St. Michael and All Angels…
What a fun feast day of the church year!
And what fantastic readings!
I particularly like the line “War broke out in heaven” from our second lesson.
As I was reflecting on these texts for today, I realized that I had to make a confession to you all. Today is one of my favorite feast days of the entire church calendar. What a fantastic opportunity to celebrate God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil! When we hear the word “angel,” we have to remember that this word is quite literally a simple word in ancient Greek—αγγελος. Quite literally, the word for “messenger.” An angel is one who shares a message with us. In a similar way, the Greek word for “good news” and the Greek word for “messenger” are related. As we go forward in today’s sermon, let’s keep that relationship between the good news, between the gospel, and between angels in mind.
Would you pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When I was younger, I liked watching “Touched by An Angel.” Do you know the show? It’s about an angel named Monica. Throughout the series, she is tasked with bringing guidance and messages from God to various people who are at a crossroads in their lives. Her supervisor, the angel Tess—played by the wonderful Della Reese—is tough and sarcastic, but loving and gives Monica guidance as she works through her different “cases.” These cases are what I’m most interested in today…
The show “Touched by An Angel” was popular, most likely, because of how it thought about angels. Angels are there to help us. To work on our behalf. To serve as go-betweens between heaven and earth, between God and us. I can remember when I was smaller, I thought I had a guardian angel who watched over me and would be there to protect me from all kinds of dangers. Angels are like divine bodyguards who are there to work against the forces of fate that are aligned against us.
In the show “Touched by An Angel,” Monica was given the task of working in the lives of folks facing difficult situations to help them understand things in a way they hadn’t before, to guide them in some unspoken way that they could feel but couldn’t quite describe, to almost manipulate events so that good won out over evil. Such an understanding of angels is prevalent in popular culture. But is it really reflective of what angels do?
As we said a moment ago, the very word “angel” comes to us from the Greek word for “messenger.” Angels are tasked with bearing a message. Anyone could be an angel in that regard. But over time, the word “angel” has come to be associated with a winged being that comes with a message from heaven, from God himself. Throughout Scripture, angels appear and they always have a message, either in word or deed. The angel comes to Abram and tells him that he and Sarai will be the ancestors of many nations. An angel speaks many times to the prophet Elijah, challenging him to go onward in the face of adversity. Later, an angel appears to Mary to tell she will conceive and bear a Son and he shall be named Jesus, the very Son of God himself. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. And today we hear again how on the Last Day, the angel Michael will declare, not only in word but also in mighty deed, the power of God to ultimately defeat evil. Angels come bearing messages…messages from God.
But what does that matter for us today? What does that matter for you, on this day in the midst of your busy, chaotic lives? What do angels and messages from God have to do with you today, now? “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,” St. Paul tells us, “shall be saved.” But how are we to call on one if we don’t have a relationship with them? And how are we to have a meaningful relationship with someone we’ve have never heard of? And how are we to hear about someone if someone’s never told us about them? And so, you see, faith, our relationship with God in Jesus, comes from what is heard, what is told to us by another, and what is heard, and what is told to us comes through the word of Christ—the word of promise that becomes real in our lives.
This is the message…the message from God. That message is a simple one, but it can be very difficult for us to hear. God sends messengers into our lives bearing the promise of Jesus’ redeeming love in ways that we might not always first expect…a love that is stronger than all the forces of hate, a love that will breaks the bonds of death asunder, the message that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ—God’s very own Son—was given to die for us, for you, and for each and every one of us, and for the sake of Christ, God forgives you all your sins. This message is a powerful message that will send the powers of evil reeling. Every time this message is uttered and someone hears it, every time you hear it, the very gates of hell rattle in anger. The very cage where the beast of Satan is imprisoned whines for release each and every time you hear how in the night in which Jesus was betrayed to death, he took bread and wine, blessed them, and told his disciples—2000 years ago and even now every Sunday—that his body and blood were freely sacrificed for you, no strings attached. That message scares all the forces of sin, death, and the devil, and you hear that message here, in this place, again, again, and again.
But so what?
What’s the big deal?
Why is that message so terrifying?
So God loves us. So God sent his Son to die for us.
What does that really matter?
The reason? That message is so terrifying to Satan and his minions because of how our lives are changed when we act like it matters to us, because of how we behave when we believe that God loves us without condition. Because when we act like it matters, when we believe that God loves us, it will make all the difference in our lives—God’s word of promise in Christ takes on flesh and blood in us and lives.
We start finding ways to help other people instead of worrying how we’ll come out ahead. Instead of bragging about ourselves, we’ll lift up the work others are doing and praise them instead of ourselves. We’ll be satisfied with enough instead of needing more and more and more. We’ll learn to find the best in every situation, to think the charitable thoughts about others when our first instinct is to suspect the worst. We’ll be motivated to go that extra mile for someone who asks for help. When the message of God’s self-giving love for us takes root in us and grows, the fruits of the Holy Spirit come to bear—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are antithetical to the work of evil, but they are the markers of a life of faith in Christ. When the message of God’s self-giving love for us becomes flesh and blood in us, we become messengers of God. We become brokers of God’s peace. We become God’s holy angels—sent by God to proclaim God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
The struggle of our lives of faith is not a struggle against adversaries with physical bodies. This is a life-or-death struggle against cosmic powers, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, against the devil himself and all his angels who seek at every turn to undermine our confidence in God’s Word. To be sure—this is no easy war we are in, this heavenly war that wages here on earth. But take heart, for the victory is already won in our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil and his forces of evil will not have the final say. God has already laid claim to you and empowers you to go forward in the face of doubt and uncertainty. God accompanies you with his very own self…Nothing can separate us from him.
No matter how great the evil facing you may seem, no matter how great the odds, God is on your side for good, for the sake of love that gives everything of itself. Here, in this place, in water, in bread and wine, in words spoken, in hugs given, in love shown, and in peace shared, you are reminded you of that…again, and again, and again. This is a message that touches you, as if touched by an angel. And so touched, you can go forth and touch the lives of others with the same love that you have been shown. God has equipped each and every one of you to be angels of his love, to be messengers of his peace to heal the world.
In the face of all uncertainty, in the face of all the odds, in the face of all doubt, God promises you that you are not alone, that you are beloved, that you have been given all you need to withstand the evils that assail you. You have been “touched by an angel.” You have been touched to go out and proclaim the message you have been given, to bear God’s creative and redeeming love to all the world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.