30 September 2008

Homily - St. Michael and All Angels

I cannot believe that I actually passed up the chance to preach on St. Michael's day, but I could tell that Mr. Louis Boldt really wanted a chance preach on this great day of hearing God's teaching on angels, especially the story of St. Michael. As you can see from the following sermon, Louis did a very fine job as he took the task of preaching an "image-based" sermon, doing a masterful job of describing the picture (shown here) to which he refers throughout the sermon. You can learn more about the picture here: http://www.artilim.com/artist/david-gerard/altarpiece-of-st-michael.aspx .
Here's Louis' homily:

Today we are observing the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, which occurs tomorrow. September 29 is the day that the Church has set aside to acknowledge and honor the role of St. Michael and all angels in God’s created order. Today’s sermon will focus specifically on the work of St. Michael. While St. Michael is only mentioned five times in the Bible: 3 times in our Old Testament reading, once in our Epistle reading, and once in the Book of Jude, these sections of Scripture tell us quite a bit about his role in God’s creation. While many artists over the centuries have used these sections of Scripture for inspiration, there is a 16th century painting by Gerard David that expresses St. Michael’s work and his role in God’s creation in a unique way.

When you look at this painting, your eyes are drawn to its center where you see St. Michael standing on the ground with outstretched wings. Wings that almost span the entire width of the painting. Wings that almost span the entire height of the painting. And as we gaze at this larger than life image, we see that he is wearing a gown of the finest silk. Silk that is the color of the sky on a cloudless, summer day. A gown held in place with gold rope across his chest and cinctured around his waist.

And overlying this silk gown, St. Michael wears a cloak made from the softest and choicest of velvets. Its interior color is the warmest charcoal gray and the exterior color is the richest burgundy. Trimmed with intricate, gold filigree and held in place by a large gold medallion. A cloak so long that it drapes across the ground around him. And we are reminded of Daniel’s vision from our Old Testament reading. A vision that promises that Michael, a great prince, one of the chief princes, will arise and deliver the people from their trouble, trouble like there has never been before. And then we notice the shield in St. Michael’s left hand and the spear in his upraised right hand. And we know that this great prince does not come to deliver the people with a peace treaty. He comes to deliver them by waging war.

And as we look at the spear in St. Michael’s, we notice that he is looking down toward the ground and our eyes are drawn to that part of the painting. And as they focus on the ground at St. Michael’s feet, we see seven hideous, demonic creatures struggling to get out from underneath him and flee away. Creatures that have an other worldly appearance with horns, fangs and claws. Some bear a resemblance to animals, while others have a disturbingly human appearance.

And as we gaze upon this epic struggle between St. Michael and these demonic creatures, we notice other figures behind St. Michael up in the sky. And when we look more closely, we witness an on-going battle. A battle between angels in sky blue, silk gowns and demonic creatures like those at St. Michael’s feet. And we remember John’s vision from our Epistle reading, the vision of St. Michael and his angels battling the great dragon and his angels. St. Michael and his angels are victorious. They cast them out of heaven and throw them down to the earth.

Now this may or may not surprise you, but most people don’t believe that Satan is real. Most people believe that Satan is just a symbol for evil. He is just a symbol that people use to explain the bad things that happen in the world. A symbol to blame for all the bad things that people do. But they are wrong, very wrong. Now, I have never met Satan nor could I point him out in a crowd, but I know he exists. I know that he is real. I know because there is evil in the world. I know because behind every evil act is the agent of evil. The Devil. The Ancient Serpent. The great dragon. And that is how we see him. We see him through his works, through his temptations to sin. And this is what Gerard David is depicting in his painting entitled St. Michael Defeats the Seven Deadly Sins. Those seven demons underneath St. Michael’s feet represent the seven deadly sins.

And these sins are evidence of Satan’s work among us. Satan tempts us with LUST. He tempts us to take that lingering, second look. He tempts us to fantasize about that person we saw. He tempts us to act out our fantasies with that person.

Satan tempts us with GLUTTONY. He tempts us to eat one more dessert; after all, the first one was so good. He tempts us to eat out more often than we eat at home, just because we can. He tempts us to get our money’s worth at the all you can eat buffet; after all, we paid for it.

Satan tempts us with GREED. He tempts us with the latest and the greatest cell phone, game system, or plasma screen TV the market has to offer. Even if we already have one; after all, the new one can do some things that the old one just can’t do. He tempts us to replace our car with a new model - sure our car runs great, but it is getting old. He tempts us to work longer hours and take on more jobs to make more money; after all, we need to save for our retirement.

Satan tempts us with SLOTH. He tempts to spend less time on a project than we should; after all, we can cut a few corners and get it done more quickly. He tempts us to do our volunteer work in a half-hearted way; after all, we are not getting paid to do it. He tempts us to sleep in and skip Bible Study class; after all, that’s not as important as the worship service.

Satan tempts us with WRATH. He tempts us to lash out in anger because we didn’t get our way. He tempts us to get back at the other person; after all, they started it. He tempts us to get in the “first word” because we know they are going to attack us.

Satan tempts us with ENVY. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about a sibling because they always get what they want. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about a co-worker who got the promotion instead of us. He tempts us to think ill thoughts about another family because everything always seems to go their way.

Satan tempts us with PRIDE. He tempts us to boast about the things that we have done. He tempts us to withhold compliments even though they are warranted. He tempts us to disregard people’s attempts at correction; after all, that doesn’t apply to me.

And as we take in this epic battle scene between St. Michael and his angels and Satan and his minions, we notice the golden hue of sunlight breaking through the clouds at the top of the painting. And as our eyes are drawn toward that glorious light, we notice a figure within the light. A figure dressed in the finest of silk gowns. A figure wearing a cloak made from the softest and choicest of velvets. A crimson red cloak that matches the color of the underlying gown. Crimson red like the color of blood flowing from an open wound. As we look closely at this figure, we see that He is wearing a many tiered, golden crown on his head and carrying a royal scepter in His left hand. And we realize this is The King, The King who reigns in heaven above. We realize that the King of Kings is overseeing this battle. And then we remember John’s words from our Epistle reading, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, ... they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...”

And we realize that the battle that St. Michael and his angels are waging against Satan and his minions was already won. It was a battle won when the very Son of God came down from heaven above. To take on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a battle won by Jesus, the Christ, when he lived a life under the law. To fulfill the law for those who could not. It was a battle won on a cursed tree at Golgatha. When Jesus Christ shed his blood and gave His life to pay for the sins of the entire world. To pay for your sins and for my sins. It was a battle won in an empty tomb on Easter morning. When Christ Jesus overcame death itself by rising from dead. It was a battle won when Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father. Where He received the power, authority and dominion over all of creation. It was a battle won when the Son of God enacted the full and complete kingdom of God.

And the great news for us, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that we are part of this kingdom of God. We were brought into this kingdom of God through the waters of our baptism. We heard the Word of God. We received the sign of the cross on our foreheads and upon our hearts. We were baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the waters of our baptism, we were clothed with Christ as we were baptized into His death and resurrection. To receive forgiveness for our sins and to rescue us from death and the devil. And we live our lives looking forward to Christ’s glorious return at the end of this present evil age. An age where the devil lives and walks among us, prowling like a roaring lion. Looking for people to devour because he knows his time is short. An age where Satan seeks to pull us away from God by tempting us with the seven deadly sins.

And if we were left alone to face these temptations, we would surely succumb and be lost forever. But we are not alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit in the waters of our baptism to help us. God is at work within each of us through the power of the Holy Spirit to face these temptations and overcome them. Our faith in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit enable us to resist Lust and instead practice CHASTITY. To practice TEMPERANCE and resist Glutttony. To resist Greed and instead practice CHARITY. To practice DILIGENCE and resist Sloth. ..... To resist Wrath and instead practice PATIENCE. To practice KINDNESS and resist Envy. To resist Pride and instead practice HUMILITY.

And when we succumb to the temptations of the Devil, Jesus does not forsake us or leave us, He forgives us. When we confess our sins to God our Father, it is Jesus, Himself, who forgives our sins in the words of Absolution. When we come to the rail burned with guilt over our sins, it is Jesus, Himself, who says, “Take, eat, this is My body given for you” “Take, drink, this is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” And it is Jesus, Himself, who promises “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing perspective on the role of angels, Michael especially, in human life.