(I hope the translation of this article’s title from English to Latvian came out OK. If not … oops!)
About ten times a year the Latvian church I attended as a youngster offers a Lutheran service in English. I don’t speak the language well but can understand it to a point but not well enough to follow a sermon in the home tongue. My wife, Susan, and my son, Aleksandrs, are big fans of the English service. One reason is the more intimate surroundings of the sanctuary. It’s made with darker wood and has stained glass/hard plastic windows. It makes it easier to focus on the lighted altar rather than the people sitting around you. Another is that it is quiet before service. It’s normal to enter, find a place to sit, utter a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to be there and then sit quietly until the processional begins. This is not to criticize Holy Cross at all. It’s just different.
We started with a baptism for a wee bern dressed in her baptism gown. Except for The Lord’s prayer, Macitājs (pastor) Lazdinš performed the sacrament with the help of the godfather reading Mark 10:13-16 …
The Little Children and Jesus
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
And it was nice.
The worship continued from there. We sang four hymns – Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying; Jesus Shall Reign (which we split in two with the sermon tucked neatly in between); What Feast of Love (pre-communion); and lastly, Praise to You, O God of Mercy. When Praise… was finished, Aleksandrs noted that this song required an instruction manual. Many of these hymns we sing for the first time. Not always successfully.
Our lesson centered on Luke 18:9-14…
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Pharisees and tax collectors represent the extreme points of the cultural bandwidth in Jesus’s day. A Pharisee was an expert of the law. He knew how many steps a ‘good’ Jew could walk on the Sabbath, which books of the Torah to read to find answers to theological problems, what was needed to cure one’s self of diseases and sins. He was the ‘go to’ guy everybody depended on. And he knew it.
The tax collector was considered to be a Class-A jerk because he was in cahoots with the Romans when it was time to collect taxes and fees from his fellow Jews. The Romans allowed the collector to take as much over the required amount to pay himself for his troubles.
When you read the parable it seems easy to say to yourself, “Of course I’m a miserable sinner. I repeat that every week at church.” Being humble isn’t an attitude you can adopt. Even as awful as you may feel about a sin or an accident you caused, the moment you tell yourself that you’re being humble you become the pharisee. There is no in between. To be humble is to be broken before God. But it doesn’t mean to be mopey and weepy all the time either. It means to have an open heart to all around you. To see and forgive the sins of those around you and not make a big deal about it. Macitājs explained that thinking my life is about me is a sin. My life is about Jesus. My life is about you.