+ A sermon for the Feast of Michael and All Angels at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 29, 2019 +
Text: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20
While I was traveling in England a few weeks ago, it was pointed out to me how many parish churches are named after St. Michael.
In fact, St. Michael ranks as the fourth most common dedication for parishes in the Church of England with over 800 churches named in honor of Michael and ranking after only St. Mary, St. Peter, and All Saints.
Local travel guru (and Lutheran), Rick Steves, whose book helped us plan our trip to the UK, gives an explanation for this proliferation of Michaels.
Apparently, when Christianity was first spreading to England in the 7th Century, early missionaries would often construct their churches on sites that had previously been used for worship of pre-Christian, pagan religions. And to ward off these unknown and, in their minds, possibly malicious deities, they called upon Michael to protect them—so Michael is everywhere.
But what’s strange about all these St. Michael’s churches all over Britain is that unlike most other patron saints, Michael was never a person, but an angel.
They’re one of those things that we don’t talk about too much—especially we modern and educated Lutherans.
Sure, we hear about them at Christmas time and each week we hear how we join the song of the angels as we celebrate this holy feast, but I wonder how much we think about angels in our daily life or faith practices.
And if we do give them much thought, maybe we envision angels as baby-faced cherubs or as those sentimental “guardian angel” charms you can buy for your car.
But angels are everywhere in the Bible.
They’re mentioned over 300 times, from the winged cherubim guarding the gates of Eden to the fiery seraphim Isaiah saw surrounding the throne of God; from the angels who promised Abraham and Sarah a child to the angels that defended the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt; from Gabriel announcing the birth of Jesus to the angels at the empty tomb on Easter morning.
Angels are messengers from God—both the Hebrew and Greek words for angel translate to messenger.
They serve as witnesses and heralds of God’s abiding presence and promises to God’s people. And then there’s that St. Michael, the archangel.
We know he’s different because, along with Gabriel, he’s one of only two angels named in our scripture.
Like those early missionaries to Britain, people of faith have looked to Michael for centuries for aid in times of trial or uncertainty.
He is only appears four times in our Bible almost exclusively in the apocalyptic Books of Daniel and Revelation, from which we heard today.
Both of these books were written for people who were being persecuted for their faiths, threatened by powerful empires and all the evil forces that surrounded them.
And in these trials, the people find a champion in Michael, so often shown in iconography dressed for battle in armor and wielding a lance.
Daniel depicts Michael as the great prince and protector of the people while Revelation shows Michael leading the armies of angels against the dragon, the Satan, in a cosmic battle between good and evil in which the forces of evil are vanquished.
And while these supernatural battles may sound fantastical to our modern ears, they were intended to provide comfort and assurance for a people who were surrounded by the unknown and saw the world crumbling around them.
These writings brought hope to a people who could not see any possibility for an earthly victory and desperately needed to hear that eventually evil would be destroyed by good and that God would ultimately triumph in the end.
So what does all this mean for us?
What should we make of angels and cosmic battles?
Because I’m guessing that for most of us this story seems just a little too outlandish for us, just a little too fantastical to make a difference in our lives.
We are a modern and rational people and we want to put our trust in things that make sense to us, things that we can rely on.
And yet, we don’t need to be convinced that there is evil in this world. In political dysfunction and polarization, in division between those with documentation and those without, in the prevalence of poverty in one of the richest cities in the world, in the pervasiveness of war and violence, in racial discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in the steady destruction of God’s good creation, we see the forces of evil at work all around us.
In the pain of a terrible diagnosis, in the grief of losing a loved one, in the battles of addiction, in giving into our basest fears that fuel hatred, we see that wicked dragon rear its ugly head.
In those doubts that creep into our mind, when we doubt that we’re good enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, worthy enough, when we wonder if life is worth living or if God could possibly still love us, we see the face of the deceiver in our midst.
We know that demons exist, my friends, we’ve seen them.
And if those demons and all those forces of evil do exist in our world, we hear a message in our scriptures this morning that the forces of good also exist.
And like the first hearers of these stories, we are given the hope that eventually the armies of evil will be vanquished and goodness will triumph.
As the late Rachel Held Evans wrote, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.”
And while we may not expect to see a cosmic battle between angels and demons taking place before our eyes, we might find hope in how Revelation tells us that Michael defeats that dragon—he does not win with military might, but through the saving work of Christ Jesus and the powerful testimony of the gospel.
It’s through the strength of that message that God loves you and wants nothing more than your wholeness, your thriving, and the flourishing of your life.
That God will go to any lengths to ensure that you experience the fullness of God’s love and, in the end, God will always get what God wants.
I think that, like our ancestors in faith, we need this assurance, these angelic heralds of God’s abiding presence and promises for God’s people.
I think we need these messengers of hope to remind us that God’s goodness will prevail throughout all creation and God’s perfect reign will triumph in the end.
So perhaps the angels will not come to fight our battles for us, maybe we won’t see Michael vanquish the dragon in our midst, but perhaps they come to remind us of the life-giving love of God that is for you and for me.
Maybe they come to proclaim to us that Christ has already triumphed over death and the devil and in him we find life.
And perhaps they come to recruit us into the heavenly hosts, urging the fulfillment of that vow that we made in the waters of our baptism when we renounced the power of sin and evil, when we renounced the powers of this world that rebel against God, when we renounced the devil and all the forces that defy God.
Perhaps they come to remind us of our place in the armies of heaven, of the power and authority that Christ has given us, so we might join them as messengers of God’s powerful and abiding love for the whole world.
Even in these times of uncertainty when it seems like the accuser may have the upper hand, even when it appears that the forces of the evil are on the rise and that the battle is tilting toward the dragon, we can look for the signs of the angels, those messengers heralding the victory that is surely coming where God will reign on earth as in heaven and all creation will experience the fullness of God’s love.
We may not see the angels as warriors armed with lances, maybe not as winged creatures descending from heaven, but we can see the forces of good all around us.
We can glimpse the angels in those who are bringing love and hope into the world: in doctors and nurses, in social workers and those feeding the hungry, in people providing sanctuary for migrants and working to defend the innocent, in peacemakers and environmental activists, in counselors and artists, in all those who proclaim God’s love and compassion in word and deed.
We see the armies of heaven all around us and we take our place in their ranks with Michael and all the angels in the hope and assurance that goodness will finally prevail and God will triumph.
And as we work and wait for that world’s fruition, as we strive and pray for the coming of God’s perfect reign, we confidently raise our voices with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, joining the unending hymn of the choirs of angels and the hosts of heaven, singing songs of wonder and praise to our God whose promises are sure and whose love will never fail.