English and Latvian language service. Macitajs Lazdins presiding; Karlis, organist.
Attendance – 11
Please pray for … George K., Marty D., Aija, Pete R., and those missing from Sunday’s service.
Before service began, Macitajs told us our service would be ‘unique’. My reaction was he was going to announce the suspension of English language services. As it turned out, he forgot to flip his calendar from October to November so he thought this Sunday was a Latvian service. He said he would lead worship in Latvian but read scripture and give the sermon in English. Ak, vai! I was never so happy to be so wrong. So break out the Latvian hymnals! I opened mine up and it contained a service folder dated April 22, 2007. I’m not quite sure what to make of that.
The hymns we sang were “Mīlestība mīlējauma”, “Debestēvu mīli sveicam”, “Dieviškīgā mīlestība” and “Kas mīlestību sirdi glaba”. Whew! Those aren’t easy to type!
To make it easy on all of us, if you remember any regular Latvian Sunday service from the past, today’s was just like that one. Now you’re all caught up on the confession of sins, absolution, prayers, Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer and Communion.
Now on to the English-language Scriptures and sermon.
Philippians 1: 1-11
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons[
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always praywith joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Macitajs told us a story about a girl in Latvia who didn’t like going to church. Her farmer parents took her every Sunday and while they praised God she sat, crossed her arms and refused to have anything to do with worship service. Week after week and year after year she she sat like a lump (spiritually) and endured her time at church.
One evening her house and barn burned down. Everything her parents worked for to support the family was gone to ashes. The parents had nothing but their faith to carry them through. She had nothing, not even a faith to lean against. She was lost. Until a group of girls her age from her church came to her with an envelope. She was afraid to open it. Was she thinking it might contain a card or letter chastising her for her lack of faith which might have saved her family’s farm?* Many Christians, even today, like to blame non-believers’ tragedies on their behaviors, thoughts and deeds as ‘vengeance from The Lord’. Hurricane Katrina, which rolled over New Orleans years ago, was thought to be a punishment by God against the city for its attitude on homosexuals.
When she screwed up the courage to open the envelope she discovered it contained monies collected among the girls themselves to help her. What little they had they gave her. After all the years of sitting in a pew listening with deaf ears and reacting with a cold heart, when she needed ‘something’, it was the Gospel in action which tore down her defenses.
In present day society we are bombarded with messages from advertisers, films, television and so on that the individual is the ‘top dog’ in society. We are encouraged to buy the best for ourselves to show others how much we’ve accomplished in life. Even seemingly simple matters can be directed by advertisers. Christmas season is coming up and there’s a party to attend. Sellers recommend a fanciful, and almost always expensive, bottle of wine or champagne. Don’t believe me? Try taking a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew to your boss’s holiday shindig. This is money out of our pockets which could be used to help your church or help people in need. We employ personal trainers and engage in solo sports to so we can out-hustle the people in our next competition. This takes away from time spent with the family. And while we can sit together as a family and watch television it requires focus on it rather than your husband, wife or kids.
In the Gospel message from Matthew, a lawyer asks Jesus which commandment is most important. He responds,
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I’m pretty certain Jesus’ code word here is ‘all’. He didn’t say ‘some’. He didn’t say ‘those guys over there’. Nor did He say, ‘only when you want to’. He meant ‘all of us, all of the time’.
Is this hard to do? You know it is. It’s tough enough to tolerate your own neighbor who has lived next door to you, seemingly, forever. But that’s a good place to start. Whatever you’ve been doing or saying to him hasn’t worked to this point. Maybe the Seinfeld show was right – do the exact opposite of what you normally do. See if that changes your relationship with the guy next door. And for every time you fail, know that Jesus is here to forgive you.
As the girl who was the benefactor of God’s love through the girls in her church found out, the Gospel requires commitment from its believers. It’s not enough to sit in a pew and believe you’re helping the lost. It requires a love for people who need His love in action.
Read this scripture from James. It is important.
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
*don’t worry, God doesn’t work that way.