Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon: Feast of St, Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas)

28 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 18:1-10 (Dan 12:1-3, Rev 12:7-1

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Not all saints are human. In fact, there are legions of non-human saints that are part of the Lord’s created universe that is “invisible” as we confess in the Nicene Creed.

Today, we pause and give praise to God for the work of one such non-human saint – St. Michael the Archangel – as well as for the service of all the angels who serve the Lord God before His face – holy messengers sent by God to proclaim the Word of God to men in extraordinary circumstances, as well as guardians who carry out of blessed Lord’s unseen and ongoing work in protecting us from harm and from the attacks of the evil one.

Since the fall in Eden, the human race has been caught in the crossfire between the Father who loves them and the devil who seeks their destruction. As Luther once pointed out, it is a great blessing to us that much of the carnage of this warfare is unseen to us, that we are blissfully unaware of the spiritual battle waging between the Lord’s hosts under the command of the Archangel, and the diabolical hordes in the service of Satan.

Talk of angels and devils may embarrass many Christians today, but our Lord Himself speaks of the fact that “in heaven… angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” and these angels are watching over the “little ones” who believe in Him. Our Lord’s ministry involves healing the sick, raising the dead, preaching the Gospel, and exorcising demons – which are all parts of the same work of undermining the destruction of the devil in order to bring mankind back to paradise.

In our Small Catechism, Dr. Luther implores us to pray for angelic protection twice a day in order to befuddle the power of Satan in tormenting us.

This biblical revelation of vicious warfare and all-out battle for the bodies and souls of the Lord’s creatures is hardly the stuff of the popular culture, in which angels are bare-bottomed babies or fair-skinned girls with fairy wings. Traditional art, by contrast, reflects the biblical imagery of the warrior-spirits, manly without being man, masculine without being carnal, wielding a sword not for personal gain or glory, but rather in the eternal service of the Holy Trinity.

St. Michael and all the holy angels are not our masters – for even the apostle John was rebuked for kneeling and worshiping the angel who gave him the Book of Revelation. Rather, these heroic spirits are our servants. It is man, who was “created a little lower than the angels” that is ultimately given dominion over the angels – for our Lord Jesus Christ is a Man, whose humanity is not diminished by His divinity. And it is before this Man that the angels kneel in homage and worship.

What a joy and a blessing that our Lord Himself fights for us, and even though One of our race, the crucified and risen God-Man Jesus Christ, has defeated the devil, what comfort it is that we still enjoy the protection of armies of watchers and holy ones who do the Lord’s bidding in keeping us from danger and holding Satan at bay. For the devil is indeed at the top of the list of those whom our Lord warns, and not merely warns, but prophesies against: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” As the Lord reveals in His Word, Satan is to be drowned in a lake of fire, from which he will never be able to torment, possess, tempt, lure, accuse, or trick mankind again. His fate is sealed.

And yet, until that time, life in this fallen world is no child’s play. We are at war, dear brothers and sisters, desperate, hand-to-hand combat with the forces of evil. The devil bares his teeth like a ravenous lion at us. Death and darkness surround us. The grave mocks us. Satan leers at us. We are badgered and harried. But it is all a show and a sham, dear friends. Satan tells us that we are unworthy and that he has defeated us. He bids us to sin and turn our backs on God. But listen again, dear baptized Christians, to the mighty Word of God: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Satan is a deceiver “who deceives the whole world.” He is a liar. Indeed, he is the father of lies. So what does it mean when the chief liar himself tries to convince us that we are unworthy of the Gospel and that we are in his grip? It is just another worthless, formless lie, dear friends. You were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You were marked with the seal and the sign of the Holy Cross, the most repugnant reminder of Satan’s humiliating and skull-crushing defeat. You have been freely given the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You are freely given the Word of the Lord Jesus Himself declaring you to be worthy, to be forgiven, to be in communion with Him – not merely spiritually, but in the flesh. Your body is mingled with His body and your blood is mingled with His blood – the blood of the New Testament, the Testament that bespeaks you worthy over and against the pathetic empty lies of Satan, the demoted angel whose time is short.

And try as he might, the dragon can’t harm us, devour us, or force us away from our Good Shepherd. The Lord has assigned unseen legions of angels to beat back the devil’s minions. The Archangel Michael’s name itself is a war cry of victory over the devil, as it is actually a rhetorical question: “Who is like the Lord?” St. Michael takes up his sword, and under the command of the Lord Himself, hurls this mocking question back in the face of the mocker himself. For the answer is nothing but defeat for the devil. Jesus Himself tells us that we are like the Lord – created in the very image of God. And our Lord Jesus Himself is the image, the icon of God’s righteousness, made flesh for us, removing all of our sins, and bodily interposing Himself, at the cross and at the altar, between us and the wicked intentions of the evil one.

Indeed, there is an invisible world, a dimension we are not permitted to see. Some of us, no doubt have entertained angels unawares as the author of the Book of Hebrews reveals. We are without doubt protected by ministering spirits who face the Lord Himself in heaven, as our Lord tells us – as we in the Lord’s Kingdom are those who have become little children, whose weakness and helplessness are not liabilities, but actually strength. For in our weakness, the Lord dispatches “angels and archangels” who are with us, who worship with us, with whom we pray and praise and sing. And though they are unseen to us, and although they, and not we, see the face of the Father, they are our comrades under arms, these “stars of the morning so gloriously bright… angelic hosts battling for right.” They are our protectors under the command of the Lord and under the watchful eye of St. Michael, “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people,” and by the protection the Lord renders through his warriors, the Lord Himself promises that His people “shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.”

And though our guardians are of the invisible realm, we have the assurance of the Word of God that they are indeed present in the Lord’s service to “deliver us from evil.” And with Dr. Luther and saints throughout the ages, we pray: “Let your holy angel be with us, that the evil foe may have no power over us.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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