“Keep your church from discouragement in the day of small things, O God, in the knowledge that when you have begun a good work, you will bring it to a fruitful conclusion, just as you did for your servant Anskar; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Today in the Church’s calendar is the feast commemorating Blessed Anskar, bishop and missionary to Denmark and Sweden, who died on February 3, 865. Anskar was a Saxon from Northern France born in 801, the year after Charlemagne was crowned. He became a monk as a teenager, and was sent as a missionary at the age of 25 to Denmark, and then later to Sweden. He was known for his great works of corporeal mercy, in particular his almsgiving for the poor, his building of hospitals, and his consistent efforts to end slavery. Known as “the Apostle of the North,” he worked steadily and quietly in building the Church there, but reaction from pagan leaders after decades forced him to withdraw back to Hamburg, where he was consecrated Archbishop. As things changed in his former mission field, he later was able to help consecrate Gotbert, the first bishop of Sweden. The Church of Sweden honors Anskar as its apostle, and he serves as symbol of the historic friendship and present-day connection between the Anglican Churches and the Church of Sweden.
Hamburg was later burnt by the Northmen, and Anskar lost everything, including his church, monastery, and (most important for a monk!) his library. Preaching on this great loss, he quoted Job: “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” He rebuilt Hamburg and its church without being discouraged by the loss. He later made a friend of the heathen king who had led the attack.
When Anskar was on his death bed, friends came to comfort him. They, thinking he was not hearing, began to discuss whether he would be made a saint, and the miracles he was rumored to have performed. He roused himself and said to their shock, “If I were worthy in my Lord’s sight, I would ask of Him for one miracle only—that He make me a good man.”
Anskar, despite all his work and good deeds, still felt unworthy.
I think that is how it is for many of us. We try, and try, and try, and only sometimes does good come from the effort. And we judge ourselves harshly, thinking we do not measure up. In the midst of the “small things” of our life, we focus on the failings and the shortages. Sometimes in our frustration, we start blaming others for the failings that are ours. We transfer our frustration onto them and at times judge them, or lash out unfairly. Usually this happens when we are “triggered” by their words or deeds that somehow present to us in our own hearts the failings of our own we are most acutely aware of.
But know this: we—all of us—are already beloved or God. The doing of the small things is what matters: doing them well, and with love. This matters not because it makes us worthy, but because it reflects the love we ourselves have always received from God.
Looking forward to the Annual Parish Meeting after Church this Sunday, I offer you
Grace and Peace,