Sunday, October 4, 2009

St. Michael and All Angels – Observed (LWML Zone Rally, Oct. 3 & Messiah Lutheran, Oct. 4, 2009)

“Go! Fight! Win!” (Dan. 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Rev. 12:7-12; Mt. 18:1-11)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many of you here are Mariners fans? They certainly had a much better year this year than they did last year. However, I'm here to remind you that God is actually an Angels fan. I have been an Angels fan since I was a child. I inherited this love from my father, who followed the Los Angeles Angels back when they were a minor league team. And I am praying that God's favor will shine down upon my beloved Angels so that they might win their second World Series this October.

Truth be told, I don't think the Lord cares who wins the World Series. As long as it's not the Yankees or the Red Sox, of course! Although God could also be pulling for the Cardinals since our Missouri Synod has a seminary in St. Louis where the Cardinals play.

But we're not here to talk about baseball. We're here to talk about real angels, those real spiritual beings whom God made at some point during the six days of creation. The Bible doesn't pinpoint the moment they were created. It just tells us about their existence as a creation of God, and we know that all things were finished and “good” by the time God rested from his work on the seventh day.

Last Tuesday in our church year calendar was the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. It's a day on which we get to reflect on the existence and work of angels and thank God for their service to the Church. Michael is one of only two angels named in the Bible. Gabriel is the other one, the angel who had the privilege and honor of announcing the conception of Jesus to his mother Mary. (Lk 1:26) But Michael carries the special title of “archangel” or “chief angel.” So, perhaps he is the chief of all God's holy angels. He also is described in the book of Daniel as being the special protector of God's people, the Church. The prophet calls him “the great prince who has charge of your people.” (Dan. 12:1) But clearly all of God's holy angels have a role to play in watching out over the Church. The author of Hebrews writes in chapter 1 that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Heb. 1:14) And our Lord Jesus seems to suggest that little children, if not all of us, have at least one “guardian” angel. (Matt. 18:11) I suppose the number you are assigned depends upon how fast you drive.

Forgive me for bringing up sports again, but you'll see where I'm going with this in a moment. As the baseball season comes to a close, the football season is in full force. Every Friday night across America, high school stadiums are packed with people watching their team, along with bands marching at halftime and cheerleaders leading cheers from the sidelines. A common cheer you might hear is “Go! Fight! Win!” I want to use that cheer as my theme today as we consider what we can learn from the angels.

GO! The word “angel” actually means “messenger.” More often than not, when an angel appears in the Bible, he usually has a special message to bring. I already mentioned Gabriel. You might also remember the angels who came in human form to visit Abraham, telling him that Sarah was going to have a baby. One of those messengers was the Lord himself. (Gen. 18) Priests, prophets, and preachers are also called “angels” in the Bible, but the word in those places is usually translated as “messenger.” (e.g. Mal. 2:7; Matt. 11:10) It's thought that in chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, where Jesus gives John a message to give to the “angels” of each of the seven churches, those “angels” might refer to the pastors of those churches. The pastors were to bring a message to their congregations directly from the Lord.

In the Bible, God tells his angels to “Go! Bring the message I give to you to give to my people.” And there's the first lesson we can learn from the angels. God also sends his Church with the instruction to “Go! I have given you a message, the most important message you can ever give to anyone. It's the message about my Son and the salvation he brings. It's the message about the forgiveness of sins he earned for the world – for you – by living a sinless life, dying a sacrificial death, and rising in victory over sin, death, and hell.” “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

When the holy angels are sent, they have no choice other than to “Go!” They are the “mighty one who do his word, obeying the voice of his word.” (Ps. 103:20) They always do what the Father tells them to do. That's not always the case with you and me. The holy angels have no sinful nature which makes them fearful, anxious, uncaring about the lost condition of those who don't know Jesus. But we do. And so we come in repentance to our Lord, asking him to forgive us for our unwillingness to “Go!” He forgives us for Jesus' sake, who willingly went all the way to the cross for you and for me. And he strengthens us to “Go!” tell the message. And “Going,” by the way, doesn't always mean traveling far from home. It can mean telling the Good News to those who are in close proximity to us in our work places, our schools, our neighborhoods. It can mean putting mites in a mite box to help support others as they “Go!” and bring the message about Jesus to others in far off places. That's one of the many reasons why I give thanks for the “angels” of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League, for the ways in which they have been faithful messengers of the Gospel and have supported the work of other messengers of the Gospel. You have given the Church a wonderful example to follow.

FIGHT! The Bible also gives us some glimpses into the way in which angels fight for Christ's Church. In the Old Testament lesson, the behind-the-scenes battles that go on even over earthly kindgoms is revealed to us. Michael is said to have been contending against the prince, or angel, of Persia. In the reading from Revelation, we get a picture of the behind-the-scenes battle that occurred surrounding the death of Christ. Michael and his angels fought against “the dragon” who is Satan. Satan is an angel who at some point after the sixth day of creation rebelled against God and brought a host of other angels with him. We first meet him in the Scriptures in that familiar story of mankind's Fall into sin in Genesis 3 where he appears as a serpent. And here in the Book of Revelation, we hear how the devil and all the rebellious angels were once and for all cast out of heaven following this great battle with Michael and the holy angels.

And here's the second lesson we learn from the angels. All our battles are really spiritual in nature. Then why do we spend so much time fighting each other? Someone makes us mad, and we snap back. Someone does something which offends us, and we hold a grudge for years. God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but we are quick to anger and abounding in steadfast contempt of those who have hurt us. Or what's the first thing we do when the devil throws temptations our way? Is God's Word and prayer always our first line of defense? Or do we just try to grin and bear it with our own limited resources? It's in those times when it would be helpful for us to remember St. Paul's words in Ephesians 6, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) There's a lot more going on than meets the eye. Therefore, when it is apparent that you are in the middle of a fight, whether it's in your congregation or your home, whether it's a doctrinal issue or a personal issue, step back from it for a moment. Take a breath. Stop and remember that there is a spiritual fight going on behind all of it. That's the real fight we ought to be concerned about. Satan will use those fights that are obvious to us to cause us to sin and to take our eyes off of Jesus. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we should instead be ready to reconcile with those whom we are at odds, as far as it lies within us, and then focus our attention on the place where the real battle lies. It's not about flesh and blood. It's a spiritual fight.

WIN! So how are we to win this fight? We win by remembering and believing that Jesus has already won the fight for us. The strength of Michael and all the heavenly armies is nothing compared to what Jesus accomplished for us in his battle with Satan. That's why we worship and pray to Jesus the Son of God and not Michael or any other angel. From those forty days in the wilderness to his last gasps of breath on the cross, Jesus withstood all that Satan threw at him. Jesus remained the unblemished Lamb of God and shed his precious blood on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Now, we are forgiven and free from the punishment we deserve for our sins. No longer can Satan accuse us before God, keeping a careful account of every failing that may be charged to our account. (Kretzmann, Popular Commentary, Rev. 12) We have been declared “not guilty.” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That was true for those martyrs of whom it was said, “they have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” And that is just as true for us today, as well. You and I win the fight against Satan by trusting in the One who conquered Satan for us … Jesus, who shed his blood for us on Calvary. And the word of our testimony is the same word which the Church has always gone with, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, the Word of the Cross.

So give thanks to God today for Michael and all the angels. They serve you, members of Christ's Holy Church. They guard and protect you. They fight for you. And they have set an example for you to GO! FIGHT! WIN! GO with the message of Christ, FIGHT with an awareness of the true nature of your battles, and WIN by trusting in the One who already won the battle with Satan for you, Jesus your wonderful Savior.


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