This week as I watched friends travel to ND to be with the Standing Rock tribe as a prayerful witness for peace, I thought about one of the saints of our church who we remember as a prayerful witness to those he ministered too. In 1845, he attempted to abandon his missionary work in the US and return home with his wife to Canada. While sailing Lake Superior, he twice experienced a terrible storm on Lake Superior (think Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald!) and had a vision of Jonah calling him back to his work. His new journey began on water, in his words in a letter written to Bishop Whipple:
“The heavens were of ink blackness; there was a great roaring and booming, and the lightning seemed to rend the heavens. The wind increased, and the vessel could not make headway. The Captain ran here and there talking to his sailors . . . . I was sure that he would summon his mariners and say to them: “Come, let us cast lots that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us.” If they had cast lots, it would have fallen upon guilty Enmegahbowh . . . They would have asked me who had caused the storm, and would have discovered who I was, my occupation and my country. Would I have been bold enough to tell all this? If my faith in God was real, certainly I would have said, ‘My friends, I have been a missionary, I believe that there is a God in Heaven; that I am the sole cause of this great wind, or I have sinned against God. I have taken the inclination of my heart, and have run away from my work.’
The letter was written by The Rev. John Johnson Enmegahbowh, the first Native American to be ordained an Episcopal priest in the United States, and who served as deacon and priest for over 40 years. He was a missionary of the Methodist Church beginning in 1833, having grown up in a tribal village in Canada. In his missionary work in the US he met Biwabikogeshig-equay or Iron Sky Woman (baptized Charlotte when they were married in 1841).
After the storm in 1845, he & his wife would return to the US and later the same year, he would meet an Episcopal priest Ezekiel Gear at Fort Snelling. After receiving a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, he and his wife decide to join the Episcopal Church.
He would help at the local missions and in 1859 was ordained as a deacon. He maintained a peaceful and courageous presence in the midst of the turmoil and violence among the white settlers and local Chippewa people with whom he ministered. In 1862, when members of the Ojibwa tribe decided to go to war against the white settlers, Enmegahbowh, spoke at the council:
“You may kill a few in the beginning, but in the end you will all be swept away from the face of the earth, and annihilated forever. I love you all. I see and know just exactly how the war will terminate. As a friend who loves you, I would ask you all as wise men to think and well consider whether your present plan is to your salvation or death. Think ye well.”
Years later after peace was finally achieved between the Ojibwa and the Sioux, Enmegahbowh wrote:
The great white-faced people say, “The White Earth Indians are turning to their foolish war dances and they will become foolish and regardless of their Christian professions... This dancing between the two parties was caused by a heart full of thankfulness. They rejoiced greatly that a lasting friendship had been established between them, and they had now become as one nation, as it were like one family....That is the prevailing spirit of my people and the Sioux nation today.”
In 1867 he was ordained a priest. He was given special dispensation by the Bishop having never learned Greek or Hebrew (as priests of the day were so trained) for he had long refused to learn Greek and Hebrew, stating that he was being sent to work among the living, not among the dead!
Enmegahbowh’s name means “The one who stands before his people” and that is what he did. He stood for peace, when in 1862 there was a tribal uprising, he warned the white settlers at a nearby fort for which he became unpopular in his tribe for a time. Enmegahbowh also stood up for his people through his constant reminders to Bishop Whipple as well as politicians of the conditions that the tribes were living in.
“It was his truth-telling, always gentle but always steadfast, that I most notice about Enmegahbowh. He told the truth as he understood it to his fellow Indians. He told the truth as he understood it to his bishop and to other whites and to people in Washington and even to several U.S. Presidents. He was at times unpopular because of this, but he managed throughout his life to spread the Good News. Enmegahbowh spoke the truth about earthly things, and that enabled his people to believe what he said about heavenly things. Pure and simple.” (The Rev. M. Lucie Thomas)Enmegahbowh died on June 12, 1902. He was still standing by his people doing the work he was called to do until the day he died. I wonder if we can be agents of peace like he was in his day. Be it in the Sioux nation or in our home towns. On this All Saints Sunday, I think about the joy and hope the saints found in doing what God called them to do. That is certainly true of Enmegahbowh. And we too are called to share in such joy and hope in the work we are called to do in our world today.
In the words of William Stringfellow, “In truth, all human beings are called to be saints, but that just means called to be fully human, to be perfect—that is, whole, mature, fulfilled. The saints are simply those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”
Life is a gift and the saints found it by listening to God, they would find fulfillment and happiness in what they did. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus said. Life as gift and joy begins ritually in our rite of baptism, remembering the past, connecting with our life now and hoping for the future.
Today, Kate Elizabeth will join the household of God (at 10:15 AM). And through the witness of parents, Godparents, family and friends, and this parish, she will be baptized and will grow up and learn about the gift of life, a gift to be lived and enjoyed and given away.
This joy and hope is grounded in our lives. How we follow Christ, living our lives as witnesses to this faith and how we live in faith is the Gospel message for today, the Lucan Beatitudes were given to the disciples, where Jesus taught…
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those hated for Jesus sake, for God will reward you. But woe to us that fail to live into this, for we will have received our reward. Instead, we are to love, to do good, to bless and to give. These are the marks of one who lives the Beatitudes and one who is baptized and lives into following Jesus on the way, just as the saints have done.
In a society that lives on wealth and prestige, on aggressiveness and displays of power, the Beatitudes are a very different way of living our lives. They challenge us to see that the saints were committed to their faith, their community and their God. They lived these Beatitudes in their lives. We account them faithful and numbered in heaven.
Let us commit ourselves to the faith of Christ like the saints, like Enmegahbowh once did, and let us in hope, remember the saints, knowing that one day we will join them. For God calls each one of us, to do unto others, by giving of ourselves and find that indeed our life is a gift, it is joy, and it is meant to be given away. Amen.