Saint Michael and All Angels

Angels

A few weeks back there was a story in the news that you probably heard about of a young lady who was in a traffic accident that pinned her in her car.  The paramedics and first responders came, but were concerned that she was pinned in by the steering wheel of her car and that she was losing a lot of blood from her legs.  They were worried that she might not be able to be released in time because of the lack of the proper tool needed to get her out.  At the same moment that all this was going on, a catholic priest sort of just appeared on the scene.  The woman asked if he would pray with her – seeing as how she herself felt she might not make it out of this alive.  The priest prayed and pronounced absolution for her and then told her that everything was going to be okay.  The priest left the scene almost as quickly as he had come and was not seen again.

 At that instant the equipment that was needed arrived on the scene and the woman was extracted from her car and sent to the hospital.  She lived, thank God, and looking back at the incident everyone wondered what had become of that priest who sort of appeared and then disappeared.  The police and the fireman checked their photos and camcorders, but it seems the priest didn’t show up on any of them.

 This of course got into the news of the day and then on to the internet and went viral overnight.  People began to speculate that this priest was actually an angel sent from God.  Entire blogs started to report other strange but similar events in the lives of people writing in on how an angel or mysterious person was sent from God at the right time and at the right moment to save them from some terrible accident or event.  For days, it seems, this story kept making the rounds on Yahoo and AOL until finally, nearly a week later, the priest himself came forward to identify himself as the Good Samaritan of the story.

 What this incident shows us is that people really do believe – or at the very least- they want to believe in angels.  There are literally thousands of stories on the internet about people being helped, influenced or warned by angels or strangers who show up and then are gone again in one mysterious moment.

 In my own life, I do not have a story of this type to tell, but my wife Barbara does.  When we were living in West Chicago some years ago, it was Barbara’s habit to walk out into the fields with our dog, Brownie.  One day, Barbara took a little longer walk than usual and found herself on a steep incline of small round gravel or pebbles.  She immediately lost her footing and fell backwards actually seeing both of her feet in front of her as she fell – but all of a sudden she was standing up again . . . straight up.  Her only explanation for this was that God’s angel had caught her by the arms and kept her from landing on her back and breaking her neck.  Had she fallen, no one would have known where she was and there were no cell phones in those days.  If you ask her about it she would quote the lyrics of the song . . .

 You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,

Who abide in His shadow for life,

Say to the Lord, “My Refuge,

My Rock in Whom I trust.”

 

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,

Bear you on the breath of dawn,

Make you to shine like the sun,

And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,

And famine will bring you no fear;

Under His Wings your refuge,

His faithfulness your shield.

 

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,

Bear you on the breath of dawn,

Make you to shine like the sun,

And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

You need not fear the terror of the night,

Nor the arrow that flies by day,

Though thousands fall about you,

Near you it shall not come.

 Barbara believed, and still believes to this day that it was God’s angels that bore her up and because of this her faith was made stronger because her life was saved.  That is the purpose of all God’s messengers, weather of earthly or heavenly origins . . . to assist in the building of faith in God.

 So . . . today being Saint Michael and all Angels day, we might just ask what is an angel and how do we know when we’ve experienced one and  . . . why does the church believe in angels?

 The word angel means literally, messenger, and throughout the old and new testaments, messengers called angels, or the angel of the Lord, come to men and women usually when no other way is possible . . . in fact, that is the most significant proof of angels existence because they only come when there is no other way to communicate an urgent message.  Angels are found from Genesis to Revelation.  They are the ones who drive Adam and Eve out of the Garden and guard its entrance so that no one may return.  Angels are the ones who go to Sodom and Gomorra to warn Lot and his family to flee.  Angels are keys to the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, his birth and his resurrection from the dead, for at all these instances they are present in scripture . . . and we know that they have names.  We know it was Gabriel who brought the good news to Mary at the incarnation.  We know it is Michael who fought another angel named Lucifer when there was a war in heaven.  We also know that it is Michael who is the protectorate of Israel and is now the protectorate of the entire Church of God.

 We also know there are ranks of angels.  We sing of them in our hymns of angels, archangels, choirs, virtues, powers, seraphs and thrones and others that make up the nine ranks in the angelic legion of the army of God.  We know from scripture that an angel is assigned to every church to protect it from the assault of the enemies of Jesus Christ.

 And we know from a number of eye witnesses what they look like in the physical sense.  In Daniel we read . . .

 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel.

 ‘Do not be afraid’ is nearly always the first words that you will hear from an angel, because coming across one, we humans should be afraid because these beings are in  many cases completely alien to everything that we know.  By all accounts they are much larger than us and stronger and extremely fierce warriors in battle.

 So why do we see them depicted as cherubs on our Christmas cards and as pleasant guardians hovering above our children?  Why do we see them described most often as beautiful women like on Touched by an Angel and hardly ever as fierce Vorlons like on Babylon 5?

 The answer is in part represented in today’s epistle reading . . .

 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. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world– he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 

 The war described was won in heaven but a battle continues on a new front.  It is a spiritual battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  But the important thing to realize about this battle is that the battlefield on earth is for the souls of men and so anything the enemy can do to seduce men into his camp, he will do . . . through false religions, false prophets, false depictions of God and his angels, false gospels, and addictions of every kind . . . anything that he can use to turn us from God is at his disposal because Lucifer, along with his legions of fallen angels, is the god of this world . . . and people, being both spiritually blind and deaf and stupid, will willingly follow him and believe everything that he says.

 So what is our role in this great battle?  What is our mission as servants of Christ?  John Stott would tell us that the main point of reason for being in this mission is not so much something we can train or prepare for (like a soldier) as it is something we are swept up into–almost involuntarily–in response to an authentic encounter with the grace of God in Jesus.  And as a people “on a mission,” we are always a people in transit, expelled into the desert in baptism, living on daily manna as we trek through a spiritual wilderness, always mindful that we have not yet reached the Promised Land.  Our mission then, if we choose to accept it, is to debunk the lies of the enemy and bring souls back into the household of God – at no matter what the cost.  Because we know through Christ that whether we live or die in this fight we are the Lord’s possession and that we will be raised to life eternal when it’s all over.  Satan is already defeated because Christ rose from the dead.  He knows this, but he carries on, none the less, to take with him to hell as many of us as he can.  Not because he wants us or even likes us, no, he merely wants to keep us from God’s embrace.  That’s how much Satan and his angels stand against God.

 And so the angels continue to fight for us against the dark forces in an unending battle to protect us from the onslaughts of the enemy’s forces and to deliver messages and aid when most needed and when there is no other way.

 If this sermon is an eye opener for you, God has much more to share with you than a legion of angels.  When we open the scriptures, we often may pray ‘Please, Lord, I want to see some “wonderful thing” in your word.’   But someday he may reply, ‘What makes you think I have only “wonderful things” to show you?  As a matter of fact, I have some rather “disturbing things” to show you today.  As soldiers in this fight, we need to be prepared to be challenged and disturbed by the scripture and by what goes on in the world.  When we can learn to see with the help of the Holy Spirit, things like the war in Egypt and the reasons behind the Kenyan mall massacre that happened last week, things that happen in the world today will make more sense.

 Pray on this this week and may God’s holy angels guide you into all truth.  Amen

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