Sermon - 16 Pentecost
In the Name...
An angel appeared at a clergy meeting and announced that one of them, a venerable priest with a reputation for sanctity and good works, was to be rewarded with his choice of wealth, wisdom, or beauty. Without hesitation, the priest selected wisdom. "Done!" said the angel, and disappeared. All heads then turned toward the reverend patriarch who was obviously deep in thought. "Father", one of the young priests whispered, "What is it?" The old priest sighed and said, "I should have taken the money."
Usually when the church celebrates a major feast day it's to honour a saint, a Christian who lived a life worthy of emulation whether as a great teacher, a missionary, or a martyr. Someone like you and me who was born into the world, baptized into Christ, and after physical death continues to live in the presence of God. Today, however, is different. Today, we, the people of God, are not asked to remember a fellow Christian. We are not asked to celebrate the life of one like us. We are asked to honour and give thanks for a spirit - something we call an angel.
Angels have become quite fashionable these days. We've seen a lot of movies and TV shows with angels - City of Angels, Michael, Saving Grace, Touched by an Angel. Angel figurines abound in the stores and books on angels are at grocery store check-outs. But, for all the popularity, are we really any the wiser what and why they are?
One thing they are not - and this is important - one thing they are not is people who have lived. You do not become an angel when you die, in fact, you cannot become an angel because an angel is something completely different to a human being - as different to you and me as a rock or a tree - more different. Sorry, Hollywood, when we die we don't turn into angels.
No, Angels are special creations of God, just like we are. And I have no idea why we think they have long blond hair, carry harps and usually look to be in desperate need of Jenny Craig. But, that’s because angels don't have bodies and it’s hard for us to picture something like that because angels are part of what the Bible calls “the heavens” the spiritual side of creation with which we humans have lost touch ever since Adam and Eve.
Just because we don't see them, however, doesn't mean they're not there. After all, I've never seen electricity, but I know it's all over my house. I've never seen an idea, but ideas have shaped the world.
Angels are superior to humans in many ways. They don't have the limitations of bodies; they can cross the divide between the spiritual and material universes by a mere act of will. They are extremely intelligent and logical; they learn everything and forget nothing. They are extremely powerful; the Bible says they can pulverize cities. Yet, for all that there's one thing they are missing. They have no emotions.
Yes, angels have a lot going for them, but they were not created "in the image and likeness of God." We were.
"What is man", the Psalmist asks God, "That you are mindful of him? You have made him little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands and put all things under his feet."
"All things" - and that includes angels. We are supposed to have dominion over angels. God created a lot of things, but the whole thrust of the Bible is that we human beings are God's greatest creation. That's right. We're the last thing God created because we're the last thing God could create. There's nothing better than us in God's eyes and we know that because He loves us. That's really unique. He loves us. And that's what today's festival is all about.
When God made angels to be his servants he made something wonderful, something really special. But, then, he made us. And that's when the trouble began.
There was war in heaven. The problem was that Lucifer, one of the archangels, could not accept the logic of what God had done. It was not logical that humans should be chosen as God's favourites. They were limited by their bodies; they needed instruction; they were weak and emotional. And so Lucifer, and those who agreed with him, opposed God. There was war in heaven. And Lucifer thundered his defiant cry, “Non Serviam”, “I will not serve.” And at that moment Michael, another archangel, replied "Who is like God?", in other words, who are you to question God's Will, and thus it began. Lucifer/Satan/the Devil, whatever we call him, declared war on you and me.
Ever since, Satan and his fallen angels have been attacking us, trying to show God that God is wrong to give us such attention and responsibility. He's never going to succeed, though, because he doesn't understand the power of love.
And since he’s failed to get God to turn his back on us, he tries to get us to turn our backs on God. Satan doesn't cause addiction or sickness, but he uses it. Satan doesn't cause depression or death, but he uses it. Satan doesn't have to power to cause anything - but he uses every opportunity to turn us away from God, to centre us on ourselves.
And this is where Michael and the angels come into the picture.
Jesus was God's greatest strategic weapon against Satan. The Cross and Resurrection were the means of assuring us of final victory. The Holy Spirit has given us tactical weapons to fight the battles we face in life - the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit and so forth. But it is the angels of God who are our support troops; our spiritual companions and protectors.
I think we all know the concept of the guardian angel. Well, it's real. Forget the fat babies with halos. Think of a Navy Seal. As Paul writes in Ephesians, "our struggle is not against human forces, but, against the principalities and powers of the world of darkness". How could we ever begin to think we're up for that sort of contest on our own? We need help. And God has given it. He's given us angels to fight by our side.
Because they are spirit beings, however, it can be hard for us to relate to them, but we have the power to use them. We just don’t, usually. Today is a good day to remind ourselves that we can, and should.
Oh, by the way, Michael doesn't understand love either, it's as great a mystery to him as it is to Satan why God cares about us, but, he, and the angels with him, are willing to obey God and not question the decision.
So, today is a festival when we celebrate the love of God and the dignity of Mankind. But, it is also a festival when we consider that love and dignity come with a terrible price. There was war in heaven on our account. So, let's give thanks for Michael and our other angel friends who have decided to stand with us.
In the Name...