Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sermon for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled

Texts: Luke 10:17-20; Rev. 12:7-12; Dan. 10:10-14, 12:1-3

Today begins in our Church Year calendar what is called “St. Michael’s-tide.” The lengthy – some call it interminable – season of the Sundays after Pentecost is actually divided up into several “tides.” In the past, I haven’t highlighted these divisions unless the beginning of these “tides” happened to fall on a Sunday. Perhaps I’ll be more diligent in the future to mention them.

So today, as we begin St. Michaelstide, we hear about angels. In today’s collect, we prayed that just as the “holy angels always serve and worship [God] in heaven,” so also we pray that they would continue to “help and defend us here on earth.” After all, that’s their job. According to Hebrews 1:14, they are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”

An alternate Gospel reading for today is from Matthew 18, where the idea of “guardian angels” is introduced. There Jesus speaks of “little ones” and says that if you cause one of them to sin, it would be better for you to have a big rock tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea. A few verses later he says, “See that you do not depise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:7, 10). So apparently there are such things as guardian angels.

Hanging in our hallway at home is a collector’s plate that I inherited from my late grandmother. Duplicated on it is a painting of two little children, looking somewhat like Hansel and Gretel, crossing a rickety wooden bridge. Looming over them is a tall, white-robed, winged angel, clearly feminine, with long, blonde tresses. It is a sweet, tender picture of God’s care for us, sending his holy angels to watch over us … never mind the fact that angels never appear as women in Holy Scripture, only men.

In contrast, look at the picture on today’s service folder. This angel has chiseled, masculine features. He wears armor. His wings are spread, ready to fly to wherever he is sent at a moment’s notice. His sword is raised, ready to engage any enemy that would come near and seek to harm one of God’s little ones. And what’s he looking at? Is he looking at the tip of his sword, knowing that he may have to aim carefully and swiftly strike? Or is this an echo of what Jesus said about the angels of little ones always seeing the face of the Father? The angel’s eyes are perhaps fixed on the Lord, standing at the ready to do his will, ready to answer the call, ready to obey, ready to go wherever God sends him.

And by the way, “little ones” aren’t necessarily infants and toddlers. In this same discussion about little ones and their angels, Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Infants and toddlers are helpless and dependent upon their parents to take care of them. Likewise, in spiritual matters, you and I are utterly helpless to do anything for ourselves. We are completely dependent upon God. In this sense, we never stop being “little ones.” Of course, we encourage our children to grow up. We love it when they say “I can do it myself!” But when it comes to matters of salvation, you and I should never utter those words. Don’t ever think that you are big enough to take care of yourself. If you do, then repent, and become like a little child again … helpless and dependent upon the Lord.

Behind the scenes, there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm. Michael the archangel, cherubim, seraphim, and all of God’s heavenly armies are fighting against princes, dragons, serpents, scorpions, and all other imagery that the authors of Scripture use to describe the devil and the rest of the fallen angels. Much of this is shrouded in mystery. We don’t have all the answers we would like in the Bible when it comes to angels and demons. It’s kind of like the top secret things the government is involved in. Not everyone has high level security clearance. Things are revealed to certain people on a “need to know basis.” In the same way, God has not revealed to us all the details about what’s going on in the spiritual realm. It’s on a need to know basis. Those things he has revealed to us clearly in his Word are what we need to know. That ought to be good enough for now.

As we approach the end of the Church Year over the next couple of months, we also start to think about the approach of the end of this present age just before the visible return of Jesus. Our reading from Daniel this morning says it will be “a time of trouble, such as never has been” (Dan. 12:1). At various times, this sure seems to describe our day and age. The Lord in his wisdom has given the devil a short leash. At the same time, the devil also knows his time is short. And so he attacks. These are his death throes. His last gasps before his final judgment. But St. Michaelstide reminds us that God’s people will be delivered. No matter what happens to their bodies in this life, they will be raised again to everlasting life.

God’s people will be raised. And Satan has been thrown down. When the 72 returned from proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, Jesus says that he “saw Satan fall like lighting from heaven.” The devil is a defeated enemy. He has been conquered by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of … testimony” of the Church. The death of Jesus on the cross has paid the price for your sins. Every time that Word of testimony about the blood of the Lamb is preached, Satan falls like lightning. He has no more power to accuse you any longer. He loves to accuse you. He loves to throw your sins back in your face, to cause you to despair and lose your faith in the shed blood of Jesus for you. But you can throw this back in his face, as we sing in the hymn, “Satan, hear this proclamation! I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation. I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled all your might has come unraveled, and against your tyranny, God my Lord unites with me!” Jesus has won the battle. Michael and all the angels still fight for you behind the scenes. And Jesus promises, “Nothing shall hurt you!” Nevertheless, he also tells us not to rejoice in the angels and their work. Rather, rejoice that your name is written in heaven!

Angels have been a popular icon in modern culture. Many assume they are the pinnacle of God’s creation. The truth is YOU are the pinnacle of God’s creation! Mankind was created in God’s image, not angels (Gen. 1:27, 31).

And the Son of God did not become an angel. He became a Man. Hebrews 1:5-6 says, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’”(Heb. 1:5-6)

God sent a Savior, not for the angels, but for YOU! Again, the author of Hebrews writes, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Heb. 2:14-16).

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” And they do. The angels teach us to take our focus off of them, off of ourselves, off of all else, and to focus on Christ. They teach us the true object of our worship. Listen to what they sing in the Revelation to St. John:
  • Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

  • Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).

  • To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).
Thank the Lord today for Michael and the angels. Thank him for their work on your behalf. And thank him that they also teach you to look beyond their work to the work of Jesus on your behalf. It is through Christ and Christ alone that your name and the names of all who believe and are baptized are written in heaven.


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