Sermon for St. Michael and All Angels – September 29, 2019
Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3, Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why does life seem like such a battle so much of the time? Probably every person here today knows someone who is battling cancer or some other chronic illnesses. Probably everyone here knows someone who is battling depression or anxiety. It might even be you. I sometimes talk to people who tell me they are “fighting for their marriage,” or they are “fighting for their family,” or fighting for some other relationship with a loved one in the midst of all kinds of battles. We have battles raging in our community. We certainly have battles in our national life. (Just when you think our political battles couldn’t get any worse, someone in Washington D.C. says, “Hold my beer.”) There are battles raging in our world – some of them with words, some of them with bullets and mortars and rockets.
And then there are the spiritual battles. There is a war being waged all around us between grace and guilt, between belief and unbelief, between hope and despair, between faith in Jesus Christ and faith in any number of idols we create for ourselves. I see these spiritual battles going on every single day in my office, or out on visits, or right here in this sanctuary.
No doubt you find yourself caught up in these battles in one way or another. Why is it like this? Why does life seem like such a battle so much of the time?
Our reading from Revelation offers an answer to this. As we heard, war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. The archangel Michael and his angels defeated the dragon, driving him and his angels out of heaven. And so, as we heard, “The 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 reading concludes with these ominous words: “Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows his time is short.”
Why does life seem like a battle so much of the time? Well, that dragon, the deceiver of the whole world, now fights on the earth. This dragon now wages war on us! It wages war on the whole earth – but it especially likes to attack God’s people. And like any animal, this dragon fights most fiercely when it is cornered, when it knows its time is short.
On this St. Michael and All Angels Sunday we hear about and celebrate the archangel Michael. As we heard in the reading from Daniel, Michael is known as the protector of Israel. You could call him the chief guardian angel for the people of God. Michael is not the kind of angel we see much of in popular culture – he is not a cute little “Precious Moments” angel. He isn’t a Barbie doll with wings. He isn’t a fat baby. The archangel Michael is a warrior! He goes to battle for God’s people! He commands armies of angels against evil forces! He is most commonly depicted in Christian art as fighting the dragon, thrusting his spear into the belly of the beast.
This makes for a totally awesome Lord of the Rings-type image – I love it! – but the weapons used by Michael and his angels were not literally weapons of war. Instead, we are told in God’s Word that the dragon was conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” The devil was defeated by the proclamation of Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross. This is how angels of God defeat the angels of the devil – but speaking of Christ! They pierce the belly of the beast by delivering a Word, a message! In fact, the word “angel” literally means “messenger.”
Throughout the Bible we hear about angels coming to people with a message. The angel Gabriel came to Mary with a message, telling her to not be afraid, but that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God. Gabriel also came to Joseph with a message, telling him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. A great multitude of angels came to the shepherds with a message, with good news of great joy: “to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
These angels show up again and again whenever a battle is being waged. Angels came to Jesus after he battled with the devil in the wilderness. Angels came to Jesus again in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was battling dread and angst so fiercely that he was sweating blood. We don’t know what they said to Jesus, but they gave him the strength he needed to do his saving work, to do what it took to win the war against sin, death, and the devil. Angels showed up at the tomb on Easter morning, when the women were battling doubt and despair, fighting back tears and grief. These angels brought them the message that Christ had risen.
Angels are indeed warriors – but they fight their battles with the Word, with a message, with the Good News. They conquer the devil and his angels with the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony – and the angels of God are still doing this today as we fight our battles.
I meet with people all the time who are battling guilt. Sometimes people try to argue that postmodern people don’t feel guilt anymore. I beg to differ! The devil is described as an accuser in our reading from Revelation, and I see his demonic work all the time in the tears of people who are overwhelmed by guilt over things they’ve done or failed to do. As I share the Good News of Christ with them, delivering targeted forgiveness to those sensitive spots in their lives, you can almost see those unseen demons of despair loosening their grip!
Our friend Tom Piper left from our men’s lunch this past week, where we studied our scripture readings for today, to go visit a friend in Chelan who is dying of cancer. He kind of joked about going to be an angel to this friend, but I think he was more right than he knows! By being present with this friend as he fights what is likely his last battle, by sharing Christ’s love, Christ victory, Christ’s presence, Tom was piercing the belly of the beast just like the archangel Michael did. He was piercing the darkness, bringing the light of Christ and all his angels to that bedside.
There are so many battles that we face! To be honest, there have been times when I have felt defeated. At once such time, when I was feeling defeated and discouraged in ministry (for a whole variety of reasons), just when I was tempted to wallow in that discouragement, at just the right time I received an email from a pastor friend telling me she is praying for me. Telling me to stay the course. Telling me God is with me. And just like that, the dragon breathing down my neck was slain.
You may have heard Martin Luther’s beautiful morning and evening prayers. These prayers conclude with these words: “Let your holy angels have charge over us, that the wicked one would have no power over us.”
I know many of you here today are fighting battles of your own. The devil and his dark angels love to attack the people of God. They love to deceive us and accuse us. That dragon comes at us with a fire that brings fear and doubts and despair, all in a desperate attempt to lure us out of faith and away from our savior.
But today God sends his holy angels to have charge over us, so that the wicked one would have no power over us. Today we hear from Saint Michael and all angels. They have a message for us. They tell us that though many battles yet rage here on earth, the war has already been won. Sin, death, and the devil have all ultimately been defeated by the blood of the Lamb.
So don’t be afraid of that dragon, Michael tells us. His time is short.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church