Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sermon: St. Michael and All Angels - 2017

24 September 2017

Text: Mat 18:1-11 (Dan 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Rev 12:7-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Michael has long been associated with warfare.  A common statue of Michael the Archangel depicts him standing on the throat of a disfigured and ugly Satan, sword aimed at the beast ready to run him through.

Such a violent work of art!  So different than the feminine depictions of angels, or even the bare-bottomed cherubs, shown in more recent religious art.

Our Gospel opens with a dispute among the disciples about greatness: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Would the greatest be brash and bold like Peter?  Or maybe erudite and intelligent like Luke?  Maybe John, the one whom Jesus loved?  Maybe the greatest isn’t one of the twelve at all!  Maybe a biblical scholar or great speaker, a former of opinions in the Sanhedrin or Senate?  Maybe a famous actor or athlete?

Of course, Jesus puts a child in their midst.  

He tells them that to aspire to greatness is to “humble himself like this child.”  He speaks of greatness as “receiving” a child – sometimes translated as “welcoming” a child – for whoever welcomes a child welcomes Jesus.  And Jesus came into our world as a child, as one dependent upon parents, one who is weak and in need of social protection and human love.  We have an obligation to welcome children, to protect them, to love them, to nurture them, to teach them, to baptize them, and to raise them in the faith.

And our Lord explains that the opposite is always true: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe” in Him, “to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Better to be put to death by having your neck broken and being drowned than that “one of these little ones who believe” in Jesus to be harmed, to be misled into sin.

The Lord points out that this isn’t just about social customs.  This is a matter of a great cosmic war: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Lest we forget, dear friends, we are at war.  

Our epistle lesson from the Revelation explains this cosmic battle: “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon….  And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

In the crosshairs of this war are children.  Satan hates them.  He drowned the Hebrew boys in an attempt to enslave the people of God.  He murdered the holy innocents in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Christ child.  The ancient Satanic religions practiced human sacrifice, including little children.  And since 1973, in the modern American religions of statism and convenience-ism, infanticide has become a sacrament among those who despise the little ones.

Things have degraded since that time.  This year’s movies that are under consideration for Oscar awards feature vulgarity and debauchery in general, and also unspeakable acts with children – which, of course, the Hollywood critics think is so wonderful.  Children from young ages are now being indoctrinated in American schools that boys may not be boys, and girls may not be girls, and that what Jesus and their Bibles and their churches teach about marriage, is actually bigotry and hate-speech.  Children are systematically being taught to despise their great-grandparents, and to disobey their mothers and fathers – and this is happening openly while we go about our lives as usual.

We are in the midst of this cosmic war between good and evil, and the children, as they always are, are in the crosshairs.  

If you don’t realize that we are at war, consider the armed mobs of masked youth waving Communist flags and calling for the death of police officers – scenes that are being repeated week after week in city after city in America.  Consider how the Roman Catholic diocese of Pittsburg is beginning to consolidate its parishes, looking to close 75% of them because of diminishing numbers.  Our own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, as are all authentically Christian churches, are suffering terrible losses, as our children and our youth have been led into sin by a godless youth culture, and by college professors who deny the existence of truth itself, and by monstrous entertainers whose idiotic and vulgar words are treated like oracles from the living God (and yet these people are really nothing more than very rich clowns).  This is all happening right under our own noses.

Our children are bombarded with propaganda, and they grow up to leave the church, and in some cases, attack the church.  Satan and his angels are racking up a large casualty list in this war, dear friends.  

We all need to be in this war.  There is something for everyone to do.  Our armament is spiritual.  St. Paul teaches us to take up the armor of God, for we are in a spiritual war.  Your only offensive weapon, dear friends, is the Word of God – living and active, like a two-edged sword.  We need to be praying the Word of God, placing it not just in our hands but on our lips.  That sword in the statue of St. Michael, that sword that slays the devil, is the Word of God.

We Lutherans celebrate that very thing that happened five hundred years ago, when the Word of God was restored to its place of primacy, and put in the language of mothers teaching their children.  For children who are not being raised with the Word of God are being disarmed, and only waiting to be conquered.  And in Europe, the homeland of the Reformation, the churches today are empty, and the mosques today are full.

This is a war that cannot be won by political action or government policy or street fighting.  It can only be won by God’s will being done.  How is God’s will done?  We should have the answer memorized: “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

We are in dire straits, dear friends, and we have been so many times in history.  This is why the Lord dispatches angels to strengthen and protect us.  This is why St. Michael and his sword are needed now more than ever, brothers and sisters.

In 1941, Winston Churchill spoke to a group of young students.  He said, “Never give in.  Never give in.  Never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.  Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…. Do not speak of darker days; let us speak of sterner days.  These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part.”

Dear friends, whether we win or lose battles, our Lord has triumphed in the war.  For on our shields is the cross, and on our banners is the name of Jesus.  Like the martyrs, we have conquered by “the blood of the Lamb.” Our Lord has triumphed over Satan when He declared “It is finished!”  He calls us to fight for our little ones from this position of strength and right.  Ours is not a petty squabble over territory, but rather our time of militancy is the ancient struggle between our Lord and the serpent; between our ancestors and Satan, and between generations yet unborn and the devil who despises them and leads them into sin.

This is no time to sit on the sofa and allow others to go into battle.  The church has been called to arms.  “Never give in!”  “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away!”  Come to where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us!  Come to where the Word is proclaimed, and where you are fed and fortified for battle!  Stop fighting on the enemy’s ground, and renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Come to this field hospital to be bandaged up, and to help bandage up others.  This Divine Service is not only about “what you get out of it” – which is eternal life – but it is also your service to your brothers and sisters, closing ranks with them and marching with them into battle, “for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows his time is short.”  

This is why Dr. Luther taught us to pray every day in the morning and evening a line that says: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”  

Let us give thanks and praise for St. Michael and all angels, and let us pray for ourselves and our children, for our church and world, for our civilization and country, for our repentance and for our zeal for the cross.  Let us never give in.  Let us never get discouraged.  We are soldiers of the cross – the cross of Christ, the “Valiant One whom God Himself elected, the God whose Word promises:

“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Amen.

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

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