Martin Luther's Letter On Whether One May Flee From The Coronavirus of 2020

by Martin Luther

It was not coronavirus. It was bubonic plague (or black death), a much more deadly disease. It was 1527, and a case of the black death was found in the university of Wittenberg. The university was closed, and the students sent home, but Luther remained in the city and was busy with the pastoral and practical care of the sick. He was urged by correspondents from various places to give advice on what a Christian’s responsibility is at such a time.


In response, he wrote a letter called “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” In it, he emphasized the duty to care for the neighbor, the responsibility of government to protect and provide services to its citizens, a caution about recklessness, and the importance of science, medicine, and common sense. The letter is addressed to Johann Hess, a pastor in Breslau, and it was published as an open letter to all Christians. Luther begins by looking at how Christians were responding to the plague. Some had a strong faith in the face of death, others not.


I invite you to read Luther’s letter as it is addressed to you personally. Luther’s Letter will be mailed to each homebound member of our church.


My prayer that this letter will comfort you and assure you of God’s presence in your life.


Pastor Niveen


Click here to read the letter.

The Temptation of our Lord

Matthew 4‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Matthew 4: The Temptation of our Lord

March 1, 2020


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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



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

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.



My Personal Story with God amidst snowstorm

Psalm 40‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Psalm 40

January 19, 2020


Psalm 40 describes a person who is delighted in the steadfast love, mercy, and goodness of God. It talks about God’s salvation of the psalmist. In verse one, the psalmist says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” “Waiting” is an expression of trust and reliance on God. For the psalmist, this faithful waiting leads to God’s salvation.”[1]


The psalmist does not tell us his problem. He describes his problem and suffering as desolate pit and miry bog. The word incline in verse 1 means “the slope from a mountain’s peak to its base.[2] The Psalmist describes himself sinking in desolate pit and miry bog

at the bottom of the mountain. The Lord hears his cry and comes down from the peak of heaven and lift him and sits his feet on a rock and gives him a firm place to stand. So, he rejoices.


 In verse five, the psalmist declares and affirms the countless wondrous deeds and good thoughts of God toward him and his people. In verses three and four, God put a new song in the psalmist’s mouth so that who hears it fear the Lord and put their trust in God. The psalmist does not keep the story of God’s deliverance to himself, but he gives testimony to God’s goodness and salvation. He shares his song and experience with the congregation gathered for worship so that they trust God. In verse 11, the psalmist shifts from thanksgiving to petition to remind us of his suffering and his need to rely on God’s steadfast love.


As I was preparing the bulletin for this Sunday, I read all the readings. When I read Psalm 40, my eyes widened, and with an excited voice, I said, “this is my story.” The psalmist expresses my feelings and experience in his words. Let me tell you my story of God’s deliverance.


On December 30, I had to go to Milwaukee for an appointment, which I could not reschedule. Unlike Milwaukee, Wausau's weather was terrible. We expected a snowstorm. I did not have an option but to go to Milwaukee. After I finished my appointment, I called Jackie asking her about the weather in Wausau. She told me that the snowstorm arrived. She advised me to drive only on the highway because the department of transportation plow and salt major highways first. Bob Henning was standing next to Jackie and he agreed with her. I told Jackie that I would not leave the highway.


 I told myself, if the storm worsened, I would stay in a hotel. I depend on my GPS to navigate my way. Usually, if there is a problem on the road like construction or accident, GPS would suggest an alternate route. But I must approve GPS recommendation first before changing my route. When I became near Oshkosh, I began to see the snowstorm. I prayed constantly. I continued to drive slowly. The storm worsened as I drove toward Weston. The highway US-10 W was slippery and the cars formed a long line. Suddenly, Snow shifted under my car tires, causing them to slide. I tried my best to control my vehicle. A crazy truck driver behind me instead of slowing down, the driver drove fast. I was terrified. I saw several cars in the ditch. However, I continued to drive slowly. I was determined to follow my GPS and to stay on the highway. I looked around me to see a sign of a hotel, but I did not see one.


Unexpectedly, my GPS asked me to exit the highway.  I thought it was the time to turn to I-39 N, but I found myself on County J Road.  I have never been on this road before. GPS did not recommend a new route. It was only two cars beside mine on the road. It was covered with snow, but I was not worried because the road was not crowded. I drove through a residential area, which helped me to feel safe. Finally, my GPS led me to highway 29 W. As I entered the ramp, I saw a car hit a traffic sign at the entrance. Highway 29 W was clear of snow, and I was happy to find that I was seven minutes away from my home. I arrived home safely. The first thing I did was to kneel to thank the Lord Jesus. The next day I went to church and I shared my experience with Jackie and Bob. They were not aware of County J road. Jackie and Bob told me it was the Lord who helped me using my GPS. I thought of their answer. I realized that God made GPS to take me in a different direction for my safety.


The Lord heard my cry and came down from the peak of heaven and lifted me and sat my feet on a rock and gave me a place to stand. So, I rejoice. God delivered me from the snowstorm not because I am a good person, but because God is good. God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever. I am sharing my story so that you trust the Lord and to believe that God’s thoughts for you are good. This is my story. What about yours? I encourage you to share your story of faith in public. Speak about God’s faithfulness to people around you. I will end with the same prayer the psalmist prays:


9 I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. 10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. 11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.




[1] Jerome Creach, “Commentary On Psalm 40: 1-11,”, January 18, 2020,


[2]“Psalm 40:1-11,” in Christ In Our Home (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2020), 19.

The Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras


January 5, 2020


The church has called the letter to Ephesians, “God’s love letter to the church.” Imagine that this letter is directed to us, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wausau. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wausau, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


The apostle Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison. He summarizes the whole gospel story and shows how it should reshape of our life’s story. The letter is divided into two sections: God’s story and our story. He explores how all the history came to its climax and Jesus in his creation of the multi-ethnic church.


The apostle Paul opens his letter with a typical Jewish poem where he praises God for the amazing things that God has done in Jesus Christ. From the beginning, God chose to bless the Jews. Now through Jesus, everyone can be adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. In Christ alone, we find forgiveness of sins and receive God’s grace.


God’s plan was always to have a big family of restored human beings who are unified in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brought Jews and non-Jews into one family in Jesus. Paul says that the Ephesians and we would be energized by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and placed him as the exalted head of the whole world. You have the same power that Jesus bestowed on the Ephesians. You are called Saints. You are members of Christ’s family. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You are unique and special in the eyes of the Lord.


The apostle Paul explains that before they knew Christ,  non-Jews were alive but spiritually dead. Through believing in Jesus, they received forgiveness and Jesus brought them back to life. You are now like new human beings. You have the joy of discovering all the unique calling and purposes that God has set before you. Before believing in Christ, the non-Jews were cut off the covenant people. They were strangers. The law was a barrier, but Jesus fulfilled the law and the barrier fell down. You are no longer strangers but adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. The Jews and non-Jews—the two ethnic groups have become new unified humanity that can live together in peace.


After talking about God’s story, the apostle Paul shifts to talk about our story in the last chapters. He demonstrates that the church is a big family, but we are one body that is unified by one Spirit. We have one Lord with one faith. We have one baptism, and we believe in one God. Paul goes on to explore how unity does not mean uniformity. Immanuel Lutheran Church has many people with different vocations but all of us are one. And we are empowered by one Spirit.


We form new humanity in Jesus Christ. Consequently, the apostle Paul challenges the Ephesians\ Immanuel Lutheran Church and every Christian to take off their old humanity as a set of old clothes and to put on their new humanity in which the image of God is being restored. He gives examples:[1]

  1. Instead of lying, new humans speak the truth.
  2. Instead of harboring anger, they peacefully resolve their conflicts.
  3. Instead of stealing, they need to work and be generous.
  4. Instead of gossiping, they encourage people with their words.
  5. Instead of getting revenge, they forgive.
  6. Instead of gratifying every sexual impulse, they cultivate self-control of their bodily desires.
  7. Instead of becoming under the influence of alcohol, the new humans come under the influence of God’s Spirit.


The apostle Paul spells out what that influence looks like in four different ways:

  1. Singing together.
  2. Singing alone. We can say that Immanuel Lutheran Church is under the influence of the Holy Spirit every time they sing.
  3. Being thankful for everything.
  4. The spirit will compel Christians to consider their neighbors are more important than themselves.

How does that work? The apostle Paul explains this point by showing how it works in Christian marriage. A Christian wife is called to respect and allow her husband to become responsible for her, and the husband is called to love his wife and use his responsibility to lay down his selfishness to prioritize his wife’s well-being above his own. Paul teaches it is this kind of marriage that is reenacting the gospel story.


The husband’s action mimics Jesus in his love and self-sacrifice. The wife's action mimics the church which allows Jesus to love her and to make her new. Paul then applies the same idea to children and parents as well as slaves and masters.[2] Our relationship with one another is reenacting the gospel story. God’s story is your story. Your story is part of God’s story. See how valuable you are. Your story is important to God.


But life is hard. Sometimes we fail to reenact the gospel story. For this reason, the apostle Paul concludes his letter by warning the Ephesians and us of the reality of spiritual evil. Paul teaches that these beings and forces of darkness will try to undermine the unity of the church and to compromise her new humanity. So, the apostle Paul metaphorically encourages us to protect our new humanity by wearing the body armor of God. The body armor is made of truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, and the word of God. God's body armor will help you and I grow and mature as Christians.


You cannot defeat evil without Christ and without the word of God. Jesus Christ will help you because you are unique. God chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless before God. You are honorable because, in love, God predestined you for adoption to Godself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of God’s will. You belong to God and what is to God, Satan cannot take.  



[2] Ibid.

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.