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John 1:43-51

Prejudice
 
 
 
Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras
John 1:43-51
January 17, 2021
"In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days, he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus, he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.
So one Sunday, he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu." That usher's prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior."[1]
Many of us value people based on their ethnicity, zip code, and color. Prejudice clouds our judgment. The sin of prejudice is an age-old problem. We have many examples of stories of discrimination in our Scripture. In the reading today in the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus' disciple Nathanael, who used discriminatory language against Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel undermined Nazareth and its residents. He did not expect the Messiah to come from a village.
 
According to archeologists estimates, the population of Nazareth at Jesus' time was around 400 residents.[2] Nazareth was a small village settled by a few low-income families. Nathaniel did not expect the Messiah to come from an insignificant village. Maybe he expected the Messiah to come from a big city like Jerusalem, Capernaum, or Caesarea. Some scholars also suggest that the Judeans in Nazareth were strongly influenced by Jerusalem's Jewish and priestly leaders [3] who supported the Romans. It is possible that Nathaniel hated the Jewish religious and political institution in Jerusalem and assumed that Jesus was part of them.
 
Jesus did not meet the expectations of the Jews, who had a militaristic and priestly character of the expected Messiah. This Messiah, who grew up in an insignificant village, is the Lord and the Savior. Jesus was different than the Jews in Nazareth. He was not a Jerusalem-centered Galilean Jew. Jesus was the Messiah who cared about ordinary and low-income people. He chose simple fishers to be his disciples and to preach the good news about the kingdom of God. Philip said to Nathaniel, "Come and see." When Nathaniel encountered Jesus, it transformed Nathaniel and cleared his clouded mind from prejudice. Nathaniel was captured by stereotyped beliefs and tended to discriminate against people who supported the political and religious institutions in Jerusalem. The Messiah Jesus touched Nathaniel's heart and made him a more understanding and open-minded person.
 
          Prejudice is a heart issue. The prophet Jeremiah teaches that "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jeremiah 17:9). To purge our hearts from the sin of prejudice, we need to encounter our Lord Jesus. Through God's grace, our heart will be like Jesus' heart. God is full of love and compassion for every person. In the book of Acts 10:34-35, the apostle Peter says, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." If the church welcomed Mahatma Gandhi to worship with them, I believe Gandhi would have inspired many people in India to accept Jesus Christ.
 
"As partisans of our way of life', writes Allport, 'we cannot help thinking in a partisan manner . . . so that the very act of affirming our way of life often leads us to the brink of prejudice."[4] I am sure it is not easy to stop making generalizations about people.  However, unprejudiced Jesus gently confronted the prejudiced Nathaniel and changed him. Jesus did not get upset with Nathaniel or change his mind when calling on him to be his disciple. On the contrary, Jesus saw in Nathaniel a person who is ready to welcome God's grace and follow him. Jesus gave Nathaniel a chance because he knew that Nathaniel desires to repent and follow him. Jesus repeatedly gives us the same chance. Are we willing to take the chance?
 
To cleanse your heart from the sin of prejudice does not happen through taking workshops on anti-discrimination or by reading articles. You need the help of God to fight this sin. You and I would experience God's grace when we come before the throne of mercy, asking for help and direction. When we commit ourselves to discipleship, the Holy Spirit strengthens us. Our Lord Jesus gives Nathaniel and us an example of loving and respecting all people who may be different from us. He also teaches us that our transgressions are redeemable by the grace of God when we repent. Jesus is still calling each one of us to be his disciple.
Rely on the love of God for you. Depend on God's grace to transform you. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you. I assure you, you will become like Nathaniel, a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.
         
 

[2]Mark Allan. Powell, Introduction to the Gospels, ( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 4.
[3] Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, “What Was Wrong with Nazareth? (John 1.43-46),” Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, October 30, 2012, https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/jn-1-43-46-what-was-wrong-with-nazareth/.
[4] Gordon Allport, The nature of prejudice (New York, 1958), p 7

Mark 1:4-11: the baptism of our Lord

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Mark 1:4-11: the baptism of our Lord

January 10, 2021

 

Illustration: Baptism, Lost and Found[1]

A drunken man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the old country preacher. The minister notices the old drunk and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?"

The drunk looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher: I sure am." So the minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.

"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks." No, I didn't!" said the drunk.

The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?"

"No, I haven't, Reverend."

The preacher now holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water, and says in exasperation, "Man, have you found Jesus yet?"

The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"

Maybe the purpose of the minister is to wake the drunken man up. This short story might sound funny, but in essence, it reflects our misunderstanding of the sacrament of holy baptism. I invite you to explore the significance of Jesus' baptism and ours.

 The evangelist Mark gives more details on John the Baptist much more than Jesus Christ. Mark compares the baptism of our Lord with John the Baptist. John the Baptist "proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins "(1:4), whereas Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:8). What do these baptisms represent?

 

In writing about baptism, the evangelist Mark goes out of his way to describe John's unusual clothing. It is not only to show John's poverty, but his clothing signifies his identity and points to his baptism. For a Jewish audience, this detail linked John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah, who wore similar clothing. In 2 Kings 1:8, we read that "They answered him, "A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist." The king said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite."  In Matthew's Gospel, our Lord Jesus connects John the Baptist with the prophet Elijah (Matthew 11:11, 14). We understand that John represents the prophets and the law. His baptism has to do with the work of the law. The prophets encouraged people to repent and to follow the law to reconcile with God. The prophets Zachariah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah prophesied about baptism that cleanses the Israelites from their impurity. In this case, the baptism of John the Baptist and our baptism are similar. The big difference in Jesus' baptism is that he baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. According to Jesus' great commission in Matthew 28: 19, we are baptized in the name of the triune God. In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul emphasizes to the believers in the city of Ephesus, who were baptized by John the Baptist, that they need to be baptized in the name of Jesus and to receive the Holy Spirit because John the Baptist directed people to believe in Jesus (Acts 19:1-5).

 

In our baptism, we die with Christ and rise with him (Romans 6:4). We have the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We no longer need the law to guide us because we have the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Holy Spirit has renewed us in our baptism. The apostle Paul said to Titus 3:5, "He [God] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the believer's life because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before God (Romans 8:26-27).

After the Holy Spirit descended like a dove on Jesus, God the Father declared from heaven that "you are my Son, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased "(v.11). Likewise, in your baptism, God declares that you are a child of God, the beloved. In the letter to the Romans 8:15, the apostle Paul teaches, "you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" The adoption by God is not part of John's baptism. Therefore, my friends, the apostle Paul insists on the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that we will enjoy all the privileges that the holy Trinity bestows on us.

Baptism is not merely ritual practice, but it has a profound meaning for our entire life. In your baptism, God claims you a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is the work of God, not the work of a minister or a baptized person. In your baptism, you make a promise, or your parents and godparents made a promise on your behalf to continue to live your life for Christ alone. As the apostle Paul says to the Galatians 3:27, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." In our Lutheran tradition, baptism comes with significant responsibilities

to live among God's faithful people,

to meditate on the word of God and partake in the holy communion, to grow in faith and prayer, to trust God,

proclaim Christ through word and deed,

care for others and the world God made,

and work for justice and peace.[2]

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled these promises throughout his life. We are called to follow his example. Our baptismal vows affect every aspect of our lives and connect us with all Christians in this world. Because you are a child of God 24/7, you need to live your baptismal vocation 24/7. May the Lord grant you the strength to live your baptismal life faithfully.

 

[1] https://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/illustration-baptism-lost-and-found/

[2] ELW, Holy Baptism, pg. 228

Luke 2: 1-20

Christmas Eve

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

December 24, 2020

 

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

This holy night is an unprecedented night for all of us. It is the first time in our lifetime, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ during a pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives. We have restrictions on our lifestyle and freedom. Most of the stores require wearing masks. Not all churches have in-person Christmas Eve worship service. Indoor Christmas gatherings with people from outside our household are not recommended. We have been affected badly by COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs, and many tenants have been evicted from their homes despite CDC locked evictions.

Amid our frustration and fear, The FDA announced the good news of great joy for all nations. To you are born Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, are effective at preventing COVID-19. The FDA's announcement echoes the angel's proclamation to the shepherds of the Messiah's birth, the Lord. The shepherds were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by many diseases and poverty. For the shepherds, the worst disease was not COVID-19, but the Roman military occupation of their land, Palestine. The Romans stripped the Jews of their humanhood by reducing them to a state close to slaves.

The context of the Nativity of Christ might disappoint you. We have romanticized Christmas by ignoring its context to make Jesus politically pious and feel good about ourselves when we do not challenge the oppressive status quo in our communities and the world. Colonization and occupation are the contexts of the Nativity of Christ. The evangelist Luke put the birth of Christ in the context of Emperor Augustus, who ordered the census, and Quirinius carried the order because he was the governor of Syria.

Judaea was an autonomous part of the Roman province of Syria, ruled by a prefect. Quirinius was ordered to organize the taxation of the new prefecture. Until then, taxes had been paid in kind [that is with goods or services rather than money]. However, during the census which Quirinius organized, the inhabitants were required to declare their property in money. There are no indications that the Roman money taxes were higher than the taxes they replaced, but taxes in money were more onerous than taxes in kind because a farmer had to borrow in case of a poor harvest.[1]

 

The shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the prophetess Anna and prophet Simeon were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by the Romans' unjust taxes. They were anticipating God to save them from their sins and their enemies, the Romans, and to restore the kingdom of David. The Romans humiliated the Jews daily. The only way out was for God to intervene. God did intervene by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to redeem them from their sins and show the Jews and us how to use nonviolence to resist their enemies, advocate for justice, and support the poor. Jesus did not separate his life and ministry from the Romans' colonization of the Jews. Christ himself was colonized.  He also peacefully resisted the Jewish leaders who complied with Rome's imperialism.

 

As of old times as now, Jesus comes to heal us from our brokenness and sustain us in our difficult moments. His birth was and still a sign of God's intervention to end oppression and injustice. It is also a sign of God's desire to reconcile with human beings by liberating us from sin and death. Jesus comes to tell you that you are not alone in fighting this pandemic, but he is fighting it with you. Jesus is born to redeem us from sin and the systemic sin that prevents poor communities to have an equal distribution of food and medicine like the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

The mystery of the birth of the Christ, "Emmanu-el is born, means to assure us that it is into our insecure and troubled life that Jesus comes again and again."[2] In your sickness, poverty, and fear, Christ is born for you. His birth has transformed the world, and it can transform your life, too. You might be like me, weary of coronavirus, or sad because you lost a loved one this year. For people like you and me, Christ is born. You might be struggling to make ends meet. Christ is born to sustain you and inspire us to work together to make ends meet for everyone and for everyone to have an abundance.

 

Jesus' birth is much more than cookies, Christmas decorations, a nice Christmas dinner, or gifts. It is about the incarnated God whose intention is to be in fellowship with you and to sustain you in your troubles. It is about the incarnated God who wants to work with you to make this world a kingdom of God on earth where everyone has enough food. Our Lord Jesus became a human being to work with you to wipe away each other’s tears, hold each other's hands, walk with the weary, speak peace to each other, and comfort one another.

This year we were bold in expressing our political views regarding the presidential election. Many people put their choice for presidential candidate signs in their front yard. When it comes to our faith, we are not bold. I noticed that two of our neighbors put Jesus' name on a sign in their front yard. The sign says Jesus 2020 with Democrats and Republicans colors—red and blue.  The signage of Jesus 2020 declares that Jesus is the center of life. I invite you to be bold in expressing your faith in Christ, as you are proactive in telling your political views. People are tired of politics and COVID-19. They need to hear about hope, peace, joy, and love. Politicians are unable to give you these four things. Only Jesus Christ, Son of God, can provide you with hope, peace, joy, and love. Therefore, share Christ with the world. People are hungry to hear the good news about the love of God for them. So be the messengers of Jesus Christ to the world.

Christ is born! Glorify him!

 

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

Rev. Dr. Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Christmas Eve, Luke 2: 1-20

December 24, 2020

 

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

This holy night is an unprecedented night for all of us. It is the first time in our lifetime, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ during a pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives. We have restrictions on our lifestyle and freedom. Most of the stores require wearing masks. Not all churches have in-person Christmas Eve worship service. Indoor Christmas gatherings with people from outside our household are not recommended. We have been affected badly by COVID-19. Many people have lost their jobs, and many tenants have been evicted from their homes despite CDC locked evictions.

Amid our frustration and fear, The FDA announced the good news of great joy for all nations. To you are born Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, they are effective at preventing COVID-19. The FDA's announcement echoes the angel's proclamation to the shepherds of the Messiah's birth, the Lord. The shepherds were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by many diseases and poverty. For the shepherds, the worst disease was not COVID-19, but the Roman military occupation of their land, Palestine. The Romans stripped the Jews of their humanhood by reducing them to a state close to slaves.

The context of the Nativity of Christ might disappoint you. We have romanticized Christmas by ignoring its context to make Jesus politically pious and feel good about ourselves when we do not challenge the oppressive status quo in our communities and the world. Colonization and occupation are the contexts of the Nativity of Christ. The evangelist Luke put the birth of Christ in the context of Emperor Augustus, who ordered the census, and Quirinius carried the order because he was the governor of Syria.

Judaea was an autonomous part of the Roman province of Syria, ruled by a prefect. Quirinius was ordered to organize the taxation of the new prefecture. Until then, taxes had been paid in kind [that is with goods or services rather than money]. However, during the census which Quirinius organized, the inhabitants were required to declare their property in money. There are no indications that the Roman money taxes were higher than the taxes they replaced, but taxes in money were more onerous than taxes in kind, because a farmer had to borrow in case of a poor harvest.[1]

 

The shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the prophetess Anna and prophet Simeon were ordinary people like you and me. They were exhausted by the Romans' unjust taxes. They were anticipating God to save them from their sins and their enemies, the Romans, and to restore the kingdom of David. The Romans humiliated the Jews daily. The only way out was for God to intervene. God did intervene by sending Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to redeem them from their sins and show the Jews and us how to use nonviolence to resist their enemies, advocate for justice, and support the poor. Jesus did not separate his life and ministry from the Romans' colonization of the Jews. Christ himself was colonized.  He also peacefully resisted the Jewish leaders who complied with Rome's imperialism.

 

As of old times as now, Jesus comes to heal us from our brokenness and sustain us in our difficult moments. His birth was and still a sign of God's intervention to end oppression and injustice. It is also a sign of God's desire to reconcile with human beings by liberating us from sin and death. Jesus comes to tell you that you are not alone in fighting this pandemic, but he is fighting it with you. Jesus is born to redeem us from sin and the systemic sin that prevents poor communities to have an equal distribution of food and medicine like the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

The mystery of the birth of the Christ, "Emmanu-el is born, means to assure us that it is into our insecure and troubled life that Jesus comes again and again."[2] In your sickness, poverty, and fear, Christ is born for you. His birth has transformed the world, and it can transform your life, too. You might be like me, weary of coronavirus, or sad because you lost a loved one this year. For people like you and me, Christ is born. You might be struggling to make ends meet. Christ is born to sustain you and inspire us to work together to make ends meet for everyone and for everyone to have an abundance.

 

Jesus' birth is much more than cookies, Christmas decorations, a nice Christmas dinner, or gifts. It is about the incarnated God whose intention is to be in fellowship with you and to sustain you in your troubles. It is about the incarnated God who wants to work with you to make this world a kingdom of God on earth where everyone has enough food. Our Lord Jesus became a human being to work with you to wipe away each other’s tears, hold each other's hands, walk with the weary, speak peace to each other, and comfort one another.

This year we were bold in expressing our political views regarding the presidential election. Many people put their choice for presidential candidate signs in their front yard. When it comes to our faith, we are not bold. I noticed that two of our neighbors put Jesus' name on a sign in their front yard. The sign says Jesus 2020 with Democrats and Republicans colors—red and blue.  The signage of Jesus 2020 declares that Jesus is the center of life. I invite you to be bold in expressing your faith in Christ, as you are proactive in telling your political views. People are tired of politics and COVID-19. They need to hear about hope, peace, joy, and love. Politicians are unable to give you these four things. Only Jesus Christ, Son of God, can provide you with hope, peace, joy, and love. Therefore, share Christ with the world. People are hungry to hear the good news about the love of God for them. So be the messengers of Jesus Christ to the world.

Christ is born! Glorify him!

 

God's Love

1 John 4:16-19

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras            Love 1 John 4

December 20, 2024, Sunday of Advent

 

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, amen. The love of God is very pure, sincere, sacrificial, and perfect. The apostle John describes God as love, which means the definition of love is God. To understand love, you need to turn to God. To learn about love, you need to know about Jesus Christ. To be a loving person, you need to be in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

In the Gospel of John 3:16, the evangelist John says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." This sacrificial love does not have any self-interest because God has your best interest at heart. God's love took the form of a baby in all his fragility and innocence. The incarnation of God, the Son, reveals the depth of God's love for you. In the crib, we contemplate God made a human being for you. Immanuel, God is with us to sustain and strengthen you in every moment of your life.

 

The apostle John teaches that "those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." The verb abide means to dwell or live, which indicates those who have fellowship with God, God lives in their hearts. You and God form a union of love, so both of you become inseparable. Your Christian identity is rooted in God's essence of love. John talks about the kind of love that is rooted in your faith and your experience with God. This love is not based on your emotions. Because of this, John says, "So we have known and believe the love that God has for us."

 

This love is perfect and complete and helps you in the day of judgment. That perfect love removes all doubts and assures you of your salvation, and makes you bold in the day of judgment. When you stand before Christ's seat of judgment, you will have no fear because this perfect love casts out your fears. "That perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the Judge."[1] If you have perfect love for God, you will have no fear of anything, even death. It is a sin that makes people fear what is to come.

 

God's love for you is perfect and genuine. Some somehow feel that if God loved them, God would never allow them to experience pain. This statement is not true. The best example I have is my parent's love for me. My parents' love is tough, strong, and yet tender and unrelenting. Without their love, I would not become who I am today. God's love is similar to my parents' love but more profound and more significant.

 

Today Advent reminds us of God's love that lights the darkness of our lives. This candle of love is a symbol of God's desire to make God's home in your heart and to eliminate darkness. This candle of love reminds us that Jesus came in the darkest moment of the Jews' lives as they were traumatized and oppressed by the Romans' military occupation of Palestine. Christ revealed his perfect love in ministering to the oppressed and challenging the religious leaders who complied with the Romans' oppression and neglected the true meaning of the law and prophets.

 

God's love's ultimate manifestation was when God allowed the Romans to crucify Jesus on the cross. Jesus voluntarily and with sincere love, accepted to take your place on the cross. God's steadfast love is there for you, no matter what happens in your life. This perfect love encourages you and me to not only persevere in difficult times but actually to live our faith more boldly.

 

In this Advent, we encounter God's amazing love in Christ that inspires "of all the love that stirs in our hearts. It awakens within us an answering love—a grateful love for Him [God] manifesting itself in love for our brethren [sisters and brothers]."[2] My question for you is, how are you expressing your love to God and your neighbor in Advent and Christmas season? Let me share the Christmas version of the apostle letter to1 Corinthians 13, which describes love.

1 CORINTHIANS 13—CHRISTMAS VERSION[3]

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls; but do not have love, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime; but do not have love, I'm just another cook.

If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity; but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels, and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir's cantata; but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love does not envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. Love does not yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. Toys will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust; but giving the gift of love will endure.

 

 

[1] https://biblehub.com/context/1_john/4-17.htm

[2] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_john/4-19.htm

[3] http://www.appleseeds.org/1_Cor_13_Xmas.htm

Peace

Second Sunday of Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Peace, Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020.

 

The theme of the second Sunday of Advent is peace. We reflect on the peace that our Lord Jesus brings to our lives. We focus on the kind of peace that the angels announced to the shepherds in the gospel of Luke chapter 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The Romans enforced military peace (Pax Romana) on conquered territories, but God’s peace in Jesus Christ is peace of grace and mercy.

 

 Peace is probably not a word that we use to describe 2020 because coronavirus has brought confusion, suffering, frustrations, and isolation to our lives. Christians enjoy God’s peace in their heart when there are chaos and trouble around them. It does not make sense to the world that you have peace when you are struggling. Christ did not promise us a world without challenges, but he promises us peace.

 

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Peace is calm and free from stress and anxiety. God’s peace is a gift, and it is an issue of the heart. It deals with the troubled heart. This kind of peace does not focus on external or present circumstances. It is a peace that is there whether you have troubles or not. Regardless of what may come, God is so powerful to sustain you in your situation through God’s peace.

 

God’s peace is different than that peace the world gives because the world finds peace in many things other than Jesus Christ. The world finds peace in power, money, and many other things, But God’s peace deals with the heart.

 

God responded to our weary world by sending peace in human form, the prince of peace. The prophet Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Inside your heart and amid trial, the prince of peace makes his home in your heart. You are strengthened from inside, and your heart is not troubled. Even when the world is anxious, you have the prince of peace inside you. The prince of peace and your heart become inseparable. Having God’s peace in your heart does not mean your circumstances do not stress you. In the Gospel of John 16:33, our Lord Jesus says, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Take courage, my friends, God’s peace calms down your heart during the time of trial and suffering. The prince of peace came down to save us from our sins, not to take away the trouble of the world. His peace sustains you during your trials and sorrow. The Lord Jesus always gives you peace. It is his gift for you to enjoy and to share.

 

In 2 Thessalonians 3:16, the apostle Paul prays that “ Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.” Paul’s prayer is an assurance that we will always have peace regardless of our situation. Paul writes to the Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God comes when you trust God. You need to believe in God’s word that describes the peace that is beyond understanding. That said, you do not understand God’s peace or explain it. The world cannot understand or offer you the kind of peace that God gives.

 

When we have God’s peace in our hearts, our responsibility is to guard it. Paul says and Colossians 3:15, “let the peace of God rules in your hearts.” The apostle Paul does not say let your care or emotion rules your hearts. Guard the peace in your heart so that the devil does not trouble your mind with false thoughts and fear to take away God’s peace. Keep the word of God close to your heart to help you to guard God’s peace. Let us be attentive not to let the devil’s lies affect you.

 

Because of the significant events in 2020, none of us will forget this year. We have experienced a pandemic, economic issues like job losses, and a presidential election. These challenges have changed our lives, and we became easily anxious and stressed. We need God’s peace to dwell in our hearts. To have this peace, you need to come to God asking for it. God is very generous and compassionate, and God will not withhold God’s peace from you. God’s peace helps you face any storm in your life and assure you that you are not alone. Pray continually for the prince of peace to give you his peace and to dwell in your heart.

 

Hope—First Advent

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Hope—First Advent

November 29, 2020

 

As you know, I was born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. I grew up under the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is easy to become discouraged and hopeless in this part of the world. When God called me for the ministry of word and sacrament, I was discouraged because the church closed all doors for women to become ministers. I lost all hope to become a pastor in my country. This was not God's will for me. God kept calling me, and I found a way to come to the U.S.A to do my Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and become a pastor. Like all pastors, I have faced many challenges in my ministry. The biggest challenge we are all facing is COVID-19. The pandemic has discouraged all of us by isolating us from one another. We have set our hope on the vaccine, not on Jesus Christ who sustains us. You might ask me where I find hope to keep on moving. My family and friends give me hope when I am discouraged. The source of my hope is my Lord Jesus Christ, who gives me hope in this life and eternal life.

 

Many of us have no hope for our relationships, job, health, finances; you name it. Some have no hope about life itself. I lost my father this September due to lung cancer. I couldn't go back to Palestine to say goodbye to him or attend his funeral because of the pandemic. Despair washed over me, and I felt like being in a swamp emotionally.

All of us have moments when we wanted to scream or walk away. Discouragement can hide behind our smile, makeup and tells us life is not worth living. If you give in to despair, it will cause you to make bad decisions or commit suicide. This is never the intention of God. God wants me and you to have goals in our lives, hope, confidence, and assurance.

 

Hope is an essential theme in the advent season. The Jews were discouraged by the Roman military colonization of Palestine. The Palestinians today are experiencing a similar situation to the Jews of the first century. Military occupation dehumanizes people and takes away their hope and future. God broke the darkness and hopelessness through Jesus Christ for the hopeless Jews expecting God to intervene and rescue them from their enemies.

 

The advent teaches me not to give in to my despair. If you keep walking with God, God has a way of making everything all right. In his letter to Romans 15:13, the apostle Paul teaches, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  How can we overflow with hope and hold in times of stress? The word of God and the fellowship of faithful Christians will help you to make it through. The Bible tells us that Christ is our only hope. The path of hope begins by being assured that you are right with God.

 

No matter what the devil and the world tell me, I know that Christ has redeemed me, and I am valuable. My fellowship with Christ has taught me when I set my foot in the valley of the shadow of death, I know I have started my way out because God is with me.

 

Many of us are wounded. You are being harassed and bonded in your mind that God has abounded you to face your uncertain situation alone. I've been there. However, I have learned that the only way out is to bring my broken heart to Jesus Christ. I also knew that "Hope is not a feeling, hope is a path, and that path is going to take you through tribulation and affliction."[1] When you become hopeless, follow the advice of the author of Hebrews (4:16) "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

 

Hope is about living. Hope is about what you do now. Hope means believing that in God's time, God will deliver and transform you and you will experience overflowing hope. At some point, you will experience suffering so severe you do not think you will be able to survive another day. In his first letter to Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul says, "16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Sometimes it is impossible to give thanks in a challenging situation. It is difficult to give thanks in times of pandemic, death, trial, and suffering.

 

I experienced giving thanks in the most challenging moment in my life. After my father passed away, I began to give thanks to God because God did not extend his suffering. My father's battle with cancer lasted for two months. Despite the grief, God's mercy touched my broken heart and inspired me to be thankful. The advent season message focuses on God's desire to be with us in our grief, sorrow, and tribulation through Jesus Christ.

My friends, "Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again."[2] So, if your suffering pushed you down, then I tell you in Jesus' name, get up and walk toward your hope in Jesus Christ. Do not let your hopelessness make you a prisoner.  The apostle Paul tells you, "No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). And I assure you, as long as Christ is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, interceding for you, there is hope for you.

 

[1] http://ms.decentify.co/never-lose-hope-trust-in-god-inspirational-motivational-video/

[2] Mary Pickford, https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/527606.Mary_Pickford.

Matthew 25:31-46-

Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Matthew 25:31-46-- Christ the King Sunday

November 22, 2020

 

The parable of sheep and goats is about our Lord Jesus' second coming and the final judgment. We read in this parable that all the nations come before the King Jesus Christ for judgment. In this context, Jesus is using the analogy of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats as a metaphor for final separation for the righteous who will inherit eternal life and the wicked who will inherit everlasting punishment.

 

When you observe the sheep and goats carefully, you will notice that they are very different in personality. The sheep are meek animals and more docile to the shepherd. Unlike sheep, goats have a reputation for being stubborn and misbehaved. From this comparison, Jesus tells us that the righteous are obedient to the Lord. They are docile, whereas those who are wicked are stubborn and refuse to obey God. Jesus put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left hand and starts to pronounce judgment.

 

Jesus calls the sheep blessed of my father, indicating that the blessing is a gift from God. Jesus, as a king, invites the sheep to inherit his kingdom. This is a metaphor of a king giving the inheritance to his subject. God prepared this inheritance from the foundation of the world. God knows from the beginning of the world who will inherit God's kingdom. God knows before you were born whether you would be righteous or wicked.

 

What is the condition to get into the kingdom? Jesus does not say, come and inherit the kingdom all who believed in me or accepted me as the Messiah. This might make us, Lutherans, uncomfortable because faith is not mentioned here. This parable is related to the work of faith or the fruits of faith, such as feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, covering the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners. The King Jesus Christ is pleased with the sheep who lived their baptismal life every single day by sharing the love of Christ with their community. They lived out their faith and risked their lives for Christ. Those righteous partook in the body of Christ and left the church building to become a church to the community and the world.

 

Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." Every work of faith done to the marginalized is, in essence, an act of charity done to Christ himself. The rewards for the fruits of faith are entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life.

 

The goats or the wicked who stand on the left hand are not blessed but cursed. The goats are Christians who do not live out their faith. They are Christians by name. In other words, they are Christians but not disciples of the Lord. They like to show people that they go to church and memorize the Bible and partake of the body of Christ, but they are not willing to love their neighbor or open their home to the stranger or their wallet to the poor. They love to talk about grace but not discipleship or the cross. Their faith is limited to one hour a week—Sunday service. The reward for those wicked is eternal punishment.

The image that Jesus uses to describe the separation of fallen angels from God is eternal fire. This fire is not an actual fire, but it is a spiritual fire because the angels do not have material bodies to burn in fire. The fallen angels and the wicked would experience the pain of being separated from God for eternity.

 

This parable assures us that the judgment was already decided based on the actions we lived our lives. The apostle James explains: "4 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 5:14-17).

 

When you fail to love your neighbor, you fail to love God. In his first letter, 4:20, the evangelist John challenges all of us by saying, "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."

 

I wonder how each one of us during this pandemic understands this parable. We are overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Unfortunately, not everyone is ministering to their neighbor as Christ did. The coronavirus surge is starting to crush some hospitals, and the medical staff are overwhelmed. Our Lord is calling each one of us to participate in ending this pandemic. Taking care of myself and my neighbor is like taking care of Christ himself. Take your faith seriously by showing love to your neighbor, particularly your neighbor with whom you disagree politically. Try to see Christ in your neighbor. Amid this global crisis, our Lord is inviting you and me to see him in each person you encounter. I pray that your neighbor will see Christ in you, too.

The Parable of the three Talents

Matthew 25:14-30-- Stewardship Sunday

Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras

Matthew 25:14-30-- Stewardship Sunday

November 15, 2020

 

The evangelist Matthew gives us three stories back to back to explain the end of time. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, The Parable of the Three Talents, and The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The parable of the three talents is not about salvation by works. The apostle Paul teaches us that "by grace, you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8), and the apostle James teaches "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2: 17). The purpose of this parable is to encourage us to prepare for the second coming of Christ.

 

Let us look at the symbols of this parable:

In this parable, the owner represents God, and the servants represent us. Jesus describes the master as a hard man, harvesting where he has not sown and gathering where he has not scattered seed (v.24). The parable's point is not the evil character of the master but how the servants prepared for his second coming. Therefore, do not assume that Jesus is describing God, the Father, as unjust and harsh God. A talent was "the largest unit of currency at the time… possessed five talents of gold or silver was a multimillionaire by today's standards."[1] The talents represent all gifts God entrusted to us, such as the gift of children, time, work, skills, money, community, technology, spiritual gifts, and more.

 

 

The master gives the first servant three bags of gold or silver, and the second servant two bags of gold, and the third servant one bag of gold. God gives talents to us according to God's wisdom and our abilities.

 

Often leaders in Jesus' time journeyed to Rome to lobby for power or position themselves politically with the new emperor. The journey took a long time, and it could be dangerous. Those leaders could be robbed or killed by thieves. So, their return was not for sure. Before they started their journey, the masters put their servants in charge of their business and properties. Those servants were called stewards; they acted on behalf of their owners. In this parable, the Lord emphasizes the fact that the master may delay, but he is coming back.

 

The delay of the master is a crucial point. It proves who is faithful and who is unfaithful, who is good and who is wicked. So, the delay is significant. The faithful steward or servant prepares for the coming of his master. Our Lord Jesus may delay, but he is coming back for sure. Our calling is to be faithful stewards by preparing for his second coming.

 

In the principle of stewardship: God owns it all. Everything belongs to God, and I am responsible for managing everything God gives me. These stewards were given stewardship responsibilities to act on behalf of the owner when he went away. The owner expected his servants to manage the money as he would do. They were expected to adopt the priority of their master. Stewardship is using God-given resources to accomplish God's given goals. For example, the judge and prophetess Deborah used the prophecy gift God gave her to judge in Israel. She rescued her people from their enemy, Sisera (Judges 4). Deborah demonstrates an excellent example of a faithful steward because she used God's gift to accomplish God's goal and priority. We rob God by using God's resources and ignoring God's priorities and goals. As stewards, we are accountable to God for everything.

 

The wicked servant did not put the master's priority first. Jesus is telling us what would happen in his followers' lives if they do not manage God's gifts to prepare for the second coming of Christ. Our Lord encourages us to be faithful stewards because one day, we will stand before God to give an account for what we did with what we had. You will fail as a steward when you do nothing with what God has given you. Instead of entering into the joy of your master, you will be left out in the darkness. The first and second stewards worked hard to double their gifts. The third servant was lazy and irresponsible. It is easy not to give money or share your time and skills with the church. Remember that God does not need your money or skills and gifts because they are already God's. The point is what you are doing with what the owner has given you to prepare for his second coming.

 

My friends, stay awake and watch for the second coming of the Lord. I pray when he comes he will tell you “Well done, good and trustworthy servant [steward]; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

 

[1] https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-a-talent-700699