24 September 2017

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels (Obs.) - 2017

"God's 'Army Rangers'"
Matthew 18:1-11 & Revelation 12:7-12

Listen here.

“Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” That’s how we end our morning and evening prayers in the Catechism. So how do you envision God’s holy angels?

Our standard image of angels includes wings, of course, bright halos, flowing white robes, beautiful long hair, and even kind, effeminate features. But that’s not entirely Biblical. It would be far better to picture God’s holy angels as battle-hardened soldiers with gear such as breastplates, shields, spears and swords. Or, in 21st century parlance, let’s picture them with helmets and night-vision goggles, flak jackets and fully automatic machine guns.

Today we are talking about God’s “heavenly hosts,” the ranks of angel armies. Let’s call them “St. Michael and his Army Rangers” or “St. Michael and his Navy Seals.”

How do we benefit from picturing Michael and the angels as heavenly Army Rangers or spiritual Navy Seals? Hebrews 1:14 says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” God’s angels are spirit beings—not flesh and blood—created sometime in those first six days of time. God sends them out to serve. Whom do they serve? You, of course! You who are to inherit salvation. Just as a nation sends its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to protect and defend its land and way of life, God also sends His angel armies to protect and defend you, His loved and redeemed children.

Why do we need God’s “heavenly Army Rangers” and “spiritual Navy Seals”? You and I are caught in the middle of a cosmic battle, a heavenly war, that makes World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the War on Terrorism combined look like a game of Tiddly-Winks. It’s the war of “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels [fighting] back.” It’s the war that started with the serpent’s temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden. It’s the war that causes you and me to doubt God’s goodness, to turn away from Him, to choose our own path, and to make ourselves “like God.” It’s the war that prompts each of us to live all of life trusting and bowing down to “me-myself-and-I” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As St. Paul says: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). St. Peter gives a different image: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

It’s the cosmic battle that prompts you and I to think and act like the disciples—to worry about who’s the greatest in the kingdom. It’s the heavenly, spiritual war that leads you and I to look down our noses at becoming like children and humbling ourselves like a child. And don’t think we are passive victims in this battle! No, you and I actively, even ambitiously, take up arms and fight against God’s ways. You and I actively wring our hands and twist ourselves in knots as we worry, fret, and complain. We do it when we fret more over graying hair and varicose veins than we do over the demons lurking to sink their claws into us. We do it when we get more worked up over our AC quitting in the middle of July (or even this past week) than we do over the unquenchable fire that we truly deserve because of our doubts and despair of God’s goodness in all things. We do it plenty in the times of hurricanes, earthquakes, and racially charged protests in our city.

So God’s angels—His “heavenly Army Rangers,” His “spiritual Navy Seals”—are His guardian gifts to you. They help you and defend you on earth as they muzzle Satan and his demonic horde. But God’s angels really do not wield swords and spears, or even sniper rifles and Beretta pistols. Rather, they carry a concealed weapon. It’s in their mouths and on their tongues. Their angelic weapon of choice? The Word of God. As St. John says, the angels “have conquered [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

The angels’ concealed weapon—the Word of the living God—is a bloody weapon indeed. It’s covered with and soaked in the blood of the Lamb—the Son of God who laid down His life, sacrificed Himself, and paid the ultimate price to conquer the dragon and his lying horde once and for all. And the angelic words shield you from the fiery lies of the dragon. They’re not trivial words. They’re very weighty and mighty words. They’re words that say, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So you really don’t need wing-ed angels; you need “word-ed angels.” Thus the psalmist teaches us to sing: “Bless the LORD, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word!” (103:20).

The same goes for those other “angels,” as Scripture calls them, those other messengers sent from God to serve for the sake of you who inherit salvation. Those other “angels,” those other messengers, happen to have flesh and blood. They are the pastors of the Church. They are the men whom God has called and placed among you. They live and work in the stead and by the command of your Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And they also carry the same concealed weapon as Michael and his heavenly host: the blood-soaked Word of God.

When God sends these flesh and blood “angels” to you, He arms those little messengers with only a word—the Word of the Lamb. In fact, you can proudly say that your pastor is supposed to give you only the Word, only the message of Christ slain for sinners and raised to give life.

You see, it’s this Word that became flesh, dwelt among us, bled out on the cross, and rose again to bring life and immortality to light. It’s this Word that converts you into little children so that you can enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s this Word breathed into the water that gives you new birth from above. It’s this Word that cuts off the hands and feet that are your sins, that cuts to the heart and leads you to confess your sins and receive the Absolution. It’s this Word that comes to you in the Body and Blood of the Supper and makes you a partaker of His never-ending life. It’s this Word that makes each of you truly the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

That’s the concealed weapon of Michael, all the heavenly hosts, and even flesh and blood messengers standing in pulpits. And what a glorious and weighty Word it is! You deserve hell, but He—the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—gives you heaven. He defends and protects you from the dragon and his evil horde. Every time you hear Jesus Christ proclaimed and given out for you, “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down.”

Now you get to sing:

Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions;
Wins the strife from age to age;
Conquers sin and death forever;
Slams them in their steely cage. (LSB 521:1)


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