February 4, 2010

Anskar Homily

I don't know about you, but I like schedules. I like due dates. I like to-do lists. I like to know what needs to be done and when it needs to be accomplished. And so, Jesus' last words to his disciples before his ascension are troubling to me, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." Not for me to know? Well, why the heck not? I've paid my dues, I should be in the know.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. We all know experiences where we just can't know the reasons that God works sometimes and doesn't others. He works by his own authority, and that has to be good enough.
Today the Church remembers Anskar, Archbishop of Hamburg and Missionary to Denmark and Sweden who died in 865. Anskar is the patron saint of "it is not for you to know" and "these shall plant the seed, but others shall reap the harvest." Born in Corbie, France in the year 801, Anskar was educated in a top-notch monastery there. His skill as a teacher led him to be sent to Saxon Germany to lead a new monastery school, but his heart was set on missionary work, after receiving a vision calling him to serve God.
In 826, King Herald of Denmark put out a call for missionaries for his country and Anskar was selected much to the astonishment of his friends and family. Why should he wish to leave his brothers to deal with "unknown and barbarous folk?" Some of the monks tried to deter him; others considered him a freak. Nice way for a bunch of monks to think...
Anyway, Anskar worked diligently, albeit unsuccessfully, to convert the hearts of those in Denmark. Encouraged by a second vision calling him to missionary work, he took a call to Sweden in 829 where he was again frustrated by meager aid from both the Church and the State. At the age of 30 he was consecrated as Archbishop of Hamburg and continued his work in Scandinavia until he retired at the ripe old age of 47. In his 22 years of missionary work, at least according to the records I found, he is credited with having established two churches in Denmark, planted one priest in Sweden, and for some reason with only one priest, consecrated the first bishop of Sweden.
Long after his death, one hundred years later, however, the fruit of his work came into full bloom as the Church in Scandinavia, free from Viking detestation, a weak Frankish Church and limited institutional missionary zeal, flourished. It is not for us to know the times that the Father has set by his own authority.
Over the years, I've had some pretty frustrating jobs. I waited tables and made very little money at a Red Lobster in a small rural community. I learned the American's with Disability codes for restrooms in three different attempts to design a restaurant that the city government was never going to approve. But the most frustrating job I've ever had was that of youth minister. Seeds are planted. A lot of seeds are planted. And fruit is rarely seen. At the height of my frustration with a particular group of kids, someone told me, "Steve, did you know the average person hears the gospel seven times before it makes sense? We are all links on the long chain that God uses to restore his people. Sometimes you are the last link, and you see God's action immediately. Sometimes you are the first link, and it might be years until a connection is made. Just be happy to be a link in God's chain."
Anskar did not know the time or the period when the Father would act. He was just a faithful link on the long chain of human history. Today, I take comfort in his example of faithful perseverance, and I hope you will too. We do not know the why's and wherefore's of God's working, all we can do is be faithful to his call and be happy to be a link in God's chain. Amen.

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