Thursday, 30 September 2010

St Michael & All Angels sermon

St Michael & All Angels (2010) RCL Principal

Problems with Angels

Let me start with a confession. I have a problem with Angels… Not that I mean I have Angels under the bed or falling out of cupboards or anything like that, but I struggle with the whole culture of Angelic beings that has sprung up both within and beyond the Christian Church. Guardian Angels, Healing Angels, Warning Angels. New Age Spiritual Beings. All the Angelology (if that is a word) that I’ve heard about since I was a child. And this obsession with Angels isn’t a new thing – the Church wasted far too much time in the medieval era talking about how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin, or what the exact order of rank in the nine heavenly choirs is.

The problem I have is that so many of the descriptions that people give of Angels, and the new age obsession with some form of Spiritual beings, and those wings of the Church (no pun intended) which have complex teachings regarding Angels seem to have little or no Scriptural substance to them. And, to be blunt, if it ain’t Bible, it ain’t Gospel. The focus of our reading of Scripture should be the working out of God’s wonderful plan of salvation, and the application of God’s living truth to the world we live in and the way we live.

So there’s a certain irony to the fact that forty percent of the Churches God has called me to serve here in our Mission Community are dedicated to St Michael and All Angels. And even more so that the first major feast we observe following Kate’s ordination, and therefore the first Communion service at which Kate presides is the feast day of St Michael and All Angels. Perhaps God is trying to teach me something!

I followed a link to a site on the Internet courtesy of the Bishop of Texas which did make me think again. It was an encyclopaedia of Feast Days of the Church and started with a wonderful introduction to this day written by someone called James Kiefer.

On the Feast of Michael and all Angels, popularly called Michaelmas, we give thanks for the many ways in which God's loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and we are reminded that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it.

I don’t dismiss the possibility of the reality of Angels, certainly because Scripture, and Jesus himself, refers to them. I’ve not seen them, but if I only believed in what I saw I would be a very sorry excuse for a Minster of God’s Gospel, and steward of the mysteries of the God beyond all understanding! If we were to trawl through our Scriptures we would find a number of references to Angels in the Old Testament and the New. Often appearing in visions, and in the Old Testament almost certainly meant to be God appearing in some kind of human form there is an allusion, thought not completely clear that there is an order of created beings that worship God and serve him. Calling again on the words from the online guide:
The Holy Scriptures often speak of created intelligences other than humans who worship God in heaven and act as His messengers and agents on earth. We are not told much about them, and it is not clear how much of what we are told is figurative.

With this in mind we also have the visions of Ezekiel, Daniel and St John of Patmos in the Revelation which give some more ideas. Michael is referred to as an Archangel and leader of the armies of heaven. He slays the Dragon in the book of Revelation, often causing confusion in some artworks with St George! Again the question of literal or figurative language comes up, and I have to ask – what does this add to my understanding of a God who is intimately involved in this world, in an earthy, real and everyday way. My problem with Angels isn’t actually whether they exist or not – that’s a question far beyond my ability to answer – but whether they are a distraction from the reality of faith that needs to be lived out everyday!

But on this feast Day of St Michael and All Angels which is also a celebration of the ministry of our new Priest in the Five Alive Mission Community, I do believe there is something to learn from this whole ‘Angel thing’ that we can apply to our everyday life and faith.

I liked the introduction from James Kiefer which reminds us that within our faith and in our Scriptures there are mysteries beyond our understanding. We need reminding sometimes that we don’t have all the answers, that human beings with all our cleverness and Theology and knowledge cannot grasp all the mysteries of this universe, or indeed of our faith.

The very act of sharing this Holy Communion, this service of thanksgiving we call the Eucharist presents us with one of the deepest mysteries of our faith. As Kate prepares to preside at this service for the first time she leads us in the mysterious sharing of Bread and Wine which somehow for us becomes the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Anglican Tradition we don’t believe in Transubstantiation, which means these elements literally become the blood and body of Jesus, but we do hold to what we call the ‘real presence’ – that Jesus is here, shared in bread and wine. The technical term is ‘Consubstantiation’ which I am more than happy to discuss at length later!

In her role as Priest Kate shares with us the mystery of the Eucharist. Priest’s are often called ‘stewards of the mysteries of faith’ which means not that we want to keep things mysterious and secret, like some kind of society where arcane knowledge is passed on through the generations, but that we carefully lead in prayer, presiding over certain rites and rituals of the Church even though we can’t describe exactly what is going on or what happens!!! In faith we hold to God’s reality made present here in the bread and wine and in our sharing, just as in faith we proclaim God’s special presence in the bond of marriage, and we proclaim (along with our lay sisters and brothers who also perform this ministry) the mystery of eternal life in the face of death at funerals.

These are mysteries beyond our explaining, yet we continue to carefully share them. Perhaps not being able to sum up the how, why and wherefore is part of the gift of them to us. As James Kiefer says
‘we give thanks for the many ways in which God's loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and we are reminded that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it.’

Also, our meditations on Angels can remind us of our essential calling as Christians. The word ‘Angel’ comes from the Greek word ‘Angelos’ (from which we also get the word ‘Euangelion’ from which comes the title Evangelist) in turn the Hebrew word is Malach. Essentially it means messenger. Angels crop up a number of times in Scripture, both in visions and in meetings, to share something of God’s purposes and plans in humanity.

Angels share with Abram his wife’s impending pregnancy, they ascend and descend the ladder that Jacob sees in a dream, they proclaim the coming birth of the Messiah to Mary and they sing of God’s peace shed abroad to all people at the birth of Jesus.

Again, in her Priestly ministry Kate bears that responsibility for bearing and sharing the message of Jesus, in word and deed. In this Holy Communion, the proclamation of forgiveness of sins, the offering of blessing she is messenger of the good news of God in Christ, present with us through His Holy Spirit. But, as I said on Saturday, it’s not just Kate’s responsibility to share that message, it belongs to all of us as the Body of Christ.

In this Communion God offers his grace, his sustenance, his power as he feeds and nurtures us not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of the world. If anyone wants to know why I hold this Eucharist so highly it is because Jesus is shared here, not just in bread and wine but in prayer, in song, in sharing of God’s word. But not only that, the purpose of the Eucharist is summed up in the last sentence our Priest will utter in this service – GO in love and peace to serve the Lord. We are sent as Angels, as messengers of the Gospel, to share the Good news, the Evangelion, in all we do and say, indeed to be the message as well as the messenger.

So Angels can remind us of the mysteries of God beyond our understanding and of our own calling to share that mystery and the message of Christ in our everyday life as Christians. Perhaps I shouldn’t have any problems with Angels whatsoever.


Melli said...

My mother used to speak to me of angels a lot when I was little. Guardian angels... And it seems to me the Catholic church puts a great deal more emphasis on both angels AND saints than the Lutheran church to which I now belong. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've heard discussion of angels at all in the 3.5 years I've belonged to First Lutheran. But I distinctly remember asking my mother (a devout Catholic), when I was about 8 or 9, WHY we needed to pray to Mary or Joseph or ANY saints or angels when we could just pray to God... or Jesus... directly? And I distinctly remember her saying "we don't". And from that day on, I paid no attention to angels OR saints (those canonized). And when I sought to return to church after my 25 year absence, it was the fact that the Lutheran Church gave so little attention to them that greatly drew me to join this church. I felt I had found the church that FIT me. Of course... we also believe that the bread and wine ARE the body and blood of our Lord and Savior! (Transubstantiation) :) However... I very definitely DO believe angels exist. And I do believe they do the Lord's bidding. And that's what they're there for... to carry out assignments that we mere mortals can't pull off - not because HE can't give us a power-up... but because our pitiful little brains can't wrap ourselves around some of the ideas He would need us to understand.

Alastair said...

Hi Melli, as always thanks for a full and thoughtful response to my wafflings! One surprise though, the official Lutheran understanding of what happens in Communion is called 'Sacramental Union' - though the real presence of Christ is within the sharing of Communion, the bread and wine retain their substance as bread and wine whilst 'spiritually' being the body and blood of Christ - more like the Anglican 'Consubstantiation' I talk about - good little article here: and a fuller article on Anglican understanding here: The one thing I take issue with in these articles is that the Church of England isn't 'Protestant' but 'Reformed Catholic' - we never had a reformation and formal break from RC Church, we just changed over time :-)

Melli said...

Now you've thrown me way off because Pastor and I specifically talked about this before I joined the Lutheran Church... and I was definitely OKAY with our belief... but it IS possible that over the past 3 years my muddled little mind has reprocessed the whole thing back to my original Catholic beliefs ... I actually have an email in to Pastor right now to SET ME STRAIGHT again! LOL! I actually AM okay with it if the Holy Spirit is PRESENT in the bread and wine... but I honestly was believing the bread and wine BECOMES the body and blood of Christ. The one thing I am NOT okay with is the belief that it simply "represents" the body and blood of Christ. I rejected the Methodist church for that reason. There HAS to be Christ's presence in that divine meal! If it's by the Holy Spirit, that's fine!

Melli said...

Alright Alastair... I don't know if this is the same thing you are saying or not -- but here is what the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has to say about Holy Communion.

Aside from that... a quote from the email my pastor sent...

Dear Melli…

1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Matthew 26:17-29 … The bread IS the body of Christ and the wine IS the blood of Christ, given and shed for the remission of our sins. In the eating and drinking, we truly receive what Christ promised…His body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins.

There we are...