Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

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Sermon of the Week

June 27, 2020

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4,15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”

This past Wednesday, the twenty-fourth of June, was in the church calendar of saints the festival day of Saint John the Baptist; more specifically, the festival day of the Birth of John the Baptist. We spoke about it briefly at Morning Prayer that day. The story of John’s birth -- as well as that of our Lord -- is narrated of course in the first chapter or two of the Gospel of Luke. And, you will undoubtedly remember the beautiful and moving story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, both of them expecting child; Mary of course, pregnant with the Infant Jesus to be; and the elderly Elizabeth, expecting John, who would become the Baptist.

It is, I think, the first among all the stories of the Gospels to speak of genuine human encounter and welcome. Perhaps for this reason, it has become one of the most iconic themes in the art of the Western World, as you can see well represented in this stylised canvas by an unknown early Renaissance artist. Mary, for all intents and purposes, leaves her comfort zone -- her family and her safe and happy home in Nazareth. And, she travels in great haste what in those days would have been a great distance in order to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, in the hill country of Judea. Luke does not tell us exactly why she does so, or why the haste. But it does not seem to matter.

Elizabeth and Mary are overjoyed to see each other. One can almost hear Elizabeth cry out from the garden gate, Isten hozott. Or the local Aramaic equivalent of this Hungarian greeting, meaning God has brought you here. God has brought you to me. To us. Welcome, Mary. Welcome, child-to-be. Surely there was no social distancing that day. Probably no one in Christian Scripture or Christian history has received a welcome such as did Mary in that unnamed Judean village long ago. Even the yet unborn John leaps for joy; leaps in welcome. And, the Holy Spirit descends upon Elizabeth, affirming her in her joy. And, in her hospitality and welcome. Perhaps it is this welcome which has stuck with me in my reflections on John’s Birth this past week.

Welcome and hospitality were core values in the culture of ancient Israel. Hebrew Scriptures are filled with examples. And, John himself of course comes later to welcome Jesus at the Jordan. Jesus himself highly values hospitality and welcome -- as we see in our reading this morning from the Gospel of Matthew -- in which he mentions welcome at least six times in two short verses. Our Lord is in fact here preparing his disciples for their own Gospel mission and reminding them of what is truly important. His final words of instruction and teaching to them are words of hospitality and welcome. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” says Jesus, “and, whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

Matthew does not go on to tell us what sort of reception or welcome the disciples actually received on this first of their missionary forays into the Palestinian countryside. Were they welcomed as prophets? Perhaps. Were they welcomed as righteous ones…? Maybe; maybe not. We shall of course never know. But surely there were some whose hearts were touched by the Gospel message proclaimed by them; whose lives the disciples changed; who thought in their hearts, Isten hozott. God has brought you. In you, God has brought his truth to us. Welcome, in the name of the Lord. The reward which the disciples received was surely the same as they offered: Welcome.

Welcome is of course a core value of most any human society; be it that of ancient Israel, Central Europe, Africa, the Americas, or anywhere else. Each of us has been welcomed -- whether we think of it or not -- welcomed into this world; into our families; among our friends and co-workers. Welcome is the thing humans do, though it sometimes does not come easily. For, if we have been welcomed and have offered welcome in return; we have also sadly sometimes rejected others -- as individuals or society -- in the name of culture; race; religion; language; sexuality; and any number of other reasons.

Times of crisis and stress, such as those we are living through, ask much of us. And, demand much of us. Precautions, such as social distancing and masking, seem sometimes to take from us an element of our very humanity. It would be all too easy to think of the other as, well, other; as bearer not of our common humanity but of potential pain and possibly even death. That is the tragedy of the times in which we are living. It is the sin we must strive to avoid.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” There are no footnotes or exclusionary clauses in our Lord’s statement. His welcome is extended unconditionally to all humanity, six feet or six thousand miles apart. His words remind us that we are all recipients of God’s welcome, extended to us in Scripture; and in the words, faces, and actions of others. We in turn are challenged to welcome others as we ourselves have been welcomed. God has brought us together -- willy-nilly as it may seem -- but yet for a greater purpose. To offer “a cup of cold water” in the words of the Gospel -- a refreshing drink -- to the thirsty; to offer God’s love to those who feel unwelcome and abandoned; those whose souls are parched and yearning for God’s love.

So, we rejoice this morning with Elizabeth and John and all the disciples. Like John, we leap for joy at the Good News of salvation which has come to us. And, we proclaim to one and all, Isten hozott.

God brought you here.

Welcome.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

June 20, 2020

Pentecost 3 A

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

“Have no fear.”

The names Sundar Singh and Bernard Mizeki might not mean anything to you, and that would not be surprising. Sundar lived during the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century and was originally a Sikh from northern India, a member of a religious faith based, like Christianity, in a form of monotheism. Bernard Mizeki, on the other hand, was originally from Mozambique in East Africa and lived during the late nineteenth century. What they have in common, in some sense, is our passage this morning from the Gospel of Matthew.

What they have in common, in other words, is their conversion to faith in Christ and a missionary zeal which led each of them in his own way to leave family and friends -- and old and cherished ways of doing things -- in order to spread the message of the Gospel, which they had come to love, among the peoples of their regions in India and Africa, respectively. Both were also by the way ardent Anglicans, having been brought to Christ by English clergy of the late colonial period. Bernard ended up being martyred for his faith in today’s Zimbabwe. Sundar seems simply to have disappeared on a missionary journey through desolate Tibetan territory.

The Church honours both of them annually in the calendar of saints during the month of June. And, those of us who meet on Zoom for daily Morning Prayer had the opportunity to spend some time this past week reflecting upon their lives and mission and love of the Gospel. So far, I have not heard back from any of our regular Morning Prayer participants that they too now intend to give up family and friends, and their cherished homes and customs, in order to become missionaries like Sundar and Bernard, although I suppose all things are possible.

Jesus, after all, sends out his Twelve Disciples, as they are called in the Gospel of Matthew, as missionaries. And as he does so, he first provides them words of instruction, admonishment, and encouragement, in what the scholars call his Mission or Missionary Discourse and Sermon. That is where we find ourselves this morning in our Gospel account: towards the end of the message our Lord has for the missionary disciples.

It is a message meant for us as well.

Our Lord reminds the disciples first and foremost that the work of the Gospel is a work or mission of servanthood, of giving of self. “A slave is not above the master,” he says. And, he tells them that the task before them will not be easy. I have the feeling Sundar and Bernard would heartily agree. Some people, our Lord intimates, will oppose you and frighten you. Others may want to kill you. And, it is entirely possible that they will succeed. Just ask Bernard. Indeed, following the Gospel path can even bring dissension among families: among parents, siblings, and others.

We see the truth of this in every age, I suppose, but perhaps particularly nowadays, as families and friends find themselves divided by issues of justice and peace; and how to achieve both. Pope Paul, the Sixth, decades ago famously proclaimed, “If you want peace, work for justice.” And, he was of course right. But he failed to also remind his hearers that, if you work for justice, sometimes you can expect all hell to break loose; if you will excuse the language. Such is the state of entrenched interests and demands in any age and society. Likely, it is just that of which our Lord is thinking, when he -- almost shockingly -- tells the disciples that, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Achieving the ultimate peace of the Gospel, in other words, always requires effort and sacrifice. It is a battle.

But in words which in some sense or form occur in Scripture -- both Hebrew and Christian -- more often than any other words I can think of, our Lord also tells the disciples and us, “Have no fear.” Sometimes easier said than done, to be sure. A priest friend of mine, for instance, recently posted on Facebook just three words: Worry, worry, worry; apparently forgetting our Lord’s three words: Have no fear. The Father, as Jesus tells us, looks after the sparrows in their flight. He knows the count of hairs on your head -- be it but two or three or in the hundreds of thousands. Reassuring and worth remembering, I should think, during these turbulent times of global disease, political turmoil, and economic hardship.

You and I may not be called to missionary duty in far-off places. Hard to say. But we are all called to missionary duty. Our Lord’s Missionary Discourse from the Gospel of Matthew is meant as much for us as it was for the disciples. We are called to be missioners of justice and peace. We are called upon to proclaim the truth of God’s infinite love and care. And we are challenged to live out the Gospel in our own day and age.

None of this is ever easy -- if we are doing it right -- whether we live in Northern India or East Africa or Central Europe. The only way to peace and life is through the Cross, through giving of self. But as scary as that may seem, we truly need not fear. “Those who find their life will lose it,” Jesus assures us, “and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." At least, it worked that way for Sundar Singh and Bernard Mizeki. I have the feeling it can work for us, too.

Have no fear.

Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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