Mother Katherine’s sermon preached Sep. 27, 2020

Posted by on Sun, Sep 27, 2020 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Feast of Saint Michael & All Angels

September 27, 2020

Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball which could tell the future?! I’d like to know just how long this pandemic will last, when a trustworthy vaccine will come, and when we can gather in person. I want to know the outcome of November’s election and whether anger and disappointment will lead to violence between polarized weaponized people across our country. I want to know the forest fires will abate and I’d like to know when! Yes, a crystal ball would relieve a lot of preoccupying fear and worry, and yet may not give us the good news we want to hear. Fortune-tellers and crystal balls might be part of a magic show or “a reading” of personal future —but even if right about a few future bits, and even though we might be entertained by them, I couldn’t  find it in myself to trust in such things. That’s not where we place our trust or find real hope.

Today we honor Saint Michael and All Angels as our patronal feast day, and you may have noticed his icon here. It shows him holding both the staff of leadership and a crystal or glass ball himself! (See the cover of your bulletin.) Anyone who has been here for for the feast of St. Michael and All Angels in years past already knows what that’s about and why he carries it. That sphere is called a zertsalo (meaning mirror) and early images sometimes show it with a young figure of Christ reflected in it. The tradition in iconography holds that the Christ within you is reflected in Michael’s glass, and it is the Christ within you that he seeks to see and know. More commonly the symbols in the glass are the Greek letters Chi and Rho for Jesus Christ. This is no fortune-teller’s crystal ball! This points to what is far more profound than knowing the chronology of what will happen around us. This is about letting Christ within us show and speak, it is about looking to know the Christ within others as the Archangel Michael does.

In the reading from Revelation, Michael and his angels fight the serpent dragon,  known as the Devil, Satan, or the Deceiver. He and his host of angels battle and cast him and his minions out of heaven, throwing them down to earth. We encounter evil in this world, it’s tough to imagine being able to cast it out ourselves, so remember the voice from heaven saying, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” that the Devil is filled with wrath because “he knows that his time is short!” The scene of battling is powerfully imagined here in our  needlepoint kneeler.

One can’t help but notice the great and frightening dragon here, and the smaller Archangel Michael, looking outmatched. Then we notice he is bathed in the golden light of God, and so sure of his victory over Satan he carries both his sword and his staff of leadership—as if he’ll be walking away to lead others with it. Notice almost an intimacy between them, they’ve taken the measure of each other, and we do this too. You also see a vintage mosaic version of the pair, which hangs in our stairwell. Here, their sizes are reversed as a towering Archangel Michael with great golden wings and radiant halo defeats a small sort of endearing little green serpent. It reminds me of just how well disguised and appealing evil can be, arriving on little feet out of apparently small innocuous things, and which can quickly become worse than we’d have thought. So, do you ever feel like you’re fighting the Evil One body and soul, unsure how things will come out? What is the sword and staff you might need for the Deceiver you battle? Know that we are far more able when we can name and understand the evil before us, and much stronger when we stop to know God with us, around us, within us.

Lets turn back to Genesis for a moment, where we find Jacob on the run and forced to stop for sleep. He dreams of a ladder or stairs reaching from earth to heaven (also referenced in our gospel today). Angels of God were ascending and descending on it, and Jacob immediately recognizes this as a sacred moment and a sacred place; “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” When he says, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” we hear that Jacob is afraid. We aren’t told of what, but maybe it’s fear of facing God after his horrible behavior and deception. Even so, God, declares himself to be the God of Jacob’s father and grandfather, and makes the same promises of great future to Jacob once made to Abraham and Sarah, saying, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” God makes that promise even after Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing, after he deceived his father, and is now running for his life, hiding! Aren’t those worst of times when we most need such a promise to turn us around?

Nathaniel is another one gifted with a powerful revelation in today’s readings. First he’s surprised and then impressed by Jesus inexplicably ‘knowing him’ before they meet. It is a surprising ‘wow’ moment, and it sounds like Nathaniel thinks this impossible ‘knowing’ is a special power which identifies Jesus. Nathaniel is right about Jesus knowing him, (if for the wrong reason), and he’s correct about Jesus being “the Son of God.” Nathaniel is on the right track here, and he’s in those beginner steps of his faith. Jesus challenges his belief if it  sprung merely from Jesus’ unexplained foreknowledge of Nathaniel. In this ever-so-brief exchange we see a call to follow Jesus, a sign of divinity, an acclamation of Jesus as the Son of God — and the clear expectation that believing in this Jesus is about more than the excitement of a ‘wow’ moment, or Sunday-only Christians.

Faith is more than following a miracle-making rabbi. It is so much more in fact, that Jesus tells Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than these!” Then to them all he says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will all see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (Referring to Jacob’s dream of the ladder of angels from Genesis). In that one brief allusion Jesus nimbly identifies himself as that holy place, that sacred ground which God spoke of. When Jacob says, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” it is the gate between humankind and God. Now Jesus identifies with that ladder. He is the one descended from heaven, who lived and died as one of us, who rose and ascended. By invoking Jacob’s dream as he speaks to Nathaniel, Jesus is recognized as the very gate himself. The open gate means we who believe in and follow Christ are in communion with the Holy One for ourselves. What we hear is that our deep and grounded belief is about something so very much more than initial attraction; it  is about who Jesus is for each of us and all of us. Just a few chapters later Jesus will literally say exactly that; “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

We’ve listened to Jacob and Nathaniel both invited beyond their first thin reflex or fearful reaction, to look deeper and trust more, expect more of themselves because God is with them. These are turning points in both their lives, and facing evil with God’s light surrounding us can be transformative too. Later today we’ll send out a brief video message from Bishop Rickel titled, “Don’t feed the Fear!” I hope you’ll all listen to it and find it helpful. Feeding the faith is the response his words led me to. Faith over fear is what we see in Saint Michael and his angels, and they were victorious. When Jacob was afraid, God came and made him a promise to be always with him. When Nathaniel thought small, Jesus opened his eyes to expect to see “greater things” —the heavens opened, angels on the move, and the gate swung wide. In Christ, God makes this promise yet again, and makes it real to us too; no matter what a mess we’ve made, what we’re running from, what we’re afraid will happen in our world.

No matter what we have to lose, it will not be God!

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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