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Humility and Hospitality.

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 14:1, 7-14.

September 1, 2019

Today, Jesus gives us a lesson on humility and hospitality. He invites us to be humble and not to strive for a place of honor, prestige, and admiration because humility brings us these things. In other words, humility brings you to the place of honor. Jesus was concerned about the troubling of his popularity following his miracles, particularly the miracle of Transfiguration and feeding the multitudes. He refused to become a king or to seek authority or prestige. He is an excellent example of a humble person who lived his life, not for himself but for us. “Following Jesus Christ is not about positions of honor or authority in his kingdom; it is about embracing a life dedicated to loving one another as he has loved us.”

 

Humility and hospitality go hand in hand. Hospitality always requires humility. When we are humble, we open our hearts to share our resources with the poor, strangers, blind, and lame. Humility opens our mind and soul to our struggling neighbor. Humility is God's gift to those who ask for it. It is a divine gift that helps us to walk side by side with our neighbor who is struggling to put food on the table and care for their kids when they may be working three jobs.

 

Many people in this world whose lives and hope to find a small amount of happiness are intertwined with what we think, say, and do. God did not create us to live for ourselves. God did not create me to live for Niveen and only Niveen. God created us to be responsible for each other.

 

The poor and the disadvantage need the leader of the Pharisees to provide them a meal to survive. His wealthy guests did not need his food. The poor need the rich to work with them to eliminate poverty. And the rich need to remember not to take their privileges and resources for granted.

 

We need each other. This is a fact that we cannot ignore. We need each other not only when we face financial crisis, but also when we question our relationship with somebody who is dear to us, or when a member of our family or a friend is sick or is living in an abusive relationship, or when a friend cannot handle the stress at their workplace. There are more and more examples. But the point is that your humility is key to your relationships. Your humility helps you to practice hospitality to your neighbors and friends.

 

Hospitality entails opening your heart to your friends. It also involves listening to your neighbor, their struggles, their pains in every place the Lord Jesus sends you. This act of hospitality is an act of grace. It is an act of love and care. A touch of kindness can make a difference in your neighbor’s life.

 

The 8-year old boy Christian Moore has inspired me with his touch of kindness. This little boy comforts his classmate with autism on the first day of school. His humility and hospitality were very significant. No wonder that his heartwarming photo was all over the news. That little boy Christian teaches us to practice gracious hospitality to those who are in need.

 

Jesus touches our hearts every day. His gracious hospitality is for you every single day. His gracious hospitality is available to you in breaking the bread and drinking the wine. His humility opens to you a great banquet where everybody is welcome to join. Jesus also practices his gracious hospitality at every moment when you go to him to throw yourself into his arms because you know he is the one who is gladly willing to carry you when the road is rough, and your burden is heavy.

 

 

Statement Regarding ELCA Declaration of Sanctuary Church

Bishop Mansholt

August 14, 2019


Dear Pastors, Deacons and Lay Leaders in East Central Wisconsin,


Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.


The ELCA Churchwide Assembly concluded a few days ago in Milwaukee. Seventeen voting members from this synod gathered with 950 voting members from all across the United States and the Caribbean. Our time together was centered in prayer and worship as we sought to do the will of God. We commend all our work to the mercy of God. In whatever way we were in the right, we pray God will strengthen our resolve. In whatever way we were amiss, we pray God will continue to shape us.


There was a lot accomplished at the assembly and a summary of those actions will be forthcoming. Among those many actions taken by the assembly one has been making the headlines around the country. The ELCA declared itself to be a sanctuary church body and then directed the ELCA Church Council to provide guidance to all three expressions of the church (churchwide, synods and congregations) about what this means. I want to offer my reflections as bishop of this synod and suggest what this means for us as Church.


The action of the assembly grows out of this Church’s 80-year history of ministry with immigrants and refugees. The Gospel of Jesus Christ compels us through love of neighbor to welcome the stranger and care for the neighbor in need. Thus in response to human need in World War II Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services was founded. Through decades of service throughout the world LIRS has become a leader among nine refugee resettlement agencies.


People migrate for a lot of different reasons. Some are desperate for jobs or food. Climate change is forcing some to leave their homeland. Others are fleeing violence and persecution. Most people do not want to leave their homeland. So when they do flee, migration is most often a matter of life and death. We live at a time when 69.5 million people worlwide have been displaced from their homelands, a historic level. The suffering is real and people’s lives are at stake.


As the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world the United States has the capacity to be a leader in addressing this humanitarian crisis. But our immigration system is broken with antiquated laws that no longer serve the country or human need. In more recent years politics has been a divisive force instead of helping to find a solution. In this quagmire the Church has said we are here for the sake of people, to keep families united, to address human need, to care for the stranger, to witness to Christ’s love.


At the 2016 Churchwide Assembly the ELCA committed itself to walk alongside Central American families fleeing violence. Our pastors and lay leaders in Central America give us firsthand accounts of the violence people are fleeing. The AMMPARO Strategy (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy and Opportunities) has brought help, hope and healing to children and youth through the work of our churches and ministries.


Now in the 2019 Assembly the ELCA has declared itself to be a sanctuary church body. What this means, first and foremost, is that we will continue to advocate for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It means we will continue to provide concrete resources in ministering to human need. We want to do whatever we can to
assist the most vulnerable.


This commitment led me and many others to take part in a prayer vigil outside the offices of the Department of Homeland Security in Milwaukee during the assembly. We did so as a protest against current policies, especially those that lead to the separation of children from their parents and the expulsion of those who work hard and long to be lawful citizens of this land.
I readily recognize there are many viewpoints related to immigrants and refuges and the extent to which this country provides asylum and opens its borders to others. Good people can disagree while working toward a just and humane solution.


I also recognize there will be disagreements among us in the Church. I hope and pray we will stay connected and talk about these important matters. The United States of America needs us to have civil and respectful conversation about these urgent issues. This goes to the very soul of who we are as a people in this land.
What does it mean to be a sanctuary church body? I expect we will discover there are many different ways that congregations and synods will live into this decision. I think it begins with taking to heart the action of the assembly and listening to the voice of others. Love of God leads to love of neighbor. Loving the neighbor begins with listening to their story, be that the story of the refugee at our border or our neighbor in the pew.


The assembly is not asking any congregation or individual to do anything illegal. It is our right to advocate, our lawful right to participate in the democracy. It is our right to do acts of mercy and extend arms of hospitality. Those actions may rub up against the law of the land when your neighbor is a DACA recipient or an immigrant who lives and works in the shadows.


Congregations need to know that sanctuary has no legal standing. While the local congregation was perhaps once thought of as a sanctuary, a place of freedom from the long arm of the law, sanctuary has no legal standing in this country.


I believe it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said it is the call of every Christian to seek to know and to do the will of God. These are days for discernment, for seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these present times.

As seek to live out our baptismal call and witness to God’s love for all, I offer this prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every heart; that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 79)

In the love and peace of Christ,


Gerald L Mansholt
Bishop

Make School Kits and Personal Care Kits

Lutheran World Relief

Collections for Lutheran World Relief:
 
The collection boxes for items for School Kits and Personal Care Kits are located on the bench near the church office.  It would be appreciated if you could bring items for the kits.  
 
SCHOOL KITS:  notebooks (70 sheet), ballpoint pens, crayons (16 or 24 count packages), #2 pencils, eraser (2 1/2 inch) scissors (blunt), ruler, pencil sharpener
 
PERSONAL CARE KITS: bath towel  (dark colored), bath size bars of soap, adult size toothbrush, sturdy combs, metal nail clippers
 
Please have the items there by September 15th.  Thank you for your support.
 

Crossways Campaign 2019

Crossways Campaign 2019


July 22, 2019
 

Dear Member of Immanuel Lutheran Church
 

Crossways Camping Ministries is vital for the passing of faith to children and youth and developing leaders for our church. It is so important for our church right now to ensure Crossways Camping Ministries continues to provide exceptional facilities and remains accessible to all who desire to be part of these programs where God is so clearly proclaimed.

Congregations look to Crossways as a resource in providing a valuable ministry to our youth and children, as well as families.

Because of the need to expand this vital ministry, Crossways is conducting a Capital Campaign to help raise $1.8 to $2.7 million by the end of 2019.

During the next five weeks, you will learn more about this important effort. We pray that your commitment to ministry will encourage you to become involved and excited about the “Rooted in Faith, Growing to Serve Campaign”.

 

Yours in Christ,

Bob Henning,
President, Immanuel Lutheran Church

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church

Law and Gospel

Luke 10 and Deuteronomy 30‎

How many of you would attend a Bible study on the law of Moses? How many of you are interested in studying the 613 commandments of the Torah? I believe that very few of you would attend. Christians are not interested in the law because we believe salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. That is very true, but we have a misunderstanding of the law.

 

We overlook the fact that “By nature we are law-oriented creatures because of the Law written on the heart. But the corruption of our nature means that we often will invent laws which we can keep in order to prove our righteousness.”[1] By nature, we know homicide is sin, and by nature, we know stealing is a sin. Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). That said, Jesus revered the word of God, and he fulfilled the demands of the law.

 

God gave the gift of the law to Israel not to make their life difficult, but because God loves them and wants them to live a holy life. Observing the law becomes a big issue in Israel. Pharisees added rules to the law calling it the oral law.  They believed that Moses received the Oral Law and Written Law on Mount Sinai. As a result, keeping the law becomes a heavy burden on the Jews. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for breaking the law of God for the sake of their tradition. He says in Matthew 15: 8-9

“This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

 

According to the evangelist Luke, a teacher of the law wants to engage in scholarly conversation with Jesus regarding the law and eternal life. Jesus asks him to share his understanding of the law. The teacher of the law combines two commandments from the book of Deuteronomy and Leviticus to summarize his knowledge of the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

 

Leviticus 19:18
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5

 

Jesus affirms his answer. He also responses to the second question, “who is my neighbor” (v. 25) by giving the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus does not reject the law of Moses; to the contrary, he affirms it and gives it a more profound meaning. His explanation of Leviticus 19:18 “love your neighbor as yourself,” is very thoughtful and contrary to the stereotype the Jews had of the Samaritans. Through this parable, Jesus blows up this stereotype.

 A neighbor is an individual whom we see not as a stereotype, but as a human being uniquely created according to God’s image.

 

The teacher of the law summarized the 613 commandments into one command: love God and love your neighbor. The purpose of the law is to help us to be in right relationship with God and our neighbor. Jesus requires from the teacher of the law to follow this command, and he shall live (v. 28). Notice that Jesus does not tell the teacher of the law that believing in him is the way to inherit eternal life. For Jesus, believing in him leads to salvation and observing the command to love becomes the fruit of our faith in Jesus.

 

Jesus introduces us to both law and gospel. The law reveals our sin and drives us to repent. It also functions as guidance to show us how to live a sanctified life.

 

 

To say that the Law guides us to a sanctified life doesn’t imply that it has the power to provide the sanctified life. If the Law remains alone, then it has no power to cause us to do what it demands. Only the Gospel provides the power to do with the Law expects us to do.[2]

 

Furthermore, “The Gospel doesn’t eliminate the Law. Jesus isn’t a free pass to sin more in order to get more forgiveness. The Law remains because we still sin.”[3]

 

It is not difficult or impossible to keep the law. Moses, in Deuteronomy 30, assures the Israelites that the commandments are not too hard to follow (v. 11). The law is not in heaven or beyond the sea, but the word of God is in your mouth and heart (v. 13-14). “The language of heart can suggest a yearning to do what God has asked. When it is in their heart to keep God’s law, what may have seemed impossible becomes not only possible but desired.”[4]

When you love Jesus of all your heart and mind, the Holy Spirit will give you the desire to follow him and to keep his commandments. The law requires us to love God and our neighbor, and the gospel helps us to do so. We need both law and gospel to have a sincere relationship with God and our neighbor.

 

 

[1] Jacob W Ehrhard, “The Art of Making Distinctions – Three Uses of the Law,” March 29, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church,  
http://www.trinitynewhaven.com/2017/03/three-uses-of-the-law/

 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sara Koenig, “Deuteronomy 30: 9-14 Commentary,” Working Preacher, accessed July 13, 2019, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1726.

Vacation Bible School

August 13-15, 2019

The 2019 Ecumenical Vacation Bible School theme is “Who is My Neighbor?” This curriculum invites children and youth to re-imagine what it means to be neighbors in Christ. Based on the Good Samaritan story, this full program contains skits, games, crafts, snacks and intentional activities for children to enjoy and learn how our faith calls us out into the world to love and serve our neighbors. The sponsoring churches are: First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, and the hosting Church: Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau.

VBS will be August 13-15, 2019 with a 5pm meal and VBS 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

 

“Who is My Neighbor?” invites children and youth to re-imagine what it means to be neighbors in Christ. Based on the Good Samaritan story, this full, five-day program contains skits, games, crafts, snacks and intentional activities for children to enjoy and learn how our faith calls us out into the world to love and serve our neighbors.

The skits for each day introduce a new character in the Good Samaritan story, starting with the lawyer who asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Each skit shares an important lesson that directly relates to the theme and theme verse, which groups will practice at the start and end of each day.

Who is My Neighbor

Click here to download the registration forms.

The Feast of Pentecost

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

The Feast of Pentecost, June 9, 2019.

 

 

Please join me in prayer. Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.

 

The Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks in English started in the evening of Saturday, June 8 and will end in the evening of Monday, June 10. Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. “Shavuot has a double significance. It marks the all-important wheat harvest in Israel (Exodus 34:22), and it commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.”[1] The alternative name for Shavuot is Pentecost in the ancient Greek language. Pentecost is set up a day to seven weeks after Easter. It means 50 because (7×7=49).

 

According to the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:15), the disciples, the Virgin Mary, and other women, along with 120 followers of Jesus gathered to celebrate God’s gift of the Torah and the gift of harvest. They were unaware that another gift was coming. This new gift is the Holy Spirit, which led them to leave their gathering house and go to the world to preach the good news. Pentecost marks the birthday of the church. Today our church becomes more than 2000 years old.

 

The feast of Pentecost is one of the ancient feasts in the church. The book of Acts 20:16 records that the apostle Paul celebrated the feast of Pentecost. It also means that Paul wanted to celebrate the feast of Shavuot. In the time of the apostle Paul, the church was part of the Jewish community and celebrated Jewish feasts.

Someone might ask, didn’t Jesus, according to John 20, give the Holy Spirit to his disciples immediately after his resurrection? “21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The answer is yes. But remember that the gospel of John is not interested so much in chronology (when things happen). Instead, he is interested in linking resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost closely together.

Pentecost teaches us that we need one another. Pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost expresses the need to appreciate our neighbor who is different than us. “Pentecost is celebration of unity in diversity,” says Pope Francis.[2] All languages are appreciated. The many languages that the apostles spoke indicate a new era of unity and equality but not sameness. All cultures and ethnicities are equally important and precious in the eyes of God. The barriers and privileges that divided people on a personal and national level have been destroyed. The feast of Pentecost teaches us that the time of Pentecost is the time when war, argument, division and discrimination decrease, and love, and unity, along with diversity increase.

 

 

The apostle Paul teaching on our new identity in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).

 

 

As the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples and the 120 followers of Jesus Christ to preach and live the gospel, the same Holy Spirit empowers us to do the same. Each one of you received the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You have the power of the Holy Spirit to do the impossible. Jesus says 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). You can perform these kinds of miracles and even more because you have the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Happy Birthday to the Church of Christ all over the world! Happy birthday to you, who are the body of the Church!

 

 

[1] Wikipedia. “Shavuot.” Accessed June 7, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavuot.

[2] Pentecost is a celebration of unity in diversity, pope says By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service 6.4.2017 6:06 AM ET. http://www.cbn.com/700club/pentecost_diversity.pdf

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord‎

What does it matter?

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.[1] June 2, 2019

 

 

Peace be with you from God, our father and Jesus Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier.

 

What has to do with you the ascension of our Lord? Is it important? There are very significant events in Jesus earthly life. For example, the birth of Jesus is very significant because God became a human being, one of us. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ saved me from sin, and his resurrection saved me from death. How the feast of the ascension effects my faith and life. Today many Christians look at the ascension of our Lord as fiction or unrealistic. We need to uncover the Jewish understanding of heaven and earth to understand the significant meaning of the ascension.

 

Our world today is impacted by ancient Greek philosophy. We tend to believe that heaven and earth are worlds apart. Greek philosophy teaches that the world is a prison, and our body is a prison; our soul is longing to escape this body. Death is a beautiful moment because it liberates the soul from the body. Salvation, according to ancient Greek philosophy, means getting out on this world to heaven. Do not we think in this way?

 

The Jews do not think that way.  The first century Jews understood heaven to be the realm of God and angels, and the earth is the realm of God’s creatures. Heaven and earth are not radically separate, but they are linked. The purpose of salvation, according to the Jewish faith, is not about escaping this sinful world and go to heaven, but rather the transformation of this earth by heaven.

 

For instance, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells him “19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Lord’s prayer comes out of deeply Jewish sensibility. “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This prayer is about heaven and the earth are coming together. When we pray this prayer, we invite God to reign on earth as God reigns in heaven. Another example is from our Eucharist/Holy Communion liturgy. We sing the heavenly song that is recorded in the book of Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God does not distance Godself from our world.

 

In terms of Jesus resurrection, the Jewish understanding of heaven and earth are the context of the resurrection. The resurrection is not about Jesus escaping his body. The resurrected body of Jesus is very emphasized in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that he is not a ghost because he has a body. To prove that he is not a ghost, he asks to eat, and his disciples offer him fish. The purpose of stressing on Jesus resurrected body is to underline that his soul is not in a distant place.  The descriptions of Jesus resurrected body reflect the Jewish sensibility.

 

In terms of Jesus ascension, his ascension is not like NASA rocket trip to space. It does mean the translation of this earthly reality into the heavenly dimension. Furthermore, the ascension of Jesus is collocated with the Pentecost. A something of earth goes up into the heavenly realm, and something from heaven comes down to the earthly realm. It is the meeting of heaven and earth; the transformation of earth by heaven.

 

Let us go back to my first question. What has to do with you the ascension of our Lord? The church is the mystical body of Jesus. In our baptism, we are transformed by Christ and his heavenly power. Our calling is to continue his work of bringing heaven and earth together. Jesus gives us his Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

The ascension of Christ is significant to the church because his ascension commands us to be his witnesses on earth.  Our calling is to go to the world and do what we can to bring heaven and earth together. Our Christian vocation is to help those who live in darkness to taste heaven here on earth. Our calling is to bring heaven down to earth.

 

 

[1] This sermon was inspired by

Bishop Robert Barron, “Why the Ascension of the Lord Matters,” Word on Fire, May 27, 2011, https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/why-the-ascension-of-the-lord-matters/22310/.