Sep. 30, 2018 – Feast of Saint Michael & All Angels – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Sep 30, 2018 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

September 30, 2018

What a great day! We bless our new parking lot, (and soon our Rain Garden!), we celebrate our patronal feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels, and we launch our 2019 Giving Campaign. We are St. Michael and All Angels, and today we put all of this in a scriptural context; first that of the Archangel Michael, who with the company of angels fought the dragon, the devil, who was called “the deceiver of the world,” and defeated him, triumphing by the “authority of his Messiah.” We see this day in light of the heritage of Jacob’s dream in Genesis, angels ascending and descending on the ladder between heaven and earth. Whereby God stood beside Jacob giving him and his offspring that land, saying how numerous they would be, and that even when they went away God would bring them back and would not leave until God’s promises were fulfilled. Our context also includes Nathanael, called to be a disciple, and when Jesus names the goodness within him, he asks “Where did you get to know me?” And he is in awe of Jesus, who promises they would see “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Looking first at Jacob’s story we heard his dream and God’s promise to Abraham now made to Jacob. Once awake, Jacob anoints the stone ‘pillow’ and sets it as a pillar where it becomes the start of the temple at Bethel, vowing that if God will be with him (as God has already promised) giving food to eat and clothing to wear, so that he might return to this place in peace, then this shall be God’s house and he, Jacob, will give one tenth of all that God gives him. This is where it happens for us too! God’s angels have been present day after day, year after year as we live our faith here, setting a foundation, building our ‘temple’ of community, creating ever greater sacred ground which welcomes God’s people to come and see, pray, be fed, come and be disciples.

Bethel was one of the first places where the Hebrew people met with God, and this too is one of those first places of deep connection with God for many who come. Notice that Jacob’s life was a mess when this happens; his brother Esau is going to kill him for stealing his birthright and so he runs. Right into God in his dream. A perfect time for it too, just like it is for us; when life is good we can be oblivious, but when we’re in despair or trouble, we turn to God. Like Jacob we pray those deal-making desperate prayers, ‘Just help me and give me what I need to get through this mess and I promise to go to church every week, I’ll pray every day, I’ll do more for others’… and so on. We make this ‘deal with God’ knowing God has already promised to be with us, and that like any meaningful honest relationship it goes both ways. Jacob promises to give a tenth of all God has given him—and inherent in that promise to give is his certainty of God’s generosity to him. Jacob starts with his earthly awareness; the ladder stands on the earth and then reaches to heaven. When God speaks it is from beside Jacob, not from lofty clouds of heaven. God meets him where he is, in his mess, and Jacob sees that his human response is in giving back to God, not just waiting until he is with God in the life to come, or until after things start going better for him, but starting right where he is and with all that he has.

Turn now to the Archangel Michael and the angels defeating the devil’s evil ways and his minions. It is not just an old bible story or a children’s pageant—this is real life for us even now. What are the evils we seek to defeat? What are the ways of “the deceiver” we struggle with and battle? How tired are you of contentious voices on the news every night? Of people not listening to each other? Do you fight the messages our young people are learning that say more is always better? Do the high-priced over-scheduled  “values” of the secular world feel empty or elitist once attained? We see the evils of apathy, bigotry, cruelty, abuse, deceit, hatred, greed, hardness of heart, and more, and we feel impossibly small, unable to turn the tide of so much. Check out Archangel Michael in our kneeling cushion—he too looks small compared to the dragon—but surrounded by the power of God’s light he stands ready to do his best to defeat the dragon of evil. I think of every tiny stitch of gold light as an angel! The angels on our ladder above the altar are small too, yet each one represents the hands of a child who made them—angels in our very midst. Yes, we are part of that ‘army’ of angels Michael led. We are not too small or too few to change such things, and we strike out every day to do so.

What is our vision for our community? What world do we want to live in, for us and for future generations? Booker T. Washington said, “I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.” Meeting hate with hate or evil with evil does nothing but propagate them. We take on the evils of this world with love, faithful perseverance, compassionate action, and open-armed invitation into God’s house. Every act is part of our defeating that dragon, every act in God’s name has the potential to convert someone’s heart to stand in the light of Christ. You are the angels of God ascending and descending on that ladder. I often list numerous ways you do this, and today I want to point out just one icon of such angelic work; our own sacred ‘temple’ and newly expanded paved parking lot is part of our holy welcome to the community, to those seeking God. I’ve stopped counting how many of you have given to it, worked on it, helped to bring it about in countless ways, and when I took this shot earlier this month it said it all to me, because these two embody God’s angelic force at Saint Michael’s (and they’re literally up on ladders!). One member told me how good they felt after a work party because they accomplished something for the good of others and spent several hours without feeling filled with vitriol from watching constant news updates on their phone.

Today we bless this expanded and transformed parking lot. We celebrate its welcome, the safety it affords us, the beautiful plantings which will grow, and sense of completion it brings to our sacred space as people feel welcomed in to a place well-cared for. No one did it for us, we have made it happen together with many hours and dollars and efforts being given in love and faith. So too we are all part of what makes St. Michael’s a community which illumines Christ’s love in our community. This blessing day reminds us of who we are and what our mission is. It proclaims that we are a church of lively ministry, rich worship and depth of care. It points to our future, seeking ever greater ways to do so as we listen to the needs of the world around us. Gathering today to bless the sacred ground God has given us and that we have worked hard to give back is an honor. Today we also look ahead to bless and launch our 2019 Giving efforts, so that we ensure we keep doing such things, and dream as Jacob did of being God’s living portal to the promised land. We are such a portal as Bethel was, called into being through God’s presence and promise to our forebears, from Abraham to Jacob to the founders of St. Michael’s. In our willingness to battle evil when it comes, our gathering in sacred worship of God, and being nourished in the breaking of the bread, our giving in love to those in need from what God has given us; it all adds up to changing our world into a place of hope. Love God, love each other, transform the world. We are strengthened and formed by doing this and it spills out into our relationships at work, in school, to our neighbors and the wider community. We aren’t finished though, and this is not a one-time hurdle to pass, rather it is the way of love in this earthly life. The grace of God and your giving of support, giving of yourselves, is what makes who we are and what we do here more than possible—you have the power to make it visionary! The vestry has already made their 2019 commitments. Their faithfulness is inspiring and, I hope, contagious. It is our joy to be filled with thanksgiving for each other, for ministry we accomplish together, and for the support that enables St. Michael and All Angels (us!) to further God’s vision for what our world can be.

Anne Lamott’s new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope (Riverhead Publ., NY 2018) she notes what German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “that if the soul could have known God without the world, God never would have created the world.” Lamott says hate steals her away from her better angels. How apt! The world’s ills and problems can be reason to turn cynical and hopeless, to pull the covers up over our heads, or they can be a reason for us to stand alongside our patronal Archangel Michael and all those other angels to battle the ugliness down. Which will change the world? Which will benefit those you love, those yet to come? That’s the paradox of the ladder in Jacob’s dream, it bridged the impossible chasm between heaven and earth, and while Jacob longed for heaven God instead stood nearby and promised abundance on earth. When Jesus said Nathanael will see “greater things” he points to the “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, indicating he is now that ladder for us. With us here and now, with us in our mess, and with us in fulfillment of his promise of eternal life. Which means of course, that we must be his angels. Amen.

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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