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Sunday September 26, 2010
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

Genesis 28:1-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

Lift Up Your Hearts

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The angels are involved in every Eucharist, simple or solemn, including this one. For instance, as we finish the dialogue called the sursum corda: “Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord,” we proceed, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising thee and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee O Lord Most High.”

Seven hundred years before Christ, probably while in the Temple at Jerusalem and, as he says “in the year that King Uzziah died,” the prophet Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord, worshipped by the angels, specifically the seraphim. “Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And each called to the other, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” (Is 6:1-5) From afar Isaiah saw the scene into which Jesus, centuries after the prophet, ascended and was exalted after his death and resurrection. When we have Holy Communion, when we consecrate the Body of Christ, those angels seen by the prophets are here with us. They are Christ’s ministers. We have lifted up our hearts to that “place” beyond time and space where Jesus reigns, “to the throne of Godhead, to the central height.”

Angels are created spirits who serve God their maker. They are not limited by bodies, by time and space and decay, as humans are; yet they share with us the vital capacity to choose. The human choice for (or against) God and his goodness is made over a lifetime. The angels simply choose; or I should say, have chosen. Some chose against God and became evil, and they are called devils or demons. But fallen as they are, even the devils are creatures and they do not thwart their Creator, whose all-powerful love includes bringing good from ill. It may be that up to a third of the angels are fallen. Scripture and church tradition suggest this, but that leaves two-thirds, a supermajority, for goodness. And God’s kingdom is not a congress or parliament anyway.

What this means is that the universe is permeated with creatures and phenomena, including the angelic realms, which we can scarcely imagine but are disclosed by glimpses in Holy Scripture. Angels appear throughout the Bible and with special intensity at the time of Christ’s incarnation. Angels announce him, they attend him, they minister to him all the way through his earthly life. The devil is there with special intensity too, because so much, everything, is at stake in the life of Christ. The greatest wonder of all is that it is precisely at the point when the devil appears triumphant, at Jesus’ cross and death, his victory commences and his glorification as Lord is consummated. At his empty tomb, angels announced his resurrection: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” (Lk 24:5-6)

Jesus knew and saw the angels. He saw the scene described in our reading today from Revelation, where Michael and the angels of God drove out Satan from heaven. But Jesus also said that God’s little ones, the children, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers, all of these, have angels who behold the face of his Father. In other words, there is an angelic communion and fellowship, working for Jesus, a host which watches over us: guardian angels. There are also other, fallen, spirits as well, demonic agents contending for us. But this only returns us to the great fact that God is Love Almighty; that love is free and cannot be coerced; and that we enter God’s kingdom, willingly by love’s persuasion – by faith. This above all is faith in Jesus Christ, who has overcome the sharpness of death, tread down Satan under his feet and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

God’s universe is not an automatic machine; it is alive with his creative and redemptive power, from the galaxies to the molecules. His angels, myriads of myriads of them as Scripture says, are deployed throughout the cosmos, which means that God’s providence, working through his divine plan of love and freedom, is everywhere. Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, and the angels serve, convey and reflect his glory.

I believe that the children and those who are like them see this profound mystery more clearly. Part of the reason why Jesus commends childlikeness (not childishness) is that the child, in innocence and vulnerability, can see and trust and love without the conditions and caveats that we learn as adults experienced in sin, sadness and death. I have heard the testimony of children about matters of the spirit. They include what I can only call the angelic. This is not romance and sentimentality. It is simply a matter of listening and paying attention, which is hard for us adults to do. We do entertain angels unawares. But the children, and those who are childlike, are more aware.

The point of this sermon is not to distract our attention from God to his angelic creatures; far from it, the angels all point to God. Saint Michael’s very name is the challenge that he puts to fallen Lucifer, the devil, as he drives him out. The name is the word to the evil one: “Who is like God?” Gabriel, the messenger, means just that, “God’s messenger.” Raphael, the healer, means “God heals,” or “God is healing.” All the ranks of angels have roles suggested by their categorical names: Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels and Angels. But the roles are involvement and ministry in the manifold workings of God’s grace in all of life, from the oversight of a nation to the care of a baby, from the management of a waterfall to the fight against a disease. To describe the angels is to describe how much more glorious is God than we have ever imagined. And if we put away guile and believe as Jesus said to Nathaniel, we shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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