Traditional Sermon: Michael And All Angels
When you hear the word “angel” …what image comes to mind? Maybe you think of a human being with a shining halo and white wings. Maybe you think of a Precious Moments cherubic figurine with a cute little phrase on it like “your guardian angel is only as far away as your shoulder.” Maybe you think of a cherished loved one who has preceded you in death, and has promised to be waiting for you are the Pearly Gates when you arrive … assuming you think you are going to arrive there, too … for some of us, the jury is still out on that call. Maybe you picture Clarence from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and Zazu’s timeless line, “Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” Or maybe you think of Roma Downey as “Monica” in the 1990’s TV series, Touched By an Angel.
Our view of angels to some extent, has always been shaped in part by the culture in which we live. As 2019 slowly approaches its conclusion, the world in which we live is one that aspires to embrace a kinder and gentler approach to living in community with others. So … had we chosen the texts for today … had I chosen the texts … I would have been much more comfortable reading about the angel that visited Joseph, to tell him that the baby Mary was carrying in her womb was the Son of God. Or maybe the angels that ministered to Jesus when he was finishing his forty day test in the wilderness. Or better yet, the angels and heavenly host who sang out, “Glory to God in the highest” on the night Jesus was born. Now that’s my idea of some angels … you can preach those angels.
But today’s lessons … those lessons which are the ones assigned by our Revised Common Lectionary … come as a shock to us … for they are anything but gentle and kind. We should have been clued in when we looked at out bulletin cover this morning upon arriving at church. Because today’s festival is not called “St. Gabriel and the Comforting Angel Pronouncements.” Nor is it called “The Herald Angels…Don’tcha Just Love ‘Em?” No, no, our siren call this morning is “Michael and All Angels.” That should be our clue that this ain’t gonna be a walk in the park. Because the angel Michael will NEVER be found on a cute little figurine, unless Precious Moments, Incorporated wants a little visit from that same Michael, the archangel, kicking butt and taking numbers from anyone who thinks he is “cute.” Yes, Michael plays for keeps and takes no prisoners. He is the one who battles evil in its purest form, and really anyone or anything that threatens to get in the way of God’s plans for the world.
The conclusion I have always drawn about the Revised Common Lectionary Committee’s choice of “Michael” as the lead representation of angels in the Bible, is to remind us that angels are not some form of purified or sanctified human beings. Angels are creatures that God has brought into being … just as humans are creatures that God has brought into being. Your Uncle Charlie does not become an angel when passes on from this life to that Great Fishin’ Hole in the sky. Your Uncle Charlie becomes a resurrected saint whom God gathers into the heavenly Kingdom, because God is gracious and saves the children of God. Angels are created to conduct heavenly business on God’s behalf, and on occasion, bridge the gap between heaven and earth by bringing unique and important messages to God’s earthly children. So, sorry Clarence … but with all due respect to the great Frank Capra … angels could care less about bells ringing.
Which brings us to what is probably the most important role angels do play in our lives … the role of messenger. The Greek word for “angel” that is found in the New Testament is “angelos” which literally means “messenger.” And while the Hebrew word used for angel in the Old Testament, “malak” is sometimes translated as “scribe” or “commander”, in the Hebrew Old Testament, it is always used to refer to a “messenger” as well. An angel’s primary calling in God world, at least according to our Scriptural witness, is to bring God’s word to us. (Huh! Think about it … that makes your pastors and deaconess “angels” when we preach from God’s Word.) No … scratch that thought … it makes ALL OF US angels, because our lectors speak the word of God to us … and our choirs sing it to us … and because all of you read, and sing and pray God’s word at every service for which we gather. So we’re ALL ANGELS when you come right down to it. We all are given the privilege of stepping into the presence of God, when we engage and study and embrace the Word of God.
Which leads us into a short consideration of this final ministration of angels that we’ll consider this morning, thanks to our festival of Michael and All Angels. It is this … angels bring us into the presence of God in a way that is uniquely powerful. I recognize that our Sacrament of the Altar, also brings us directly into the divine presence, as bread and wine become body and blood in our altar meal. But it does so specifically and definably through the presence of Jesus. And Jesus’ unique call to walk both in the skin of God, and also the skin of humanity, creates a bit of a buffer between us and the transcendent presence of God. Because Jesus has stepped into our skin, and thus shields us a bit from a face to face encounter with God, which the Old Testament suggests to us would literally kill us and bring us back home to God’s Kingdom in a hot second. Angels, have no such buffer … remember, they are not human … and so the potency of the word they bring is transformative and formative in the same way as if God were addressing us personally. That is neither a gift to be considered lightly, nor a gift we may even desire, truth be told. Some of us … maybe many of us … would feel unprepared to receive an angelic announcement that might turn our lives upside down and make demands of us akin to the ones Moses face, and Mary faced, and Joseph faced, and John of Patmos faced.
So … what do we make of all this. What’s a Christian to do? It is simpler than we may think. First, remember the opening phrase which most angels offer to those with whom they have encounter … “fear not!” However difficult … or challenging … or unbelievable the news may be … God promises us that it is news that need not be feared. And secondly, never forget the blessed place in history in which we stand. We are not living in the time of Daniel the prophet. Nor are we confronted by a world on the brink of apocalypse, as our lesson from Revelation presents to us. Remember that we are Jesus people. And so I invite you to remember the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel … “I watched Satan fall from =heaven like a flash of lightening.” God has already won … we have nothing to fear …