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The Parable of the Wedding Feast Matthew 22 ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras                       The Parable of the Wedding Feast Matthew 22         October 11, 2020

A wedding is a joyful event. Families and relatives and friends come to celebrate a milestone event in the bride and groom's life. Wedding preparations can take months. Imagine a royal wedding with all its lavish and elegant decor and food. People feel honored to receive an invitation to a wedding and feel even more honored and excited to be invited to a royal wedding. We had a wedding yesterday in our church; all the guests were honored and excited to attend the wedding. But there is always a fascination with the royal wedding.

 

The Bible tells us about the royal wedding that will top all weddings—the union of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. There will also be a heavenly feast—the marriage feast of the lamb. We are no longer spectators because God invites you and me and all nations to attend this royal wedding.  The parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 reveals the nature of the King's invitation.

 

In biblical times, the wedding was an opportunity for families, friends, and all the village to set aside all their work for a few days to celebrate and enjoy the marriage banquet.[1] The king sent messengers to invite people to his son's wedding, but they refused to come and ignored the invitation to be busy with their lives. Others mistreated the messengers and had some of them killed. "The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city" (v.7).

 

This parable is disturbing because the evangelist Matthew presents God as ruthless and violent. The parables of Jesus should not be taken literally. "Parable is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth and religious principle."[2] This parable describes the salvation history metaphorically. God sent over and over prophets to the Israelites, inviting them to return to God and follow the law, but they killed and tortured the prophets. According to Exodus  32 and Psalm 106, The Israelites worshiped the molten image of gold bull-calf instead of God. God punished the Israelites by sending the Assyrians and the Babylonians to destroy their city and temple and take them to exile. Later, God sent the Romans to destroy the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Because the Jews refused God's invitation, God extends the messianic wedding invitation to include the Gentiles. This invitation is described in verses 9 and 10

"Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests."

Now  the church consists of the Jews and the Gentiles.

 

The person who attended the wedding banquet without wearing the wedding garment (v.10)  does not represent a poor group or an innocent person but a man who presents an incomplete conversion.

The man without the wedding garment had neither ignored nor refused the invitation to the feast. But his yes to the call of God was not carried through in his life. He wanted the good things of the Kingdom, but not enough to break with his sinful ways and live as a committed disciple.[3]

Through this parable, Jesus tells the leaders of the Jews that following him means accepting God's invitation because he is the Son of God. Following Jesus and joining his Kingdom requires a full conversion without making excuses to continue to be busy with our world. We cannot have one foot in the world and the other in God's Kingdom. God wants your mind, soul, and body to be dedicated to the Lord.

 

We are attracted to the worldly things that we enjoy. Earthly life distracts us from the real joy that only Christ can give to his followers. True Christians live for the Lord without compromising their faith. Jesus looks for followers to follow him whatever it takes. When we fall short of God's glorious standard and earnestly repent, God will help you to stand on your feet again. The prophet Micah says,

Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me. 7:8

 

Total commitment to the Lord means that Jesus Christ is Lord in every area of our lives. When you commit yourself to Christ and wear the wedding garment, the garment of your baptism, you are opening yourself to God's grace to touch your life. This grace helps you to respond generously to God's invitation. Only through God's grace, your heart and mind will be transformed to continue to follow Christ no matter how the world is inviting you to do otherwise.

 

[1] Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (p. 281). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.

[3] Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (p. 284). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.

 

Luke 21 Challenging the Authority of Jesus Christ

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Luke 21 Challenging the Authority of Jesus Christ

September 27, 2020

 

"In 1981, a Minnesota radio station reported a story about a stolen car in California. Police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The car owner had intended to use the crackers as rat bait.

Now the police and the owner of the Volkswagen Bug were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life than to recover the car. Often when we run from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we are actually doing is eluding His rescue."[1]

The gospel story for this Sunday is about repentance, turning to God. Repentance is essential to the Christian faith that we cannot ignore. Jesus' problem with the chief priests and the Jewish leaders is their hypocrisy and lacking repentance. After Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him to question his authority. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" The two questions "intended to trap Jesus into either admitting that he has no authority from God or claiming that he comes from God, which might open him to the charge of blasphemy."[2] Jesus was an intelligent person, for he recognized their bad intentions immediately. Jesus responded to them with another question: "Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" Jesus did not shift the subject. He connected his ministry with the ministry of John the Baptist, to demonstrate his authority comes from God, as John did. By raising this question, Jesus revealed the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders and their need to repent.

To answer Jesus' question, the chief priests and the elders found themselves in an awkward position with three options: "They can either (a) say what they think—that John's baptism was not from God—and face the anger of the crowds that regard John as a prophet, or (b) admit that John's baptism was from heaven, in which case they would be put to shame for not believing him,"[3] or (c) to claim not to know. To avoid embarrassment, they chose option three.

Our Lord emphasizes the chief priests and the elders' rejection of John the Baptist by telling them the parable of the wicked son. The father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son refused his father's request but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The second son agreed to his father's request, but later, he disobeyed his father. Jesus correlates the first son with the tax collectors and the prostitutes who initially rebelled but later repented as they heard John the Baptist's message. Jesus identifies the chief priest and the elders with the second son. They have the law, but they disobeyed God.

Our Lord insulted the chief priests and the elders when he states that the notorious sinners like the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before them. The chief priests and the elders assumed that they were way better than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. They never expected anyone to tell them God prefers this dishonorable group who repented over the honored group who refused to repent. Jesus intends to say to the chief priests and the elders that when God sent John the Baptist to call them to repent, they discredited him as they discredit Jesus. Now, they will find themselves watching the sinners enter God's kingdom before them, or they will be left out of the kingdom.

Repentance and returning to God is a life journey that does not end until we die. Martin Luther teaches us that "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."[4] To repent is not simply to regret but to change your direction. Through repentance, you experience the steadfast love of God and grace. Repentance is the key to heaven. We cannot go to heaven without repenting from anything that separates us from God.

We need to examine our lives daily and to realize the ways we break God's commandments. Like the police and car owner who searched for the thief to warn him from eating poison crackers, Jesus keeps on looking for us to warn us about sin and keep us from sin. The danger is when you and I keep running away from God's grace. That will only lead to our destruction. Our Lord invites us to repent for our own sake and our well-being. I encourage you to look at repentance as a way Jesus manifests his love for you. Through repentance, you experience God's mercy and forgiveness, which makes you whole again.

 

 

[1] https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-poisoned-crackers

[2] Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (p. 274). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.  

 

 

[3]Mitch, Curtis. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 274-275). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.

 

[4] Jones, Mark. Living for God: A Short Introduction to the Christian Faith. N.p.: Crossway, 2020.

Exodus 14, crossing the Red Sea

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Exodus 14, crossing the Red Sea

September 13, 2020

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Exodus story? What fascinated you about it? Maybe you are fascinated by the ten plagues or Passover, the splitting of the Red Sea, the pillar of the cloud, or the pillar of fire. There are so many things in the story of Exodus that are amazing. What fascinated me about this story comes from the mouth of the Egyptians, "let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt" (v. 25). The Lord is fighting for them! This statement summarizes the book of Exodus and summarizes our Christian life.

 

The Israelites in Egypt were powerless with no weapons to protect them. They used their hands and strength to make a living. In contrast with the Israelites, Egyptians had the power and the most advanced weapons of their time. The book of Exodus tells us that when Pharaoh chased the Israelites, "He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them" (14:7). The story of Exodus describes a conflict between the oppressed and the poor group and the imperial power of Pharaoh. God chose to fight for the oppressed.

 

Pharaoh created chaos and disorder for God's creation by enslaving the Israelites. Yes, slavery brings disorder to God's creation because people are created according to God's image and deserve respect. By defending the oppressed Israelites, helping them to leave Egypt, and crossing the Red Sea, God put an end to the chaos, and Pharaoh and his soldiers with all his chariots were left dead and destroyed on the seashore. God trapped Pharaoh with the same weapons he relied on to fight Israel.

 

Pharaoh built his economy on forced labor, exploitation, and domination, but God, through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, destroyed his power and empowered the Israelites.

 

The story of Exodus is not about supernatural power, but about defending the oppressed and those who are in need. The story of crossing the Red Sea teaches us that God sees and hears our groaning and struggle in every situation we encounter. Our Lord Jesus takes on his cross your groaning and suffering, and he is continually defending you. He will always meet you where you are and helps you to cross the Red Sea; to cross all your suffering and challenges, and will help you to be resilient.

 

Our Lord is your pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to protect you and lead you. When you think that your challenges are bigger and stronger than you, remind yourself that Christ is stronger than your challenges. He will see you through it. Satan enjoys deceiving us by making us think that God does not care or notice our suffering, but the story of crossing the Red Sea assures us that God sees and knows what we need. God knows what you are going through, and God will always come up with good news for your difficult situation. The author of Psalm 139 says

1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

 

As we struggle to live out our faith in a very challenging world, we have a God who knows us very well. God knows our problems and feelings. Our Lord Jesus brings you good news for whatever bad situation you encounter—"unemployment, family discord, depression and serious illness, doubt, fear, loneliness -- you name it."

 

The account of Exodus assures us that our hardship is not forever, and the painful experiences are meant to help you learn and grow from them. The challenges you face will come to an end. God foresaw that Pharaoh would harden his heart and not let the Israelites go free, causing them to suffer more and more, but God used their suffering for God's glory and the well-being of the Israelites. God also foresees your suffering and will put an end to it. Remember, you are not waiting alone to see God's victory over your suffering; the Lord Jesus is waiting actively with you to strengthen you to endure your challenging circumstances.

When you meet people going through a tough time, please do not tell them, "do not worry, it will come out fine in the end." Nor does it help you to say to yourself amid of your suffering and pain that you will learn good things from this experience because it might take years to discover  good outcome of your suffering. It is essential to acknowledge your feelings and your pain and to remind yourself that our Lord is on your side fighting for you. The apostle Paul teaches us that "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)." He also advises us to "12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer to be patient in suffering" (Romans 12:12).

 

 

Matthew 16 and Exodus 3 message on suffering

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

Matthew 16 and Exodus 3 message on suffering

August 30, 2020

 

Suffering, pain, and sickness are an ever-present reality, and so we cannot escape them. Suffering is the center of our faith because Christianity is based on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the beginning of Judaism, Jewish scholars have been contemplating suffering. For instance, the books from Joshua to second Kings explain suffering as a result of disobeying the law of God. As a result, God punished the Israelites several times. After the exile, the Jews were careful to observe the law, but they suffered terribly by the Romans, who occupied their land and exploited them. During this time, the Jewish scholars understood suffering to be the work of the devil. Christians understand the origin of suffering to be the sin that has broken our world. Pain, suffering, and death are the result of sin.

 

We cannot comprehend the reason behind our suffering. Part of our human nature seeks to know and understand the reason behind our pain because we want to be in control. Even though we do not comprehend our suffering, God comprehends it. Imagine if the Israelites had lived a comfortable life in Egypt, would they have left Egypt to go to the Promised Land? No. Would God Yahweh be their God and our God? I do not know, but I am sure that the salvation story would be different.

We might not understand the reason behind our suffering; therefore, we need to trust God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in a sermon preached in 1938, “God is righteous, whether we understand His ways or not. God is righteous, whether he punishes and chastises us or whether he pardons us…We do not see it, but our faith must confess it: God alone is righteous.”[1] Surrender to God’s will, and God will make you see it through. All of us endured, is enduring, and will endure suffering. Our Lord Jesus suffered on the cross because his suffering is essential to our salvation. Jesus Christ’s suffering means your healing; therefore, he was determined to go to Calvary to carry your suffering and sin on the cross.

 

Peter tried to stop him, but Jesus rebuked him by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus' statement implies that Peter is in the same league with Satan. Jesus called Peter a rock because he confessed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Now, Jesus calls Peter a stumbling rock.  With these two incidents between Jesus and Peter, the evangelist Matthew links the identity of Jesus the Messiah with his suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

Jesus teaches us that “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v.24). Jesus asks you to carry your cross, not his cross. No one can carry Christ’s cross. The cross means suffering and sickness, but for Christians, our suffering is not without hope because Christ is in solidarity with our pain. Christians are called to suffer for their faith, and as human beings, we are exposed to different types of sicknesses. Jesus is calling us to carry our cross, whether we suffer for his namesake or suffer from illness or any other challenges.

 

At the cross of Jesus, we receive not only mercy, peace, and grace, but also we encounter suffering. This is the irony of the cross. Bonhoeffer says, “That is the mystery of suffering in the church and in Christian life, that the very gate on which is written ‘abandon all hope,’ the gate of pain, of loss, of dying—that is very gate is to become for us the gate of the great hope in God, the gate of honor and glory.”[2]

 

Through pain, sickness, death, and all tribulations, you encounter Jesus’ love and assurance of his presence in your life. You do not need to fear suffering or to stay focus on your sickness because the Lord is working with you to fight back. You will always receive courage and peace from Jesus Christ, who endured your pain and fear on the cross and won the victory for you. Count on God’s righteousness to overcome your fears.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ might not solve your problem, or heal your sickness, but he promises you to go into your suffering with you and to strengthen your shaky heart. The apostle Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus cares about your suffering and pain. He feels your suffering and understands your agony.  Trust in God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10 “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

 No matter what happens in your life, our Lord Jesus Christ is there for you to strengthen you and to give you peace and hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Meditations on the Cross.” (Louisville: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 1998), 39.

[2] Ibid., 44.

Matthew 16:13-20 and Exodus 1&2

Your faith is your lifeguard ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras 

Matthew 16:13-20 and Exodus 1&2: your faith is your lifeguard

August 23, 2020

 

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

 One time I went to the YMCA to swim. During swimming, I had a severe leg cramp. I lost my balance and began to sink. I felt that was the end of my life. After a few minutes of struggling to survive, I heard the voice of the lifeguard asked me to hold on the rescue tube. The lifeguard saved my life. I had mixed feelings of fear and joy, so I cried.

Troubles of this world overwhelm us. Suffering and injustice can break our spirit. Sin, pain, and oppression can feel like cramps that make us sink in deep water. If you don’t have faith, you will sink and die. Faith is your rock when the ocean waves from a storm slaps your face. The kind of faith that sustains you is the faith of the apostle Peter, who confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Your faith can move mountains. These mountains are your anger, sickness, addiction, or whatever your challenges are.

 

Your faith in Jesus Christ gives you strength in times of trouble. It gives you courage against your fear. The story of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and the mother of Moses and his sister Miriam is the story of women's faith that gives them the courage to be resilient and to face Pharaoh’s oppressive policies and genocide. Because the midwives feared God, not Pharaoh, they refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys. Moses’ mother refused to give up her son to the Egyptians to throw him in the Nile but accepted Pharaoh’s daughter to raise him as hers. The faith of the Israelites sustained them amid their slavery. Their faith helped them to endure Pharaoh’s cruelty and xenophobia.

 

We face pain in our lives. We will face many challenges. We might lose loved ones, and we might endure sickness or face tragedies. Without these challenges, we will not learn what faith in Christ is. God works behind the scenes to help you to make it through. God worked through women nurturing love to destroy Pharaoh’s power. God’s sovereignty is manifested through compassion, care, and grace. Even though your problem and pain consume you, God is working in your life to help you. Your faith in Christ Jesus is like a lifeguard that saves you from sinking into deep water. Hold onto your faith to help you.

 

In good times it is easy to talk about faith and to encourage others to keep their faith. But the challenge is to keep faith in difficult times and to trust in the steadfast love of God to sustain you. In difficult moments, you pray sincerely and ask Jesus Christ to intervene immediately to solve your problems. Many times, Jesus does not answer your prayer in the way you want. So, you become tempted to be upset and be angry with God. Here faith is your lifeguard. Do not stop praying but ask our Lord to strengthen you and to help you to remain strong even though your difficult situation does not change. Ask God to guide your steps and open your heart to the Holy Spirit to comfort you.

 

When you feel the struggle and the challenges heavy on your shoulders, read your Bible, and surround yourself with faithful Christian friends. Since I learned about my father’s sickness, I rely on scripture more and more to stay strong. I put some encouraging verses from the Bible, where I can see them, to remind myself of God’s promises to my father and me. Stay in the word of God when tough times hit you. Trust in what the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”

Matthew 14 Feeding the Hungry

Matthew 14:13-21

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Matthew 14:13-21
August 2, 2020

As people rush to stockpile supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, stores have placed restrictions on the purchase of essential goods like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and medicines. The reality is that one person’s stockpiling can mean another person’s shortage. Hoarding and price gouging demonstrate the falling moral values in our society.

“With over 800 million people facing chronic undernourishment and a further 135 million people suffering crisis levels of hunger or worse... analysis shows that an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19.”[1] “David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), has labeled a ‘hunger pandemic’ alongside the health crisis.”[2]

 

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. It is God who feeds and saves. The crowd does not mind walking a long distance to hear Jesus. Five important verbs describe Jesus’ reaction to the crowd:

  1. Jesus had compassion on them. His heart was moved with pity as he saw people struggling with hunger. Jesus was surrounded by hungry people who needed his help. Despite being fatigued, Jesus makes himself available to them and heal their sickness.
  2. The second verb is “to heal.” Most of the illnesses in Jesus’ time were due to malnutrition. Food supplies and debt were frequent problems for many.

 

When it was evening, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away to buy food. The critical line is Jesus' directive to the disciples, who wish the hungry crowd would go away. Jesus says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat" (v. 16). Jesus wants his disciples to take responsibility. So, the disciples give Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish.

 

  1. Jesus blesses the food. The third important verb is “to bless.” Jesus thanks God for the few foods he has. Learning to thank God for every little thing can enrich our lives and help us not to complain all the time. Jesus teaches us to be grateful for everything we have.

 

  1. The last two verbs describe Jesus’ reaction are breaking the loaves and giving them to the disciples to pass out to the crowd. The bread and fish just kept on coming. “It was certain only that the generosity of Jesus was streaming forth in superabundance.”[3] The three verbs: to bless, to break, and to give are used in our Holy Communion liturgy. The Eucharist feast is a symbol of God’s generosity, justice, and love. Breaking bread together is a communal and sacramental act that aims to transform us and make us a new creation in our relationship with God and our neighbor.

Traditionally speaking, the main point of feeding the 5000 is Jesus' ability to perform miracles. In fact, the main point is Jesus sympathizes with those who are hungry and put his sympathy into action. His sympathy demonstrates God's desire that food be distributed equitably. He cures and feeds the poor crowd. His reaction to the crowd recalls Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed and signifies that “The kingdom of heaven produces a plentiful harvest from the smallest of seeds.[4] From the little we have; we can bless abundantly. A commentator reflects on this story says:

The feeding stories are not about a miraculous multiplication of a few loaves and fish. Rather, they show how cooperation and fair distribution can bring abundance and harmony. There is enough for everyone if nobody grabs what they can without a thought for their neighbours. Jesus took the meager supply available and blessed, broke and distributed them. These three actions are at the heart of our Holy Communions... The ego, the false self that Jesus tells us must be put to death, is always concerned about scarcity, always therefore seeks to hoard, is afraid of the generosity of God, assumes that more is necessary before anything can be achieved. When I discover the underlying truth about who I really am the abundance of the present moment opens up. There is no need to wait until one condition or another is fulfilled. If, in trust, I use what is available to me at this moment then I am blessing, breaking and giving.[5]

 

I would like to end with a German song that I translated it into English. It is called Ich Glaube/ I Believe.

Ich glaube

I believe

Lyrics

Ich glaube, dass der Acker, den wir pflügen
Nur eine Weile uns gehört
Ich glaube nicht mehr an die alten Lügen
Er wär' auch nur ein Menschenleben wert
Ich glaube, dass den Hungernden zu speisen
Ihm besser dient als noch so guter Rat
Ich glaube, Mensch sein und es auch beweisen
Das ist viel nützlicher als jede Heldentat
Refrain

Ich glaube
Diese Welt müsste groß genug
Weit genug
Reich genug
Für uns alle sein

 

 

 

Ich glaube
Dieses Leben ist schön genug
Bunt genug
Grund genug
Sich daran zu erfreu'n

 

 

Ich glaube, dass man die erst fragen müsste
Mit deren Blut und Geld man Kriege führt
Ich glaube, dass man nichts vom Krieg mehr wüsste

 

 

Wenn wer ihn will, ihn auch am meisten spürt
Ich glaube, dass die Haut und ihre Farben
Den Wert nicht eines Menschen je bestimmt
Ich glaube, niemand brauchte mehr zu darben
Wenn der auch geben würd', der heut' nur nimmt

 

 

I believe that the field we are plowing

we own for a while

I no longer believe in the old lies

It would only be worth a human life

I believe to feed the hungry

Serves them better than good instruction

I believe to be human and to prove it

This is much more useful than any achievement

refrain

I believe

This world should be big enough

Far enough

Rich enough

For all of us

 

I believe

This life is beautiful enough

Colorful enough

land enough

Enjoy it

 

I believe that a person must ask first

With their blood and money, you can wage war

I don't think you know anything about the war anymore

 

If you want it, you can feel it most

I believe that the skin and its colors

do ever determined the value of a human being

I don't think anyone needed to starve anymore

When you give today, you would receive today

 

 

 

[1] Caroline Delgado and Jiayi Zhou, “The Impact of Covid-19 On Critical Global Food Supply Chains and Food Security,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, June 26, 2020, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/topical-backgrounder/2020/impact-covid-19-critical-global-food-supply-chains-and-food-security.

 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Gospel of Matthew, The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Kindle Edition, 2010), 189.

[4] Jennifer T. Kaalund, “Commentary On Matthew 14: 13-21,” Working Preacher, accessed July 28, 2020, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4513.

[5] “Abundance,” The Now New Testament, February 19, 2015, https://thenownewtestament.com/tag/feeding-the-five-thousand/.

Stereotyping

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras                       Stereotyping: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30        July 5, 2020
When I went to my seminary in Chicago, most of my colleagues, staff, and professors assumed that I was a Muslim or a Muslim who converted to Christianity. One of the staff tried to convert me to Christianity. They stereotyped that all Middle Easterners are Muslims, women must cover their heads, they do not eat pork, camel is their transportation, and of course, they are terrorists. I was stereotyped based on my ethnicity and gender. Those colleagues and staff made assumptions about me before they got to know me. Stereotyping is defined as “beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors of members of certain groups.”[1] Stereotyping could lead to harassment and discriminatory situations at school, workplace, and church. How many times have you been misunderstood and characterized in ways that do not describe who you indeed are?
 
The scribes and Pharisees stereotyped Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. They saw John the Baptist living in the wilderness and eating what he found and abstaining from wine. John the Baptist did not fit their category of a normal person. He did not drink wine or attend banquets, so they thought that John was exceedingly weird and concluded that he must be possessed by a demon. In contrary to John, our Lord Jesus Christ accepted invitations to parties, ate, and drank wine. He accompanied the tax collectors and sinners to share the good news with them. The religious leaders criticized him and accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. They stereotyped John and Jesus and did not see them for who they really were. They did not spend time with them and learn who they are. The religious leaders wanted nothing to do with them.
 
Jesus uses a Palestinian proverb and customs to illustrate the religious leaders' rejection of John and Jesus. “According to customs among children, boys invited their companions to dance at weddings, and girls sang laments at funerals and invited their friends to mourn.”[2] Using this proverb, Jesus explains that the religious leaders rejected John’s message of repentance and mourning and Jesus’ festive invitation. As a result of their rejection, our Lord Jesus Christ accuses them of lacking wisdom and understanding. If they had wisdom, they would have realized that Jesus Christ is the Son of Man and the coming Messiah. What was the problem of the scribes and the Pharisees?
The Pharisees and scribes rejected Jesus because they were conservative. They followed the law and their traditions, that is their interpretation of the law. In other words, they were legalists. They expected the Jews, including Jesus Christ and John the Baptist, to obey their traditions. The yoke is a symbol of the law and the Pharisees’ tradition.
In biblical and Jewish tradition, a yoke is often a metaphor for religious instruction. In some cases, the yoke represents the commandments of the Torah that define what it means to live in a covenant relationship with the Lord (see Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1). In others, it represents the counsel of divine Wisdom that guides men and women toward pious and prosperous living (see Sir 6:25; 51:26). Jesus probably had both traditions in mind when he spoke of “my yoke” (11:29-30).[3]
The Torah is associated with wisdom. Jesus compares himself with wisdom. His yoke that is his teaching is not heavy. The Pharisees burdened people with unimportant rules and issues. To those Jesus says, “28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
 Jesus becomes wisdom. His teaching is not a burden on us. On the contrary, his teaching brings rest to our souls. Jesus is not a harsh and strict teacher, but as a gentle teacher, he helps us to carry his teaching. Getting to know Jesus means obtaining wisdom.
In a world where the truth is often presented as debatable, and lies are painted as truth, we can become weary. The truth does matter. Truth is the beginning of wisdom. It is a starting point for us to live fruitful lives.”[4] Lacking truth or not trying to get to know our neighbor will create stereotypes. We become weary and burdened by our fears. Fears from our neighbor who looks different than us. Getting to know our neighbor will clear your mind of false assumptions and prejudice.
 
Jesus invites us to come to him with all our burdens, and he will take care of us. Applying his teaching to our lives helps us to welcome our neighbors as they are and without judgment. In this way, we become free from the burden of prejudice and stereotyping.
 

[1] Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
 
[2] Mitch, Curtis; Edward Sri. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 159-160). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.
 
[3] Mitch, Curtis; Edward Sri. Gospel of Matthew, The (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture) (pp. 160-161). Baker Academic. Kindle Edition.
[4] Jennifer T. Kaalund, “Commentary On Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30,” Working Preacher, accessed July 4, 2020, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4502.

 

Genesis 22, Binding Isaac ‎

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras      Genesis 22, Binding Isaac           June 28, 2020

In the second century BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV outlaws the Jewish temple worship, observance of Sabbaths and holy days, circumcision, and the keeping of Torah, and rules that the Jews who will not adopt Greek customs are to die (2 Macc 6:9). The second Maccabees, a Jewish book, chapters 6:7–7:42, lists stories of those who choose death over apostasy. The last martyr is the anonymous mother who dies after witnessing each of her seven sons cruelly tortured. In other Jewish traditions, the name of the mother is Hannah. The martyr family story opens with the arrest of the seven brothers and their mother, who are beaten to force them to eat pork (prohibited by Lev 11:7–8). Hannah encourages her seven sons to die rather than have them compromise their faith. King Antiochus dismembered the seven brothers' body and fried them. In another Jewish tradition, we learned that Hannah as her last son is about to die she tells him: ‘Go now, to Abraham your father, and tell him that I have bettered his instruction. He offered one child to God; I have offered seven.’[1]

 

God asks Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. In Scripture, God claims to abhor child sacrifice and considers it an abomination. God was testing Abraham, but Abraham was not aware of the test. The account of binding Isaac is a chilling story. We may think that God is cruel, and Abraham is an uncompassionate father. We may assume that Isaac is a stupid lad to accept to become a sacrifice for God. God spare Isaac by providing a ram to Abraham to use it instead of Isaac. After 4000 years, God did not spare God’s only son, Jesus Christ, from offering him as a sacrifice on the cross to save humanity (Rom 8:32).   Christ became a sin offering. The narrative of binding Isaac foreshadows the binding of Jesus Christ on the cross. Is God cruel to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Is God not cruel to offer God’s only son as a sacrifice on the cross?

 

The account of binding Isaac is different than the narrative of the crucifixion. The story of binding Isaac is not meant to be read like a modern novel that concerns with individual characters.[2] Instead, it is a morality tale written to instruct future generations to give up the dearest to them in obedience to God.[3] This is what Hannah did.

 

Modern readers may see Abraham as an uncompassionate father, but many Jewish and Christian commentators praise him for his loyalty to his faith values and God. God rewards him for his dedication. Commentators over centuries have admired Abraham for “‘putting aside of fatherly love’ that proved Abraham's greatness in this, his most difficult of tests.”[4]

 

The central theme of this story is that our faith worth dying for and sacrificing our children. Someone may say that the story of binding Isaac and the martyrdom of Hannah and her seven children happen only in Scripture. My answer is no.

 

 

On December 16, 1803, sixty Greek women decided to commit suicide with their children during the Souliote War with the Ottoman empire. To avoid capture, enslavement, humiliation, and forced conversion to Islam, the women threw their children off a steep cliff, and then they held hands and started singing and dancing, with the steps leading to the cliff where they jumped to their death one by one.[5] These 60 Greek martyrs believed that their faith in Jesus Christ worth sacrificing their children and themselves.

 

Our Lord Jesus advises us to be ready to offer the ultimate sacrifice for his namesake. We may lose our job, money, friendship, and beloved one for the sake of the Lord. Martyrdom is not the only sacrifice we offer to our Savior, but in all the little things, Jesus urges us to forgo for his namesake. Iraqi and Syrian Christians had to relinquish their homes and all their possessions and run away from ISIS to keep their faith. They see Jesus Christ as more valuable than all their possessions. I know some of you like golfing very much, but you forgo your favorite game to worship the Lord on Sunday. A person who gives money to help the poor is sacrificing having a comfortable life to follow the teaching of our Lord. Some of you have sacrificed in many ways because of your faith in Jesus Christ.

 

The account of binding Isaac is not about inspiring religious fanaticism, but about a story to teach a future generation how to be ready to sacrifice for their faith in God and the Torah. For Christians, this narrative teaches us to forgo the most important person or thing in our life for the sake of Christ Jesus.

 

Do you think our Lord Jesus worth sacrificing the dearest person you have for his namesake? I cannot answer this question for you. If your answer is no, I invite you to reflect on the reasons behind your answer.

 

[1] Sydney Nestel, “The Akeida: Questions of Sacrifice,” Reconstructing Judaism (blog), February 10, 2017, https://www.reconstructingjudaism.org/dvar-torah/akeida-questions-sacrifice.

 

[2] Ibid.

 

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Dance of Zalongo,” Wikipedia, May 21, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dance_of_Zalongo.

Genesis 21

Traumatic biblical Stories

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras             Genesis 21                                        June 21, 2020

When you feel blue or face a challenge, you need support. What do you usually do to lift your spirits? What do you do when people lie about you, stab you in the back, or confuse your motives? What do you do when you see your loved one get sick or your children struggle in their lives? How can you thrive amid a global pandemic? You might read Scripture. What part of the Scripture will you read? We usually read Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd.” Or Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Maybe you would read Matthew 6:25-26 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

These verses and many more like them make us feel good. How many of you would read the story of Christ’s crucifixion or story about Israel and Judea exile, or genocide in the book of Joel to be comforted or have hope for tomorrow? Church-going believers usually ignore biblical stories that include traumatic events. We do not dwell on these stories to help us to grow in faith. I have learned that these kinds of narratives point me at the resilience of the people of God. They teach me to hold on to my faith for the sake of Christ and to withstand trials. One of the stories that has taught me resilience is the story of an Egyptian slave woman, Hagar. Hagar is my heroine, not Sarah.

 

Hagar means “resident alien.” She was an African slave woman held in slavery by Sarah (Genesis 16:1). What a name. It seems that Sarah and Abraham did not bother to give her a real name. They were satisfied to call her “a stranger.” Many of you are familiar with her story. Sarah fails to bear a child to Abraham. She gives him her slave, Hagar, to provide him with a child. Sarah decides to have a child through a surrogate Hagar so that the child will be hers. That was the custom in their times. So, Hagar conceives and looks down on Sarah, which leads to Hagar’s expulsion from Abraham's household. God orders Hagar to go back to Sarah, which she does. Later she gives birth to Ishmael. Finally, Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac. Here, we reach today's reading from Genesis 21.

 

 

After Sarah has given birth to Isaac, she forced Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham leaves Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness with minimal provisions to face their fate alone. How cruel. Hagar sees her only son Ishmael dehydrated and close to death. She cries and weeps. God listens to her voice and saves her son.

 

Even though this story is painful and puzzling, we can empathize with Hagar’s anger, pain, and distress. Hagar takes everything she has to God. She brings her anger, emotions, and worries to God.

 

Hagar’s story and her relationship with Sarah and Abraham are as real as this world. Her story is the story of the relationship between free people and a slave woman. The racism that defines people based on their skin color is deeply rooted in our culture. We saw on the news the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hand of a white police officer. The result was demonstrations against police brutality and racism. Our city of Wausau participated in this demonstration. As God heard Hagar’s cry and saw her affliction, God is inviting us to listen to the voice of our disadvantaged sisters and brothers. God calls us to respect the minorities in our community. We are called to speak up for them and with them.

 

Hagar’s story is the story of a woman who is unable to protect her body from getting abused and used. Raped women, prostitutes, and battered women empathize with Hagar’s pain. Women and men who see their children go hungry or lying in hospital suffering can also empathize with Hagar. Hagar’s resilience and perseverance speaks to each one of us. Resilience is the ability to bounce back and the ability to keep going. “Real resilience is the process of coping with disruptive, stressful, or challenging life events in a way that provides the individual with additional protective and coping skills than prior to the disruption, that results from the event.”[1] (“Resiliency in Schools” 2003).

 

 

Hagar's resilience and perseverance to keep her faith sets an example for us how to live our faith. I am not talking about surviving tough trials. You build resilience when you learn and grow from trials. This is precisely what Hagar did.

It is good to seek comfort from comforting passages in Scripture. It is also essential to read the most challenging stories in the Bible because these stories teach us resilience.

Jesus says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). He also says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Hagar’s cross was her slavery. She carried her cross despite her pain. She kept carrying her cross, and finally, God rewarded her.

The author of Genesis 21: 20-21 tells us that “God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.”

“Our faith can be a pillar we lean upon at moments when it can be hardest to find meaning and purpose from our lives.”[2] This faith helps you to be resilient in the face of challenges. Your faith assures you that our God is always on your side. As God was with Hagar, God, through the work of the Holy Spirit in you, will help you to be resilient and to grow in faith.

ELCA Church Council Appoints Rev. Sarras to Task Force

The ELCA Church Council has appointed Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras to the ELCA task force charged with the development of a social statement on government, church, and civic participation. Eighty clergy and lay leaders applied to serve on this task force, but the ELCA Church Council selected 15 persons. Pastor Sarras will be part of an outstanding task force of knowledgeable, diverse, and dedicated church people. Each member brings unique gifts to the challenging responsibility the task force faces. The responsibility is to prepare a social statement that addresses significant theological, ethical, public, and pastoral challenges surrounding the social institution of government. The task force will serve until February 2025, when it delivers a Proposed Social Statement to the ELCA Church Council.