Today we honor the life and ministry of John Johnson Enmegahbowh. John is recognized as the first Native American priest in the Episcopal Church, serving until his death in 1902. John was an Odawa Indian from Canada who was raised in the traditional healing way of his grandfather and the Christian religion of his mother. He came to the U.S. as a Methodist missionary in 1832. At one point, he tried to flee his missionary work and return to Canada, but was turned back by storms on Lake Superior. He had a Jonah-like vision with God and got back to work among the indigenous in Minnesota. He was a man known to consistently support peace, even when it made him enemies. He helped train deacons for the Episcopal Church and was able to use his understanding of Native traditions to spread Christianity and enrich the mission work of the Episcopal Church.
When I think about John Enmegahbowh’s ministry, I imagine a scene much like the scene from our gospel lesson today. Jesus comes down to the plain, gathering disciples and a great multitude, and teaches the Good News. “Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry now…Blessed are you who weep now…Blessed are you who when people hate you, …exclude you, revile you, and defame you…” Jesus encouraged those gathered with the good news that life in Christ is different – that there is hope and promise. I imagine John Enmegahblowh thought much like Jesus, gathering downtrodden Native Americans, sharing the Good News with them in a similar fashion.
So what about us, who are not from an indigenous group, and who rarely find ourselves surrounded by a multitude of people? Jesus’ message to us today is two-fold. First, Jesus’ message is for us. Though we may not suffer poverty or hunger, we have all known suffering. Jesus Christ promises that laughter and joy are ours in the Kingdom of God. Second, Jesus’ message is for others, to be shared by us. Jesus and John invite us to be teachers in the ways only we can – through our unique stories, our unique gifts, and in our unique lives. When we live into that call we will know the experience of being blessed. Amen.