Monday, February 4, 2013

The Day of Small Things

Homily on the Feast of Anskar, Missionary to Denmark and Sweden, d. 865

"The Day of Small Things"

By The Rev. Jake Dell

What are we to make of Anskar, missionary to Denmark and Sweden?

In many respects, he was a failure. By the end of his mission, he left only two churches on the Demark border and one priest in Sweden.

But Anskar was a visionary. He reported that he heard the voice of God twice. Once was to tell him to seek the crown of martyrdom (a crown he did not win) and the second told him to "Go and declare the work of God to the nations."

It wasn't until three generations after his mission that Scandinavia experienced a "rich harvest of conversion" and today, Scandinavians look to him as their apostle.

And what of Anskar's legacy in Scandinavia today?

The region, like many places, has secularized. Clergy in the Church of Sweden are not required to believe in Jesus.[1] Membership is in decline, but many Scandinavians say they still value the church because it "guards important national values and traditions and does good work, such as helping the poor and the elderly and comforting the lonely."[2] 

At first I thought this was a far cry from Anskar's visions of martyrdom or his call to "declare the work of God to the nations."

But is it?

The collect for Anskar says, "Keep your Church from discouragement in the day of small things."

You see, when I hear that membership is declining, or that the church is valued mainly as a cultural institution, or that not even the clergy believe in Jesus ... I get discouraged.

And I lose sight of the "fruitful conclusion" promised to Anskar in his visions, and that the church still points to, even if for many it is "just" a cultural institution.

And I forget that those good works -- helping the poor and elderly and comforting the lonely -- are, in fact, the "small things" of a true faith.

And that many small things make for a day of small things. And many days, a week; and many weeks, a year; and many years, a generation -- and that this is, in fact, the work of God to the nations.

I forget these things and I suspect that you do too. Let us thank God then for the example of Anskar to remind us that we are engaged in a greater work. And let us pray for the continuing work of the Church of God in Scandinavia.

Preached at the Chapel of Christ the Lord
The Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue
New York, New York 10017

February 4, 2013

[1] Gary Yerkey, "Church of Sweden's Nonbelievers," The Living Church, January 24, 2013.
[2] Ibid.

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