Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Oct. 1, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Oct 1, 2023 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Feast of Saint Michael
& All Angels

Oct. 1, 2023
“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly…and never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity.”

It’s an appropriate quote to begin with given the ‘lightness’ of our enactment of the reading from the Revelation to John. It sounds like a joke, but it’s a line from a section in G. K. Chesterton’s 1901 book, Orthodoxy, in which he explores the importance of taking ourselves more lightly and ‘less gravely.’ He actually wrote; 

Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom, and especially the instinct of Christian art….

Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. [Think ‘New Yorker’] For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.” (Chapter 7, Orthodoxy, first published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, London, 1901).

There are certainly many spirits around us, some a blessing and some malevolent. An angelic spirit is a messenger from God and they instill in those who see or feel or hear them a strong need to obey God’s truth. Michael and his angels were such holy messengers acting on the will of God as they fought and overthrew the Evil One. 

The work of the angels is to help lead each of us to the passion of Christ and to glimpse his resurrection. They spark our conscious moments so when we pause to lift our eye’s focus from what we are weighed down by, we might recognize, take hope, and let the purpose of God guide and escort us. Angels are said to encourage thankfulness, to see acts of mercy (however small) as reflections of God. We are inspired to see anew, to muse creatively, and be drawn closer to the divine presence.

Throughout scripture angels are messengers. The arrive to help a person hear their call and answer it. They reveal what we might never have thought possible, what we might never have even tried. The beauty of St. Michael and all of his angels is that they set the scene for us to join them in standing with God against evil, in sharing Christ’s message of love and salvation. We join the angels on the ladder when we do this, we point to how faith blurs the line between heaven and earth, and in this way we do see God

In John’s gospel Jesus calls Nathaneal, saying, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus makes a small play on words here because Jacob, whose ‘ladder of angels’ Jesus will invoke, was renamed “Israel” and his early life was quite full of deceit (we’ll get to Jacob in a moment). Nathanael is awed and blurts out that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus in turn says, “You will see greater things than these.” “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Notice that Nathanael doesn’t make it about himself; ‘he takes himself lightly’ and the truth in Jesus identity. Again, faith blurs the line between heaven and earth, and in this way we see God in Christ

Though our Genesis reading today doesn’t say so, Jacob was pretty much a crook. He cheated his twin brother Esau at least twice, took advantage of his elderly father’s blindness, managed to outdo his father-in-law Laban who was himself an experienced double crosser, and snuck off with most of his livestock and the household idols. Then something unexpected happens to Jacob; in the midst of this getaway he finally decides he’s safe to sleep a bit. Oddly neither fear of being caught nor guilty conscience kept him awake, he slept like a stone — on a stone—and had a dream. It was of a ladder reaching to heaven with angels going up and down it, and God was at the top speaking to him. Not scolding him or telling him to be a better person, instead God promises Jacob “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring” which will be many, and they’d be a blessing to all of the other nations. God said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Jacob woke from his sleep both afraid and in awe, knowing “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 

Frederick Buechner summed it up this way:

The lesson was … that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world you can’t get – but can only be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.”

Jacob didn’t have to climb his ladder to bilk heaven out of the moon and the stars, …[because they were] peanuts compared to what God and the angels were using the ladder to hand down to him for free.

…God doesn’t love people because of who they are, but because of who God is. It was by grace that Jacob of all people became not only the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but the many-times great-grandfather of Jesus of Nazareth…”

(Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, HarperOne publ., reprint edition, 1993).

An early church theologian said we can see things in three ways; a ‘diabolical way,’  an ‘angelic way,’ and a ‘human way.’ The diabolical way sees everything in terms of oneself, and we become heavy with the weight of it. The angelic way is to see everything in terms of one’s relationship with God. Though unstated, my sense is the human way integrates some of each. We are certainly able to see the world in relation to God, yet we often start by seeing it with ourselves at the center. What we hope is to move away from the unconsciousness of that and lift ourselves ever more towards the angelic lightness of a God-centered way, so that we might see the world as divinely alive. The art in your bulletins and the ladder of angels on our altar illustrate the marvelous metaphor—as if we reach upwards, wanting to live to rise and climb along with them, and to lift others up to see it too. 

By being who we are and by being faithful to Christ, by living from his indwelling abundant love and trusting it is there even when pain and ugliness wear us out, we find our way. Finding awe at beauty in the world, living gratefully, and tending to our deepening relationship with God, —we reach across that earth-to-heaven divide. Yes, that’s pretty to say and hard to do, even unsettling or fearsome at times. In this Saint Michael is standing with us, firing us with courage and perseverance and emboldening our refusal of evil and our service of love. Just as someone guided our hand to the next rung, we reach out to to lift one another. 

So here we have a basket of ‘angelic ladders’ to remind us that heaven and earth do meet, and that Christ himself came as that ladder for us, to pull us from murky wandering, from apathy, from dark or dangerous paths into his divine way, to his lively and glorious light. Take one, or two if you’d like, to place wherever they’ll nudge and remind that you are one of ‘St. Michael’s All Angels.’ There’s even tiny ones to fit in your pocket! If you are worshipping on line or reading this later, just let the office know and we will be happy to send you one.

We have a call and purpose as St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. Our call is much more than ordinary do-gooding-and-be-done. Our call is to reach out, reach those near us and those further. It is inspiring and thrilling to be part of this span of angels, rising, moving as needed, to seek and serve, to love and lift up.

“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. This has been always the instinct of Christendom.” And it is joyfully ours as well.


The following was not in the spoken sermon, but too relevant to omit entirely.

This past week I saw the color engravings of the watercolors Salvador Dali created to illustrate Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas. In one panel Dante climbed, for he’d had a vision of a magnificent golden ladder extending so high that he could not see it’s top, with thousands and thousands of souls (depicted with wings, as angels). He wondered why it was so unnaturally quiet. It’s quiet here, the soul says, because were we to sing we’d burst your eardrums for mortal hearing could not handle the glory of song at this level of heaven. (Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, Paradisio Canto 21.)

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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