“St. Michael and All of Us Angels,” September 29, 2019, the Rev. Louise Kalemkerian
Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Inspiration. AMEN.
It is the custom here at St. Paul’s to observe the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on the Sunday closest to the feast day. Which is today, September 29. Just because we are celebrating them doesn’t make me an expert on them. I find it difficult to speak of things of which I find hard to understand, and it seems, the older I get the fewer things I understand.
How do we speak of things that we sense are true, but which lie beyond our ability to see or touch or know? We think we know what angels are, a separate order of creation, beings of spiritual energy who interact with human beings as the servants and often as the messengers of God.
The word angel means messenger. Angels act as intermediaries between God and humans. In Isaiah’s vision (ch. 6) they comprise the heavenly court and sing God’s praises all the time. In fact, we identify the Sanctus as the song the angels sing in God’s presence, Holy Holy Holy, God of power and might… Their praise of God is to offer us a glimpse of life eternal in God’s presence, and to remind us of the glory of that worship. And of course, to encourage us to participate in that worship here on earth.
We live in the real world and not in some fairy tale universe. The Scriptures we read describe that real world and its connection to the divine. In today’s Old Testament reading Jacob dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth on which the angels of God ascend and descend constantly (Gen. 28:12). In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51), in other word saying he is where heaven and earth meet.
Because we know that the world we live in is the real world, we know that this world is caught up in the struggle between good and evil, racism, poverty, gun violence, climate crisis, income inequality just for starters. The Epistle tells us “War broke out in heaven.” The good angels take on the bad angels. This is mythological language, but it describes a deep truth: there is a fundamental opposition in the world between God and the forces that resist God, in every generation.
And because we know that the world the Scriptures describe is the real world too, when we hear all this angel language, at least some of us pause. So what’s the deal with all these angels?
Our popular culture is crawling with angels—TV shows such as Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel, Strange Angel, movies such as Angels in the Outfield, Angels in the Infield, and the ABBA song of some years back “I believe in angels.” There’s everybody’s favorite angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, not to mention the angels in I Married an Angel, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and Heaven Can Wait.
If you watch TV or movies with any regularity, you’ve seen these angels: cheerful, benign, heavenly beings who come into our reality from the outside and make everything right. But as cute and cuddly as these angels are, they don’t seem to be the same kind of beings our Scriptures describe. TV and movie angels solve your problems and help you get a base hit. Biblical angels are concerned with ultimate questions of good and evil. Whom are we to believe?
Another way to think of a biblical angel is as a “manifestation” of God. An angel is someone who represents God, someone who speaks God’s message and tells God’s truth. In terms of today’s reading from Revelation, an angel is someone who takes God’s side in the ongoing battle between good and evil.
When they are sent to interact with human beings, they do so in a variety of ways: sometimes they reveal God’s purposes, they instruct and guide, they provide and protect, they deliver from trouble, they answer prayers, they strengthen and encourage, or they care for people at the moment of death. In essence, they are messengers of God’s revelation and ministers of God’s care, and that gives us reason enough to celebrate their ministry on this solemn feast day.
We know that angels announced Jesus’ birth in the Annunciation and Nativity, and were present at Jesus’ Tomb. They ministered to him in the wilderness and were present and were ready to defend him at his trial. An angel appears at the empty tomb, frightening the guards and rolling away the stone.
Angels meet the women at the tomb and tell them of Jesus’ resurrection. Angels witness Jesus’ ascent into heaven and prophesy his return. An angel releases Peter from prison. An angel directs Philip to speak with the Ethiopian eunuch.
So certainly angels had their place in Scripture; what place do they have in our lives? Interestingly, the angels we read about in Scripture get a lot of press, that is they show up in a big way and make a huge impression. Think for a minute about Mary’s visit from the Angel Gabriel, the angels who heralded Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, or the angels at the Tomb. In all these instances they were pretty obvious, too obvious to be missed, right?
But what if, what if the only reason they were recognized as angels, as messengers from God, is that the persons to whom they appeared were in prayerful awareness and expectation of God, because they had a heart for God, and therefore were able to recognize those messengers, those angels, for who they were?
What if angels continue to bring God’s messages to us in our own age, and we don’t recognize them because we’re not on God’s wave length? Or ready to receive them? Or don’t expect them? The Dean of Westminster Abbey, The Very Rev. John Hall, wrote “We can and should think of God speaking directly to us, out of his care for us as individuals… The Church understands the work and role of the angels as assisting in mediating the presence of God with us and amongst us.”
God continues to send us messages and messengers, as God did to persons in Biblical times. In the next few days, when will angels cross our paths? Who will speak to me for God? Who will act toward me on God’s behalf? Maybe even the least, the most unlikely, the person I usually ignore or dismiss? Perhaps I might receive my own Annunciation, or even see my ladder ascending to heaven.
And to whom is God sending me, to speak words of hope and love and affirmation? To whom is God sending me to welcome and support?
On this Feast of St. Michael let us take our place on God’s side in the battle between good and evil. Let us stand for peace, for justice, for healing. Let us stand with the hungry and poor. Let us stand up for the planet and all its creatures. Every time we think of St. Michael and All Angels, let us remember that we, together, are the angels in that title, the ones who are God’s true agents in the world. If we are faithful in standing with God and for God’s values we will, as Jesus promises Nathanael, “see greater things than these.”
Dr. John Hall, sermon, September 29, 2010, www.Westminster-abbey-sermons