Posts From May, 2020

Pentecost: Healing Our Country from Political Partisanship.

Acts 2:1-21

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Pentecost: Healing Our Country from Political Partisanship.

May 31, 2020

Grace and peace to you.

Partisan politics is polarizing the United States. Around the country, partisanship allegiance is fracturing relationships at the level of the family and community. Churches are not immune to this problem. Instead of churches participating in healing this fraction, they are coming apart over politics. Many pastors are feeling the weight of the political partisanship that has divided their congregation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Political polarization and extreme partisanship have divided the country into two parties defined by race, wealth, and geographic groups. This division has impacted the church’s life, and many people feel more suspicious of one another. What a mess we have gotten ourselves into.

 

Healing is what we urgently need. We need God to heal our land from the coronavirus, to heal our broken relationships, and the wounds of division. The Holy Spirit has the power to resist the sin of division and heal our brokenness. The Holy Spirit seeks to reconcile us with one another.

 

Today we celebrate the birthday of our church. Pentecost is derived from the Greek word for "fifty." It occurred 50 days after Jesus' resurrection.  On this holy day, the Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s gift of the law on Mt. Sinai. God chose that particular gathering to give the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appeared as “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (vv. 3-4). The disciples spoke the languages of many nations. The Pentecost was a sign of God’s desire to bring all nations, races, and religions to God’s family. The Pentecost was and is still an event that brought reconciliation to the divided world. The Holy Spirit seeks to make us one despite our differences.

 

On the day of Pentecost, God proclaims that the kingdom of God is against extreme partisanship and political polarization. There is room for love, forgiveness, and diversity in the kingdom of God. There is no room for bigotry and prejudice, but only room for compassion and tolerance. The church is called to advance the kingdom of God on earth and to reflect Christ’s glory in this divided and wounded world. Our Lord Jesus Christ is seeking partners to work with him to heal this broken world.

 

How do you know that the Holy Spirit inspires you in your relationship with your neighbor? If you carry the fruit of the Holy Spirit, then you are led and inspired by the spirit of God. According to the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control” (vv. 22-23).

 

 As we give the Holy Spirit more control in our lives, the Holy Spirit shapes and transforms us to become more like Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us to reject political polarization and bigotry and leads us to work together toward reconciliation. The fruit of the Holy Spirit inspires us to welcome and to respect our neighbor, who has a different opinion than ours. When we open our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves living according to the Golden Rule  in Matthew 7:12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Anxiety and Fear

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras                       1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 Anxiety         May 24, 2020

Anxiety is the physical, mental, and emotional reaction to stress. Anxiety contributes to muscle pain and tightness. I have experienced these health problems for many years, particularly during coronavirus pandemic and social distancing that isolated me. You can calm your anxiety through the practice of yoga breathing, also called pranayama. Yoga breathing merely is becoming aware of your breath. To start, sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and pay attention to your breath as it flows into and out from your body.

 

The apostle Peter teaches his church and us, “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (5:7). I have been practicing Breath Prayers. I breathe in the peace of Christ and breathe out worry, fear, and anxiety over my family, ministry, and so on. Let us practice. Breathe in Christ’s love… Breathe out his love for another person, and perhaps someone you feel jealous of.

I found that discipline of breath prayers as the best free anti-anxiety treatment. I have less pain, relaxed, and more joyful. Anxiety is my enemy, and breath prayers have helped me to win the battle against anxiety. I found the physical and spiritual rest in this practice.

 

The community of the apostle Peter bored anxiety about their safety as they lived in a hostile society toward Christians.

The loss of status and respect, loss of family standing, loss of friends, perhaps even loss of one’s livelihood and, in extreme cases, of one’s life— these are real possibilities for the Christians of Asia Minor. Peter instructs his readers to cast these anxieties on God (5: 7), another way of saying they must entrust themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. [1]

Peter’s church members were worried and anxious about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. We are concerned about getting the COVID-19 as more states are reopening. We are worried about our financial status. We are concerned about losing our job and worried about our relationships. Unlike the apostle Peter’s church, our anxiety and suffering are not related to our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we are not in danger because of our faith. Regardless of the source of our anxiety, the apostle Peter is encouraging us to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

The community of the apostle Peter suffered because they were living for Christ and refused to compromise their faith. They found the strength to deal with their anxiety and persecution through the Holy Spirit that was resting on them (4:14). The same Spirit is resting on you from the moment you were baptized. This Spirit assures you of the presence of God amid your suffering.

 

Christians in the United States are not imprisoned or beheaded because of Jesus Christ. Western societies are gradually turning their back on our Lord Jesus Christ as culturally irrelevant. While the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa is mostly physical, the persecution of the Christians in the United States is not physical. You are not tortured because of your faith. However, Anti-Christian sentiments are on the rise in our country. Many times, Christians encounter hate speech. They are mocked by their peers at college or work. For example, free Christian speech and exercise of Christian faith are prohibited on college campuses. Atheists have more freedom to express their philosophy much more than Christians. When you suffer on account of Jesus Christ, you should not be surprised as the apostle Peter says, we are called to share in Christ’s suffering. You are meant to carry your cross.

 

The apostle Peter ends with the words of hope to his church. Their suffering is temporary. Even so, the devil is looking to destroy their faith by making their life difficult; God will have the final word. “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (5:10-11).

 

 

[1] Jobes, Karen H.. 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 7369-7372). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Precious in God’s eyes

1 Peter 2:2-10

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

1 Peter 2:2-10 precious in God’s eyes

May 10, 2020

 

 

You are precious! Have you ever had someone call you, precious? My oldest niece Giselle was four years old when I told her, “you are precious!” She responded with the most incredible smile and asked me what precious mean. I answered, “you are very valuable and cherished. “she ran to her mother and said, “auntie Niveen said I am precious! She was happy to learn a new word and to learn that she is precious.  

 

You are precious in God's eyes, says the Apostle Peter. You are very valuable and cherished. This is your identity as a child of God. The Apostle Peter talks about our new identity in Christ and our vocation as precious people. To explain our new identity in Christ, the Apostle Peter uses the image of a spiritual house and living stones. He talks about two building projects: the first project is carried by builders who use dead stones to build a regular house and reject Jesus Christ as the cornerstone for their project.

 

In ancient architecture and construction, the cornerstone was the stone that was laid to keep the walls together. It was the key point in the construction of the whole building. Without it … or if it was defective … the walls would not be level … the angles would all be wrong … and ultimately, the whole building would come tumbling down. It was the stone upon which the structural integrity of the building rested.[1]

 

The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16, which predicts the Messiah as the chosen and precious cornerstone. Those who believe in him will not put to shame. So, we are precious by virtue of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter explains that Jesus is the cornerstone to those who believe and stumble stone to those who disbelieve. Hence, the second building project is carried by the community of the Apostle Peter, who accepts Jesus as the cornerstone, and through him, they become a spiritual temple.

 

 In contrast with dead stones, we are living stones by virtue of Jesus' resurrection, who is the cornerstone of the spiritual house. For us Christians, Jesus is the true foundation of our lives. He is the center. He is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me [him]” (John 14: 6). Because Jesus is the cornerstone, he unites us all together. Christians together are living building.  Peter is not talking about individuals, but about all the living stones. All of us are needed to build our spiritual building with Jesus Christ, the cornerstone and foundation. Peter’s community forms internal bonds within their community to help them to endure rejection and alienation from the people of the Roman empire.

 

The Apostle Peter encourages his community to focus on their new identity and the new way of worship. Peter tells them that even though they are persecuted and rejected by people, they are precious in God's eyes.  The first Christian martyr Stephen endured rejection and brutal death on account of his faith. The Jewish leaders rejected him and treated him as an unworthy person, but he was precious in God's eyes.

 

By virtue of Jesus' resurrection, we replace the old temple with all its sacrificial system and priesthood with a new one. Now we are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s own people (1Peter 2: 9 ). These privileges were given to the Israelites. God speaks to the Israelites in Exodus 19:5-6

5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

 

Now through Jesus Christ, all those who believe in him will enjoy these privileges. We form a new race, priesthood, and nation.

 

Rejoice, my friend. You are precious in God's eyes, which is more important than to be precious in the eyes of people. Rejoice because

“Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy” ( 1Peter 2:10)

 

Weekly Devotionals

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Weekly devotional: Pastor Niveen will share a weekly video devotional each Wednesday based on the book, “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” by John C. Lennox. These devotionals will be comforting and each one will offer hope for the challenges we face. Each devotional will be about 10 minutes and will last for six weeks.

 

‎1 Peter 2:19-25‎

Enduring Suffering for Christ ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

1 Peter 2:19-25—Enduring Suffering for Christ

May 3, 2020

 

Perpetua and Felicity (believed to have died in AD 203) were Christian martyrs of the 3rd century. Perpetua: young, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa. Nowadays it is called Tunisia. She was the mother of an infant son. Perpetua endured persecution during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus.[1] Perpetua’s mother was a Christian, and her father a pagan. Her father continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned.

Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slave woman and expectant mother–and three companions, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater.[2] There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts. Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.

The apostle Peter writes his first letter to persecuted Christians. He talks to slaves and women who were enduring hardship and physical abuse because of their faith. His letter is addressed to all persecuted Christians regardless of their gender. But his main focus in chapters 2 and 3 is on slaves and women who represent the lowest class in the Roman Empire.

 

Slaves were the most vulnerable group in Greco-Roman society. The apostle Peter is using them as an example for the Christian believers who are committed to following Jesus Christ. Many noble Christians like Perpetua lost their status and were treated like slaves to convince them to renounce Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter recognizes the plight and suffering of the Christians. So, he encourages them to live their lives as slaves of God (2:16). The English version of the bible translates slaves as servants, but the actual Greek word means slaves. The apostle Peter advises the persecuted Christians, “as slaves of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil, honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” (2:16-17). How interesting to see that the apostle Peter is encouraging the persecuted Christians to honor the Emperor, who was responsible for their suffering.

 

The apostle Peter does not intend to change the social order of the Greco-Roman society. He encourages slaves to endure suffering. It seems that some slaves understood the freedom of the gospel as a tool to liberate themselves from slavery, and some wanted to respond violently to their masters who abused them. But the apostle Peter in verse 18 encourages slaves to accept the authority of their masters, the gentle and the harsh ones.

This teaching sounds very harsh. During the slavery period in the United States, those who obtained slaves read Peter’s letter to their slaves to assure them that their slavery is God’s will. I believe that many African Americans will not feel comfortable with Peter’s teaching on slavery. I agree with them 100%. However, we need to understand the apostle Peter’s teaching within its context.

First, the apostle Peter states that Christian slaves were suffering unjustly. Those Christians refused to participate in pagan worship as their masters did. As a result, they faced physical punishment. The apostle Peter calls this punishment unjust. According to Aristotle, who influenced the Greco-Roman culture,no true injustice can be done” to slaves.  For the apostle Peter to claim unfair treatments to slave implies an unprecedented status for the slave.” [3]

Secondly, the apostle Peter elevates the status of slaves by comparing their suffering to the suffering of Jesus Christ. As the slaves suffered unjustly for their commitment to Jesus Christ, the Lord Jesus suffered unjustly, too. Despite not sinning, Jesus Christ suffered on the cross and bore our sins (vv.22-24). By enduring unjust suffering, Jesus leaves us an example (v. 21). Here, the apostle Peter explains that the bruises of Jesus Christ are manifested in the plight of the slaves. In other words, the suffering of slaves like Felicity and the suffering of any faithful Christian is the suffering of Jesus Christ himself.

Finally, the apostle Peter talks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and persecuted Christians as sheep. The imagery of Shepherd and sheep has to do with following Jesus' steps in enduring suffering. Despite unjust suffering, the shepherd Jesus Christ provides safety and protection.[4]

 

Suffering is essential to our Christian identity. We might not become martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity, but we might lose our job. We might face rejection by families or loved ones. We might lose our social status because we are committed to our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter encourages us to endure our suffering patiently and to follow the steps of our Shepherd Jesus Christ, who will continue to take care of us.

 

We live in a society similar to the first church, where religious diversity is dominant. To continue to be faithful and committed to our faith is very challenging, much more than any other time. I encourage you to continue to pray to God through Jesus Christ to help you to remain steadfast in faith and to endure all harassment, persecution, and rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you stay faithful to the Lord Jesus, he will always remain faithful to you, and as a shepherd, he will guide and protect you.

 

 

 

[2] Franciscan Media, “Saints Perpetua and Felicity,” Franciscan Media, March 7, 2020, https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saints-perpetua-and-felicity/.

[3] Jobes, Karen H.. 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 4494-4495). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ibid 4739-4740.