28 September 2020

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels (Observed) - 2020

"Seeing the Battle"

Luke 10:17-20

Blurry vision is better than no vision at all.

So I discovered this past Friday on my early morning bike ride. As I began my ride in the dark, I could see it was foggy. The further I rode, the soupier the fog became—like pea soup, as we say. The longer I rode, the more the moisture collected on my glasses, blocking my vision. When I stopped at the light at Holly Hills and Morganford, I removed my glasses and used my cycling jersey to wipe off the condensation. Well, that moved the water droplets around a bit. I had to stop again, after another mile and a half; then again after another mile. I even tried using my fingers as “windshield wipers” on my glasses as I rode. Finally, I decided simply to remove my glasses, put them in my jersey pocket, and ride the final five miles with blurry but better vision. It was much safer than riding with vision cut off by countless tiny water droplets and some finger smudges.

In a way, the 72 disciples of Jesus had to learn this lesson too. Jesus had sent them out to “Heal the sick…and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Lk. 10:9). He had enlisted them in the very same combat mission in which He was engaged. The difference between Jesus and His 72 sent out ones is this: He can clearly see the battle that’s raging. His fallen-but-redeemed human messengers? Not so much.

You see, wherever Jesus goes, whatever He does, He goes marching into battle. Remember when Jesus entered this fallen world. King Herod tried to snuff out the life of Mary and Joseph’s Child. By God’s direction they fled to Egypt for a time. Remember about 30 years later after Jesus was baptized. He was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Lk. 4:2). There He battled the arch enemy over some food, some physical protection, and a whole lot of earthly glory.

When He returned to His hometown of Nazareth, He used His synagogue sermon to set out the agenda for His ministry. He would proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. The blind would receive their sight, and the oppressed would be set free. He would proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Lk. 4:16-19). At first His hearers marveled at His gracious words. But then He confronted them with their own pride and unbelief. So they drove Him out of the town and tried to throw Him off the cliff. But He passed through the riotous crowd and walked away.

Then came the teachings and healings. Every word He spoke and every person He healed was a frontal assault on the ruler of this world. He spoke of God’s gracious reign entering—that is, invading—this world so darkened by suspicion, hatred, discontent, violence, and death. He spoke of the God who loves and forgives His fallen people, even though those same fallen people are prone to ignore Him. To those who do receive His message of divine grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He also spoke of not being judgmental but rather loving one’s neighbor in many and various ways. And the healings! Folks were liberated from various captivities: demon-possession, leprosy, paralysis, withered hands, sicknesses leading to death, even death itself.

Wherever Jesus goes, whatever He does, He brings the age-old battle to the enemy—the great dragon, that ancient serpent. The 72 were sent out with the same battle plan: to heal the sick and proclaim the coming of God’s gracious kingdom in Christ. When they returned to Jesus, they took pride in what they had done. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” They were giddy in their apparent victory and success. But their glasses were covered with the pea-soup fog of pride.

Yes, Jesus did see Satan fall like lightning from heaven, both at the beginning of creation and every time His sent ones proclaimed His kingdom of mercy and forgiveness. Yes, Jesus had given them authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and even over all the power of the enemy. He even promised that nothing would hurt them. But they needed to remove their glasses fogged up with pride. “Don’t rejoice that some junior devils are subject to you when you proclaim Me,” Jesus says. “Instead, ‘rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’”

It seems a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Engage in the same war Jesus is engaged in, but do not focus on victories in the minor skirmishes? We do need to remove our glasses fogged up with the pea soup of pride. We do need to see with better clarity even if, to us, it’s still blurry.

You see, we are at war. Not against nations or terrorists. Not a ground war, sea war, air war, nuclear war, or war against a microscopic virus. Not a war against flesh and blood. We are at war “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It’s cosmic, spiritual warfare. We can see it only with blurred vision, which is better than not seeing because of pride.

In our Old Testament reading, we see the battle lines drawn. It’s the wise versus the wicked. It’s the kings of the earth lined up against the people of God. But they are not the only ones on the battlefield. There’s also Michael, the prince of God’s people. He and his forces confront and engage the antichrist.

This picture comes into clearer focus in our reading from Revelation. Michael and his ranks of angels do battle against the dragon and his fallen angels. And they defeat the the dragon and his evil minions. The victory comes in a most unexpected, unanticipated way. “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11). Our Lord Jesus, who had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven, finally conquered the old evil foe. He who was higher than the angels became a little Child, humble, trusting His heavenly Father, and obedient unto death. By dying on a cross and shedding His innocent blood He conquered the ancient serpent. That with His resurrection on the third day crushed the serpent’s head. That’s the victory we can clearly see.

But the fighting is not over. Between that victory on Calvary and the Feast of Victory after the Last Day, the devil and his forces are still in the world doing their dirty work. Remember, “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8). He and his forces will do whatever it takes to further their cause. They’ll use pandemics and responses to pandemics to turn people away from Jesus, prevent them from hearing His Word and receiving His Sacrament, and sow seeds of suspicion and division among people. They’ll use highly charged politics in an election year and violence in the streets to make fears and anxieties grow.

This is why, in our Gospel reading, our Lord warns His disciples not to become pawns of the evil one. How might you and I become pawns of the dragon in his battle against our Lord and His Church? By succumbing to pride. By desiring greatness and acclaim. By forgetting we are the Lord’s “little ones” who can see only with the clarity of faith, even as we have the blurred vision of physical sight.

As the Church engages in the struggle against Satan and his demonic forces, she does so with St. Michael and the holy angels at her side. In Holy Baptism, we become God’s “little children.” Our Father hears our prayers and sends His angels to guard us in all our ways. In Holy Absolution we hear our Father’s word of pardon for our offenses, including our offenses against weaker members of His family. In the Holy Supper we participate in the Feast of Victory and are fed with Life Himself as our living Bread from heaven. And in the liturgy we are brought into the very presence of our Lord Jesus and join the angels and archangels in their unending hymn of praise.

Let this St. Michael and All Angels Day remove your lenses of pride and improve your vision. We may not be able to see the battle against the spiritual forces of evil nor the holy angels themselves. But your Lord, by His blood, has conquered the evil foe. Your Lord sends His angels to serve as your powerful protectors. Rejoice that your names are written heaven. Amen.

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