Posts in Category: Sermons

John 17:6-19

Jesus prayed for you & his disciples

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

John 17:6-19… May 16,2021

"Boarding the SS Dorchester on a dreary winter day in 1943 were 903 troops and four chaplains, World War II was in full swing, and the ship was headed across the icy North Atlantic where German U-boats lurked. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo ripped into the ship. "She's going down!" the men cried, scrambling for lifeboats.

A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. 'I've lost my life jacket,' he said. 'Take this,"' the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, each chaplain gave his life jacket to another man. The heroic chaplains then linked arms and lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down."[1] They "died because they gave up their life jackets to save others." "Congress established February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day" to commemorate this act of heroism."[2] I was wondering what these chaplains were thinking as they gave their lives for the soldiers. What their final statement was. Did they think of their families? We do not know.

 

This morning, I want to look at one of the final statements we have from Jesus. Thanks to the gospel writers, we know what Jesus's concerns, thoughts, and prayers were in the moments before he died on the cross. And we can learn a lot from this prayer. Likewise, I think Jesus wants his followers to learn from this final prayer. In this prayer, we notice that he did not concern himself, but he concerned his disciples and those who believe their testimony; that is us.

Knowing that he would be crucified on the cross to atone our sin and save us from death, Jesus assured his disciples that they belonged to him, not to the world. He knew that Peter would deny him, Judah Iscariot would betray him, and the rest of the disciples would run away. Jesus knew that only his beloved disciple would be with his mother, Mary, at the time of his crucifixion. Despite his sadness, heartbroken, and suffering, Jesus assured his disciples and us that we belong to him and that we are a gift from God to him. Jesus's prayer intends to calm his disciples' anxiety. I invite you to meditate with me on his prayer.

First, Jesus prayed for protection from the world and evil one. What is the difference between the world and the evil one? Is there any difference? The world is not the cosmos or the earth but the place where Satan is at work. The world manifests itself in systemic evil, which arises from structures within human society, like slavery, human trafficking, and discrimination. The world expresses itself in our own sins, too. God created a perfect world, but sin subjugated people, pushed down and marginalized the poor, and launched war. This world crucified the Son of God, rejects Jesus, and promotes secular ideology and culture. This world mocks Christians and encourages attending sports on Sunday rather than the church. We indeed need protection from this world of sin, war, death, injustices, and darkness.

As Jesus was leaving the disciples, he asked God, the Father, to protect them from the world and that they become one as God the Father and Jesus Christ are one. Jesus also asked that his joy may be made complete in his disciples (v. 13). The evil one aims to destroy your joy by tempting you and bringing hardship to your life. But, despite all his evil deeds and power, he cannot strip you from Jesus's joy because you belong to Jesus alone.

Jesus prays for his disciples' protection from the devil, and that they are not taken out of the world. But, ultimately, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so too, Jesus sent the disciples and us into the world to continue his mission and spread the good news about forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

Second, Jesus prayed for his disciples' sanctification in the truth. Sanctity does not imply or claim a godly status. It is described as being in the truth, which is the word of God. Sanctity has to do with our mission to be sent to the world to share the word of God. Your sanctification does not come by isolating yourselves from the world but by being sent into it.

Our sanctification is connected with Jesus's suffering on the cross (v. 19). This sanctification is not cheap because it cost Jesus to lose his life for us. It also comes in the experience of losing our own lives. Jesus says, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25).

Jesus also says in John 16:33, " I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" In this era, where atheism and secularism target Christians and more people are less interested in church, keep in mind that Jesus prayed for you. Take courage; Jesus Christ defeated this world and its master, the devil. Jesus will give you the strength and wisdom to continue his mission in this world.

 

My church family, I beseech you, do not hesitate to express your faith in words and deeds. Do not put your light under a bushel, but put your light on a stand, that those who come in may see the light ( Luke 11:33–36).

"And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6).

 

[1] Today in the Word, April 1, 1992. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/substitution.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Dorchester

Thomas the Believer--John 20:19-31

​Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras, Ph.D

Thomas the Believer--John 20:19-31

April 11, 2021


“Seeing is believing. Of course with today's technology and photoshop capabilities, you can't always believe what you see. But in the realm of faith, ''Believing Is Seeing.'' Spiritual sight follows belief, vision follows trust, insight follows faith."[1]

 

The Apostle Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He could not believe that the other disciples saw the risen Jesus showing his wounds in his hands and side. So, the church has labeled the Apostle Thomas as doubting Thomas. This title carries a negative connotation. The church does not do justice to the Apostle Thomas, who traveled to India to spread the good news and create faithful communities who trusted and believed his testimony that Christ rose from the dead.

 

The Apostle Thomas was a skeptic who refused to believe without direct personal experience. He thought that the grieved disciples were imagining. He also assumed that the disciples saw a spirit. Encountering a spirit or a ghost of a deceased person is still a common belief in different communities around the world. Thomas wanted to touch Jesus to believe that Jesus is real and not a spirit because you cannot touch a spirit. He questioned his faith and the faith of his companions and demanded a proof. Jesus confronted Thomas "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Jesus confronted Thomas with the reality that he was not among the dead anymore.

I do not discredit Thomas, and neither did Jesus. All of us have Thomas' moment. All of us questioned our faith at a certain point in our lives.  I was skeptical of my faith tradition when I did my Ph.D. degree in Old Testament and after the death of my younger sister. I doubted almost everything the church has been teaching like the Trinity, angels, virgin birth, and many more. I searched for evidence to prove my inherited faith. I experienced a spiritual crisis. In the midst of my spiritual struggle, Jesus confronted me through my friend who was attending the same program. My friend engaged in spiritual and intellectual conversation with me. Gradually, I experienced a gentle spiritual awakening. Jesus came to me through my friend as he came to Thomas. As a result, my relationship with Jesus is deeper.

 

The story of Thomas teaches me not to be afraid of questioning my faith and be critical. Yes, it is okay to question your faith. Questions are actually a sign of growth, not weakness. A pastor and author, Gary E. Parker, writes,

If faith never encounters doubt, if truth never struggles with error, if good never battles evil, how can faith know its own power? In my own pilgrimage, if I had to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink, or a naive faith that has never known the firing line of doubt, I will choose the former every time... Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.[2]

 

Jesus transformed Thomas' life. He is no longer the doubting Thomas, but Thomas the believer. Thomas was a critical thinker. He was intellectual, and Jesus did not discredit him. His faith in Jesus, who is no longer among the dead, freed him from his doubt and fear. He responded to Jesus' resurrection by acknowledging him as his Lord and his God.

 

 Thomas became a very well-known Apostle in India. He tolerated persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ. According to Syriac Christian tradition, the Apostle Thomas was allegedly killed and became a martyr in 72 C.E. Thomas, the believer, not doubting Thomas took his faith seriously. Because Thomas and the rest of the disciples believed the resurrection, we believe it, too. Our faith is based on their testimony.

We live in a time when it is difficult to be serious believers in Jesus Christ. It is easy to be a nominal believer as long as your faith does not get in anybody's face. The Apostle Thomas' faith changed the world. What about your faith?

 

The story of the apostle Thomas teaches us that the resurrection is true. It also teaches us that Christ is walking with us. I want to confront you with one reality. Jesus Christ is not dead. He is alive, and he comes to confront you today not saying: you are questioners, or skeptical, or you disappointed me. He didn't say that to Thomas, so he will not say it to you. He comes to confront you today, saying: "peace be with you."

 

 

 

[1] Joe Alain, Believing Is Seeing (John 20:19, 24-29), https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/90865/believing-is-seeing/

[2] Gary E. Parker, The Gift of Doubt: From Crisis Authentic Faith (n.p.: HarperCollins, 1990).

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.

 

[1] https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/325/stand-up/

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-mark-121-28-5

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

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-mark-121-28-5

 

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, https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2015/01/22/lets-catch-some-big-fish-jesus-call-to-discipleship-in-a-world-of-injustice/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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

 

John 1:43-51

Prejudice
 
 
 
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, https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/jn-1-43-46-what-was-wrong-with-nazareth/.
[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.

 

[1] https://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/illustration-baptism-lost-and-found/

[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!

 

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

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, they 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!

 

Peace

Second Sunday of Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Peace, Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020.

 

The theme of the second Sunday of Advent is peace. We reflect on the peace that our Lord Jesus brings to our lives. We focus on the kind of peace that the angels announced to the shepherds in the gospel of Luke chapter 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The Romans enforced military peace (Pax Romana) on conquered territories, but God’s peace in Jesus Christ is peace of grace and mercy.

 

 Peace is probably not a word that we use to describe 2020 because coronavirus has brought confusion, suffering, frustrations, and isolation to our lives. Christians enjoy God’s peace in their heart when there are chaos and trouble around them. It does not make sense to the world that you have peace when you are struggling. Christ did not promise us a world without challenges, but he promises us peace.

 

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is calm and free from stress and anxiety. God’s peace is a gift, and it is an issue of the heart. It deals with the troubled heart. This kind of peace does not focus on external or present circumstances. It is a peace that is there whether you have troubles or not. Regardless of what may come, God is so powerful to sustain you in your situation through God’s peace.

 

God’s peace is different than that peace the world gives because the world finds peace in many things other than Jesus Christ. The world finds peace in power, money, and many other things, But God’s peace deals with the heart.

 

God responded to our weary world by sending peace in human form, the prince of peace. The prophet Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Inside your heart and amid trial, the prince of peace makes his home in your heart. You are strengthened from inside, and your heart is not troubled. Even when the world is anxious, you have the prince of peace inside you. The prince of peace and your heart become inseparable. Having God’s peace in your heart does not mean your circumstances do not stress you. In the Gospel of John 16:33, our Lord Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Take courage, my friends, God’s peace calms down your heart during the time of trial and suffering. The prince of peace came down to save us from our sins, not to take away the trouble of the world. His peace sustains you during your trials and sorrow. The Lord Jesus always gives you peace. It is his gift for you to enjoy and to share.

 

In 2 Thessalonians 3:16, the apostle Paul prays that “ Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.” Paul’s prayer is an assurance that we will always have peace regardless of our situation. Paul writes to the Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes when you trust God. You need to believe in God’s word that describes the peace that is beyond understanding. That said, you do not understand God’s peace or explain it. The world cannot understand or offer you the kind of peace that God gives.

 

When we have God’s peace in our hearts, our responsibility is to guard it. Paul says and Colossians 3:15, “let the peace of God rules in your hearts.” The apostle Paul does not say let your care or emotion rules your hearts. Guard the peace in your heart so that the devil does not trouble your mind with false thoughts and fear to take away God’s peace. Keep the word of God close to your heart to help you to guard God’s peace. Let us be attentive not to let the devil’s lies affect you.

 

Because of the significant events in 2020, none of us will forget this year. We have experienced a pandemic, economic issues like job losses, and a presidential election. These challenges have changed our lives, and we became easily anxious and stressed. We need God’s peace to dwell in our hearts. To have this peace, you need to come to God asking for it. God is very generous and compassionate, and God will not withhold God’s peace from you. God’s peace helps you face any storm in your life and assure you that you are not alone. Pray continually for the prince of peace to give you his peace and to dwell in your heart.

 

Hope—First Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Hope—First Advent

November 29, 2020

 

As you know, I was born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. I grew up under the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is easy to become discouraged and hopeless in this part of the world. When God called me for the ministry of word and sacrament, I was discouraged because the church closed all doors for women to become ministers. I lost all hope to become a pastor in my country. This was not God's will for me. God kept calling me, and I found a way to come to the U.S.A to do my Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and become a pastor. Like all pastors, I have faced many challenges in my ministry. The biggest challenge we are all facing is COVID-19. The pandemic has discouraged all of us by isolating us from one another. We have set our hope on the vaccine, not on Jesus Christ who sustains us. You might ask me where I find hope to keep on moving. My family and friends give me hope when I am discouraged. The source of my hope is my Lord Jesus Christ, who gives me hope in this life and eternal life.

 

Many of us have no hope for our relationships, job, health, finances; you name it. Some have no hope about life itself. I lost my father this September due to lung cancer. I couldn't go back to Palestine to say goodbye to him or attend his funeral because of the pandemic. Despair washed over me, and I felt like being in a swamp emotionally.

All of us have moments when we wanted to scream or walk away. Discouragement can hide behind our smile, makeup and tells us life is not worth living. If you give in to despair, it will cause you to make bad decisions or commit suicide. This is never the intention of God. God wants me and you to have goals in our lives, hope, confidence, and assurance.

 

Hope is an essential theme in the advent season. The Jews were discouraged by the Roman military colonization of Palestine. The Palestinians today are experiencing a similar situation to the Jews of the first century. Military occupation dehumanizes people and takes away their hope and future. God broke the darkness and hopelessness through Jesus Christ for the hopeless Jews expecting God to intervene and rescue them from their enemies.

 

The advent teaches me not to give in to my despair. If you keep walking with God, God has a way of making everything all right. In his letter to Romans 15:13, the apostle Paul teaches, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  How can we overflow with hope and hold in times of stress? The word of God and the fellowship of faithful Christians will help you to make it through. The Bible tells us that Christ is our only hope. The path of hope begins by being assured that you are right with God.

 

No matter what the devil and the world tell me, I know that Christ has redeemed me, and I am valuable. My fellowship with Christ has taught me when I set my foot in the valley of the shadow of death, I know I have started my way out because God is with me.

 

Many of us are wounded. You are being harassed and bonded in your mind that God has abounded you to face your uncertain situation alone. I've been there. However, I have learned that the only way out is to bring my broken heart to Jesus Christ. I also knew that "Hope is not a feeling, hope is a path, and that path is going to take you through tribulation and affliction."[1] When you become hopeless, follow the advice of the author of Hebrews (4:16) "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

 

Hope is about living. Hope is about what you do now. Hope means believing that in God's time, God will deliver and transform you and you will experience overflowing hope. At some point, you will experience suffering so severe you do not think you will be able to survive another day. In his first letter to Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul says, "16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Sometimes it is impossible to give thanks in a challenging situation. It is difficult to give thanks in times of pandemic, death, trial, and suffering.

 

I experienced giving thanks in the most challenging moment in my life. After my father passed away, I began to give thanks to God because God did not extend his suffering. My father's battle with cancer lasted for two months. Despite the grief, God's mercy touched my broken heart and inspired me to be thankful. The advent season message focuses on God's desire to be with us in our grief, sorrow, and tribulation through Jesus Christ.

My friends, "Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again."[2] So, if your suffering pushed you down, then I tell you in Jesus' name, get up and walk toward your hope in Jesus Christ. Do not let your hopelessness make you a prisoner.  The apostle Paul tells you, "No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). And I assure you, as long as Christ is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, interceding for you, there is hope for you.

 

[1] http://ms.decentify.co/never-lose-hope-trust-in-god-inspirational-motivational-video/

[2] Mary Pickford, https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/527606.Mary_Pickford.