Sunday September 28, 2003
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead
The Choice of the Angels
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I am beginning my eighth year as your Rector. My ministry began under the dedication of Saint Michael and All Angels. This morning I want to speak to you about the angels because they are important. Holy Scripture from beginning to end testifies to the angelic (and demonic) spirits. Our Lord Jesus Christ certainly knew these spirits and took them, both the good and the evil, seriously. They are with us now, and we should be aware of them.
An angel is a created spiritual being possessing intellect and will. That means the angels choose to serve God, and their service takes myriad forms. In Scripture there are many encounters with angelic messengers on assignment from God. To name a few: An angel stopped Abraham, at the last moment, from sacrificing his son Isaac. An angel interposed himself between the Israelites and the Egyptians at the Red Sea. An angel appeared to Joshua with a drawn sword as the commander of the hosts of the Lord. The prophet Isaiah saw angels worshipping the Lord God. An angel announced the birth of the Messiah to Mary, and angels ministered to Christ in his trials.
Angels function not only as celestial beings before the throne of Godhead; they also work throughout the cosmos as God’s agents of natural phenomena; for example, of the motions of stars and planets, of winds and tides and seasons and weather, of sickness and health, of birth and death, of particular nations and peoples. These are the powers and principalities mentioned by Saint Paul, but there are more – cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, virtues, archangels, angels. Jesus said every child’s guardian angel beholds the face of his heavenly Father.¹
Saint Michael is the guardian of Israel and of the people of God; therefore of the whole Church of Christ. His name means, “Who is like God?” It is Michael who, in today’s lesson from Revelation (Rev. 12:7-12), drives Satan (the great dragon, that ancient serpent) and his fellow rebellious angels out of heaven, throwing them down to the earth, where a struggle between good and evil takes place. It is a struggle which involves us, and which we can feel even within ourselves as we are faced with the challenge to do good in the face of temptations to do otherwise.
Scripture says that the devil took a third of the angelic spirits with him. [Note that the good angels retain a large majority, two thirds, of the spiritual assembly!] In Paradise Lost, the great poet John Milton portrays Satan, as he falls, roaring out his defiance, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” The spirits who go with him, in perverse parallel to the angels, also serve in roles and hierarchies, which may give some color to Saint Paul’s great phrase in the letter to the Romans, that “the whole creation aches and groans in travail for the redemption of the body.”
It is important to understand that the devils are only fallen angels. They are creatures of God, even Satan is, who was once created to be an angel of light. They are not equal to God, but they have opposed themselves to him. Even so they do not nullify God’s purpose or frustrate his providence. On the contrary, they point up one of the truths of our faith – the centrality of freedom in God’s creation, especially the free will. The angels show us that we must choose to worship, to love, and to serve God. God, who is Love, created us out of his generosity. He does not force us to love him in return, but our greatest glory is when we use our God-given talents and faculties to do just that, to love and to obey him. There can be no love without freedom; freedom, and the risk it entails, make love possible. God freely created angels and mortals; we have free will to respond to that gift with love in return.
Whereas the devils prefer to reign in hell than serve in heaven, the good angels, like Michael, say “Who is like God!” with wonder, love and praise. Our lesson from Revelation, having begun with the contrast and battle between Michael and the Serpent, ends with a testimony to how great God is. The saints, the people of God, conquer, says Saint John the Divine, by the “blood of the Lamb and by the word of his testimony.” See how different the reign and the power of God are from that of the dark lord and his demonic host! Whereas the devils wish to dominate and to destroy, God empties himself out of love. God’s Prince of Glory is the Lamb of his own voluntary sacrifice, who gives himself out of love even to the cross to win his people’s hearts back; to bring them back home where they belong.
This Church is a place where the life-giving sacrifice of the Lamb is set forth in the mystic banquet of his Body and Blood, and where the word of his testimony is presented in preaching and teaching, music and liturgy, fellowship and service. It stands to reason that the angels (and the devils) would intensify their attention and interest in what goes on in such a place as this.
Be sure you take a look at the image of Saint Michael over the war memorial on the south wall near the narthex. There you see Michael with his lance through the dark lord, who is a serpent under his feet, and the words, Quis ut Deus, “Who is like God.” Then think of the great spiritual drama you are part of, with the angels and your fellow men. You must, by the grace of God, choose, today and every day, to serve God. But how much greater is God’s glory than the counterfeit offered by the evil one. God, who is love and lives, has given himself even to the sacrifice of the cross. Christ, who is risen and lives, has overcome death. The Lamb is the victor, which means that love does conquer all, and we conquer in him. May Holy Michael and his angelic comrades be with us in this upcoming season, and may they ever assist us.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
¹The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. I, pp. 129-133.