Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred) – October 3, 2010
May the gentle Christ speak through us, the creative God expand our lives unexpectedly and the Holy Spirit write the Gospel in our hearts every day. Amen.
One of the books I read on vacation was a paperback mystery about a 10 year-old girl name Natalie who said that she had a friend only she could see—who was an angel who spoke to her and looked after her. Her family and friends—even her uncle who was a priest—were highly skeptical. Now this was not some cherubic figure with big white feathers, she assured them, but a beautiful lady named Samara.
“Has your angel given you any advice about how to convince them she’s real?” a kind old nun once asked. Natalie shook her head. “I asked Samara for a lock of her hair. It’s down to her waist and it’s pale yellow—almost white. But she said if I wanted blond hair, I should get a wig.”
Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of St. Michael and All Angels. We Episcopalians don’t have a very well defined theology about angels and, indeed, those who come from less liturgical traditions probably did not make much of this feast or my not ever heard of it. Yet it’s one of my favorites and a popular one for within Anglo-Catholic tradition.
The reading from Revelations recounts the fight between the forces of good and evil; Michael and his angels against the Devil, and even though our Anglican theology about angels is not very concrete, traditionally we have looked on these heavenly spirits as companions on our life journey—though most of the time these incidents are related to events in the Gospel like when an angel tells Mary she will give birth to the Savior.
However, I’ll bet many of you—like little Natalie—have at one time or another run into an angel whether or not you have recognized them as such. Just as Jacob experienced God’s presence in his encounter with the angels, I believe that God continues to provide us with out of the ordinary, unexpected, maybe even eerie encounters; encounters by which God gives us some kind of revelation, opens our eyes to a reality that we were not able to see, or nudges us to expand our vision of what is possible.
The great thing about little Natalie was that, unlike us adults, she had not yet allowed the God-given gift of holy imagination to be shut down or compromised by the cynicism of the grown up world in which she lived..
Jacob’s wonderful dream is the centerpiece of the reading from Genesis—a vision of the sacred energy that flows from God to us and us to God, the holy traffic between heaven and earth. Then God makes this magnificent promise that Jacob’s offspring will spread from east to west and north and south and that he and all his offspring will be a blessing for all the families of the earth. This is a glorious passage because it prompts us to imagine the possibilities that can emerge when we are open to and practice holy imagination and let God speak to us.
Jacob’s dream speaks to themes that are so familiar to us as a parish: growth and blessing. We have witnessed the growth of this community over the past several years and continue to welcome and incorporate those who come here seeking the experience of God’s radical love and healing grace. And we recognize that God calls us to be an instrument of blessing—blessing one another, blessing those who enter the doorway each week, blessing those who have been hurt by some institution like the church, blessing those out in the world in the ministry we exercise there.
I think the striking imagery in Jacob’s dream—that metaphor of the ladder and the angels ascending and descending—a scene referred to again in the Gospel—and its suggestion of the energy of God moving passionately among us is most appropriate for us to think on this Sunday morning when we have initiated a new worship schedule.
In our imagination, can we see this change not merely as a technical solution to the space constraints of the building but rather as a journey we make, a process of continuous creation whereby we allow ourselves to embrace the vision it might unfold—the vision of a community more energized, more dynamic, more focused on service and servanthood?
We have evolved into a community that knows the power of keeping a vision before us. As the scripture says it, “Without a vision the people will die.” How many things that have come to pass for us are the result of seeds of imagination that have been planted and have given birth to life-creating, life-giving ministries and wonderful surprises. As just one example, for how many years did our vestry talk about the need to reclaim what was the education building of the parish from the 1960’s.
Year after year—with more intensity as this congregation grew and our needs increased—we would wring our hands in exasperation wondering how we could achieve this dream. Today our Sunday School children and teachers and our adult choir and choristers enter for the first time a beautiful, clean, spacious home in the newly renovated Warner Center.
All of this, for me, is evidence of the revelation and the promise that God wants to energize us, to grow us as God grew the offspring of Jacob, and send us forth as a blessing to those beyond these sacred, prayer-washed walls. God continues to urge us to employ the gift of holy imagination so that God can surprise us like Jacob with unexpected moments of grace that assure us how much God is in love with us and will always be the source of what makes life worth living.
Today we begin a new beginning together. May our minds and hearts be opened to the wonderful gift of holy imagination—imagining the possibilities of what can be, claiming God’s promise to grow us as a community and make us a blessing for all people. So we proclaim with Jacob: “How awesome is this place! It is the house of God and the gate of heaven.”