Posts From March, 2020

My Personal Story with God amidst snowstorm

Psalm 40‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Psalm 40

January 19, 2020


Psalm 40 describes a person who is delighted in the steadfast love, mercy, and goodness of God. It talks about God’s salvation of the psalmist. In verse one, the psalmist says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” “Waiting” is an expression of trust and reliance on God. For the psalmist, this faithful waiting leads to God’s salvation.”[1]


The psalmist does not tell us his problem. He describes his problem and suffering as desolate pit and miry bog. The word incline in verse 1 means “the slope from a mountain’s peak to its base.[2] The Psalmist describes himself sinking in desolate pit and miry bog

at the bottom of the mountain. The Lord hears his cry and comes down from the peak of heaven and lift him and sits his feet on a rock and gives him a firm place to stand. So, he rejoices.


 In verse five, the psalmist declares and affirms the countless wondrous deeds and good thoughts of God toward him and his people. In verses three and four, God put a new song in the psalmist’s mouth so that who hears it fear the Lord and put their trust in God. The psalmist does not keep the story of God’s deliverance to himself, but he gives testimony to God’s goodness and salvation. He shares his song and experience with the congregation gathered for worship so that they trust God. In verse 11, the psalmist shifts from thanksgiving to petition to remind us of his suffering and his need to rely on God’s steadfast love.


As I was preparing the bulletin for this Sunday, I read all the readings. When I read Psalm 40, my eyes widened, and with an excited voice, I said, “this is my story.” The psalmist expresses my feelings and experience in his words. Let me tell you my story of God’s deliverance.


On December 30, I had to go to Milwaukee for an appointment, which I could not reschedule. Unlike Milwaukee, Wausau's weather was terrible. We expected a snowstorm. I did not have an option but to go to Milwaukee. After I finished my appointment, I called Jackie asking her about the weather in Wausau. She told me that the snowstorm arrived. She advised me to drive only on the highway because the department of transportation plow and salt major highways first. Bob Henning was standing next to Jackie and he agreed with her. I told Jackie that I would not leave the highway.


 I told myself, if the storm worsened, I would stay in a hotel. I depend on my GPS to navigate my way. Usually, if there is a problem on the road like construction or accident, GPS would suggest an alternate route. But I must approve GPS recommendation first before changing my route. When I became near Oshkosh, I began to see the snowstorm. I prayed constantly. I continued to drive slowly. The storm worsened as I drove toward Weston. The highway US-10 W was slippery and the cars formed a long line. Suddenly, Snow shifted under my car tires, causing them to slide. I tried my best to control my vehicle. A crazy truck driver behind me instead of slowing down, the driver drove fast. I was terrified. I saw several cars in the ditch. However, I continued to drive slowly. I was determined to follow my GPS and to stay on the highway. I looked around me to see a sign of a hotel, but I did not see one.


Unexpectedly, my GPS asked me to exit the highway.  I thought it was the time to turn to I-39 N, but I found myself on County J Road.  I have never been on this road before. GPS did not recommend a new route. It was only two cars beside mine on the road. It was covered with snow, but I was not worried because the road was not crowded. I drove through a residential area, which helped me to feel safe. Finally, my GPS led me to highway 29 W. As I entered the ramp, I saw a car hit a traffic sign at the entrance. Highway 29 W was clear of snow, and I was happy to find that I was seven minutes away from my home. I arrived home safely. The first thing I did was to kneel to thank the Lord Jesus. The next day I went to church and I shared my experience with Jackie and Bob. They were not aware of County J road. Jackie and Bob told me it was the Lord who helped me using my GPS. I thought of their answer. I realized that God made GPS to take me in a different direction for my safety.


The Lord heard my cry and came down from the peak of heaven and lifted me and sat my feet on a rock and gave me a place to stand. So, I rejoice. God delivered me from the snowstorm not because I am a good person, but because God is good. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever. I am sharing my story so that you trust the Lord and to believe that God’s thoughts for you are good. This is my story. What about yours? I encourage you to share your story of faith in public. Speak about God’s faithfulness to people around you. I will end with the same prayer the psalmist prays:


9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. 10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. 11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.




[1] Jerome Creach, “Commentary On Psalm 40: 1-11,”, January 18, 2020,


[2]“Psalm 40:1-11,” in Christ In Our Home (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2020), 19.

The Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras


January 5, 2020


The church has called the letter to Ephesians, “God’s love letter to the church.” Imagine that this letter is directed to us, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wausau. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wausau, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


The apostle Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison. He summarizes the whole gospel story and shows how it should reshape of our life’s story. The letter is divided into two sections: God’s story and our story. He explores how all the history came to its climax and Jesus in his creation of the multi-ethnic church.


The apostle Paul opens his letter with a typical Jewish poem where he praises God for the amazing things that God has done in Jesus Christ. From the beginning, God chose to bless the Jews. Now through Jesus, everyone can be adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone, we find forgiveness of sins and receive God’s grace.


God’s plan was always to have a big family of restored human beings who are unified in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brought Jews and non-Jews into one family in Jesus. Paul says that the Ephesians and we would be energized by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and placed him as the exalted head of the whole world. You have the same power that Jesus bestowed on the Ephesians. You are called Saints. You are members of Christ’s family. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You are unique and special in the eyes of the Lord.


The apostle Paul explains that before they knew Christ,  non-Jews were alive but spiritually dead. Through believing in Jesus, they received forgiveness and Jesus brought them back to life. You are now like new human beings. You have the joy of discovering all the unique calling and purposes that God has set before you. Before believing in Christ, the non-Jews were cut off the covenant people. They were strangers. The law was a barrier, but Jesus fulfilled the law and the barrier fell down. You are no longer strangers but adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. The Jews and non-Jews—the two ethnic groups have become new unified humanity that can live together in peace.


After talking about God’s story, the apostle Paul shifts to talk about our story in the last chapters. He demonstrates that the church is a big family, but we are one body that is unified by one Spirit. We have one Lord with one faith. We have one baptism, and we believe in one God. Paul goes on to explore how unity does not mean uniformity. Immanuel Lutheran Church has many people with different vocations but all of us are one. And we are empowered by one Spirit.


We form new humanity in Jesus Christ. Consequently, the apostle Paul challenges the Ephesians\ Immanuel Lutheran Church and every Christian to take off their old humanity as a set of old clothes and to put on their new humanity in which the image of God is being restored. He gives examples:[1]

  1. Instead of lying, new humans speak the truth.
  2. Instead of harboring anger, they peacefully resolve their conflicts.
  3. Instead of stealing, they need to work and be generous.
  4. Instead of gossiping, they encourage people with their words.
  5. Instead of getting revenge, they forgive.
  6. Instead of gratifying every sexual impulse, they cultivate self-control of their bodily desires.
  7. Instead of becoming under the influence of alcohol, the new humans come under the influence of God’s Spirit.


The apostle Paul spells out what that influence looks like in four different ways:

  1. Singing together.
  2. Singing alone. We can say that Immanuel Lutheran Church is under the influence of the Holy Spirit every time they sing.
  3. Being thankful for everything.
  4. The spirit will compel Christians to consider their neighbors are more important than themselves.

How does that work? The apostle Paul explains this point by showing how it works in Christian marriage. A Christian wife is called to respect and allow her husband to become responsible for her, and the husband is called to love his wife and use his responsibility to lay down his selfishness to prioritize his wife’s well-being above his own. Paul teaches it is this kind of marriage that is reenacting the gospel story.


The husband’s action mimics Jesus in his love and self-sacrifice. The wife's action mimics the church which allows Jesus to love her and to make her new. Paul then applies the same idea to children and parents as well as slaves and masters.[2] Our relationship with one another is reenacting the gospel story. God’s story is your story. Your story is part of God’s story. See how valuable you are. Your story is important to God.


But life is hard. Sometimes we fail to reenact the gospel story. For this reason, the apostle Paul concludes his letter by warning the Ephesians and us of the reality of spiritual evil. Paul teaches that these beings and forces of darkness will try to undermine the unity of the church and to compromise her new humanity. So, the apostle Paul metaphorically encourages us to protect our new humanity by wearing the body armor of God. The body armor is made of truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, and the word of God. God's body armor will help you and I grow and mature as Christians.


You cannot defeat evil without Christ and without the word of God. Jesus Christ will help you because you are unique. God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless before God. You are honorable because, in love, God predestined you for adoption to Godself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of God’s will. You belong to God and what is to God, Satan cannot take.  



[2] Ibid.

Christmas Eve Sermon ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Sermon


Merry Christmas! It is the most joyful time of the year for Christians. Am I right? Tell me about your stress level this season. Are you joyful or stressed out? In this era, the Christmas season can be anything but merry. Decorating, food and gift buying, etc. which are pricey, negatively affect your mood. Christmas drains your energy and wallet. More and more people become depressed at this time of year because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on “perfect” social activities.


Secular and modern Christmas has replaced Jesus Christ with Santa in the hearts and minds of many Christians. According to the Bible, Jesus is the reason for the season, but according to Wall Street, Santa Claus is the economic engine that keeps the season going full throttle from Black Friday until Christmas Eve.[1] Secularism tries to make Christmas as a secular, multicultural, and national festival. This is not the purpose of Christmas.


Christmas is a religious and holy celebration. It is different than Memorial Day or the Fourth of July when all the citizens of the United States participate in these national days. I learned from the news that the highest selling Christmas digital song of all time in United States is not “O holy Night,” or “Angels We Have Heard on High,"  but All I Want for Christmas Is You,which does not mention our Lord Jesus Christ.


Christmas means Mass of Christ, not the mass of Santa. Unfortunately, each year Christmas becomes more secular. Each Christmas, Christ, is diminished more and more. To make Christmas more inclusive, secularism has replaced Merry Christmas with happy Holiday and Christmas tree with Holiday Tree.  I try my best to be politically correct but being politically correct should not come at the expense of my faith.  The act of de-Christianization of Christmas aims to create a gap between God and human beings.


The incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ intended to reconcile us with God the Father. God became a human being to carry our pain and sorrow and to embrace us when we are struggling and suffering.


Santa cannot replace Jesus. Santa brings you happiness, but he cannot bring you joy. Only our Lord Jesus Christ brings joy to your heart regardless of your circumstances. Secular Christmas overwhelms you, but  Jesus Christ tells you “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).


The spirit of the real Christmas inspires us to rejoice in "finding joy in the spirit of humility, of poverty, and of lowliness" that the baby Jesus Christ demonstrated. No one can enjoy this true spirit of Christmas like the true Christians. Non-Christians who focus on secular Christmas are missing the spirit of Christmas.


Christmas should not continue to be a national holiday or secular festival. We are called to work with one another and with our children to teach them that the reason we celebrate Christmas is not Santa but our Lord Jesus Christ. I invite you to take steps for next Christmas. Limit the gifts to children and let these gifts be inexpensive. Encourage your kids to buy gifts for poor children. Help them to focus on Jesus instead of Santa. Your children can rely on Jesus to help them in every step of their lives. Santa says, "You better not cry," or "you better behave yourself," but Jesus says, "Cast all your cares on me" (1 Peter 5:7).


Commercial Christmas should not replace true Christmas. Santa should not replace Jesus Christ, who walked beside the poor, spoke up against injustices, and healed the sick. Santa should not replace our Lord Jesus Christ, who voluntarily accepted the death on the cross on Calvary and rose from the dead so that you may live and have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).


[1] Cynthia Gibson, “Jesus vs. Santa Claus: Who really rules the season? The Bible vs. Wall Street” 12/17/2015,

John 6 The Living Bread

Thanksgiving Eve

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

John 6 The Living Bread/ Thanksgiving Eve

November 27, 2019

I lived in Egypt for three years, working on my first master’s degree in biblical theology. I attended Saint Andrew Evangelical Church in Cairo, which carries a ministery for Sudanese refugees. I met a Sudanese refugee woman who shared with me her story of hunger and escaping war in South Sudan. She told me that she only drank saltwater. She had to use Stomach-binding. Have you ever heard of it before? It is like a rope tied around one’s waist to hold the stomach in to avoid feeling hungry. Poor people use stomach-binding not to lose weight but to stop feeling hungry. This stomach-binding helps women and men to work and walk even when they are starving. Stomach-binding is an ancient practice.


The crowd who followed Jesus was hungry. Living under the Romans' military occupation exhausted them. Rome controlled their natural resources and forced them to pay high taxes. The 1st-century Jews suffered from malnutrition and various diseases. They were thrilled when Jesus fed them. They wanted to make him a King, but Jesus walked away to the mountain by himself.


The crowd looked for Jesus because they were hungry. They searched for him to find food for their starving children. When they found him, Jesus told them that they were looking for him because he fed them. Then, Jesus began to speak about the living bread that does not perish—Jesus Christ.


The gospel of John does not narrate the last supper or the Constitution of Eucharist/Holy Communion. But he talks about the Holy Communion through talking about the bread of life. Jesus cares about hungry people, the poor, and marginalized. The evangelist John intends to tell us that Jesus took the opportunity to talk about his body as the living bread. Jesus did not dismiss the crowd's need for perishable food. He wanted to teach them that as they were hungry for perishable bread, they needed to be hungry for the living bread. 


There is a strong connection between the perishable bread and imperishable bread. There is a connection between the living bread and the poor who are dying for living bread.[1]

Every time the Christians of the early church celebrated the Holy Communion, they gathered food and material goods to be distributed among the poor. In 150, Justin of Rome, a theologian and martyr explained to the Emperor why Christians gather on Sunday.

After celebrating the Eucharist, the wealthy who are willing make contributions, each as he pleases, and the collection is deposited with the president, who aids orphans and widows, those who are in want because of sickness or some other reason, those in prison, and visiting strangers— in short, he takes care of all in need.[2]


 Alcuin of York, the early medieval theologian, highlighted another dimension of the liturgy of Holy Communion. He ended the liturgy, praying,

Thus whatever we eat, we should give thanks to you. And having received from your hands, let us give with equally generous hands to those who are poor, breaking bread and sharing our bread with them. For you have told us that whatever we give to the poor we give to you. —” (Torvend, 439-440).



Partaking in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation unites us with Christ and makes us in communion with the saints and martyrs. We are united with Jesus Christ and saints in resisting sin and death. That said, the living body of Christ invites us to resist the sin of economic injustice and hunger that leads to death.

Lutherans and Catholics view the Eucharist as a sacrament of transformation.The sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, underlines how Christ transformed his agony on the cross into self-giving love.  Pope Francis describes the Holy Eucharist as "a sacrament of communion, which draws us out of our individualism in order to live together as disciples. It gives us the certainty that all that we have, all that we are, if it is taken, blessed and given, can, by God's power, by the power of his love, become bread of life for all.”[3]


We are celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. Many of us are busy cooking and buying food. We like to get together with friends and family to celebrate. I invite you to consider sharing your food with the hungry. The United States is a wealthy country; however poverty is manifested in different parts of the country. Students depend on school meals, which may be the only meals they eat. Those hungry people are like the crowd who were looking for Jesus to feed them again. But, Jesus is not present in this world in the same way he was present in the first century. He is truly present in the Holy Communion and in each one of us. Jesus gives us his living bread freely to nourish our faith, and we are called to share our bread freely with the poor. Jesus Christ transforms us through by taking in his body and blood, we are called to transform the life of the poor and the hungry. As you are celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, thank God for providing you food and ask the Lord to help you to share what you have with those who are in need.


Remember what the apostle Paul says in his second letter to Corinthians, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8)







[1] (Torvend, Samuel. Still Hungry at the Feast (Kindle Locations 2172-2173). Liturgical Press. Kindle Edition.).

[2] (Torvend, Samuel. Still Hungry at the Feast, 246-248 Kindle).


[3] Cindy Wooden, “Eucharistic Sharing Is Call to Mission, to Feeding the Poor, Pope Says,” National Catholic Reporter, Jul 9, 2015,


The suffering of Job

Job 42:4-6

[1]Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Job 42:4-6

November 17, 2019


I learned three important principles about God in my Sunday school, my Lutheran private school, and my seminaries:

1. God all-powerful. Everything is under God’s control, and nothing happens without God’s well.

 2. God is just and fair.

3. God punishes the wicked and protects the righteous.

If we apply these three principles on the deadly shooting at the high school in Santa Clarita, California, we conclude the following:1. God as all-powerful did not stop the shooting for a reason we do not know. The shooting was God’s well.

2. God is just and fair. According to God’s wisdom, God sees the shooting as fair and just.

3. God used the shooter to kill the 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy because they offended God. The shooter was nothing but God’s instrument to execute justice. I hope no one would say such a thing to the family and friends of the victims.

If we do not hold God responsible for this tragedy, we might say to the families of the victims the following:

  • God has a hidden purpose.
  • Suffering itself will turn out to be good for us.
  • Suffering is a test.
  • Death leads us and our loved ones to a better place.
  • You didn't pray hard enough.
  • Someone more worthy was praying for the opposite result.

When we experience a small or big crisis, we need a reason to explain it. We need somebody to blame. We need to feel that we are still in charge of our circumstances. Job protests this theology because he perceives himself as a pious man. So he complains that his suffering is an injustice from God. He tries to make sense of his misery.


“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is a book written by a distinguished conservative Rabbi, Harold S. Kushner. He wrote his book in reaction to personal tragedy. His son had premature aging, which led to his death. His book is a reflection on the book of Job. He sold millions of copies and was translated into many languages.

In his book, Rabbi Kushner “lets go of the notion that God is all-powerful in favor of the notion that God is good.” That might be hard on us to accept. We believe in God who can do anything. Let me tell you, God does not do anything to contradict God’s nature. For example, the universe’s natural law like disease, hurricane, and earthquake are the consequence of natural law. God does not send cancer or kill people. The natural law that God creates does not want God to always intervene for moral reasons. Job has to learn this lesson. He must learn that his suffering is a consequence of natural law, not a punishment. Bad and good people suffer from natural law. The best example is death. Good and bad people die.


Another critical point is that God creates us with free will. We have the freedom to choose good or bad. If God continually intervenes in our will and makes us choose only good, then we do not have free will and we cease to be humans. We become like animals following our instinct.  This is also another lesson Job needed to learn from God.


As human beings, we need to have a reason for everything around us. We need to make sense of pain and suffering. Knowing the purpose will not change the reality of your pain and sorrow. But you have our Lord Jesus Christ, who will comfort you. He can help you step-by-step to help you to continue your life and to make it through.


Kushner points to us the right question “"All we can do is try to rise beyond the question 'why did it happen?' and begin to ask the question 'what do I do now that it has happened?'" [Kushner, page 71]. You have the right to be angry at God. Our Lord Jesus welcomes your honest feelings. But after you complain, ask him to give you the strength and the faith to make it through.

You might not be able to control the forces that make you suffer, “but we can have a lot to say about what the suffering does to us, and what sort of people we become because of it” (Kushner 64). This is another lesson for Job to learn.


Eventually, Job says his famous words

 In chapter 42:4-6

4 Hear now, and I will speak;
I will ask, and You will inform me.
5 I had heard You with my ears,

But now I see You with my eyes;

6 Therefore, I recant and relent, Being but dust and ashes.



The traditional interpretation understands these verses to mean Job’s repentance. But repent is too strong for The Hebrew word נָחַם (nacham) and leaves a false impression. This is not the typical Hebrew term for “repentance.” In fact, these verses do not indicate repentance at all. The Hebrew word נָחַם (nacham) appears six times in the book of Job and in each time means, “to comfort.” Job in chapter 42:6 is comforted when God finally talks to him directly.

Job takes back his words. He describes himself as dust and ashes, which indicates that Job acknowledges his limitation. Job realizes that he cannot limit God to his inherited theology or put God in a box.

After encountering God, Job understands God differently. His relationship with God is no longer based on his inherited theology but on his personal experience.



[1] This sermon is inspired by Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.