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Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

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Sermon of the Week

November 03, 2019

All Saints' Day

Saint Margaret’s Anglican-Episcopal Church

Budapest

 

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

 

Most Anglicans around the world are probably familiar with the famous Christ Church Cathedral of Canterbury, England, the seat of the Archbishop and one of the oldest – and loveliest -- church structures in England. Fewer however may know of Canterbury’s modest Church of Saint Martin, just a short walk away from the Cathedral grounds.

 

But Saint Martin’s, Canterbury – if you are not aware -- has the distinction of being the oldest church in continuous use in the entire English-speaking world. Its function as a church in fact predates even the arrival of the great missionary to England, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, in 597 or thereabouts. And, some of the walls of that ancient church are still extant.

 

Should your travels ever take you to Canterbury, I highly recommend visiting the great Cathedral, of course, but also Saint Martin’s. As I stopped there some years ago, I tried to imagine “the great cloud of witnesses,” as the Book of Hebrews calls all those who have professed the faith in ages past – the great number of faithful believers who over the centuries have worshiped at this most sacred site.

 

By now, there must have been several thousands of them, I reckoned. Perhaps even over ten thousand. Among them, churchwardens and clerics too many to count. Day-labourers, attorneys, businesspeople, shopkeepers, factory workers, soldiers, sailors, scoundrels, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the homeless and destitute too. All of them part of this singularly holy place. All of them faithful witnesses of the Gospel over the centuries. Most of them, alas, forgotten in the history books, but not in the Book of Life.

 

And then, on my walk back to my Canterbury hotel, I thought too of Saint Margaret’s, back in Budapest, where I had just recently before become Chaplain. No great cathedral for us, I mused, although back in 2013 we did have a catacomb-like chapel not far from the Centre of town. Many of you will remember the church near Almássy Square.

 

In any case, Saint Margaret’s cannot count centuries of worshipers, the ministry having only been founded officially in 1992, although Anglicans have been worshiping in Hungary since at least the late 1800s, and probably even long before that. During Communist times, the community – still nameless back then – met and worshiped at the British Embassy.

 

I once counted as best I could – since 1992 – some ten or so worship sites used by Saint Margaret’s. I would have to corroborate the list with Canon Denis, our first residentiary chaplain. There may have been more. At one time, we shared space with Saint Columba’s. And, we used for a while a community room at the Magyar Szentek temploma. We also met, if I recall correctly, at the British School. And, so on.

 

So, in some sense, we could not be more different than Saint Martin’s, Canterbury, firmly rooted in the same spot for well over a millennium. And, I am not at all sure what the good people of Saint Martin’s would make of our peripatetic faith journey so far from their corner of England. Perhaps they would pity us for our lack of grounding in place. On the other hand, maybe they would count us lucky for not having the upkeep of an ancient structure to maintain and worry about constantly.

 

And so here we are this morning in yet another place – this beautiful church of the Józsefváros Lutheran Church -- worshiping for the first time in this locale. In some sense, itinerants still. Yet grounded not in bricks and mortar, but in faith and love. It is no doubt fitting that we should begin – and renew – our common ministry here on All Saints Day. For, we too like the good people of Saint Martin’s, Canterbury, can call upon a cloud of witnesses to our faith, among both the living and the dead.

 

The Hungarian language of our members, neighbours, and families reminds us that Church is more than templom. More that is than a building, no matter how old and beautiful. It is as well egyház, an ancient Magyar word meaning a sacred house, in other words, a communion of Saints. And, egyház Saint Margaret’s surely is and surely shall remain even if, some thirty or forty or a hundred years from now, a preacher then counts yet another ten or twenty worship sites as part of our history.

 

Our Lord himself had no great cathedral or synagogue to call his own. He often met people in open fields, as we see in today’s Gospel account. He here calls together – arguably for the first time ever – the Church, the Church gathered at his feel upon the plains of Galilee, and for the first time he calls its members blessed, or holy. Blessed in prosperity. Blessed in adversity. Blessed in weeping. Blessed in laughter. Blessed in hunger. And, blessed when filled. Blessed when loved. And yes, blessed even when reviled and hated.

 

The same applies of course to the people of Saint Martin’s and to us, the people of Saint Margaret’s, and to the people of every church community throughout history and throughout the world today. For, we are all the blessed, all the holy ones of God’s love. 

 

The task of the Church after all, as Jesus goes on to describe it, is to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. [To do to] others as you would have them do to you." As long as we do that, I believe, we need not worry where we are or where we are worshiping. For, we will then know who we are. And, most importantly, whose we are.

 

Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

October 05, 2019

Proper 22

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

 

 

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

 

 

Our account this morning from the Gospel of Luke contains the only New Testament mention of mulberry trees -- of all things -- a tree with a berry-like fruit which looks a bit like a raspberry or blackberry, although the flavour is completely different.  My Polish grandmother had a mulberry tree growing in front of her house.  I only remember it because at a certain time of the year in late summer and early autumn -- I believe it was -- great masses of mulberries would fall from the tree, making for a great gooey mess along the walkway to the house.  Mulberry trees are said to live a very long time, by the way.  And, for all I know, that one back in Muskegon, Michigan might still be standing, though the house was torn down decades ago after a fire.

 

Interestingly, our Lord here in Luke substitutes the mulberry tree for the mountain found in similar sayings in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, in which faith the size of a mustard seed is said to be sufficient to move mountains -- not just a relatively puny mulberry tree.  Why Luke has Jesus give us a tree as a faith comparison instead of a mountain is a matter of some conjecture among scholars, although no one has a convincing explanation.   No doubt more than one doctoral dissertation has been written on the subject.   Perhaps Luke simply preferred the symmetry of seed to tree rather than the mixed image of seed and mountain.  That, at least, is the Hegedűs Theory.  Or, perhaps he thought the mountain image was just a bit much, a bit over the top.

 

Once planted, the mulberry was considered in ancient times a permanent fixture on the landscape because of the extensive root system holding it in place.  So, if you follow Jesus’ little thought experiment in today’s account, you will have to imagine not just the treetop and trunk but the entire widespread root system being uprooted into the sea as well.    And, that is quite an image.  The thought must surely have brought a chuckle to the faces of the Apostles to whom Jesus was speaking.   In any case, I reckon it is at least as difficult to imagine a tree as a mountain hurtling itself into the sea, so the point is perhaps moot in any case.  

 

Still, the focus of Jesus’ image is obviously on faith.  Now, while I can imagine measuring the size of a mustard seed somehow – mulberry trees by the way grow to thirty or forty feet tall -- I have no idea how one would go about measuring the size of one’s faith.  It is in the same category surely as thought and consciousness, pain and happiness; joy and grief -- none of which are measurable in any sort of scientific fashion.  Is one thought larger than another, after all?  Is my conscious experience greater in some way than yours?  My pain or joy larger than yours?  Yet another dilemma for the scholars to contemplate and perhaps turn into books and dissertations.  Which also, I suppose, begs the question: What exactly is faith?  

 

For Christians, faith is the very definition of their, well, faith.  While other religions of the world emphasise religious ritual, obedience, or even submission to God, Christianity emphasises faith.   For some church hierarchs, faith seems to mean adherence to certain church dogmas and teachings, although the list of dogmas varies depending upon the hierarch you quiz.  In this sense, faith becomes largely an intellectual pursuit or exercise -- which makes it rather easier to measure, one suppose, since the list of required beliefs is finite.  You can simply go down the doctrine list and tick them off, one by one.  That is the kind of faith we practice when we recite the Nicene Creed, for instance.

 

On the other hand, we may see faith as confidence or trust in another.  We have faith in our friends that they will remain our friends, for instance.  And, Christians of course have faith in the person of Jesus Christ.  They rely on him; they trust his words; they believe in him.   For others, perhaps like Luther, faith is in a deep sense utter and complete trust in God’s grace -- which is a way of saying trust in God’s love and mercy.  And, perhaps this last is the faith of which our Lord is speaking in today’s Gospel account.  Such faith is by definition always small – always the size of a mustard seed – for the simple reason that we too are small.  Our capacity for faith, as our capacity for love, is always at best only a mirror reflection of God’s infinite love for us – and perhaps of God’s faith in us as well.  

 

And, if faith in this latter sense is perhaps difficult or impossible to measure, it is nevertheless the faith to which our Lord seems to be calling – and challenging – us.  Not everything of value in life can be measured like, say, the size of a bank account.  But if we can measure faith at all, it can probably only be done with a measure of the mountains we have moved and the trees we have planted or replanted.  And, in this sense, faith -- no matter how great -- is always the size of a small seed.  Yet it is from this seed or kernel that the growth comes.  From this mustard seed, the Kingdom itself is planted and cultivated; moved from here to there; transmitted from you to me, and me to you.

 

Alas, our Lord does not elaborate in today’s reading on the greater meaning of faith, so we can only infer – or have faith – that we know what he intends.  We have to work it out for ourselves.  Our Lord in this brief passage moves quickly from faith to action.  And, there may be a lesson in that.  Perhaps the ultimate measure of faith is found in doing, as our Lord says, “all that you were ordered to do.”  And, what is it that we are ordered to do.  Quite simple: To serve without qualification, precondition, or even reward; without thought of the self.  It is only that kind of service after all which can move mountains.  And yes, even mulberry trees.

 

Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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