Before I left Albuquerque, I told people I wanted to do “Bilingual Bible studies in Budapest.” We had a lot of bilingual English-Spanish Bible studies in New Mexico with recent immigrants. We also had lots of languages operating in our campus ministry on a regular basis because of the participation of international students. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Everyone helps everyone else with languages so that each person can be included in the conversation. Sometimes people just need a word or two, others need help with an idea, or to understand Americans when we talk too fast, or if we use idiomatic expressions.
A few weeks ago, we started an English-Hungarian Bible study on the Psalms in the congregation at Deák Tér, a large church in the centre of the city. Then we started a weekly study on the Gospel of Mark in Dabas. Many of the participants in both groups use English in their daily work and can read and write English very well. They don’t often have opportunities to speak English, so this gives them the chance they need to gain confidence. Some are English teachers or interpreters, others work in medicine, engineering, or technology. We have had all ages from 17 to 70 and older. Often the pastors participate. I treasure these conversations because they give me the chance to make friends and get to know people better. I am also getting to know more about the lasting effects of having been the church under communism for so many years, and the differences between generations in Hungary.
Since I arrived in October, I have had several invitations to preach in local congregations. Last fall I preached in Dabas–Gyón and the other congregations served by Eszter Balog in Inárcs, Újlengyel, and Ócsa. I have spoken about New Mexico faith and life ay the Lutheran churches in Monor and Bénye, at the Reformed (Presbyterian) church in Alsónémedi, and at the Baptist church in Ócsa. The Baptists invited me to preach for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January and have asked me to come back again and preach for a longer (Baptist) length of time later this year. I love that congregation because they sing with enthusiasm and the whole congregation adds to the prayers of the church. I also preached at the Roman Catholic Church in Inárcs and the local Reformed church in Dabas that week – three different congregations and three denominations in three nights – because other pastors were sick, or they just wanted me to come. Recently I preached in the church at Deák tér in Budapest. They often host international guests and dignitaries. Afterward someone said that other guests had talked about politics, but that I had actually preached the gospel!
The church in Dabas.
Usually when I am going to preach I finish my sermon a few days early and someone translates it in advance, so anyone can read the Hungarian parts. Several people have done the translating. When we give the sermon, I read a few sentences in English, then someone else reads the Hungarian translation. It works pretty well. I must write shorter sermons, which is a challenge, and I also have to think about examples and stories that will translate effectively here. I am grateful for the generous welcome I have received in every place. I’m also grateful for translators and interpreters who give the sermons life in a second language.
Before I went to seminary I learned to preach by reading a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s preaching lectures at the Confessing Church Seminary in Finkenwalde. His former students from before World War II had put together their class notes. Clearly, he was influenced by the Lutheran Confessions and Martin Luther. Bonhoeffer is remembered to have said something like “When you preach, it is the living Word of God among us and Christ is present, walking through the congregation, speaking with people by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (I’m sorry that my memory is imprecise, and I can’t find where I copied the exact quote.) This idea of the real presence of Christ in the Word preached and in the “mutual consolation and conversation of the saints,” (from the Augsburg Confession) has shaped my preaching and teaching from the beginning. May God continue to give you a hunger for God’s Word, and bless all who preach and teach it.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and students at the Confessing Church Seminary in Finkenwalde, Germany