September 29, 2019

Recently there was a news story from Wisconsin that applauded a man for being a “good Samaritan”.  He was driving his pick-up across a bridge when he noticed a woman set to jump. She had one foot over the railing and the other still on the bridge. It was clear to the man that she had not stopped to admire the beauty of the river below. He did more than call 9-1-1. He parked his vehicle and approached the woman. She saw him coming and now had both feet at the brink and was ready to jump. But the man reached her in time and pulled her to safety. Local law enforcement praised him for saving her life. The man responded to such praise of being a “Good Samaritan” by saying “No, God is the Good Samaritan.” He felt God had led him to rescue the distraught woman. Then he said something curious, “Her guardian angel” had kept her from jumping until he arrived to pull her away from the bridge.  In the gospel of Matthew Jesus spoke of angels looking after the “Little Ones” saying “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.” We can also refer to Psalm 91, a wonderful prayer calling our attention to God who is our refuge and fortress, God in whom we are to trust. This Psalm says God “will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

On the church calendar this is the Sunday to commemorate Michael and all the angels. In the popular imagination angels are much loved. In the 1940’s a movie called “It’s A Wonderful Life” appeared. There, the main character played by Jimmy Stewart wanted to take his own life by jumping off a bridge. He felt he was a total failure, facing financial ruin, and that he worth more dead than alive because of a life insurance policy.  He jumps, but is rescued by a guardian angel called “Clarence”. He is desperate to earn “his wings” for now he is only an angel “Second class”. He earns his wings by helping the Jimmy Steward character realize just how great a difference his life has made for the community.  In the 1990’s there was a popular program on TV called “Touched by an Angel”.  On that program the so-called angel of death was portrayed in a comforting, compassionate way, escorting gently those who have died to their heavenly home.  In the history of the church the angel or Archangel Michael could be called the Angel of Death. Michael was considered the guardian of the church, protector of individual Christians against the devil, and in the hour of death, accompanying the departed on their journey into the eternal light and peace of heaven.

Speaking of archangels, we are more familiar with Gabriel because of Christmas time. Gabriel was sent from the throne of God to tell the priest Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth, both elderly, were to become parents for the first time—announcing the eventual birth of the one known as John the Baptist.  And, of course, Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce that she, a humble servant, was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.

But today we heard about Archangel Michael. The time for the book of Daniel was persecution of the faithful in Israel. A foreign ruler was bent on destroying the Jewish faith. A time of great anguish was coming but Michael, called the ‘great prince” would protect the nation of Israel. It was believed that every nation had their protector-guardian-warrior angel. From the reading from Daniel Michael was busy dealing with the angel of Persia. It is hard to wrap our modern minds around such a thought. But before we are tempted to dismiss protector angels as some ancient thought unable to be proven, let us not be too hasty. There are indeed spiritual battles going on that we do not see or even know about. So what is being taught is that we are not alone when we are in the midst of real, spiritual battles: how can I have faith in such troubling times? A pastor, officiating at a recent funeral of one killed in the Dayton, Ohio mass killing said “The world we live in now is one in which no place is safe, no lives really matter when it comes to violence.” If there are guardian angels how come some people die so tragically? We cannot say such deaths are the will of God. So is there protection in this world we live in today? Angels do not act alone. As we read in the letter to the Hebrews “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” In the mystery of grace, angels are servants who help us stay faithful to God even when circumstances tempt us not to believe. In the letter of 1 Peter, written originally to people who were under intense pressure to give up faith in Jesus Christ, we read that we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and that in our troubles now we are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation that will not fail you. Angels are a part of that so that we do not lose heart, lose hope, and lose faith.  Angels rejoice when every single sinner repents. Angels rejoice when people realize that Jesus is for them, and never against them. Angels rejoice when we surrender our pride and allow ourselves to be drawn to the cross where Jesus has proved his love for the world, for all sinners, for you and me.

We heard from the reading of Revelation “war broke out in heaven”. That by itself is a startling statement. As you know Revelation consists of visions that often picture monster like creatures representing evil, and the power of evil is to deceive the faithful so they give up their faith and go along with whatever is favored and fostered in the culture. There is a vision of war in heaven, Michael and his angels against the dragon and its angels.  No details were given about this war in heaven except the most important: the dragon and his cohort were defeated and thrown down, no place for them in heaven any more. What is this dragon but the devil, a word meaning deceiver, perpetual liar; and Satan, a word meaning ‘adversary’.  The reading spoke of Satan’s work of “accusing the people of God constantly before God.” I am sure God does not pay attention to the devil’s lies and accusations. It would be simple enough to accuse us of sins, broken commandments, and a failure of faith. The Bible makes it clear that God is not plotting against us, but ever promoting grace, mercy, and love. Did we not pray today, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.”

But the devil has an easier time with you and me, and as Luther wrote in the Catechism, the devil has allies, the world and even our own sinful natures. The devil accuses us of our sinfulness with the hope of hiding God’s grace from us so to convince us that we are unworthy and unwanted before God. But reading Revelation what do we see, “we conquer the devil by the blood of the Lamb.” The devil, the world, and even we may say at times, “There is no God. Look at this world and what about the misfortunes that plague my life.” But please conquer by the blood of the Lamb, that is do not rely on your own power, but trust a far greater one, the blood of the Lamb: Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, revealing a love that finds us, never abandons us, leads us to repentance and the joy of the entire forgiveness, that remission or deletion of sins—no record of them ever kept. Michael the Archangel is often pictured in Christian art as wearing armor, the soldier, the guardian of the church. Good, we need all the guardian power we can get. But even more importantly the witness of Scripture says “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God so that you may stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle are not enemies of flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil.”

I was in the restaurant recently and I overheard a conversation in the next booth. There was a girl in the 6th grade, eating with her grandparents. She had a hard day: schoolwork, basketball practice, a long ride on the bus, and to top everything, one of her classmates told her the world was coming to an end soon. She sounded more perplexed than worried. Her grandfather assured her that people have been predicting that for ages, and the world is still here. Michael and all angels would reassure us too, ever pointing to Jesus, pointing to the blood of the Lamb, cleansed from all our sin, loved eternally,  the wicked one has no power over you when you trust Jesus as Savior, and be covered in his grace and love—like one of these beautiful quilts– the ultimate armor of God, and rejoice, rejoice that by trusting in Jesus, ever relying on his faithful mercy, your names are written in heaven.