The sermon was translated back-and-forth into Russian, for the benefit of Ukrainians who have joined our church since February. (Older Lithuanians in our congregation know Russian, and younger Lithuanians understand English.) I took this audio from my phone, which was in my breast pocket–so you might not hear Liubava’s translation. Since the scripture was up on the screen in English, I asked her to read in Russian–so you will need to use an English Bible to follow along. You can also watch the service on Facebook.
This was my final sermon as pastor of this church. We began attending briefly back in 2015, then again in 2017 when we returned to Lithuania. In 2020, the church council asked me to serve as co-pastor along with Modestas Gaubas, who is a bivocational pastor (as was I, since my main job was teaching at LCC). It was a bittersweet day, as you can imagine–sad to leave, but reflecting on the joy that God has given us through these relationships.
Since we have been “saying goodbye” to various groups in Lithuania for months now, I wasn’t sure how much emotion I would feel, and when exactly it would come over me. Thankfully, during the sermon I was pretty composed. It was actually during the first worship song, which is the Lithuanian version of “Goodness of God”–not a particularly significant or favorite song for me–that I lost it.
What struck me was the recollection of how difficult it had been for me and my family to worship in Lithuanian language, particularly in those early years. I remember showing up to music practice with my bass or guitar, and muddling along in basic conversation with other members of the worship team who spoke not much English (though still more than I spoke Lithuanian). We didn’t always understand one another, but we were playing music, and honoring God together.
When I saw the worship team on Sunday–three Ukrainian young people, two of whom are refugees from the war, one a student; and two Lithuanians; leading the congregation in worship in three languages, including original songs in Russian and Lithuanian–I recalled those early days, and how dearly-fought-for was the communion with God and with other believers in this church, to overcome barriers of language and cultural understanding. I saw Vlada, a remarkable Ukrainian young woman whom it was my privilege to baptize several months ago, playing piano and “limping along” singing in the Lithuanian language she’s studying in order to survive in her new country of refuge–and I hoped that she would come to experience the same joy of hard-won fellowship with God and fellow Christians. And it gave me joy to think that our hard-won experience learning to lead worship in Lithuanian language, and of course the corresponding patience and hospitality of Lithuanians in letting me and Corrie try, has created space in this church for Ukrainians to step up and use their gifts to serve God.
So, you really should watch the service on Facebook and get a taste of how beautiful it is–even though nothing compares to being present to worship God with His people assembled from many nations, tribes and tongues!
Audio and text: ©2022 by Benjamin D. Giffone. Reproduction and distribution are permitted, providing that the author is properly credited and that no fee is charged.