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02 February 2011

Ansgar, Apostle of the North (801-865)

Today (February 3), we Lutherans commemorate Ansgar, Bishop of Hamburg and missionary to Denmark and Sweden. For this Northern German transplant it is a special joy to remember that we "fish heads" up North have saints too, even though the "North Italians" in Southern Germany seem to have most of them. (When I was in the German Army, the Bavarians called us Northeners the "fish heads", we, in turn, called them "North Italians")

If one is to believe half of the stories about him, Ansgar was a man after my own heart: a humble man with great courage and a sense of purpose, a man whose preaching comforted the afflicted, but afflicted the comfortable.

It is said that Ansgar wouldn't eat his evening meal until he had made sure that all the poor in the neighborhood had food. At least once he freed people who had been enslaved in some shady business deal, by confronting the business people doing the deal.

Even though his sermons rattled the mighty ones of his day (his biographer says Ansgar "mingled gentleness and terror"), he found a tone that made them listen to him. Some even changed their unjust and sinful ways because of his preaching ... now there's a thought for us preachers!

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

These words (taken from one of the lessons suggested for a commemoration of Ansgar) well describe his approach to mission: humble and simple, yet confident and faithful. Although the visible results of his missionary work almost disappeared after his death, his work was far from being in vain. His zeal, his faith, his vision and the example of his life proved a help and inspiration to those who came after him, including you and me.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12                                                                                                


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