Sermon preached by Anne M. Watkins
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (transferred) – September 30, 2012
In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.
On the third day of General Convention last July, during the daily Eucharist, Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina, was the preacher, and I commend to you his sermon which you’ll find on You Tube. It is, I guarantee you, 17 ½ minutes well spent. That day and in the days following, the buzz around the Convention Center was a call for “Crazy Christians” – the theme of the bishop’s words. And I daresay, there were … and may continue to be … sermons and letters around the Church that echo and build upon that theme. Including today’s.
There are some very crazy stories and messages given us in scripture and we need not look far to find them. Take this morning:: angels descend and ascend a ladder between heaven and earth? Angels fight and hurl dragons out of heaven? Jesus claims knowledge of Nathanael’s integrity because he saw him sitting under a fig tree? Nathanael proclaims Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah – because Jesus knew him by seeing him sit under a fig tree? Don’t our sophisticated, enlightened minds want to react to all of these by saying they are, at least, a bit of a stretch if not just plain downright crazy?
And, the more closely we look to scripture, the crazier scripture’s messages get.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Holy Scriptures often speak of created intelligences other than humans who worship God in heaven and act as His messengers and agents on earth. By the time of Christ, Jewish popular belief included many specifics about angels, including names: four archangels, for example: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Undoubtedly, some of us have even recognized angels – an unusual or unexpected form of support, strength, solace, message coming to us – and yet, if we actually attested to seeing and interacting with winged creatures in luminous, flowing, white garb, someone might just call us crazy and summon folks to escort us to psychiatrists’ couches.
Let’s look at of some of these angels: there’s Uriel, who comes to Ezra and helps him make sense of Israel’s conquest by Babylon and their subsequent exile. That’s probably akin to the kind of angels some of us would espouse: a wise someone or something coming to us in a time of need to help sort something out. Not so crazy really unless, of course, we’re seeing those luminous, winged creatures.
There’s the angel, Raphael, disguised as a human who accompanies the young man Tobias on a quest, helps him achieve it, and gives him a remedy for his elderly father’s blindness. A little more far-fetched? A bit fairy tale-ish, this sudden, miracle-cure?
Or there is Michael, serving as captain of heavenly armies that overthrow a great dragon. As symbol of the ultimate triumph of God’s good over evil, this may not be so crazy as it is a sign of the hope of faith. And yet, the symbols used throughout the Book of Revelation are surely a little bit strange.
And Gabriel, perhaps the most familiar to us, who helps Daniel interpret visions, announces an impossible birth to the aged couple, Zachariah & Elizabeth, and an even more impossible birth to Mary, the Virgin, and who then convinces Joseph that marrying a woman who most would say had betrayed him and their society was not only the right and decent thing to do, but that she, the baby and he were beloved of God for doing it. Who would not have called these people – and so many others in scripture — crazy in their obedience to these kinds of messages?
What then, might be the value, or the “bigger picture” message to us in remembering the Holy Angels? They appear to excel over us in both knowledge and power ; perhaps they serve to remind us that even though we were the final product of that sixth day and given authority over the rest of God’s created world, humans are really not at the top of the heap; the be all and end all. And in the image of fallen angels as demons who choose to disobey God, perhaps we are reminded that the higher we are by the world’s standards, the lower we can fall; and the greater giftedness we possess, the greater harm we can do if we misuse those gifts. But here’s the craziest part of that: even when we trip, or fail, or fall, even when we misuse our gifts and do harm to others, we are still beloved of God. Are we crazy enough to believe that God’s generosity and abundant love actually extends that far?
It is fairly easy to look around and recognize signs of generosity and abundance in the evidence of creation – in the myriad varieties and diversity of trees, fish, vegetables, insects, and animals of the natural world and in the incredible gifts of imagination and invention coming through humans: airplanes and automobiles, medicines and cures, I-Pods, Smart Phones, literature, art and music – all signs of the fruits of a generous, creative, loving God.
Can we as easily see the craziness of that generosity and love – at least crazy according to the world’s values? The message of scripture wants us to see that. For this God says crazy things to Jacob in his vision of angels ascending and descending heaven and the subsequent story. They symbolize God saying, in effect, “I am here; heaven and earth are close and I will be with you and protect you always. Even you – the young man who swindled his brother out of a rightful inheritance. On you, I will build my nation. And your older twin – Esau – the one you swindled and from whom you now flee? I will reunite him to you. You are mine; he is mine; and there is enough. Reconciliation will happen; I will be there to do it.” It is a crazy message.
We see it again in the return of the Prodigal Son. A father runs to greet the one who thumbed his nose at his father’s traditions, who squandered his father’s hard-earned money and instead of scorn or punishment, is welcomed home in a loving, grateful embrace. We hear a crazy message as that father says to his older son, who is angered (and maybe rightfully so by the world’s standards) at this display – “Your brother was lost and is found and so we rejoice, no matter what he’s done. His return deprives you of nothing; his reward diminishes neither your own wealth nor my love for you; there is enough.” Well, come now! Can we admit in the safety of this community – the safety of each other — that this sounds just a little bit crazy?
Or the craziness of God’s economy in the messages that Jesus brings: that we are not only to forgive those who wrong us, but we are to love those same enemies. That the humble, wretched, incoherent and yet heartfelt prayer of a sinner is worth more than the beautiful language of liturgy when the latter is uttered by those who are either arrogant or willfully ignorant of their own shortcomings. That when another is in need of a coat, we should give two of our own; that the tiny, negligible gift of a destitute woman, given in faith and thanksgiving – that widow’s mite — is of equal worth to a much larger sum and is of even greater worth when that much larger sum is given too easily or without much thought.
Are we crazy enough to believe all of this? Jesus would have us be just that crazy.
Certainly in several ways, the answer appears to be a resounding “yes” at St. Paul’s. We have been crazy enough here to believe that God’s love – through us – extends to those whom others have most ignored and excluded. We’ve been crazy enough to open our doors and extend this table to all who would come to it. We’ve even been crazy enough to listen to their stories and embrace some of their ideas. We’ve been crazy enough to live in such a way that says there is enough for all and we are not depleted when we welcome others to receive what we have received. Nor are we depleted when we give generously from the resources God has already provided to us. We’ve been crazy enough to invest strategically in God’s life here through us ahead of our growth – to “Do Church” a little bit differently than most. Are we crazy enough to believe that still? Are we crazy enough to still show that?
These are difficult economic times. Yet, both those fortunate enough to have steady work in this struggling economy – and those who have not seen that same fortune , those who are unemployed – still share food each week by offering jars of peanut butter in baskets that go to those with even less. Some would call that crazy.
Some of us– when facing illness and sadness and personal challenge – have been crazy enough to understand that we are most beloved of God in those moments when we are afraid, or vulnerable or alone and yet, some are even crazy enough to recognize and give thanks still for the many intangible gifts from God, the presence of friends, this place of sanctuary and renewal.
Some of us might be crazy enough to believe that even in times of economic challenge and seeming scarcity, God’s economy is overflowing with abundance. We just might be crazy enough to believe that even the smallest of gifts, like five loaves and two fishes, can be multiplied when shared and combined with others – to extend God’s work in the world.
As you read your Announcement leaflet you’ll see that we even have among us, people who are crazy enough to pledge a substantial amount of money in 2012 based on others’ promises – their pledge — to give not right now, but in the coming year. Michael Curry, I believe, would see all of these things as evidence that we can be Jesus’ crazy disciples. The question is will we? Will we continue to be even crazier – for the sake of God’s economy, the sake of God’s messengers, and the sake of this place.
In the name of God: our Crazed Creator, our Round the Bend Redeemer, our Smitten Sanctifier. Amen.