Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sermon for St. Michael's Day

St. Michael and All Angels – September 29th, 2013 – Luke 10:17-20

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Today is a very old and ancient Church Holy Day that we don’t necessarily talk about all that much – St. Michael and all Angels.  September 29th.  Historically this day is a transition in the Church year – it means we are about done with it.  It means the time has come to start thinking more and more about the Last Days and eternity and the life of the world to come.  I know many a Pastor who actually transfer this day and celebrate it every year, regardless of what day it falls upon.  But, it is our day for this year, so let us spend some time pondering it.

          First thing first – don’t let the name confuse you – when we talk about Michael, we are talking about Jesus.  Why do I say that?   To start – the name itself.  Michael literally means, “One Who is like God.”  That’s a Hebraic way of talking about God.  And then, consider in Revelation – we have a scene of Michael and His angels casting Satan out of heaven.  Then we hear, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come.”  Michael kicking Satan out of heaven is a demonstration of God’s Power and Kingdom and the Authority of Christ.  Moreover – Michael has *His* angels.  Do not the angels belong to God?  And if there were any more doubt, what does Jesus say in the Gospel?  “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”  You folks have cast out demons, well, I can top that – I cast Satan out from heaven.  And of course, Daniel is promised that one day Michael, his great prince, would come – pointing forward to the birth of Jesus.  This day is a day centered on Christ.  This is Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth – that is God of the heavenly armies.  You know, the angels. 

          And so, with that in mind, and with a bit of talk about angels in general in the back of our minds, let’s take our time and work our way through the Gospel text and see what we learn.  “The Seventy Two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’”  Alright, so what 72?  We need to back up a touch.  Luke 10 begins with Jesus sending out 72 folks, two by two, to go and preach about His coming and to heal the sick.  And you have this wonderful bit about how He sends them – just go, don’t take stuff, show up and declare Peace, Shalom – and if they receive it, great, if not, shake the dust from your feet.  So it’s sort of a weird situation.  These pairs are sent off on their own – like lambs in the midst of wolves, as Christ says.  And then they return.  And they are excited?  And why?  Because they have POWER!  Man, even the demons shut up when we told them to shut up.  How awesome is that!

          This is danger number one when we sinful folks start talking about angels, or even most things religious.  We start thinking in terms of power.  In terms of might.  And that’s mainly what the pop culture view of angels are – beings of power and might… and maybe you can sort of twist their arms or cajole them to look out for you.  No.  Angels are just servants, are just messengers, doing a job.  And here you have the 72, and they have been sent out as messengers – and you even know what the Greek word for “messenger” is?  It’s angellos – angel.  And what has happened?  The focus has shifted from the message to the messenger.  These 72 are not rejoicing that many have heard of the Kingdom, or that many were healed, or that many were even rescued from demons by the power of Christ.  Rather – look at what I get to do!
          And so Jesus responds, reminding these folks to not get too all excited about power.  “And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.’”  Yeah.  There’s power there.  Yeah, Satan has been defeated.  This isn’t surprising to Jesus.  And He will have His message proclaimed.  Serpents and Scorpions will not stop that, the demons won’t.  The Kingdom of God will be proclaimed!  That’s the point – not your power, but what you’ve been given power to do.  You have authority – but your authority isn’t about you, it is about you being able to serve the neighbors I wish you to serve.

          This is actually a good reminder about authority.  In the Scriptures, whenever someone has authority, that authority isn’t supposed to be for their benefit, but for the benefit of their neighbors.  David is made king over Israel not primarily for his own good, but to serve the people.  Moses is given authority in the Exodus not for his own sake, but to rescue the children of Israel.  Parents are given authority over their children so as to serve the children in helping them to grow, and dare I say, even the husband has authority, not for his own sake, but for the sake of serving the family.  And of course, the great example is Christ – who has all authority on heaven and on earth, and yet tells us that He comes to serve, not be served.  He is Michael, your prince, come to you, not for His benefit, but for yours.  Authority and power are never meant to be the goal or the point – they are always to be had simple to serve.

          And man, if sinful, fallen man doesn’t mess that up.  We want to view power in terms of what it says about us.  I have power – therefore I must be great.  No.  If you have power, if means you have a responsibility and duty to serve.  Simple as that.  The Scriptures do not teach us to engage in power struggles, like the world does. Even consider the angels – over and over in the Scriptures how are they described?  While they may be mighty, they confess that they are just servants, just ministers, and they are content with that. Likewise, our job is not to seek authority so that then we can lord it over one another like the gentiles do.  No, for the Christian, we know that authority means you get to serve the neighbor.  But our sinful flesh rebels against that.  Be wary of that, keep on guard against it.  Even the 72 feel that temptation, even as they openly and spectacularly serve God, they feel the temptation to focus more on the power they have received, rather than that which is most important.

          And what is most important?  Jesus tells us.  “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  There it is.  There’s the kicker.  The joy, the true joy is this.  You have been claimed by God as His own child, and you belong to Him, and nothing can change that.  Not even Satan.  Christ kicked him out of heaven already, and as we hear in Revelation, “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!” Don’t be amazed at mere earthly power, but rejoice in this.  There is no more condemnation for you.  Satan can point out your sin, your faults, your wrongs all he wishes – but you are washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Jesus will hear no more of it – be gone, get thee behind Me Satan, away from heaven, away from My brothers and sisters – for they are baptized, they bear on their brows My seal, they are redeemed by My blood.  That’s the point of this text, the point of this day.  Your Michael has come to be your prince, and He has aided you in the day of your trouble, and He will raise you again to share in His own glory on the last day.

          But to close, just a few more words on angels.  They are real.  They are servants of God.  They protect us.  We do have our own guardian angels - We do hear in Matthew 18 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”  And this is to be a thing of comfort.  Not a matter of power, or manipulation, or speculation – not something for Oprah to babble about.  God is in control.  He cares for you.  He has His angelic servants watch over you and caring for you.  Satan cannot defeat you, for you belong to Christ.  This is why Luther ends his morning and evening prayer with “let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”  This is the truth.  You are protected by God – and this is a good thing.  But it isn’t the main thing, it isn’t the most wondrous thing.  The great wonder isn’t that you have an angel with you now, but rather that you are one who will be rejoicing in the life of the world to come with the angelic host forever.  It isn’t just that you have an angel with you when you walk out those doors, but rather that you are part of the Church, and that you join your voice with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven – and so you shall for all eternity.  So, yes, angels are neat – but don’t spend too much time listening to babble or speculation.  That sort of thing has been pestering the Church for thousands of years – Hebrews chapter 1 is all about not paying attention to that – in fact, the best summation of angels is when it says, “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”  Yep.  And that’s the wonder.  That even the angels – they are just servants sent by God to see and protect you, they serve for the sake of you who are the ones who inherit the salvation of God.  Christ Jesus, our great Michael, has come.  He cast out Satan from heaven.  He came to be our brother.  He went to the Cross and shed His blood for our forgiveness, He rose to give us life, and He shall come again accompanied by His angels to take us to the life of the world to come.  This is truth, and this is what we rejoice in.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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