24 September 2009

Homily upon St. Michael's (observed)

[Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3 / Revelation 12:7-12 / Matthew 18:1-11]

How easy to look down upon the little ones! Noisy, smelly, needy, and way too energetic by half. And we grown-ups sigh and put up with them and think we’ve done a great thing. We like to think we’re the big cheese, what it’s all about, and they are but an addendum to our lives. Jesus shows us we have it all backwards.

Plants a dirty street urchin right smack dab in the middle of his quarreling disciples. “You want to be great,” he asks? "You gotta become like this!” Pointing to the little one whose attention has already drifted away and is eager to get back to his hard work of playing. “In fact,” says Jesus as He lets the lad run off again “that’s the only way into my Kingdom; to become a little one. That’s the path to greatness.”

You can see the utterly perplexed look on the disciples’ faces. We understand their perplexity because we too stumble over what Jesus is saying here. But He’s got more: “Anyone of you who causes one these little ones who believe in me to sin (literally, to stumble) - better to have the millstone wrapped around your neck and be cast into the sea.” The little ones are serious business to Him. Those who cause them to fall, to fall away from Him because of their sin - well, no one will want to face Him on that Day if a little one is lost to Him due to us, due to what we’ve done or failed to do.

Better to lose hand, feet, eye anything rather than face Him on that day when you’re the cause of a little one having left Him. So He warns, don’t despise one of these little ones, don’t look down on them and think them not important. They are MOST important. If you don’t think they’re worth bothering about, says He, I do. And I have given my angels charge over them. Their angels - the angels assigned them - always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. So you see, I care about them. I care about them a lot.

And so angels - angels sent forth by the Son of Man who came to save the lost. Angels who are concerned for the Lord’s little ones. If you want an angel to be concerned about you, you’d best be one of the Lord’s little ones too.

Daniel was a mighty prophet before men, but before God he was a trembling little one. He prayed and prayed. And when one day an angel bopped in to let him know that his prayer had been heard, poor Daniel had knocking knees and was filled with terror. Who was he that an angel should come from God with a special message just for him? He was frightened to death. But the angel set him at peace: “Daniel, man greatly loved…. Fear not!”

Mysterious words the Angel spoke. Michael doing battle to help the people of God. Michael, the great archangel and leader of the heavenly hosts. And then words about what’s coming - bad news. Things getting worse than they’ve ever been before. More news to tremble at? No! Michael’s on the scene. He conquers. And so God’s little ones, his people, they will all be delivered, everyone whose name is written in the book. Graves open, the faithful gathered home, shining like the lights in the sky above, and those who turned many to righteousness shining like the stars forever and ever. A vision for a little one to believe. Who but a little one could grasp that out of the disaster and mess of human history, God is forming Himself a people that He will never forsake and that He will bring to glory though He must open the graves to do it? A child’s fairy tale? No. But a story only a little one would credit.

But there’s more. St. John sees the battle. War in heaven. Michael and his angels versus the dragon and his angels. Michael - as he always does - wins and the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, tossed out, thrown down to the earth with his angels with him.

Songs ring out in heaven: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God has come and the authority of His Christ, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accused them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even to death.”

Lamb’s blood is no idea. It’s what will be in the chalice. It’s the blood that conquers the accuser, for it is the blood that blotted out your sin on Calvary and so it every testifies to sin’s forgiveness and death’s destruction. So rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. But woe to the earth, for the devil has come down in great wrath and he knows his time is short!

So he spends his efforts here on earth to grab as many as he can to share condemnation with him. He wants to snare you in the pride that puffed him up and that ended up casting him down. The pride that would have you think of yourself more highly than you ought. The pride that would have you look down upon the little ones as Satan looked down upon us frail creatures of flesh and blood and revolted at the thought that his angelic majesty should be servant to the likes of US!

The good angels share the humility of Heaven’s King. They know that He has honored our fallen race by taking on our flesh, by suffering and dying in that flesh to ransom us, and by rising again in that flesh to bring us an eternal salvation. So when a good angel sees one of us little ones, he doesn’t think: “Why should I serve that wretch?” He thinks instead: “Why, look! I am honored to serve this brother, this sister of Heaven’s King! What joy is mine!”

Look at the little ones with angel eyes and all your silly pride will evaporate. The little ones belong to Him who became a little One Himself for them. If we would be great, we’d best be seeing things the right way round and the right way round is that the little ones are our superiors, who teach us how to blessedly receive the Kingdom of God by being nothing but given to by heaven’s King.

Come to the Lord’s table today as a little one and open wide your mouth and receive the Body and Blood of the Lamb and you will overcome the evil one with his accusations - for tucked safely into Christ he cannot accuse you nor hold you. This is the joy of being a little one, and so a companion of the angels, guarded and protected, destined to shine like the stars. Amen.


Past Elder said...

Judas, I thought St Michael's Day observed was, well, St Michael's Day, 29 September, Michaelmas.

(Didn't you just know I'd write that too?)

St Michael replaced Wotan in the Christianisation of the Germans, which is why there's St Michael chapels in the mountains once sacred to Wotan all over Germany. (Nicht wahr, Christine?)

We English Germanic types (I'm a bleeding Angle) would have done it (we call him Oden) but we ain't got no mountains.

The only shift I know of was in 1752 when we went from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which makes 10 October "Old Michaelmas Day".

So: eat some goose, pay your bills, it's a great day to apply for a job, and the winter curfew starts and lasts till Shrove Tuesday so I wanna hear those bells ringing and fires (OK, lights now) out at 2100 hours.

Only question is, can you use your Blackberry (let's see who gets that)?

christl242 said...

(Nicht wahr, Christine?)


Michael: “Who is like unto God.”

As a little aside, in Catholic piety St. Michael is the patron saint of Germany so wherever German Catholics settled you'll find at least a couple of St. Michael parishes.

So a nod to our Catholic brethren and sistren: "St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the snares and wickedness of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, oh prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.


And I'm very happy that we have St. Michael and All Angels on our Lutheran calendar too!


Paul said...

The shining angel host near God are always standing;
his majesty they see, a bright and holy gleaming;
God sends them daily forth to serve His children here, they turn from us away all evil things we fear.
In all our earthly ways the angels still attend us,
in daylight or at night as we are sleeping, helpless;
they follow as we go, until our work is done
and on familiar paths we gladly reach our home.
When Satan, with the world and evil foes would threaten
The angels guard our steps with heavenly protection;
in danger, grief, or pain they are a strong defense,
with sleepless eye they keep eternal watchfulness.
The angels sing for joy when we to God surrender,
When through our sin and guilt we strive His will to render;
this truth we cannot doubt -- the angels will be there
where Christians live as one, in faith, in love and prayer.
Give us yoru grace, O God, in ev'ry situation
As angels do, may we bring praise and adoration;
to seek what pleases You, and when this life is o'er
to join the angel choir, to love You more and more!

Taegliches Handbuch
Johann Friedrich Stark
"Der Engel goldnes Heer"
translation by Paul F. Becker
suggested tune: O Gott, du frommer Gott.

Maria said...

"The little ones are serious business to Him. Those who cause them to fall, to fall away from Him because of their sin - well, no one will want to face Him on that Day if a little one is lost to Him due to us, due to what we’ve done or failed to do."

I often think of this. There are so many people here in Sweden who have their children baptized just because it's been a long tradition. But they never instruct them in the Christian faith because they themselves don't have any faith. It must be awful for them to face God on judgement day. They brought their little ones to Jesus (although they didn't understand this) and then caused them to fall away.