September 29th is the feast of St Michael and all Angels. Angels are our fellow servants of God. Like us they are created beings, and do not share the uncreated nature of God. But, they are spirits, and their existence is both known to us and yet mysterious to us.
I have never understood the readiness some clergymen have had to proclaim themselves sophisticated by stating that they do not believe in angels. I once heard an Episcopal priest stand in the pulpit of a church, and make this very statement- but this same priest was also a devotee of H.L. Mencken. So, it should not surprise me that his idea of sophistication was sophomoric. He did not deny the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection of our Lord, but one had to wonder what next? What else will he dismiss as beneath his own brilliance of mind, simply because it is too glorious and transcendental for his awkward attempt at honest skepticism? He thought his unbelief a thing impressive, as if it were a badge of wisdom.
I recall some years ago that Archbishop Peter Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria no less, was visiting the United States, and was approached by members of the "Gay" advocacy group in the Episcopal Church. Without hesitation, the archbishop began to command the demons in them to be silent, and spoke the commands of exorcism. Word of this got to Mr. John Shelby Spong (I do not recognize him as a bishop), who attempted to make light of the African bishop’s lack of sophistication.
Surely, that is backwards. The ones who lack sophistication are the Western modern elitists, such as Mr. Spong. They cannot conceive of the supernatural world. Their ability to understand is limited not by reason and knowledge, but by foolishness and bigotry (the “benevolent” bigotry of liberals in this case). How easily they show contempt for African bishops who are not only their spiritual superiors, but who are also their superiors in scholarship and in theology. Mr. Spong no doubt thinks that he is the enlightened and educated one compared to the Anglicans of Africa, which only indicates that some of the people we are calling "liberals" these days are racists.
Indeed, to understand that a whole world exists that is invisible to us, inhabited by beings of a nature higher than our own- as every nature is supernatural to the natures below it- requires not so much the faith of a child, but the intelligence of minds which have been lifted to the great height of humility, raised to lowliness, able to see that even the science that we do know reveals a magnificence and intricacy of design which, with each new discovery, opens more questions concerning the things that we do not know. Scientists who learn new facts make us all less knowledgeable as a result, because the more we learn the less we know in proportion to any measure of a complete understanding. We gain ground only to lose more ground in our quest for knowledge. For, whereas before, questions could be few, we have now more questions; for the increase of knowledge shows that the percentage of it that we have is less than we thought. For every discovery of fact opens more questions than we had been asking before. So, a truly learned and intelligent person becomes humble, for all his knowledge can only tell him how ignorant he is.
Not so those who misunderstand the progress of science, and think that we now know just about everything, and that we can understand every phenomenon with what they sophomorically call "a scientific explanation". But, they do not have the courage to face real science, and its unsettling effect on human pride.
They think that their limited knowledge should rule out what they characterize as things "simple" and "childish." How simple and childish of them. The spiritual side of this is the statement of our Lord, that only the one who humbles himself as a little child 1 is great in the Kingdom of Heaven. While Western Rationalist clergymen, such as Mr. Spong and the Mencken enthusiast, applaud their own sophistication, truly wise men are worshipping God with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Those who are humble enough to receive the wisdom that comes from God have no time to waste trying to look clever by the low standard of Western Rationalism.
The reading we have from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation tells us why. It tells of spiritual warfare. It speaks of the battle St. Michael and the armies of God are fighting against the devil and his angels. We see it all around us, unless our delusion of sophistication blinds us to the war. Is it not obvious to us that the world around us is hostile to God, to everything that is true and good? For example, every time a new discovery of medical science brings home just how depraved and viscous it is to murder children in the womb by abortion, that discovery is ignored by the major press. When the discovery is invoked as yet more evidence for life, it meets with a hostile attempt at censorship, as though the most obscene thing in the world is to speak the truth. And, indeed, it is, by the standard of this world and its prince. This would be a great mystery to me if I did not know about spiritual warfare. But, as one who knows of it, I have been prepared to recognize the war for what it is.
The war is very real; I have had the very Biblical experience of performing genuine exorcism and of seeing a human being released quite suddenly from the grip of demon possession. I do not know fully what demon possession is, for it is still a mystery; I cannot put it under a microscope. But, I know enough to have been ready to act when a person was in need, and to do what Jesus said to do. The results were quite wonderful.
"Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against rulers of the spiritual darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." So says St. Paul;2 and he tells us to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand in the evil day. We do not know when the evil days are gong to be. We have all had an evil day of weather, with enough warning that people should have been ready for winds and flood. So it is with days of spiritual warfare, evil days. We must be prepared by wearing the whole armor of God, as explained in the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Otherwise our minds and hearts will be exposed to all of the weapons of deception and damnation. We must also be ready through the regular practice of prayer and of fasting. This should be part of our routine, just as the whole armor of God should be part of our daily life. Unless we live on a war footing, we are not prepared.
We know, or should know, that the angels are messengers. The words in Hebrew and Greek translated "angel" in our English Bible, mean messenger. In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest born of women, for though he was a man he is registered in the company of angels. He was the Messenger of the Covenant (H’ Melech H’ Br’it).
We know that when God sent important words to man, especially when the Word was made flesh, it was done by the Message of an Angel. For Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of our Lord, that indeed not simply despite her virginity, but because of her virginity, she would bear and bring forth God in the flesh. Who but an angel could bring this word as a message which causes the event to happen? A word with the creative power of God Himself, put in the mouth of God’s own messenger as God’s own words.
And in addition to their being messengers, we see them as warriors. The scriptures speak this way quite a bit, especially in Joshua and in Daniel, and of course in the New Testament, such as in the Book of Revelation. This ought to comfort us in all our tribulation. For we are not alone. There are more with us than with them, angels fellow servants of God.
1. See Matthew 18:4, which happens to be part of the Gospel reading for this feast. I will say more about this in the sermon to follow.
2. See Ephesians 6:10f