Grace to you, and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this day we celebrate the feast of St Michael and All Angels. Most congregations wouldn’t celebrate this festival unless if fell on a Sunday, but as St Michael is our namesake, we opted to move the feast to today.
The feast of St Michael and All Angels. A strange feast, no? I mean, other than a few appearances in the book of Daniel, one passing reference in the book of Jude, today’s reading from Revelation, and the stained-glass window over there, we don’t know much about this archangel Michael.
In the book of the prophet Daniel, Michael is identified as the protector of God’s people and one who will return at the end of days. In Revelation, we hear of a war breaking out in heaven between good and evil, and Michael the archangel leads his army of lesser angels into battle. The evil dragon, who is the deceiver of the world, was defeated and thrown out of heaven to reside on earth for a short time. Ultimately, Christ will return to earth and finish off the dragon.
So, to recap, we’re celebrating the angel who fought a beast in heaven and cast it down to earth. Plus we’re remembering all those other heavenly beings we encounter throughout scripture: Gabriel, the angel who tells Mary of the holy child within her womb; Raphael, the angel who heals Tobit of his blindness; and countless others who go unnamed, like those Jacob saw ascending and descending between heaven and earth.
So I’ll say it again – a strange feast, no?
Well, as I love to do, let’s mince words for just a moment. The Hebrew word for angel is מלאך, and the Greek word is άγγελος. And in both of those ancient languages, the words have no connotation with a heavenly, immortal being. Both words mean, quite literally, “messenger.” Some angels wear white and have wings, other angels have swords of fire; some angels sing “Holy, holy, holy,” and other angels are those neighbors who mean it when they say “have a nice day.”
Wait, what’re you saying, Pastor Mark? Are you suggesting we’re all angels? Are you saying that being n angel is nothing more than being a messenger – one who bring hope to the despairing, an embrace to the lonely, a piece of bread to the starving, a smile to the ignored? What would it take for you to believe that you are all angels – protectors of God’s people in this time and place?
Why, yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to the evil dragon that rages all around us. In this vision from Revelation, the beast is destroyed in heaven but sent down to dwell on the earth for a little while. Although Christ will return and he will be victorious, evil is visible in our world, isn’t it? If only St Michael and all his angels would slay that dragon once more. If only we – the people of St Michael’s – were all angels.
Well there you go – you are all angels in this community and this world.
You see the evil dragon of racism in this world, and you slay that beast with proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.” You see the evil dragon of gun violence in our city, and you slay that beast with a message of hope, peace, and reconciliation. You see the evil dragon of capitalism that prevents people from making ends meet, and you slay that beast fighting for a higher minimum wage. You see the evil dragon of hunger and illiteracy, and you work to slay that beast with Books and Breakfast.
It may be jarring to hear such violent language on this, the Lord’s Day. I hope this message does not offend. But some days, in my own life, that evil dragon rages in ways I can’t see, and I don’t recognize it. And other days, I know that evil dragon by name.
The good news for today – this strange feast of St Michael and All Angels – is that, although evil surrounds us, it shall not prevail. As many of us sang at the Justice Gathering a few weeks back: “Victory is ours through God who loves us.”
In a few minutes, you’ll come to the table to eat the bread and drink the wine, and you will be transformed into the body of Christ. Then you’ll leave this place as מלאכים and άγγελοι and angels and messengers, bringing the good news of God’s love to a hurting world.
And maybe – just maybe – you can slay a dragon in the process. Amen.
This sermon was preached October 10, 2017 at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, NJ.