Sermon – St. Michael and All Angels
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we celebrate one of the minor festivals of the church year. Minor festivals are only celebrated when they fall on a Sunday, and then they are still optional. None of the other churches in our cluster is observing it. That’s why we have the bulletin covers from Trinity in Wolbach for our announcement sheets.
I, however, rush in where angels fear to tread. I just couldn’t pass up the once in seven year opportunity to talk about a war in heaven and angels fighting against dragons.
The first time that I remember this date falling on Sunday was when I was in confirmation class and singing with the youth choir. Our pastor’s wife was our confirmation teacher and choir director. Just before church she gathered the youth choir members and told us that we must not giggle during the second lesson.
I was a church-going kid. I knew even then that I was called to serve God as a church worker. But I can tell you for sure that I would not have listened to the second lesson if she hadn’t told us we were not allowed to giggle. This was back in the day when the most Lutherans could do was smile loudly. Worship was serious business.
There is some unusual stuff in the Bible, but we don’t usually read those passages in worship. Today we did. Today we get to talk about biblical angels. We get to talk about Michael. We get to talk about the devil, that great dragon, and we get to talk about demons.
Here is the beginning of the lesson. You may giggle. This is good news. Our side wins. “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
Popular culture has interesting ideas about angels. My grandmother had a calendar with a picture of an angel with out-stretched arms guarding a little boy and girl as they crossed a rickety bridge. The idea of guardian angels is in the Bible.
Psalm 91 tells us that: “For God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” This is the passage the devil quotes when tempting Jesus in the wilderness.
We also have cartoon images of an angel sitting by our right ear telling us to be good and a little devil sitting on the other shoulder whispering in our left ear tempting us to be bad. That idea isn’t in the Bible. It comes from the Quran. The religion of Islam teaches that everyone has a personal angel and devil that are always trying to persuade us. Whenever you pray, your personal devil is unable to speak.
I like that image of prayer rendering the devil speechless. C.S. Lewis uses the idea of personal angels and devils in his book, The Screwtape Letters. It is a very interesting book, written from the perspective of a personal devil to his uncle, a devil named Screwtape.
Many people collect angel figurines. When I walked though the junk jaunt on Thursday and Friday one of the tables was crowded with various ceramic angels. There were several dozen angels. Most of them were figures of well-proportioned women with long flowing hair, wearing beautiful long dresses and feathery wings.
There were quite a few cherubs, or chubby baby angels. There were angel bears, angel birds, and even angel pigs. Except possibly for one of the cherubs dressed in blue, all figurines were female. All were either beautiful or at least “cute.”
The Bible has different pictures of angels from our figurines. The first angels mentioned are the cherubim who guard the gate to the garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Cherubim were portrayed as winged creatures, half human, half lion who guarded sacred places. They had flaming swords to keep the humans from returning to the garden. Their description was meant to be terrifying.
The seraphim in the Bible are not pretty angels either. They are scary. One of them took a hot coal and burned Isaiah’s lips to purify his mouth when he was called to be a prophet. They are described as large six-winged snakes that could fly.
Most of the angels in the scriptures are messengers of God. The word “angel” means “messenger.” Most of these angels looked like regular men. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we should not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, because by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Angels came to Abraham and Sarah to tell them they would have a child. Sarah probably would not have laughed if she had known who they really were.
A few of the important angels have names. The angel Gabriel was sent to Daniel in a vision. Later he came to Zechariah to give him the message that he and Elizabeth would have a child. Gabriel also visited Mary to tell her she will be the mother of our Lord.
Gabriel is able to fly in Daniel’s vision, but there is no mention of wings when he visits Zechariah or Mary. His name means. “God is powerful.”
The angel Raphael is mentioned in the apocryphal book of Tobit, a book that isn’t part of most Protestant bibles. Raphael is considered the angel of prayer because he brings Tobit’s prayers to God. His name means, “God heals.”
We are probably most familiar with angels from the Christmas story. We know angels brought the message to the shepherds. We have a picture in our minds of the night sky filled with choirs of angels flying around and singing. However, the gospel says that the angel stood before the shepherds.
Does it matter if angels really have wings? Does it matter what they look like or how many of them can fit on the head of a pin? It doesn’t really matter at all, what the angels look like or how we imagine they look.
What matters is what the angels do. We know a few things for certain about them from scripture: They bring messages from God. They help people. They spend their time praising and glorifying God.
Today’s scripture readings tell us the story of Michael, the leader of the angels. The second lesson is the story from Revelation of the war between the good angels led by Michael and the bad angels led by Satan.
Michael defeats the rebellious army and they fall down from heaven. This is why we say that the devil and all the demons are fallen angels. They were defeated by Michael and fell down to earth. In our gospel story, Jesus tells the disciples that he was there and saw it happen.
The dragon in the story is the devil, or Satan. He and his demon army are on earth causing trouble for us to this day. Remember, the devil is not the opposite of God, he is the opposite of Michael.
Michael has already defeated Satan and thrown him out of heaven. Satan is now behaving like an angry dog that knows it is cornered, lashing out at everyone.
In our gospel lesson we hear the seventy returning joyfully from their missionary journey. It was a very successful mission trip. They are excited when they tell Jesus that they were able to cast out the demons in his name.
Jesus told them that he had indeed given them the power over the enemy. They never have any reason to fear. Ultimately, nothing could hurt them.
That knowledge gives them a real feeling of power.
Satan has fallen. Michael defeated him. The war in heaven is over. Michael and his legion of angels bring us messages from God. They are here to help us fight off the demons in this world.
Jesus tells us not to rejoice that we are defeating the demons. There is far better news to rejoice about. Our names are written in heaven. The angels invite us to join them in praising God. Amen.