Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

St. Michael and All Angels, 2013
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels. St. Michael, as we may remember from our Sunday school classes, is an angel who comes to ward off evil and to give us peace at the end of our lives. No mean task. Especially the evil part. But that is their mission.

 

Angels are very important to our understanding of the Christian faith. But they are not so much important for what they do (important as that is) but for what they ARE.

 

Angels are very difficult for us to understand, especially in this empirical age, a time when we really only accept those things that we can experience through our senses or have proven to us through scientific methods. Angels live outside our convenient ways of thinking; many of us might regard them as quaint relics of some less sophisticated time. So why bother to offer Michael and all those other angels a feast day? Why bother to refer to the season as Michaelmas, elevating it to the status of some other very important seasons of the year? Very good questions indeed.

 

What are angels? If you do a quick "google search" you might find (as I did) that the first item listed was "Angel, the tv show." That was also the second entry. The third entry got a bit closer to the mark. The Wikipedia listing defined angels as "mythical creatures often of humanoid appearance usually depicted with wings." How clinical can we get? But if we continue our google search, we may find the following information: that angels dwell in heaven, that they are messengers or intermediaries between heaven and earth. And, this is most important, they spend most of their time gazing upon the face of God. We are getting closer to an understanding of what an angel might do, but gazing upon God for eternity...? Well, for those of us who at times exhibit attention deficits (and that's most of us) this is a little hard to understand. Given such a task (like gazing upon some fixed point), few of us would submit our resumes for the job. But, in any case, none of us are qualified.

 

All this gazing reminded me of an exercise I was involved with some years ago. It was part of a personal growth workshop. One of the exercises involved staring at five geometrical shapes for five minutes each before bedtime. These forms were printed on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of cardboard and distributed to all participants. The purpose of this particular exercise was to focus our minds and transform us in some way. I have forgotten what way. Well, I was enthusiastic about my personal growth, so I approached the task with eagerness and enthusiasm. The first couple of times I accomplished this "staring" or "gazing" exercise seemed ok. I didn't notice any particular personal growth taking place, but I figured it would take time and I soldiered on. But I began to dread this monotonous exercise. It was ruining my bedtime and getting in the way of a good night's sleep. Finally, at the end of a week I had had enough. I threw out the "staring" cards and vowed never to have anything to do with them ever again. And immediately I began to cast about for something stimulating to read. Give me "War and Peace"! Give me Kafka! Though I have never regretted this act of rebellion, I confess to regarding trapezoids with great suspicion even today.

 

"There was a war in heaven." We know this phrase very well. It is from The Revelation. And it involved angels. The angels who gaze upon the face of God were restless. Some of them rebelled. And they were cast out of heaven. Had they grown weary of the presence of God? I suspect that they had. I also suspect that they believed that they were more than they were. Having a little bit of heavenly wisdom, they thought they had it all. They challenged God with their knowledge; they believed that what they knew was greater than God's knowledge.

 

It is a very old story. It is a tale we have heard many times before. To be cast out of the presence of God is a story we know from the first chapters of Genesis; stories of what it means to fall from grace. The angels of God wish to keep us from such a fall, to warn us of spiritual danger so that we may be protected from harm.

 

Although we cannot see them, angels are no less real. We recite the Nicene Creed each time we attend a service of Holy Communion. The first sentence includes the phrase: "all things visible and invisible." We believe in such things. We know that the angels of God are there to protect us.

 

In the first act of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the main character sees a ghost, something "unseen." Hamlet cries out: "Angels and ministers of grace defend us." He asks the spirit if it is a "spirit of health or a goblin damn'd." He asks if it brings "airs from heaven" or perhaps "blasts from hell." He wonders if its intents are "wicked or charitable." Who is this spirit, he wonders. The ghost that Hamlet sees is not an angel from God. No true angel would seek to frighten us or ask us to seek revenge.

 

An angel from God can be recognized because of the messages that are brought and because of the innocency of spirit it displays. An angel who lives always in the presence of God is transformed into a being that reflects the pure love of God. To look upon God for all of eternity is to witness a dimension of love that is always a revelation. Such love is never static or formless. It is ever growing and expanding, filled with wonder and mystery; filled with great joy; filled with a longing to be always with God.

 

It is a message of profound grace brought to us by the angels of God to help us to an innocency of life where we, too, may live always in the presence of God, to keep us free from harm and give us peace at the last.

 

Let us pray:
O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.