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Budapest, Hungary

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Sermon of the Week

March 29, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Lent

For John, Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is paramount. 


Here the raising of Lazarus is the seventh, climatic sign Jesus performs in John’s gospel, directly foreshadowing Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Moreover, beyond a mere miracle, Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is a sign, a demonstration of Jesus’ true identity as the promised messiah and Son of God.


John recounts that after hearing Lazarus was ill, he waits two days to travel to Judea. Given the fact that Jesus was almost stoned the last time he was in Judea, it’s no wonder the disciples weren’t eager to go back, especially after Jesus told them that Lazarus was already dead. Thomas even sounds a bit resigned when Jesus makes the decision to make the journey: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). But Jesus knew that his hour had not yet come.


Consequently, by the time Jesus reaches Bethany, four days had passed since Lazarus’ death, which according to Jewish tradition, meant that his soul had already left the body (see Kieffer, 2001, The Oxford Bible Commentary). In other words, Lazarus was, without question, completely dead. 


Martha, true to the character sketch we’re given by Luke, takes initiative and comes out to meet Jesus’ while Mary stays back home, presumably to take care of the guests who’ve come to mourn with their family. The dialogue between Martha and Jesus, culminating in her confession of faith, forms the theological highlight of the narrative.


Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (v. 23-27)


Martha, like Peter, understands Jesus to be the Messiah and believes in an eventual life after death. But Jesus wants her to see clearly. “I am” – calling forth resonances with God’s holy name – “the resurrection and the life.”  The invitation from death to life corresponds to the invitation from unbelief to faith. As John states later, his whole point for writing this gospel is “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).


There are two interesting elements to John’s account that stem from his word choices. 


First, when Mary eventually goes to meet Jesus, she has a similar conversation to her sister’s. However, her tears, along with the tears of mourners who had followed behind her, had a powerful effect on Jesus. Our translation says Jesus, “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (v. 33) and apparently the meaning of the Greek word translated as “deeply moved” implies anger, indignation, even outrage. 


A variety of hypotheses have been proposed to explain this sense of indignation that seems to be out of step with the emotions one would expect to find in a similar situation, but few seem to adequately account for the force of the verb. The most plausible explanation, at least for me, seems to be that the pathos of human suffering he encountered, especially as he was likely also inwardly wrestling with his own cup of suffering that was quickly approaching, aroused a fierce anger against the power of death. 


In any event, it is comforting to know that when confronted with such profound grief, Jesus began weeping with Mary. I can’t imagine the weight that must have been on his shoulders, but instead of disengaging and sorting through his own challenges and emotions, he put himself aside and was simply there for Mary, sharing in her grief. 


A profound picture of selfless love, which brings us to the second noteworthy element. At the beginning of the passage, when the sisters sent the message to Jesus that, “he whom you love is ill” (v.3), the word for love used is a form of phileō, the dispassionate, virtuous, fraternal, general type of love among people in a community. 


However, when John points out that Jesus waited two days to leave despite the fact that he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus (v. 5), he uses the stronger word agapō –  the more intimate, personal kind of love for one’s children or spouse. 


Like these three siblings, Jesus doesn’t love us in an abstract, general kind of way; rather Jesus loves you in a particular, personal kind of way. Like a husband loves his wife or a father loves his children, Jesus loves you. And in the middle of these deeply challenging times, where we are worried for the health of our loved ones, perhaps even worried about our own health, Jesus is not off on some far away cloud. He rose from the dead and he is here with us now. Jesus loves you, and he desires to take our burdens – whether it is grief, or worry, or fear. Jesus is a messiah who weeps with those weep and gives rest to those who are weak and weary.


To jump back to the OT passage today of Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of dry bones, God explains to Ezekiel at the end of the vision that the bones represent Israel who say that their hope has dried up.  The power of this prophetic vision has inspired hope throughout the centuries, that the power of God can change even the most hopeless of situations.


In our hearts, deep down, when we’re confronted with tremendous fear and uncertainty over our physical well-being and financial future, as well as for those we love – I wonder how we conceive of Jesus as messiah. Is he asleep in the boat? Is he a failed messiah, powerless in the face of this growing worldwide crisis? Is he capable of bringing Lazarus back to life, perhaps even you and me one day? Will God breathe life back into these dry bones? How do we truly view Jesus’ messiahship?


John’s testimony to us today is that when Jesus called into the grave, into the cave of despair, “Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth” (v. 43f.).


This morning if you feel overcome by fear, Jesus invites you to take your frets, your worries, your anxieties and lay them down at his feet – letting them go and trusting him.

March 22, 2020

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church

Budapest, Hungary


1 Samuel 16:1-13 ; Ephesians 5:8-14 ; John 9:1-41 ; Psalm 23 


The Gospels rather obviously recount those things which Jesus said and did during his sojourn here on earth centuries ago. What he said is recorded in his many discourses and stories, or parables. What he did includes among many other things his miracles, such as the one we find in today’s reading from the Gospel of John, the Healing of the Man Blind from Birth. But whether in speaking or doing, our Lord is very nearly always at the center of the Gospel narrative for everyone to see and hear. Understandably, so.


Yet in today’s story, Jesus, having given the Blind Man the gift of sight, rather surprisingly – as it seems to me – himself disappears from sight and is in a sense nowhere to be seen again very until nearly the end of the passage. The other characters of the narrative – the formerly Blind Man, the neighbours, the Blind Man’s parents, and the Pharisees especially– now carry the weight of the narrative, disputing the meaning or even the very reality of the Blind Man’s sudden ability to see.


The Pharisees of the story of course question everything. That is almost what Pharisees do by the nature of their profession. Like first-century private eyes, they here go over every possibility, every contingency. They call forward family and neighbours as witnesses – very likely frightening the Blind Man’s parents out of their wits. But it all goes nowhere. It almost becomes a case of the Blind leading the Blind. In fact, that is exactly what it becomes. What can be misunderstood is misunderstood. Fear takes over. Confusion reigns.


Faced with the unknown and inexplicable, we are all in danger of falling into doubt and bickering. Are you sure he was blind, the Pharisees ask. Are you certain it is a virus and not a hoax? What did he do? What did you do…? What did you fail to do? Could it be something else…? Did you see it coming? It must be sin. No, it must be incompetence. What the Pharisees however are incapable of seeing – or refuse to see – is the all too obvious: the Lord’s gracious goodness at work in the lives of his people. So, perhaps our Lord is not absent after all. But one does have to open one’s eyes to see him.


Our Lord sees in the Man born Blind the Everyone – the Adam -- in each of us, for at some deeper level we are all born blind, all incapable of seeing the deeper truth until our eyes are opened. And, as the Lord God created Adam from the earth, so our Lord, rubbing the earth into the Blind Man’s eyes, creates from him the new Adam each of us can now become, a new Adam or Eve of light and Spirit. “I am the Man,” say the formerly Blind Man to the Pharisees as they question his identity. I am in other words the Adam who was; and the new Adam I have become.


Perhaps like all of us, the Blind Man comes to the truth – to vision and reality -- but slowly and haltingly. His eyes may have been opened in an instant, but sometimes truth takes time before reality sinks in. Sometimes it takes experience. So it is that our Lord, in this Man’s gradual enlightenment, goes from “The man called Jesus,” to “a prophet,” to “the Son of Man,” or the Son of God as some early manuscripts have it. “Lord, I believe,” he says finally having come to full vision and truth. And, it is at this point that the Blind Man’s eye are really opened to the truth standing there before him.


We are all familiar with the old saying, “Seeing is believing.” According to those who study the origin of words and expressions, the expression goes back to at least the seventeenth century and to Anglican clergyman, Thomas Fuller. Sometimes, however, as with the Blind Man of today’s story, it is also a matter of, “believing is seeing.” It is sometimes only with the eyes of faith that we perceive the world for what it truly is. But Thomas Fuller actually said more than seeing is believing. “Feeling,” he said – that is to say, experiencing – “is the Truth.” And, it is the truth of experience which leads the Blind Man to vision and faith.


We live now – almost too suddenly – in deeply troubling times; times in which it is not possible to see just where we are going. The world we knew so well just weeks ago – the well-stocked supermarket, the beloved church building, the favourite footpath – are all fading from view. It may be tempting to think God too has left us and is nowhere to be seen.


But it is just at times such as these that we must keep our eyes opened and focused on the One who is indeed the Son of Man. Amid the confusion and blindness all around us, we must remain people of clarity and truth experienced, as Fuller called it. After all, as Jesus, referring to the Son of Man, tells the Man born blind and us, “You have seen him…” And, our Lord continues, “the one speaking with you is he.” If you wish to see, my friends, you must believe. The one who spoke those words of truth and faith to the Blind Man speaks them to us now perhaps alone in our homes, our flats, our gardens. See him and believe.


And, proclaim with the Man Blind-No-More, “Lord, I believe.”




The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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