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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.

Forms and Downloads

Immanuel Lutheran Church

These forms and documents are PDF files.  Most digital devices will open these files automatically.  If your digital  device does not, you can simply download the free Adobe Reader software from get.adobe.com or  simply Google it.

Forms:

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Letters to Jewish Neighbors

Bishop Gerald L. Mansholt

Dear Pastors and Conference Deans,

I am sending this e-mail and attachments to all Conference Deans and to selected pastors.

The attached documents are copies of letters that I sent to 5 Jewish synagogues located within the East Central Synod of Wisconsin.  With the rise of anti-Semitism, bigotry and violence across the country our Presiding Bishop encouraged us to care, love, support and reach out to our Jewish brothers and sisters.  I tried to identify the synagogues the best I could, knowing a couple are quite small.  Some synagogues have closed in places like Manitowc and elsewhere.  If I’ve missed any, please let me know.

I would assume come of you already have relationships with some Jewish neighbors.  If not, I enourage you to reach out and personally express our support in these days and offer whatever we might do to build stronger relationships of understanding and respect.  I have enclosed copies of both Bishop Eaton’s statement of December 30th and the 1994 Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community.

In many respects I’m a novice in these Lutheran-Jewish relationships.  So anything you can do to assist your bishop will be appreciated.  J  I tried to identify those pastors nearest to the synagogues to receive this e-mail.  If I’ve missed someone pass this e-mail along.  The letters to the Jewish congregations went in the mail this afternoon.

Blessings and peace,

Jerry

Bishop Gerald L  Mansholt
East Central Synod of Wisconsin
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
16 Tri-Park Way
Appleton, Wisconsin   54914
Office phone:  920-734-5381
Cell:  920-809-9231
www.ecsw.org

 

By Gracious Powers - ELW 626

Sung by Jane Reilly-Smith

The Song, "By Gracious Powers" ELW 626 performed at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wausau, WI.

  • Text: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Vocalist: Jane Reilly-Smith
  • Piano: Judy Kort

Lutheran Schools in the Holy Land Outcomes

Opportunity Palestine

Featuring high school students speaking in their own voice, the outcomes of the Lutheran Schools in the Holy Land are shared. The 4 schools start with preschool and continue to Grade 12 with co-educational classrooms and curriculum designed to support inquiry, creativity, leadership with inter-faith dialog and peace resolution.

Honor Veterans Sunday

November 10, 2019

On November 10, 2019, ILC recognized and gave thanks for the service of the men and women of ILC who have served in the armed forces.

Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day 2019

Lefse Making - November 2, 2019

Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau

Lefse making has been an important project for most of Immanuel’s 135-year history. It was an important complement to the fall lutefisk dinners that were made available to the community as a fundraiser and an event that firmly stamped Immanuel as the Norwegian congregation in Wausau. The last lutefisk dinner was held in 1965, and thereafter, lefse was sold to the community as part of the fall bazaar, a tradition that ended almost a decade ago. The eight-week schedule of turning 800 lbs. of potatoes into lefse for the bazaar has now been reduced to two Saturdays of lefse rolling and baking in November for selling to members of the congregation. We are no longer an ethnic congregation, but this Norwegian tradition continues.

Lefse was made on Friday, November 1st (peeling) and Saturday November 2nd (baking).

Lefse will be sold on November 10, 2019. The cost is $7 per bag.

Click here to view a video filmed during Lefse making this year.

 

 

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.