Posts in Category: Sermons

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)


‎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,

[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.

The Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 24:13-35—The Road to Emmaus

April 26, 2020


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

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment and picture Jesus in your mind. Take a moment to ponder on his image. (Pause). What does Jesus look like? I believe that some of you picture him wearing a knee-length tunic and a chiton. You might imagine him on the cross or imagine his resurrection and ascension. You might imagine him teaching people, performing miracles, or holding a lamb in his arms. We are accustomed to envisaging Jesus doing extraordinary things. I assume that many of you believe that Jesus is in the miracle business. Therefore, we crave for sensational spirituality by asking him to do miracles in our lives.


Christ is always present in our lives, even though we do not see astonishing miracles. He operates in our ordinary life, bigger than a sensational miracle. A good example is the narrative of the road to Emmaus. Let us see how the evangelist Luke describes the presence of Jesus in the ordinary life of the two disciples.


Our Lord Jesus appears in the text as a stranger and companion. He walks with Cleopas and his anonymous companion (who might be his wife) and joins them on the journey to Emmaus. They could not recognize Jesus, maybe because they were sad and grieving his death (v. 17). Cleopas and his anonymous companion were discussing the crucifixion of Jesus and the women’s vision of angels declaring the resurrection of Jesus. They discredited the women’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection; otherwise, they would not be sad. Discounting the women’s testimony might be the reason behind Jesus approaching and engaging in conversation with them. The two disciples were disbelieving of Jesus’s ignorance of the most current events in Jerusalem. They asked him, “ Who doesn’t know what has been happening in Jerusalem these days?” In our context, it seems that the execution of Jesus was a hot topic all over the news; it was a trending topic on social media! Exactly like coronavirus is a trending topic on the media.


Jesus engages and relates to the two disciples’ ordinary life and everyday concerns. He does not distance himself from their grief and sorrow but offers them a company on their journey. Our Lord Jesus takes a further step to comfort Cleopas and his anonymous companion. He used the Torah and the prophets to explain to them the necessity for the Messiah to suffer, die, and be resurrected (vv. 26-27). Jesus met the two disciples where they were at and gently, and without argument, he explains Scripture to them.


 Our Lord Jesus also humbly accepts Cleopas and his anonymous companion’s hospitality. He meets the two disciples at the ordinary meal table. He does not meet them at a fancy banquet or an extraordinary event. Our Lord Jesus meets the two disciples and us as we gather around our daily food. “Once he is at the table, Jesus’ role shifts. He is no longer the honored guest but the host of the meal, and it is in this role that he distributes the bread.”[1] Breaking of the bread is reminiscent of Jesus' similar actions in the account of feeding the multitudes in Luke 9:16, which helped the two disciples to recognize him.



Cleopas and his anonymous companion represent all of us. We are busy with our daily life and our problems to an extent we do not see Jesus’ presence in our ordinary life. When we live our ordinary life ignoring his presence, we become like that two disciples who discounted the women’s testimony. This kind of life becomes a testimony that our Lord Jesus is still among the dead.


God meets you in your ordinary life and your daily routine; we just do not tend to look there. We tend to look for miracles and sensational spirituality. An Anglican preacher Steve Griffiths rightly explains this point:

            We have ordinary responsibilities, ordinary tasks to complete - and we need to live in the ordinariness of life. And if that is where we need to live, then we need to learn to find God there. But how do we do that? How do we find God in the ordinary? We need to understand that, by nature, God is with us in our everyday lives… Our God is not a remote God, who leaves us to struggle through the pains of our lives. Instead, God comes off the mountain and into the valley of our lives and gets his hands dirty to bring us healing and wholeness of life.[2]


Dear church, I hope the next time you close your eyes and picture Jesus in your mind, that you imagine him washing dishes with you, working on the computer with you, dining with you. I hope you see him, feeding the hungry, speaking up against injustices, comforting the afflicted, and those who mourn. I hope you also imagine him working with the healthcare workers who are at the frontlines battling the coronavirus disease.


[1] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans publishing company, 1997), 849.

[2] Steve Griffiths ‎, “Luke 9: 28-43 - God Meets Us in the 'ordinary' of Life,” St. Andrew's Enfield, accessed April 21, 2020,

Ifyou have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the church office. Pleaselet us know if you are interested in making masks or donating materials.

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Easter message-- John 20:1-18

April 12, 2020


Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!


Yes! Christ is risen indeed. This Sunday is different than the other Easter Sundays we have celebrated in the past. Due to the coronavirus, all Easter celebrations, including worship services, have been canceled. We are hunkered down in an unexpected quiet. We are not gathered together to sing Easter hymns and to greet each other, saying, “Christ is risen!” We are locked down and afraid to be infected by the coronavirus. We are saddened and anxious. We are sorrowful, and some of us are mourning a loved one who became a victim of COVID-19. Our situation is somehow like the first Easter.


The disciples, according to the gospel of John, locked themselves in the upper room because they were afraid, not of the coronavirus, but of the Jewish leaders who wanted to arrest them (John 28:19). In the early morning and while it was still dark (John 20:1), Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to anoint Jesus. Mary, coming to Jesus’ tomb before the sun rises, emphasizes her sorrow and grief over losing her Lord and teacher. I remember very well after my family buried my younger sister, my mother left our house before the sunrise and went to my sister’s tomb weeping. The grief that Mary Magdalene had in her heart overcame her to the point that she thought that somebody had stolen Jesus’ body. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb (v.1), and without looking inside the tomb, she assumed somebody took Jesus’ body. “Unfortunately, such acts were well-known in antiquity, so much so that tomb robbery was listed as a heinous crime in rhetorical handbooks and was a trademark of pirates in ancient novels.”[1]


Mary runs to Simon Peter and Beloved Disciple to notify them about the robbery. Both ran to the tomb, went into the tomb and saw it empty, but these two disciples said nothing. The evangelist John tells us that they returned to their homes. They did not believe that Jesus has risen from the dead (v. 9-10). They were afraid and worried. They might find themselves hopeless. They could not comprehend the whole event. It seems that Peter and the Beloved Disciple believed  Mary’s assumption of Jesus’ body being stolen rather than believing in the resurrection. So, they said nothing to Mary and went back home.


But Mary refuses to go back home. She insists on finding Jesus’ body. Mary finds herself again alone at the tomb weeping. Finally, she bends over to look into the tomb and sees two angels, who asked her why she was weeping. At that moment, Mary still believed that Jesus’ body was stolen. When she saw Jesus, she thought that he was the gardener, and she assumed that he took Jesus’ body. Mary was overcome by her sorrow. It did not cross her mind that Jesus had risen from the dead.


Jesus acknowledges her blinding pain and asks her, “woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (v15). Finally, her sorrow turned into joy when she recognized the resurrected Jesus Christ. Mary was over rejoiced and wanted to hold onto Jesus. She didn’t want to lose him again. But the Lord asked her to be the first person in history to announce the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead.


In many ways, we can relate to Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple. In this pandemic, we have experienced sorrow, fear, and anxiety. These troubled emotions have blinded our pain. We become like Mary looking for something to ease our pain and to calm down our anxiety. Our blinding pain scares, and overwhelms. We find ourselves only concentrating on how to pay our bills and provide for our families. This blinding pain makes us fear the uncertainty, and above all, it makes us overlook the resurrected Jesus.


Our resurrected Lord acknowledges your blinding pain. He asks you the same questions he asked Mary, “why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Are you looking to get financial help, looking for a job, find masks and hand sanitizer? These things are essential. But the most important thing is standing before you. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who arose from the dead, is standing before you to offer his comfort and strength. He is standing before you to tell you that he is there for you. He will provide for you in times of need. He defeated the powers of evil, and he will give you victory over Satan’s evil power.


My beloved church, do not let the coronavirus and your blinding pain to overlook the risen Lord. You need to believe in his power to sustain you in this pandemic. Our Lord, who defeated evil, will help you to overcome your fear and sorrow. Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4-8). I encourage you to call each other and spread the good news. Let your neighbors hear your shout of joy that our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer among the dead, but he has risen.


[1] Alicia D. Myers, ‎, “Commentary On John 20: 1-18‎,” Working Preacher, April 10, 2020, ‎.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Confession and Forgiveness

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

Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God,

who is present, who gives life,

who calls into existence the things that do not exist.


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

Yet with you is forgiveness, and so we confess.

Silence is kept for reflection.

Gracious God,

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

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

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

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


Receive good news: God turns to you in love.

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

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

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




Prayer of the day

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



Hymn                            Rock of ages, Clef for Me


1st Reading

Isaiah 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word of God. Word of life.

2nd Reading

James 4:7-10

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

Word of God. Word of life


Gospel                            Matthew 11:28-30

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

The gospel of the Lord.

Sermon                                                                           Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Hymn                                      Healer of our Every Ill


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

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

They say that schools are shut down in Minnesota

bus drivers bring meals, smiles to home-bound students

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

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

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

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



Prayers of Intercession

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those

who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.



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

Hymn                                     Almighty Fortress is our God




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Changing the Heart

Ezekiel 36:24-28‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Ezekiel 36:24-28/changing the heart

round-robin midweek service.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Isaiah43: 1-7 in time of COVID-19

March 22, 2020


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

The Temptation of our Lord

Matthew 4‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Matthew 4: The Temptation of our Lord

March 1, 2020


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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



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