Pr. Ben Adams
Michael and All Angels
September 28, 2019
In a fantasy novel type of way, our lectionary readings today on this St. Michael and All Angels feast day include dragons, snakes, scorpions, angels, exorcisms, and images of earthly war and cosmic battle. Although, this may not have hit your ear as strangely or stood out to you as much given the current popularity of shows like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings that have done much to make these kind of apocalyptic images less foreign to our contemporary sensibilities.
But when it comes to our favorite fantasy TV shows and Movies, at the end of the day we know they are fiction, and that removes them in a way from the real world struggles of our daily lives and provides for us an escape, and that is a good and holy thing when we need an outlet, but if we understand today’s scriptures like we would our favorite fantasy entertainment, we run the risk of also seeing it as escapist fiction, detached from our real world suffering.
So in order to reground these otherworldly texts in reality we must remember that these texts weren’t escapist fantasy narratives, but rather messages to a faith community facing real political, social, economic, and spiritual struggles. When we can keep that truth of these texts in mind, we know the connection between these cosmic, apocalyptic visions and real-world suffering is strong.
And while these texts may give us hope that Michael and all the angels have been battling evil on our behalf since before the beginning of time, the real effects of evil are still being endured. Just today, I attended the funeral of a different Michael, not the Angel from our text, but Michael D’Angelo Serrano, the twenty two year old young man who was shot and killed in Bronzeville two weeks ago.
Michael was baptized and raised by our siblings at Holy Family Lutheran Church in the near north Cabrini Green neighborhood of Chicago. I personally knew Michael when he was a high school youth at Kenwood Academy and we traveled together in the summer of 2014 to Eagle Pass, Texas for a borderlands immersion trip with an organization called Youth in Mission. During that trip I got to see the kind of person Michael really was. Travel has a way of doing that. When you are out of your comfort zone and far from home, you start to see the real side of your travel companions. But with Michael his real side wasn’t one that was anxious or easily frustrated. Even at the most tense or unpredictable moments of the trip he remained calm, focused, almost unflappable. His gentle and steady presence on that trip was helpful for me as one of the chaperones where I felt like I was putting out fires and mediating other conflicts between our highschool travelers. Michael’s dependable calm was like the rudder to our ship at times on that trip, not to mention, his smile lit up a room and would lift all our spirits whenever we needed it.
Following that trip I met up with Michael a few more times just to stay in touch, knowing that he was an at-risk youth who could use some good mentors in his life, but as time past we lost touch, I would sometimes ask people who knew Michael how he was doing, but little by little I lost track of him until I read the headline shared by his family members, one dead, two wounded in Bronzeville shooting.
My heart sank, my stomach dropped. I knew it was Michael. The evil of this world had raged again, and while our text says that the angel St. Michael won, it felt like evil won when Michael was murdered. I guess that’s where my heart and mind and spirit have been for the past couple weeks since his death, but in Pr. Eric Worringer’s sermon today he reminded us of the truth that evil has not won, and the bullet from the gun that took Michael’s life does not have the last word, because in baptism Michael was claimed by God and God always has the last word. Through our baptism God will never let us go for we have been made saints like Michael and all the angels and we will ultimately find our victory and eternal home in God.
But that doesn’t just mean something for Michael now that he is gone, or for us in some otherworldly afterlife, that means something for us right here and now as well. Because what we believe about God’s victory over the devil, the accuser, changes the way we live our lives right now. New Testament scholar Craig Koester writes, “Those who think that Satan rages because he is invincible will give up in despair, but those who recognize that Satan rages on earth because he has already lost heaven, and is now desperate, have reason to resist him, confident that God will prevail.”
That is the hope we have in Christ’s victory, that Satan is not invincible, because Satan has already lost heaven, and while Satan continues to rage on earth, we can live in faith that God will ultimately prevail.
These apocalyptic texts we have today read with a kind of existential urgency that reminded me of our own existential climate crisis we currently find ourselves in. I was amazed as I and other Holy Trinitarians marched last week in the International Youth Led Climate Strike. The clarity and urgency with which the youth in this movement spoke was prophetic, and we would do well to heed the call of our youth who are the ones with the most at stake in this climate emergency.
The demonic sin of polluting and degrading this earth is something that these youth activists are determined to put an end to, and their efforts are supported and bolstered today with a vision of evil defeated. While suffering may persist and the effects of the climate crisis already in motion, today’s good news is the promise that the devil has already lost, and that gives hope for the future and courage in the present to resist forces at work against the purposes of God.
Tonight we have a forum after worship that will introduce to you our two year covenantal relationship with our Synod Anti-Racism team to move forward as a church with courage that we can dismantle systemic racism in our church, our world, and in ourselves. It’s hard for us as a people to admit to the ways in which we have been complicit with the evil of racism, but it is in the recognition of this evil, and not the denial of it that we are able to deal with the devil in our midst. You’ll be invited to participate in this honest assessment of ourselves and our church as we move forward in hope that we can be a more anti-racist community for the sake of the world.
We know that the devil’s time is short, and while it isn’t easy to persist in the face of the devil’s wrath we know that St. Michael and all the angels are on our side in the battle. Moreover, God has prevailed through Christ over the forces at work against the purposes God, those demonic, satanic, dragons that are raging everywhere from gun violence, to environmental destruction, to racism, to that voice in your head that tries to convince you that you are not enough. Those forces and the voice of the accuser are coming from a desperate, defeated place, and we through the power of God in Christ can and will overcome those forces and ignore those voices trusting in the victory of Christ.
The evil around us is real, but it has been doomed since the beginning of time when it was beaten by St. Michael and banished from heaven, it’s time here on earth is short, and our time with God is eternal, so let us move forward in the promised hope of Christ’s victory for us. Amen.