Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2019
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3, Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22, Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20
No Wonder Life Is So Hard
The texts for this morning invite us to think about an often forgotten dimension of reality, the existence of both good and evil angels, of messengers of mercy and protection and hope on the one hand and of messengers of brutality and lies and division on the other. It is no wonder that our lives are often conflicted and confusing, at times joyful and full of love and kindness and at times given to despair, alienation, loneliness, and profound fear. There is an angelic battle being fought in every human heart, a battle engaged in every country, including our own, a battle between the angels of justice and love and mercy and the angels of injustice and indifference and cruelty.
It is no wonder that life is so hard and that lasting peace and tranquility and kindness and wholeness in all countries and all the institutions of our world, including the church, is so elusive. Hear again the words of the Second Reading:
War broke out in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who is call the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him…..Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
Life is so hard not only because we ourselves can be so obtuse, so self-centered, so greedy, so jealous, so self-defeating, so judgmental, thus making life for ourselves, with each other, and with the rest of creation so incredibly difficult. But life is also so hard because there is a power greater than ourselves, named in this reading as the devil and his angels, this power of deceit and discrimination and darkness here on earth continually working to keep us fearful and divided and hostile. There is this power making us afraid and distrustful of those different from ourselves whether by race or class or religion. There is this power luring us to find our pleasure and our security not in God but in the accumulation of all kinds of “stuff” and/or in endless distractions or escapes from the tough challenges of life rather than in the gentle, steadfast love and mercy of God.
I think about the Reformation, about Martin Luther’s own wrestling with the devil invading his own mind and heart. I think about how, when the devil trumped Luther’s trust in the mercy and compassion of God, when he instead lashed out against Jewish people in his native land because they did not come to faith in Christ, did not come to believe in Jesus as their messiah, their lord, their savior. Or when he sanctioned the war waged by the princes to suppress the Peasant Uprising. Like all of us, Luther was a complicated person. He knew himself to be both sinner and saint. He knew that both good and evil were ever present in his life, in his own heart. He knew how important it was to daily confess his sins and ask for forgiveness.
Luther knew too that both good and evil were present in the church of his day. He knew that the more powerful one became in the church or in the state, the more likely that person would be seduced by the lures of the devil and his angels. So it was that he courageously and I think rightly named many actions of the pope of his day as gross abuses of his authority as a shepherd of the church, as the work of the devil that undermined the faith of God’s people. Sadly as the protestant movement grew, the leaders of the church, including “rogue” leaders like Luther who were excommunicated, could not find the humble way of Christ to heal their brokenness, to heal the deep distrust and divisions that would linger for centuries, even to this day. Surely the devil had come down to the earth with great wrath then as now.
But listen to these words: Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! Can you hear the note of hope in those words, because he knows his time is short?
This past week Phylis and I gathered with a number of my seminary classmates and spouses at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus to celebrate our 50th year since graduation. We were seminarians in the late 60’s, participants in a time of great social change, of unrest and upheaval, of both light and liberation and darkness and division. But I remember especially one of our professors, Dr. Eugene Brand, who was profoundly moved by the movement of the Spirit of Christ in Pope John XXIII. He taught us about the Second Vatican Council which Pope John convened, at which Lutheran and other Protestant theologians were invited to be present and to contribute to the deliberations. And I remember from that time on over these past 50 years, in virtually every parish I served, in my years as assistant to the bishop, then as bishop, and even to this day, that my relationship with Roman Catholic priests and bishops has been overwhelmingly an experience of mutual respect and trust. The devil and his angels who delight in lies, in misconceptions, in keeping divisions and discord alive was for me dealt a severe setback by the greater and liberating power of Jesus through his death on the cross and his resurrection, witnessed by a pope who had the courage to open the windows of the church of his day.
And I think about how the Lutheran World Federation of which we are a part, in recent years renounced the hateful words of Luther about the Jewish people and confessed to and asked for forgiveness from the members of the Jewish faith for these words of Luther used by Hitler to justify the extermination of six million of our Jewish sisters and brothers.
But did you hear the note of hope? In matters of justice and compassion, things often do get worse, as we saw in Germany in the 30’s and 40’s, as I think they are in our country and across the globe right now. But hear these words: the devil has come down to us with great wrath, because he knows his time is short.
As Vatican II came in God’s time as an expression of God’s victory, subduing the forces of hatred and alienation so entrenched in the Body of Christ in its ever increasing fragmentation, opening windows for mutual respect and love, so also God through the resistance of the faithful in Germany and through much of the western world would subdue the evil, demonic forces that reigned in the hearts of the Nazi regime. For a time, evil may seem to reign, but its time is short!
Don’t we wonder in these times in which we live if the seemingly endless cycles of violence and expressions of hate will ever end? We need the perspective given to John on the island of Patmos who wrote the book of Revelation: yes, he wrote, for a time, because the devil and his angels still roam the earth, and because the devil knows his time is short, he will ramp up the destruction of human community and of the very earth and sea. Things will actually get worse, for a time. But God has the last word and that word is restoration, that word is redemption, that word is renewal. That last word is hope, the hope God promised for all creation through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, the One who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Truly it is no wonder that life now on this earth is so hard. There is a battle of good and evil still being fought in our souls and throughout the whole earth. But the devil knows and we know that the time is short for the devil and for his dark and deceptive legion of angels. So, knowing this, be faithful, even unto death. In the midst of all your hardships, trust in the faithfulness of the One who gave his life for you. Continue to love and care deeply for all people and for all of God’s creation. The message of Revelation is clear: Jesus is the final victor and at last “that great dragon…that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world,” will be forever vanquished by the gentle goodness and unconditional love already assured for us by the One who died for us.