey through these forty days. Renew us in the gift of Baptism, that we may provide for those who are poor, pray for those in need, fast from self-indulgence, and above all that we may find our treasure in the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those

who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.



May the grace of Christ attend us,
and the love of God surround us,
and the Holy Spirit keep us,
now and ever.

Hymn                                     Almighty Fortress is our God




Prayer Concerns: Thelma, Esther, Barb Peterson, Pam (Rodney Riese’s wife), Kathrine Sylvia, Jezel, Joelle, Ibrahim and Odeh (Rev. Niveen’s family), Norm, April Winters,  Brieanna,  Alice, Charissa Helling, Scott Kurth, Phyllis, Mary Knott, Ashley Nickolai, Laura Beckman, David Schwarm, Sara Sopiesczyk, Jeff Groethe, Edie Smith, Joan Bonstead, Ted Sanders, Al Solomonson. (Contact ILC office to update.)

Olive Oil is Here! The 500 ml bottles are available in the church office for $15.00. The purchase of this excellent olive oil supports the Palestinian farmers who are part of the cooperative.  In addition to using it for your own purposes, it also makes a wonderful gift to give someone!

AmazonSmile! Immanuel Lutheran Church is now listed on AmazonSmile!. When you shop from this link:, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. Thank you for supporting Immanuel Lutheran Church.

A Season of Hope. This Lent, we’re joining Lutheran World Relief in A Season of Hope to announce to the world the HOPE of Christ. Our conference is going to be collecting nail clippers starting March 1, 2020 through May 10, 2020. Our delegates, Mary and Tom McDonell, will deliver them to the Synod Assembly on May 15, 2020. (attached file optional – remove packaging). If you have any questions, please contact Pastor Niveen.

To reduce the potential spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau has cancelled all in-person services until further notice. During this time, ILC will move all services and ministries online:

  • Our Facebook Page: @ILCWausau
  • Our YouTube Channel: Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau Wisconsin, Inc.

Worship Services are on Charter Cable Channel 980 9:00am Sunday or online: Wausau Area Access Media: (Left side, scroll to Immanuel Lutheran.)

Our Sister Church is the Lobatla Parish. Address is: c/o Moruti (Pastor) Rev. G.M. Nkale, P.O. Box 160, Motswedi 2870, Republic of South Africa. Email for Pastor:





Midweek Service

Lent Changing Hearts Ezekiel 36

Here is this week's midweek service, Changing Hearts:


Changing the Heart

Ezekiel 36:24-28‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Ezekiel 36:24-28/changing the heart

round-robin midweek service.


Egypt has one-third of the world-historical monuments and antiquities. I visited The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. It took me the whole day to see some of their antiques. I couldn't see the 120,000 items in one day. Tourists are impressed the most by the mummies. Scientists still unable to figure out how ancient Egyptians preserved dead bodies. In ancient Egypt, “The heart of stone refers to the internal organs of someone who is dead. In fact, in Egyptian burials, in the process of mummification, they replaced the heart with a stone one.”[1] This practice was in God’s mind when God talked to Ezekiel about a heart of stone. In my Palestinian culture, we have a saying “a heart of stone,” which carries a negative connotation. It refers to a merciless and uncompassionate person.


God declares in the book of Ezekiel that God’s intention is to replace the Israelite’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Heart of stone is a sample of a heart weighed down with sins. From God’s perspective, the Israelites were dead. To revive them, God needs to perform heart transplant surgery. We need to ask why Ezekiel describes the Judeans as stonehearted or dead.


The book of Ezekiel was written to the Israelites in exile. The Israelites believed that God punished them by sending the Babylonians to destroy their city, temple, and to take them as captives to Babylon. In sum, the exile was a result of their sin and abandoning God’s law and statutes. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God accuses the Israelites of profounding God’s name among the nations (v. 22). Despite the Israelites transgression against their God, God takes on Godself the responsibility to restore them to their land. Their restoration is not based on their merits. God wants to restore them for the sake of God’s name. God’s grace poured out on the wicked and sinful Israelites. Despite rejecting God, God welcomes them back. But before they receive forgiveness and restoration, they need to repent. They need a new heart. Sinners can receive forgiveness if they repent. God shows God’s kindness to sinners. Let us see how God is going to restore the Israelites.


Firstly, God will gather and bring them to their homeland.

 Secondly, God will sprinkle clean water upon them to clean them from all impurity. This reminds me of our baptism. In our baptism, we receive forgiveness of sin. We die with Christ and rise up with him. In baptism, our old nature dies as we put on Christ. Our baptism also cleanses us from all impurity.

Thirdly, after cleansing the Israelites, God will give them a new heart and spirit. This also reminds me of our baptism. In your baptism, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in you to guide you and transform your heart. The heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh. A heart that is eager to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. The spirit of God convicts our hearts and calls us to repent. Opening our soul and ears to the call of the Holy Spirit to repent will change the heart of stone. Listening to the spirit of God will heal a heart weighed down with sin. The Holy Spirit revives a dead heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ has the power to transform any evil heart. He is an expert in heart transplantation.


God concludes God’s promise of restoration and salvation by using covenantal language. “You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (v. 28). God established a new covenant with the Israelites that is similar to the covenant in Jeremiah: 31:31-34

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.

God commits Godself to you. When you repent, God will grant you privileges. You will experience God’s grace; you will be called a child of God; God will be proud to claim you.


See how the grace of your God is poured out upon you abundantly, offering forgiveness and restoration. Even though we abandon our Lord Jesus Christ and commit transgression against him and against our neighbor, Jesus is still committed to you. God will continue to see you through Jesus Christ. God’s love and forgiveness are not based on your merit, but it is based on the love of God and the covenant that God established with you through the blood of Jesus Christ. God will never cease to show you mercy. God’s mercy is new every day, and God’s call for repentance is always new. Rely on the grace of Jesus Christ to heal your heart from all impurity and give you a heart of flesh.


[1] Corrine Carvalho, " Commentary on Ezekiel 36:24-28," in workingpreacher, accessed on February 25, 2020


Isaiah 43: 1-7 in time of COVID-19

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Isaiah43: 1-7 in time of COVID-19

March 22, 2020


Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior.

I miss all of you, and I always remember you in my prayer. This journey of lent is very challenging. I know that the spreading of COVID-19 has distracted us from Lent. Instead of walking the extra mile in our faith journey by praying more, meditating more, helping our disadvantaged neighbor more, we find ourselves spending more on social media or watching TV to get the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.  We now live in fear. COVID-19 fears lead to unnecessary panic shopping, which causes the running out of stock of some household items and food. “Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.”[1] Stress makes you extra vulnerable to the virus outbreak. My concern is not COVID-19 as much as the fear and anxiety we are dealing with every moment.

The response to our anxiety and fear comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 43.


But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.


Isaiah's message is overwhelmingly positive and comforting. You might feel that God is speaking to you through Isaiah 43. You might think that this poem is very suitable for our current circumstances. Before we rush to apply Isaiah 43 to ourselves, let me explain to you the context of the poem.

Isaiah 43 was written to the Israelites in the Babylonian exile to encourage them to go back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. Because the Judeans were a minority, they lived in fear from the nations around them. The Israelites needed to hear reassurance of divine love, protection, and presence. This poem “speaks tender, encouraging, empowering words to those who faced an uncertain future. In their original context, the words in this passage helped motivate Judean exiles to embrace their faith and return to Jerusalem to rebuild.”[2]


The poem in Isaiah 43 spoke to ancient Judeans, who faced a crisis. This poem speaks to us today as we are facing the COVID-19 crisis.  God commands us, “do not fear.” You should not fear because God has redeemed you. Remember that Jesus is called Savior and Redeemer. Our Lord Jesus saved and redeemed you from sin and death, and he will sustain you in trials like COVID-19. You should not fear, God is not only your Redeemer but also your creator. God created and formed you. God knows your name, and you belong to God. If God is your Creator, Redeemer, and Savior then God is responsible for your well-being. Fear not because you do not belong to COVID-19. You belong to the Lord. God has a special and unique claim upon you. Notice that the command “do not fear” is accompanied by promises in verse 2.  God promises you

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

Notice that the text does not say when your life is secure, and your health is good, I will be with you. God promises to be with you in the toughest of circumstances. Trials come in different forms: they could come like water, rivers, fire. or COVID-19. In all these trials, God promises you, “I will be with you; do not fear.”  Our biggest trial now is COVID-19. God commands you not to fear because God promises to be present in your life. God promises you to protect you.


 My beloved church, this promise in Isaiah should not be taken as a reason not to follow COVID-19 precautions. No, this text from Isaiah assures you of God’s presence and protection to give you strength and peace in your hearts so you will not become a prisoner of your fears and anxiety. Hold on Jesus’ promise in Matthew 28: 20, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” Jesus promises to be with you always, but that does not mean that you or your loved one will not get COVID-19. COVID-19 will infect you if you act recklessly.


In time such this, hold on God’s promises of protection and comforting. I encourage you to come daily before the throne of God, confess your sins and ask God, through Jesus Christ, to give you peace, comfort, and wisdom.  Finally, I would like to end with a verse from 1Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”


[1] “Manage Anxiety,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 14, 2020,


[2] Charles L. Aaron, Jr., “Commentary On Isaiah 43: 1-7,” Working Preacher, January 13, 2019,

Martin Luther's Letter On Whether One May Flee From The Coronavirus of 2020

by Martin Luther

It was not coronavirus. It was bubonic plague (or black death), a much more deadly disease. It was 1527, and a case of the black death was found in the university of Wittenberg. The university was closed, and the students sent home, but Luther remained in the city and was busy with the pastoral and practical care of the sick. He was urged by correspondents from various places to give advice on what a Christian’s responsibility is at such a time.


In response, he wrote a letter called “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” In it, he emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine, and common sense. The letter is addressed to Johann Hess, a pastor in Breslau, and it was published as an open letter to all Christians. Luther begins by looking at how Christians were responding to the plague. Some had a strong faith in the face of death, others not.


I invite you to read Luther’s letter as it is addressed to you personally. Luther’s Letter will be mailed to each homebound member of our church.


My prayer that this letter will comfort you and assure you of God’s presence in your life.


Pastor Niveen


Click here to read the letter.

The Temptation of our Lord

Matthew 4‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Matthew 4: The Temptation of our Lord

March 1, 2020


Most of Jesus' ministry was in Galilee. He died and resurrected in Jerusalem, but when he fasted for 40 days, he went to the desert in Jericho. I had visited several times The Monastery of Temptation. It was built on the slopes of the Mount of Temptation overlooking the city of Jericho and the Jordanian Valley.


The devil tempted Jesus all his life. For example, the devil used the apostle Peter to prevent Jesus from enduring the cross. Jesus responds to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Matthew 16:23). After his baptism, the Holy Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.


 Why the wilderness? Could not the devil test him in Galilee? The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert because “Jesus had to cover the ground where Israel had walked. He had to repeat Israel’s experience to gain the victory where historical Israel had failed. The Spirit of God led Jesus in the desert for forty days (4:2) in order for him to experience what Israel had experienced in the wilderness for forty years.”[1]


Jesus proves his divine sonship and his obedience and commitment to God, the Father. His love for God and his determination to redeem us surpassed the gratification of physical needs and emotional desires. Unlike Adam and Eve, who gave in to the temptation of the serpent, Jesus Christ did not give in to the temptations, despite his physical weaknesses due to fasting.

The first temptation concerns self-indulgence (hunger/satisfaction): The devil tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread to save himself from hunger. But for Jesus, fasting is connected to his relationship with God. He was not fasting to show his piety and self-righteousness but for God.


The second temptation concerns “Leap of Faith”: the devil asked Jesus to throw himself down from the top of the temple. He wanted Jesus to commit the sin of pride by testing his power and the power of God, the Father. This temptation is related to trusting in our righteousness for salvation, not believing in God’s grace.

The third temptation concerns “materialism (kingdoms/wealth). The devil showed Jesus the whole world and offered him to give it to him if Jesus worships the devil. The devil wanted Jesus to sell himself to the devil. Jesus refused.


The story of Jesus' temptation is linked to Jesus’ baptism and our baptism. The devil tempted Jesus after his baptism, and we experience temptation after our baptism, too. Jesus’ temptation has to do with his power and how good he is. Temptation comes to us in different forms like cheating, distraction, internet, games, or addiction.


God leads us out to places that look like death and wilderness. God might lead us to a place where we have needs-- spiritual and physical needs. In those moments, we are tempted to satisfy ourselves by using our power. We live in a society and culture that condemn you for your faults. Our culture teaches us that we have the ability to transform our lives. We have the power to quit the addiction. We have the power

 to become wealthy and have the best house and car. In some cases, this is true. In many cases, this is not true.


The temptation story points to us Satan’s techniques to deceive us. The devil tempted Jesus to depend less on God and to trust in his power and strength. The devil aims to destroy our relationship with God by making us feel that we are the center of the universe. Satan wants us to believe that we do not need God in our lives. If we have power and wealth, what do I need God for? This is precisely what our culture is feeding us. Instead of believing in lies, believe the truth that you can overcome any temptation through trusting in the mercy of Jesus Christ and the help of your neighbor.


We are not tempted just to somehow be overcomers with ourselves. We are tempted for the purpose that as we overcome temptations, our personal lessons will be helpful for the people around us. Every time you repent or something good happens in your spiritual life, you would be tempted. Every time you make a genuine connection with our Lord and your neighbor, the temptations are right around the corner. Satan is very upset when you focus on your relationship with Jesus. Satan is angry at every time you give glory to God, not to yourself.


Our Lord Jesus Christ provides us an example of how to overcome the devil’s temptation. Scripture helps you to fight your ancient foe. Fasting, prayer, and Scripture will bring you closer to Jesus Christ, who will help you to resist the devil’s temptation.



[1] Ekkehardt Mueller, “Why Did the Spirit of God Lead Jesus into the Wilderness (Matt 4:1)?”  in Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Ash Wednesday

‎2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

February 26, 2020, Ash Wednesday

               I grow up in Bethlehem, where the majority of Christians are either Eastern Orthodox or Catholic and Lutherans are a minority. Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholics have a significant influence on my faith and culture. For example, during Lent, Easter Orthodox teaches that faithful Orthodox must become vegan. The Catholic Church teaches us to abstain from particular food that we like. At my school, my classmates and I discussed lent a lot. It was the time of the year when we read the ingredient list carefully on our food label. For my classmates and I, the main point of lent was to remain vegan for 40 days.


The apostle Paul teaches us a different way to live out our faith. He does not focus on what to eat, but he calls us to reconcile with God. Reconciliation with God and our neighbor is the main element of Lent. Paul, the ambassador of Jesus Christ, urges the Corinthians and us to reconcile with God through Jesus Christ. He calls us to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. What kind of ministry is this?


Paul uses paradoxical language to explain his point. The reconciliation ministry is based on what Jesus Christ achieves for our sake. “In short, Jesus escapes the stain of sin only to bear it most fully. He embodies sin though sin had not part of his life.”[1] The ministry of reconciliation is about Christ’s sacrificial act of love on the cross to liberate us from sin and death. Through Jesus, we become the righteousness of God (5:20). We become a new creation. God and we are no longer enemies. See, God is on a mission to reconcile the whole world to Godself. Will you be part of this mission?


Paul says that he works with God. He proclaims God’s word to us, urging us to reconcile with God. We are called to proclaim the word of God and to encourage people to reconcile with God, too.

Paul teaches the Corinthians that the acceptable time to involved in this ministry is now. It is at this moment, not later. Paul continues to explain the nature of this ministry. He explains that serving others is an essential part of the reconciliation. We are the message of Christ to the world.

For this reason, the apostle Paul warns us against putting obstacles in our neighbor’s way from receiving this word of reconciliation. The apostle Paul describes the hardship he had to endure to bring the word of reconciliation to the Corinthians and the nations. He had to tolerate “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger” (6:5). This suffering and hardship have produced “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the holiness of spirit, and genuine love” (6:6).


The apostle Paul explains that not everybody will welcome this ministry because it makes people uncomfortable. It moves people from their comfort zone. Paul says that those who reject Christ will reject you and even harm you. But no matter what, we are not better than our Lord Jesus Christ, who underwent suffering and humiliation on the cross for our sake. In our baptism, God entrusted us to share the good news about Jesus Christ and our redemption through his grace. Hardship should not be an excuse for not living our baptismal vocation and calling.


Now is the acceptable time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. Today’s reading introduces lent with the call to reconciliation. Not a call to choose what to give up for Lent, which is not wrong. To reconcile with God and your neighbor is way more important than to give up a particular food. As we start now our Lenten journey, I invite you to be busy with the ministry of reconciliation. Set your mind on serving your neighbor. Set your heart on feeding the hungry and to share Christ's love.


Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our journey to the cross and, ultimately, to the resurrection. During Lent, we focus more intensely on walking with Jesus and serving our neighbor as he did. I invite you to think of one new way to involve in the ministry of reconciliation. If you need help, ask me. I’m sure that the Holy Spirit will lead you. You might already participate in this ministry. Who knows, God might need you to start a new ministry or to serve in a different capacity.

“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (6:2).












[1] Eric Barreto, “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10," workingpreacher, accessed on February 25, 2020



Hypocrisy ‎

Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:12-16‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:12-16… Hypocrisy

February 9, 2020


In 1999, I attended Bethlehem Bible College immediately after finishing high school. This school is very conservative evangelical in which they interpreted Scripture literally. All professors, staff, and president watched students closely. They wanted to make sure to follow the college’s teachings and rules. For example, a male and a female student should not be together alone. We had to be always in a group. We were not allowed to listen to music except hymns. We were not allowed to watch TV or to play cards, or drink alcohol, and more and more rules. One of the professors criticized harshly, my female colleague, who was abused by her husband and dared to ask for a divorce. The president was extra strict. He always preached to us to help the poor, to be kind to one another, and to avoid the pleasure of this world. He encouraged students to live simply. He gave students and me the impression that he lived a Christian life.


One day, his son got married. He had a lavish wedding party in the most expensive hotel in Bethlehem. The food and alcohol were classy. Some of the food and drink were imported. In Palestinian tradition, parents help their sons with wedding expenses. The wedding was extravagant to the point that people of Bethlehem criticized him. One day, I went to college and I saw graffiti in the school restrooms and classrooms criticizing the president for his son’s lavish wedding. For the people of Bethlehem, the problem was not with the extravagant wedding itself but with the president's hypocrisy. He pointed out his finger at Christians who did not follow his understanding of Christianity and forgot about his false piety.


Hypocrisy is a sin. All of us are not immune to this sin. Scripture is full of examples of hypocrites. Jesus and the prophets accused the religious leaders of religious hypocrisy. Isaiah 58 accuses the worshipers of hypocrisy. They sing to the Lord, fast, wear sackcloth and put ashes to show their piety and at the same time, “oppress all their workers, and fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist” (v.4). The apostle Paul in his letter to the First Corinthians criticizes some Christians who regard themselves as morally and spiritually superior to other [1]Christians. This is also considered hypocrisy.


What does hypocrisy mean? The word hypocrites come from the Greek “hupokrites.” It literally means “the one who wears a mask.”(Hypocrisy in the church,). Hypocrites wear masks that look nice from the outside, but the mask heart rateshid their sinstheir sins. Hypocrites’ attitudes emphasized external performance rather than inward purity. Isaiah criticizes the hypocrites of focusing on their tradition and rules instead of helping the oppressed and the hungry. These hypocrites were wondering why God did not listen to their loud voice.

We are saved by grace through faith. Our deeds do not save us. However, lots of Christians like to create rules and legalism. Some Christians favor their traditions that is “human made” traditions over the teaching of Scripture. I have two examples:

  1. Worship and music style.
  2. Order of worship service. Thou shalt not change any items in the order of worship.
  3. Alter and candles, and of course the way we do Holy Communion and Baptism. What if I baptize a child by immersing them in water instead of pouring water over their heads?

 Christian hypocrites know they are unable to follow their rules, but they expect other Christians to follow these rules and traditions. Hypocrite Christians are concerned with being pure from the outside. They are concerned with the way others perceive them. I met many hypocrites who like to talk about their good deeds. They want people to praise them for their work. They are serving the Lord by going to church and involving in different ministries to gain a good reputation instead of serving the Lord for the sake of the Lord himself. Our Lord Jesus says in verse 16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus does not say so that they may see your good works and give you glory. The purpose of our good deeds must be for the glory of God not for our glory. Unfortunately, these hypocrites have selfish desires. They concern about their own interest and overlook the need of their neighbors. Their good deeds are deceitful. They show that they care about the sick and the poor, but in reality, they are concerned with their reputation.

Our Lord Jesus commands us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14, 16). Hypocrites cannot be salt and light. Their holy mask stands between them and the light of Christ.

The light of Christ can break through the mask and dispel the darkness. When we open our hearts to receive the light of Christ, the mask will fall. Our sin makes our mask stronger and difficult to destroy; therefore, we need Jesus Christ to rip the mask away. When we live in darkness, God does not hear our songs of praise and prayer. Isaiah tells the Israelites that God did not listen to their prayers or notice their fast because they live in darkness. But when they repent, God would hear their prayers. When we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world, the Lord will be glorified, and we will attract more people to church. Isaiah teaches

[If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.] (Isaiah 58).



[1] Jodi--Ann Walker, Breaking Forth: Using the Light to Dispel the Darkness, (N.p.: Jodi-Ann Walker), 44.

Micah 6:1-8‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Micah 6:1-8

February 2, 2020


The book of Micah talks about the rebellion of the Israelites against God and focuses on evil deeds that the Israelites commit against each other. To understand Micah 6, we need to understand the whole book. Micah means who is like Jehovah. He did prophetic work in the eighth century BCE. During the time of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. In this time, King Ahaz was indebted to the nation of Assyria, which kept the country on edge. King Ahaz did not want to upset the Assyrians by anyway, which politically was very bad. At that time, the kingdom of Israel and Judah was prospered.


Micah describes a court trial. God is the accuser. Israel is the accused, and the mountains and the earth are the juries. The verdict is Israel is guilty. God accuses Judah of four sins.

First, in chapter 1, God through the prophet Micah, accuses Judah of idolatry.

Second, in chapter 2, get this picture in your mind. People in bed instead of counting God’s blessings or counting sheep to try to fall asleep at night, they are falling asleep at night to thoughts of what evil things they can do the next day. They can do evil because it is in their power to do so. Micah accuses them of taking land, fields and homes that do not belong to them. They oppress the poor and the orphans. They cheat on trade and one another and do not respect their parents. Micah says that God has plans, too. God’s plan is devising disaster on those sinners in the form of captivity (2:3).


Third, in chapter 2:6, God, through the prophet Micah, accuses the Israelites of rejecting the true prophets who called them to repent. They preferred to listen to false prophets and preachers who talk about good things. What was true in Micah’s time, it is true in our time. We hear this in our culture. People call preachers true prophets or preachers if they preach a message that eases their conscience. Today best example is the prosperity preachers like Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and many more. Those preachers were and still under federal investigation. Micah describes those preachers/prophets as liars.

Finally, Micah accuses the religious and civic leaders of loving evil and hating good. Leaders are praising evil as it is good. What was true in Micah’s day it is true in ours. In chapter 3, Micah accuses the civic and religious leaders of accepting bribes. Those leaders give judgment for whatever money they can get out of it. The best example today is a Texas state district judge Rudy Delgado, who has been convicted of bribery and obstruction last year. What it was in Micah’s time it is in our time.


After carrying all these evil things, the Israelite religious and civic leaders dared to say: “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us” (3:11). Micah responds to them that God will bring disaster upon you. However, God promises in the last days to establish God’s kingdom in Jerusalem and all the nations will come to Jerusalem to learn from God (chapter4). And the Messiah will come from Bethlehem to rule justly, unlike their unjustly rulers and judges (chapter 5).


Finally, in chapter 6, God says to the Israelites: “I made my case, now my people arise and make your case.” But if you want to make your case, you need to answer a few questions. What did I do to cause you to act in this way? And then God reminds them of redeeming them from slavery in Egypt and in bringing them to The Promised Land. God asks them, “I did good things to you; how does that make you tired of me.”


The Israelites being sarcastic respond, “what do you want from us, God? Do you want thousands of sacrifices and rivers of oil? Or do you want us to offer you our firstborn as a sacrifice for our sin” (6:6-7). It is like some Christians might ask God: what do you want from us? Do you want us to go to church every day, or do you want us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor and we become poor ourselves?  


God responds, no. This is not what I need from you. Instead of offering me sacrifices, I need you to “to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8).

God’s response in Micah echoes the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12

 "Blessed are the meek (humble), for they will inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (justice in Greek and Hebrew languages), for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.


God promises the Israelites if they do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God, God will grant them forgiveness and restore them. If they repent, God will show them mercy. What it was in Micah’s day as it is in our day. No matter how deep the stain of your sins, when you repent, God through Jesus Christ offers you forgiveness and restores you. God of the prophet Micah is our God, too.


Micah ends his book by praising God (7:18-19), saying.

 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because He delights in showing mercy.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
He will tread

our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.