Posts in Category: Sermons

Ash Wednesday

‎2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

February 26, 2020, Ash Wednesday

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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












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



Hypocrisy ‎

Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:12-16‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:12-16… Hypocrisy

February 9, 2020


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Micah 6:1-8‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Micah 6:1-8

February 2, 2020


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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



Christmas Eve Sermon ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Sermon


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

John 6 The Living Bread

Thanksgiving Eve

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

John 6 The Living Bread/ Thanksgiving Eve

November 27, 2019

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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


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







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

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


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


The suffering of Job

Job 42:4-6

[1]Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Job 42:4-6

November 17, 2019


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

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

 2. God is just and fair.

3. God punishes the wicked and protects the righteous.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


Eventually, Job says his famous words

 In chapter 42:4-6

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

But now I see You with my eyes;

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



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

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

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



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

Reformation Sunday

Lutheran Heritage and the world

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras                       Reformation Sunday

October 27, 2019


On April 17, 1521, Emperor Charles V, summoned Martin Luther to the imperial Diet that was to be held at the German city of Worms. Diet in English means assembly or in our context, the Congress. Johann Eck, a papal theologian, represented Pope Leo X to debate with Luther concerning his theology and writings. The Diet of Worms expected from Luther to renounce his faith and recant his writings. Luther’s response is often quoted:

 “I cannot choose but adhere to the word of God, which has possession of my conscience; nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.”


On May 25, 1521, as a result of Luther's refusal, Emperor Charles V issued an edict, well known as the Edict of Worms, condemning Luther for crimes of heresy and called to burn his books. Luther could not contradict the word of God. He firmly believed in what Jesus says: “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

The word of God is the foundation of our faith. It is enough to guide us and to help us to know God’s will for us. The word of God assisted Martin Luther to stand firm against the authority of Pope Leo X and the Emperor Charles V. The word of God inspired the Lutheran reformation and changed the course of religious and cultural history in the West. The word of God is very powerful. The word of God liberated the 16th-century Christians from the oppressing church that controlled every aspect of their life. The word of God gives hope to the hopeless and brings down tyrants from their thrones.



Luther relied on the word of God to challenge rulers and Pope Leo X to improve the state affair of the poor. Germans were hardly able to survive from day-to-day. They had to pay taxes, which were used to serve the pope’s projects and interests. Poor Germans found hope for their suffering and struggle through buying indulgences.  As a result, Luther wrote his 95 theses to correct the theology of his time. The word of God inspired Martin Luther to spread his reform to reach all parts of the church and society, and to call everyone to action. For Luther, the gospel of the Lord aims to lift up Christians' life, not to abuse and take advantage of them.

 Luther did not separate Christians' spiritual life from earthly life. He engaged in the world and encouraged Christians to engage, too. His reformation advocated for good education to children and women, welfare for the poor, and to improve public health services. The word of God relates and speaks to every aspect of our life here on earth.


Luther used the word of God to open the eyes of secular authorities and papacy to the dire situation of the poor Germans. His writings are filled with biblical counsel for rulers.  For example, he sent a letter to Prince John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, introducing his commentary on the Magnificat, the song of Mary in the gospel of Luke. He explained that God cared about the destitute like virgin Mary. Luther used the Magnificat to encourage the prince to help the poor and to administer justice. Luther blamed economic and social disruption on the papacy and rulers’ injustice and called them to administrate justice; otherwise, they become beasts.


Lutheran theology and tradition are full of examples of Lutherans challenging unjust secular and religious authorities. The most famous Lutheran of the 20th century is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed Nazi propaganda and criticized the church’s complicity in Nazism. He believed in the word of God that gives life to people. He relied on the word of God and the Lutheran tradition to resist Hitler. Bonhoeffer was executed because he refused to compromise with the evil that opposed the word of God.


Another example is the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Do you know that Lutherans played an essential role in destroying the Berlin wall and resisting the Communists?


The peaceful protest moment began in a Lutheran gathering for “prayer and politics” in Leipzig. Faithfully assembling for worship, lingering after service for prayer and mutual support, and meeting again on Mondays, sometimes with only a few people present, to talk about things that matter, Lutheran worshipers created the space for the largest peaceful demonstration in German history to occur. After nearly a decade of small meetings, on the evening of October 9, 1989, eight thousand people flocked to the church, and between seventy thousand and one hundred thousand joined for a candle-lit walk through the city, in resistance to Communist tyranny and standing bravely for freedom at the risk of personal injury and imprisonment. The police “joined” the walk by not shooting a single shot. (Ryan P. Cumming. The Forgotten Luther II (pp. 28-29). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).


Lutherans' act of resistance destroyed the Berlin wall. What shall I say more? I wish I have enough time to talk about Palestinian Lutherans resisting the Israeli military occupation of West Bank and Gaza. Or to speak about ELCA sending missionaries to war zones to help the oppressed and to provide shelter, food, and medicine to the victims of war. This is who Lutherans are. This is our Lutheran tradition that we should celebrate every single day, not once a year.


The Grateful Samaritan Leper.

Luke 17

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 17, The Grateful Samaritan Leper.

October 13, 2019

Recently I have been reading a historical novel called Echo by Pam Ryan. This novel is about a German boy Fredrick. He was born with a birthmark and had genetic disease. The setting of the novel is Nazi Germany. On July 14, 1933, the Nazis issued a law for the prevention of progeny with genetic disease. His family was against Hitler's fanatic policies, which endangered their lives. Fredrick was afraid to get sterilized or send to orphanage Nazi institutions. Nazis believed that Aryan race must remain healthy. Epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and severe alcoholism were considered an offense against German society. The Nazis treated children and adults like Fredrick as subhuman. They did not want them to be part of their community. Nazis considered them to be a burden on Germany. So, they considered them unworthy of life. As a result of this law, thousands were murdered through starvation or lethal overdose of medication.


In antiquity, Jews treated lepers as dangerous to the safety and well-being of the Jewish community. The evangelist Luke tells us that 10 lepers begged Jesus to heal them. These lepers did not live among Jewish community or Samaritan community. They were social outcasts and had to live in isolated places. The Jews perceived lepers as unclean and cursed by God. A leper had to cover his upper lip and cry, “unclean, unclean” so that nobody comes close to them.


Those who are shunned by their society, Jesus healed and welcomed them. What is interesting about that 10 lepers is that one of them was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals. They did not interact with each other. In Jesus’ time, hostility towards Samaritans was strong. However, the nine Jews accepted a Samaritan leper among them. They shared their lives with him. Above all, Jesus praises the Samaritan leper’s faith not the nine Jews.


The evangelist Luke presents Samaritans positively. In his gospel, he tells us about the parable of The Good Samaritan and The Grateful Samaritan Leper. In the book of Acts, Luke shows that the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit after believing in Jesus Christ. According to Luke, the grateful Samaritan leper is a model of a person who is a subject of godly love. Despite being a Jew, Jesus healed a Samaritan leper. He saw them as equally important in the eyes of God.


The Jewish audience of the gospel of Luke (Luke wrote to Gentiles, but I believe that Jews also heard his gospel, too) was shocked to hear about Jesus praising and healing a Samaritan. Let me explain what I mean using a contemporary example. Imagine 10 persons living with HIV. They meet Jesus and beg him to heal them. Nine of them are American Christians, and one of them is Iranian Muslim. Jesus heals all of them, and only the Iranian Muslim comes back, and he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him. Jesus praises the Iranian man’s faith and questions the nine American Christians' behavior. How are you going to feel?


Through this story, the evangelist “Luke is building a case for indiscriminate love and radical inclusion” (Ira Brent Driggers, Luke 17:11-19, working preacher). In like manner, the author of 2 Kings 5 presents Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram—Syria today and enemy of Israel as a subject of God’s love. The grateful Samaritan leper and Naaman, the leper, are subject of God’s grace. God’s love and grace are available for everybody even those we might think do not deserve it.


As the story of the grateful Samaritan leper provokes the Jewish audience, the story of Naaman, the leper, provokes the Israelites. Remember when Jesus preached in a synagogue in Nazareth that Naaman was subject of God’s grace and the Jewish worshipers were angry and tried to throw him off of the cliff (Luke 4). It is hard on any person or any group who is prejudice against another group to believe that the disliked group is part of God’s grace and love.


Us versus them creates barriers between people. Prejudice and discrimination prevent us from seeing our neighbor as a subject of God’s love and grace. The story of the grateful Samaritan leper and Naaman, the leper, invites us to look on the inside of a person whom we believe is fallen from God’s grace. God does not think as we do. God’s plan is different than ours. We look on the outside of a person, but God is looking on the inside. A person whom we think has fallen from God’s grace is subject of God’s grace and love.


Prejudice against any person is part of our sinful nature that we need to resist. Jesus’ ministry was revolutionary. He pours out the love and grace of God abundantly on the most unworthy people. Being a Christian, white, and American does not qualify you to sit at the Lord’s table in heaven. Only your faith in Jesus and sharing his love with your neighbor, particularly the one whom you do not like, will grant you a free ticket to his heavenly feast. None of us is worthy of God’s grace. None of us is worthy of God’s love because all of us are sinners. But Jesus Christ made the unworthy worthy of God’s love and grace. We are only made worthy in God's sight by Jesus' sacrificial act of love on the cross.




Faith and Mulberry Tree‎

Luke 17:5-10 and Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 17:5-10 and Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

October 6, 2019

My father was about ten years old when he planted a mulberry tree. Now this tree is big, and its fruit is very delicious. My parents share its fruit with family, friends, and neighbors, and even the passersby. Everybody loves our mulberry tree except my mother. She enjoys the fruit but not the tree itself because not only people enjoy our mulberry tree, but also flies and ants. When its fruit fall, my family must clean immediately to avoid flies and insects. One day, my mother complained a lot about the mulberry tree and flies. My father teased her by quoting Jesus’ words: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (v.6).


My father was teasing my mother. He was not serious. What if Jesus was teasing his disciples, too. Or what if Jesus uses metaphorical language? This verse is often taken literally, which has distorted Christians' faith into the kind of magic. Many Christians became victims of misleading or incorrect interpretation of this verse. Some Christians troubled with their faith because their faith does not enable them to uproot a mulberry tree. Some of you might think if we just had more faith, then God could do miracles through us.


We need to understand that the example Jesus is using is random in this story. “Jesus apparently points to the nearest object and dreams up the most fantastic of scenarios. He could just as easily have said ‘turn this tree into a rabbit’” (Ira Brent Driggers, Commentary on Luke 17:5-10, Working preacher). Previously, Jesus was teaching his disciples about forgiveness. His disciples shift the conversation from forgiveness to faith. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.


From Jesus' perspective, his disciples asked the wrong question. Jesus uses figurative language to explain to them that those with mustard seed faith will be able to forgive those who sin against them. They can do the impossible with little faith. A mustard seed faith is enough for our discipleship.


Mulberry tree can be a symbol of a problem in your life and the life of our community. For the prophet Habakkuk the mulberry tree is disguised in injustice, tragedy, violence, and destruction all over Israel. He wanted God to uproot the mulberry tree and planted in the sea. He questions God's goodness. He wanted God to give him an explanation for the pointless violence. Do not we ask God the same questions about injustice and violence, particularly questioning the senseless shooting and death of innocent people of the Pine Grove Cemetery office in Wausau?



God reminds Habakkuk and us that God will deal with evil in God’s time and that we need to have faith, “the righteous live by their faith” (2:4).  God will uproot mulberry tree that causes destruction and violence in our community.  We need to have faith. This faith would help Habakkuk to see hope and restoration and will help us. A mustard seed faith can give us hope in working together to uproot the mulberry tree that represents gun violence in our country. This mustard seed faith encourages us to leave our homes to go to the world to advance the kingdom of God on earth and to speaks boldly against gun violence. A little faith in the Son of God is enough to help you with any problem you are facing in your life. The extraordinary faith is not the one that literally uproots the mulberry tree and plants it in the sea, but the remarkable faith is the one that helps you to believe that Jesus Christ is with you when you feel your world is falling apart. The mustard seed faith is enough to help you to face any crisis and can save you from falling into despair.


The Dishonest Manager

Luke 16

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 16 the Dishonest Manager[1]

September 22, 2019


Is Jesus celebrating dishonesty? What is the positive lesson Jesus might draw out of sinful behavior? Let us paraphrase the parable.


The master heard a rumor about his manager that he is dishonest. He made a judgment without having an account on his stewardship. He told his manager “you are no longer be my steward, so give me an account.” The manager is already accused by gossip and condemned. He is done. He is fired on hear saying.


The steward said all I know is to be a manager/an accountant. “I cannot do labor work and I am ashamed to beg.” “I am in a situation of having been accused of fraud. I may just do it because I am already condemned to it.”


He calls debtors in and makes the book matches the accusation fraud. There is no evidence of wasting his master’s goods. So, he makes the evidence fit the accusation. He calls each debtor in and asks “what is your bill? Hundred? Write down 50, write down 80.”

When it comes to gossip. When those debtors go back out into the community and they hear that he has been put out of the stewardship, each one is going to think, “because of me; because of our hidden interaction, he was fired. What I am going to do?”


This manager has an honored claim on each one participated in the fraud. The manager will say, “I am fired because of the favor I did to you.”

What he does, he in involves everyone who has been gossiping in the problem in a way that each one will think,

“I do not want to be exposed as the cause of this problem because everyone knows that the master is my friend or worker in the business. If it comes out, then the master is going to know that I defrauded him.”


The manager silences everyone gossip by involving everyone in the accusation. When he is kicked out, he can just say to the debtor,

“you know, my master kicked me out of my work for fraud. Do you remember that fraud? I do not want what happened to that fraud to come out.” “I need a job.”

Everyone is obliged to take him in his own house to cover him and silence him. This commercial situation is about gossip and accusation of fraud.


That dishonest manager uses his intelligence to figure out a way to manipulate money to secure his future. When the master found out how shrewd his manager was, he praised him.


What Jesus was impressed by? The answer is in verse eight and nine.

Jesus says, “for the children of this age [unbelievers in Christ] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (v. 8). Jesus is saying, “it might be true, you Christians do not know how to be smart in this world affair, but this is insignificant compared to the wisdom I am about to teach you about how to use the money to secure your eternal future.” In other words, maybe you are not shrewd when it comes to the stock market, but who cares. Jesus says, “do you think that is shrewd? Let me tell you the real shrewdness.”


Here it comes verse nine. Jesus says “ And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Jesus is telling the disciples not just to secure their earthly future that all what the dishonest manager can do. He hoped to get help when he becomes jobless. This is Jesus’ way of saying, “you need help with your jobless in eternity and I am telling you how to have a place to live, security and joy in fellowship with God’s people forever.”


All the shrewdness of this dishonest manager will come to nothing because it based on wealth that will fail. Jesus shows us the way you use your money to secure your eternity. Jesus says, “Use your money, the unrighteous mammon and wealth.” He means this is part of the unrighteous world in which you live. Take hold of it and use it for eternal and spiritual purposes namely to help the poor. In this way, you secure eternal place with friends in heaven.


Jesus’ statement triggers Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Making friends with money means using your money to meet people’s needs. That is the way you lay up treasures in heaven that does not fail. Some of these people will believe in Christ and go before you into heaven and welcome you in great joy to join them in eternity.


Do not worry about being a shrewd investor in this age where you only can provide a future that will fail. Instead, be a really shrewd investor in people’s lives by using your resources to do as much good as you can for the glory of God and the eternal good of others who will go before you into heaven and welcome you into an eternal home.


[1] This sermon is based on reflections by Adam Ayers, “Is Jesus Praising Someone for Dishonesty? Luke 16: Bible Walkthrough,” YouTube. (accessed on September 21, 2019; John Piper, “Does Jesus Commend Dishonesty in Luke 16?” YouTube. (accessed on September 21, 2019).