Friday, September 28, 2007

Sermon St. Michael and all Angels

Rev. 12:7-12

Matt. 18:1-10

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…

The fact of spiritual warfare is often neglected. Many churches give the impression that the Christian religion is a vacation luxury cruise ship instead of a battle ship, with battle stations. But, we see in the New Testament and other writings of the early Church a tendency to use military expressions regularly and somewhat spontaneously. Saint Paul, for example, telling the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places. He tells them to stand, that is, to hold their ground. Our Lord Jesus did not tell us to hold a party until He comes, but to occupy until he comes.

It is fitting on this, the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels, to remember who the angels of God are. They are our fellow servants who are spoken of in the Books of the Kings by the prophet Elisha. When the Syrians came to capture the prophet, his servant and disciple, a young “son of the prophets” was afraid; so Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes to see the hills filled with chariots of fire and horsemen. “There are more that be with us than with them.” And, centuries later the prophet Daniel, after several days of fasting, saw the angel Gabriel who spoke to him those rather mysterious words, to the effect that he would have arrived sooner, but the prince of Persia withstood him. He then spoke of Michael as the prince who stands for the people of Israel. The implication is, all of the nations of fallen mankind are under the evil power Saint Paul calls “Principalities and powers,” but that Israel was under the protection of a holy angel, the warrior Michael. The Church has always lived with the realization that all around us are unseen beings of intelligence and power locked in a war, a war that seems to rage for mankind as the very battleground. Also, that we are not spectators, but rather that we are engaged in this war. The image of angels as effeminate or as cute little babies with wings, is as ridiculous and insulting as a “Precious Moments” picture would be of the Marine Corps.

The mystery of iniquity, spoken of in scripture, begins with the mystery of how a majestic creature, an angel called the “anointed cherub who covers” became the devil, and the mystery of his domain of fallen angels and sinful humanity. But, the fact that it is a mystery does not erase the obvious evidence set before our eyes, namely that a mad hatred of mankind is coupled with a mad hatred for God, and a rebellion that existed prior to all recorded history. People may not know how to see through the mystery to what evil is, and what motivates and energizes it. Nonetheless, everyone sees that it exists. The scriptures make clear, as well, that evil has already lost in the ultimate sense, that when our Lord Jesus was crucified the devil was, in the Lord’s words, “cast out.” The serpent’s head was crushed when he bruised the heel of the Man Who was the seed of the woman, that is the One born of the Virgin. And, when He rose from the dead Christ made an open show of the devil’s defeat by leading a Triumph. Therefore, the ongoing battle has nothing to do with ultimate victory. Never has there been the slightest possibility that a mere creature (no matter how powerful in our estimation) would even threaten, let alone defeat, God. Rather, the ongoing battle has everything to do with evil that is not superhuman, but rather subhuman, base and completely mad. The ongoing battle is all about unreasoning hatred for mankind in a battle for individual human souls, and about a proud rebellion against God, the war of a rebel without a cause, but with a grudge. This is the war that we see reflected in the lies and violence of the modern world. It does not appear to be sane, because it is not sane.

In the Gospel for this feast, we have been told of the need to humble ourselves as the little child. We are not told that children are an example to follow, as some preachers give out with muddle-headed sentimentality. Rather, our Lord told us to humble ourselves as the little child, that is, as he put it in another discussion when he was at a dinner and saw men choose the places of honor for themselves, that we should take the lowest place. We should assume no place of honor for ourselves, but rather give place to others. But, he did not say that children were examples for us to follow. Rather, He spoke clearly about their need to be protected, especially, their need to be protected from the influences that would corrupt them, deprive them of their innocence and rob the children of childhood.

It is in this context that we learn more about angels. We learn that even as they are engaged in the war for individual souls, they are, at the same time, beholding the face of the Father. The Church has always taken this to mean that the holy angels contemplate God. Clearly, they intercede in prayer, prayer that is in their own tongues and on the level of their own understanding. And, this passage, speaking of the angel of each child, is the passage that has always been taken to mean that God has appointed for each person a guardian angel. But, in this Gospel text we must see the warning of judgment.

This warning has everything to do with the reality of our spiritual warfare, and of how that warfare applies to the little child of whom Jesus our Lord speaks. Anyone who leads one such child into sin, who robs a child of innocence, who destroys the protection and sacredness of childhood, who despises the frailty of the weak instead of defending it, would have been better off to have had a millstone tied about his neck and to have been drowned in the depths of the sea. For, to lead children into sin brings about a judgment that is terrifying. Only of the traitor Judas are similar words spoken: “Better for that man had he not been born.”

What does this have to do with war in heaven, the vigilance of Saint Michael and the holy angles against the dragon, and therefore of our stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this age, and wicked spirits in heavenly places? I will answer first by posing a question: In the New Testament, what is the source of false doctrines about God? The phrases used by the writers of the various Epistles, Saints Paul, Peter and John, all agree. “Doctrines of demons, seducing spirits, the spirit of error, the spirit of Antichrist…” These are the phrases used when speaking of false teaching itself, those lies that amount to deception about God, about salvation, and about morals. One of the big challenges that I found facing me while I was in Arizona, was to help the people of Atonement Church understand the radical difference between those of us who Continue to practice the old orthodox Catholic faith preserved in our Anglican tradition, and the church which had left us behind. More than keeping the old services we like, and even the wonderful Prayer Book itself, is the simple fact that light cannot have fellowship with darkness. I said to them, “let others keep the endowments, the real estate, and the social prestige of being Episcopalians. We will keep the Faith.” I found it inexplicable that, before I had arrived on the scene, some families had returned to the local, very modern and apostate Episcopal “Church” simply because it had a nicer Sunday School, rather than working to have a good one where they were.

One of the main problems with a church that presents the confusing message of priestesses, and that preaches moral license that it calls tolerance, is the harm that it is doing to the children. And, when I find the so called “conservative” Christians who think they ought to stay in that denomination in order to fight and change it from within, I wonder that they cannot see that it is futile; but the ones who amaze me the most are the ones who take their children there. Isn’t it bad enough that some public schools teach them how to be immoral, and that they ought to accept any and all kinds of human sin in the name of “tolerance”- so-called? Should they be taken to a church, to a Sunday School, where they will learn false doctrines? Right now the world is not aiming its deception and temptations simply at adults, but at children, and constantly at younger and younger ages. The advertisements and entertainment aimed at their young minds should anger and shock us. It is not simply that children should not have perverted life styles presented to them as good; it is deeper. They ought to be allowed those early years of innocence and not be presented with what is called “adult themes.” If they are to be protected it is necessary that their parents resist the spirit of the times- real spirits of deception. And, the Church must teach right from wrong, not “tolerance.”

Back around 1990 I was warned that the new Batman movie might be a little dark and scary, and that I should look it over before letting my children see it. So, I watched it late at night. I was very alarmed at one scene, and quite amazed that I had heard nothing about it. Outspoken Christians whose faith was known to the public, had taken their children to see the movie. A good number of well known Christians had written or spoken about the movie. Why did no one catch the scene in which, after a first date, the leading lady (I use the term loosely) wakes up in Bruce Wayne’s bed? People were taking their children to a movie that taught them that the good guy, the hero, the one to emulate, Batman himself, takes the girls to bed. This was not James Bond, father of the hundreds of illegitimate Bond Babies- a new line of dolls I would like to patent. This was a children’s hero presenting a bad and immoral example. And a whole culture, Christians included, were oblivious to the message transmitted to young minds, however subliminal its delivery. My children were not allowed to see it; I returned the tape the next morning. I would suggest to you that many people, many Christians, were oblivious to the deception because we live in an age of deception, an age where lies are preferred over truth. This too is spiritual, and we need to be vigilant.

As I said, when the Lord Jesus was obedient even to the death of the cross, the serpent’s head was crushed. When He rose from the dead He showed that He was triumphant over the powers of darkness and had defeated sin and death. As we occupy this ground until He comes, warring for our souls and the souls of others, we are joined in the battle by Saint Michael and the holy Angels. There are more that be with us than with them.


Icon of St. Michael from Monastary Icons


Jacobite said...

Whenever I read something like this (which is nowhere near often enough), it restores my hope and confidence in the Anglican Way. This is not some thin gruel carefully crafted not to offend anyone's worldly sensibilities and to shield the preacher from any conceivable insults and name-calling. This is a thick slab of US Grade A, USDA Approved beef (from the days when that actually meant something). In fact, it is still sizzling!

And what wonders it does for evangelizing males! No lace doilies and boxes of tissue here! When you give your sermon, you need to get Michael Buffer in there to announce you at the conclusion of the sermon hymn: "ARREE YOOUU READYYY TOO RUMMBBLLLEEEEEE!!!!" Come out with your gloves on! And if you can swing it, get Ah-nold to usher. Good stuff! I only wish I could attend.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Father Hart, I wish I had heard preaching like this as a matter of course 25 years ago--that's not to say that I didn't eventually find myself some clergy who believed these things and taught them, but none of them, I think, confronted such issues with quite so much force and consistency. Your recent series of devotional posts in particular has confronted exactly the kind of liberal bovine manure that I have encountered since that time and has been repairing a lot of the damage to my inner peace that exposure to those doctrines caused. This is exactly the medicine my soul needs.