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Gateways Between Heaven and Earth
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, September 29, 2013

KGL+
Sermon
Christ Church Andover
Year C, St. Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2013

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

I have to tell you straight off, that this was a hard sermon for me to write.

There are times when I find the lectionary material perfectly matches the tenor of our lives or faith journey here at Christ Church, or when a piece of scripture just invites reflection in a way that almost begs one to pray and write and then pray again over it. There are days when the themes our collects and opening prayers offer up to us seem divinely inspired. But this week was not one of those weeks for me.

And I think it’s because I’m not so sure what to do with the concept (or reality) of angels.

St Michael and All Angels is one of our feast days in the Episcopal Church. Usually, when we have a feast day that falls on a Sunday, we move the feast day to the next available day and celebrate it then. But once in a while—and we will do this next week as well when we observe St. Francis Day and bless the animals—we opt for the feast day readings and themes over the allocated Sunday lectionary. And St Michael and All Angels is one which begs us to do that! Long beloved by many in the Anglican and Episcopal community, the music that we hear and sing today is some of the most beautiful we have in our tradition; the words we hear proclaimed in scripture span tie the forefathers of Israel to Jesus, and our epistle, our reading from the New Testament, is one of the grandest visions of the spiritual warfare that went on in heaven, dividing the God-fearing from the power hungry: the fall of Satan from the realms of heaven with his rebellious angels. Clergy seem to love this day. Anytime you hear of a church named St. Michael’s (or St. Michael’s and All Angels), especially an Episcopal one, you can bet that this is its feast day, and it was named for these readings and for St Michael, captain of the angel armies of heaven, who defeated the serpent, the dragon, Satan.

And there is the rub for me. Angels. As I asked around this week, parishioners, friends, clergy colleagues, no one seemed to have a definitive answer around who angels were, where they fit in with our theology, what they did, how one recognized them, and how we were meant to approach such figures in our daily, ordinary lives. But I found that every time I asked the question, what do you think about angels, what were you taught as a child about them, how do they fit in with your own understanding of faith and God, much conversation ensued. Stories came out. Sometimes blank stares, but mostly stories. And so to start off this sermon this morning, I thought I could ask you all what YOU thought about angels—how do they fit in in your understanding of faith and the world?

**

What we can glean from scripture is that there are orders of beings in heaven—and angels are one of those orders. According to our collect for this feast day, angels are in heaven to serve and worship God day and night, and sent by God to help and defend us in our daily mortal lives on earth. That makes sense in a certain way. The angels we know best from scripture are Michael and his defeat of the dragon, and Gabriel—the bringer of tidings from God to God’s people. Angels are messengers for us humans—always bringing hints of God’s will to those here on earth who have ears to hear them. As in the case of Gabriel, the messages are usually not quietly affirming ones, telling us to ‘keep on keeping on’. In fact, it’s much the opposite—usually we hear something along the lines of ‘Be not afraid’ as the opening sentence of any angelic proclamation, which, of course, for most rational people, immediately alerts them to possibly be afraid of this creature who will most likely change their lives forever.

If we take angels to be the messengers of God’s word and will, then we have to be open to the idea that the God we worship is in many ways shrouded in mystery. We are unable to understand our creator because we are one of God’s creations, not equal with God in any way. What we know of God comes to us through scripture and hearing stories about God and God’s people through the years and centuries before our time; through our prayer; through our fellowship with the rest of God’s creation, as it all bears God’s image. But the details of God are a mystery, and God’s way is not necessarily our way, and it seems to be up to the order of angels to help us, at moments, have some clarity into those mysteries. Or at least not feel entirely out to sea with them. Many of the stories I heard this week had little to do with fluffy pastel creatures with harps and halos and wings—the stuff of greeting cards and Christmas pageant costuming. Much of what I heard had to do with signs pointing to something deeper, greater, larger than what we could see with our own eyes or hear with our ears, even if we tried. Angels came in the form of strangers in our midst; of symbols that continued to remind us of God’s presence. They seemed to cut through the mystery for a moment, a second, an instant, to give those recounting the stories a hint of grace which had only moments before seemed impossible. Sometimes those moments reminded the beholder to ‘be not afraid’; sometimes they reminded the beholder that perhaps, as Jacob saw in his dream, there was a connection between heaven and earth—the here and now intermingled with the everlasting presence of God.

And there is power in that call of the angels to be God’s messengers. St Michael is known as the archangel, the captain of the angel armies, and accompanied by the three other principle angels in scripture—Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel. Michael’s story in Revelation is almost fantastic in its entirety—it describes a battle not just between good and evil, but between angels who crave power for themselves, and those who continue to ascribe that power to God and God alone. We often preach from this pulpit about our free will to use our gifts to connect with God or to deny God, and it seems that we are not the only ones. The war in heaven was not between a captain and an outside enemy—it was between colleagues, neighbors, possibly even friends. Angels against angels, a civil war of sorts, indicating to us that no one is above the temptation to usurp and compromise power and God’s grace for their own gain, rather than to be a reflection of that grace to others.

And so we have the same question set before us when we think on angels and think about them—perhaps even seeking them out. In Jacob’s dream, he sees the angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth, and deems that physical space to be a gateway to between heaven and earth. In our gospel this morning, we hear Jesus remind us that this gateway of sorts will also happen not just in a specific place, but through a person—on the Son of Man, Jesus himself. Our connection with the divine, with the holy mystery of the Creator is not just waiting for angels to tell us what to do or to appear at our doorstep (and who are usually not recognized as such when they do that), but understanding Jesus as our entrance to that mystery, in his life, death and resurrection. Angels lead us to recall that connection, that we are ever brought back to the source and center of our faith—not just that angels will do it for us, but that we are a distractable order, ever needing messengers to key us in to where we should have our attention.

And perhaps that is what this feast day of St Michael and All Angels reminds us of—that those connections between the daily and the divine are no so far from us, that they are before us, beckoning and calling us to see them, and behold them, and turn once again to the source of our creation in awe. AMEN.

Last Published: October 3, 2013 11:35 PM