St Michael and All Angels

Michaelmas is a time to remember that the Church is failing in its duty when it is not fighting against evil in all its forms, both stark and subtle, both obvious and obscure and in this I include the way we are polluting the world. In the main we neglect the fact that there is spiritual warfare. Many churches give the impression that the Christian religion is like a luxury cruise ship instead of a battle ship, with battle stations. A sermon by LLM Sally Kerson…

For decades we have associated Sweden with the pop group ABBA and the shop IKEA – not forgetting of course ‘flat packed’ furniture. But now Sweden, or rather a Swedish citizen, 16 year old Greta Thunberg is hitting the headlines, and rightly so, because she is actively motivating young people (whilst shaming the older generation) to do something about the dangers that face our world because of climate change.

She is begging us to stop polluting the world before it’s too late. I know Vanessa talked about Greta last week but we need to keep pushing changes that all of us need to make in our lives, and as part of our Christian calling we need to get the message over to others, the message is we cannot keep ruining God’s world with our over indulgences.

As most of us will remember Sweden’s iconic pop group ABBA won the Eurovision contest in 1974 with their song Waterloo. In the biblical sense the word Abba is a beautiful and intimate Aramaic phrase used by Jesus, and elsewhere by St Paul, to speak of the intimacy of the relationship between each one of us as a child of God in relation to our loving heavenly Father: Abba means, Father or Daddy. But as well as a pop group the name ABBA used to be a Swedish canned fish company – odd but true. This morning I want to quote some lines from another of ABBA’s songs called, ‘I Have a dream’, because it mentions angels as well as every hymn this morning, carefully chosen I may add! The chorus to ABBAs song is this…

“I believe in angels

Something good in everything I see

I believe in angels

When I know the time is right for me

I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream”

Today is the feast day of St. Michael and all Angels also knows as Michaelmas, ABBA’s song ‘I have a dream’, released in December 1979 was mainly for the Christmas market. Of course Christmas is when we usually pay the most attention to God’s winged messengers who give good news to Mary, shocking news to Joseph and frighten the shepherds with their good tidings. Angels of course have a major part in nativity plays and appear on our Christmas cards in so many shapes and forms.

But as in the words of ABBA do you believe in angels? A good many faithful Christians have a hard time believing in angels. A good many [more] faithful Christians, who believe in angels, have a spirituality that simply overlooks or forgets about angels and yet they are mentioned so many times in the bible. As the world becomes more secular so have angels, today they are widely associated with the New Age movement populated by pagans, atheists and I find that rather sad and feel we should acknowledge them a little more as partners on our faith journey. After all angels wing their way in and out of our lives constantly, whether we are aware or not. We speak of angels in our attitude to hospitality and kindness to strangers; to acts of generosity – whether intentional or spontaneous. We speak of guardian angels and of being angels — is that wrong?

The bible opens up a more expansive vision of angels, enabling us to think about God’s ways with the world and our participation in God’s purposes. Angels inspire us with heavenly worship and earthly service. Angels bring messages from God: including words of acceptance, strength and healing. Of course as human beings we would like to see a vision of of an angel, for reassurance for clarification and yes comfort, but then we are reminded in the bible that we entertain angels unaware.

But just as we begin to accept these winged messengers as peaceful mediators the passage we heard from the book of Revelation chills us to the bone ‘war broke out in heaven’ how can that be? This of course is apocalyptic literature, it is not to be interpreted literally but rather, like an impressionist painting, it portrays reality in an unusual light, but nevertheless a stark warning to all who turn their faces away from God. Evil as depicted by a dragon is defeated and cast out of heaven…

St Michael’s victory over the Devil is portrayed in Sir Jacob Epstein’s sculpture, which is mounted on the side of Coventry Cathedral a reminder of how evil was defeated and peace came to the world in Sept 1945. And furthermore the bombed out remains of the old church were kept intact next to the new one in Coventry as a reminder of the futility of war. St Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. They did not sit quietly in a corner of the heavenly places, having a committee meeting, they did not keep themselves to themselves whilst the powers of evil raged around them. They used their power, their strength and fought against the evil that surrounded them. The mystery of that war in heaven may for the time defeat our human understanding. But one thing is clear that self-same war continues on earth, and there is surely a need for the Church (us), in every place, to be in the front line of the battle against evil, the battle for the souls of all men and women.

Michaelmas is a time to remember that the Church is failing in its duty when it is not fighting against evil in all its forms, both stark and subtle, both obvious and obscure and in this I include the way we are polluting the world. In the main we neglect the fact that there is spiritual warfare. Many churches give the impression that the Christian religion is like a luxury cruise ship instead of a battle ship, with battle stations. We see in the New Testament and other writings of the early Church a tendency to use military expressions regularly and somewhat spontaneously. Saint Paul, for example, telling the Ephesians to put on the whole armour of God in order to stand against principalities and powers, rulers of the present darkness of this world, and wicked spirits in heavenly places. He tells them to stand, that is, to hold their ground. Jesus did not tell us to hold a party until He comes, but to occupy ourselves until he comes again and to use our time wisely.

And what about our own spiritual battles, the ones that can often rage inside us, the battles that we all too often keep a secret, the ones that hurt ourselves and those around us, because we feel that God has left us, or worse does not not exist.

Do we talk about them to anyone? I suspect not, we are usually too ashamed, frightened and feel spiritually dead to be able to begin to communicate to others our fears of absolute dismay as we begin to think our own faith in God is ebbing away… I remember being in a school play as a child it was called Murder in the cathedral by T.S Eliot about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, my role was one of the women of Canterbury. There weren’t many lines to learn, our main part was to be there watching and waiting, as women often do. The words though that I still remember to this day is when the women shout ‘God is leaving us, God is leaving us more pang more pain that birth or death’ That is the fear that all of us have felt at one time or another in our lives, the fear of isolation when hope fades.

Spiritual battles are more common than we are lead to believe and some of us in times of great pain have clung to our beliefs by our finger nails, until maybe an angel, in disguise is sent by God and has brought us back to a loving accepting and forgiving God. Martin Luther had a dream that everyone could live together, what ever race, Greta Thurmberg told the climate summit in the USA on Monday that they had stolen her dreams, her childhood with their words and in-action. When Jacob in the book of Genesis lay down to sleep in his dream he saw a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending and he was reassured by God about the future of his nation.

ABBA sung when I know the time is right with me I’ll cross the stream, I have dream. Two worlds divided by an imaginary “stream”, but it is a stream that one can choose to cross at will, going from the real world into one’s spiritual world. However, may be that is not the true interpretation of the song, although I would like to think it was.

It is difficult to figure out how we distinguish the ministry of angels from that of the risen presence of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. But, it doesn’t matter, because all these things speak to us of a God who is not remote and absent from us, but engaged in our lives and in our world Heaven and earth are close to each other, the invisible mingles with the visible, the spiritual with the material, and if we can’t grasp that here in this ancient building, then we never will.

Do you believe in angels?

Close with this beautiful prayer taken from Night Prayer, often called ‘Compline’ because it is said at the conclusion of the day and invokes God’s protection with the help of his holy angels.

Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Image via Twenty20

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