29. September 2011
St. Michael and All Angels
The festival of St. Michael and All Angels used to be one of the high points of the Lutheran calendar, of a similar class to Epiphany and the Ascension. In our time, its remembrance has fallen into obscurity, collecting dust in the vaults of former church practices. Thankfully, it is returning from its long slumber and is increasingly being celebrated by fellow Lutherans throughout our beloved Synod.
Why? Why celebrate this holiday? Why hear of St. Michael, the holy archangel of God, who battled the wicked serpent and cast him down to the earth? What did we lose that we now seek to regain?
There is a renaissance among Lutherans towards the Scripture, namely to its teaching on spiritual warfare. This battle—despite its numerous references in Scripture and many hymns addressing the church militant—has been rejected as pious superstition by most. While the spiritual has been rejected for the greater part of two hundred years, the popularity of angels and demons, ghosts and apparitions, and even depictions of battle between good and evil, have given us cause to revisit the ancient knowledge.
After the age of the Enlightenment (which incidentally was not all that enlightened), Lutherans adopted the worldly view that the only thing that can be believed is what is seen. Empirical evidence is required for the scientific theory. If it cannot be observed, it cannot be theorized and thus discussed. The only things that matter are what you can taste, touch, see, hear, and smell. Without the senses, you have nothing but doubt.
The modern man co-opted the empiricism of the Enlightenment and has altogether rejected the notion of truth and reality. Even if you see and hear, touch and taste, or even smell, your mind may be playing tricks on you. The only thing you can know is that you exist. We have become skeptics, doubting everything.
Marriage is considered a free-for-all, to be entered into and exited out of according to the lust of one or more partner. Hatred is legal and free. Abortion, I mean, murder is sanctioned by the government, paid for by tax dollars, and advertised as civil right. Even civility has degraded into each-man-for-himself-anarchy, most evident in the recent riots in England.
Consider what damage this has done to the church, her doctrine, and her faith. We have taken it a step further and now doubt and many even reject the Scriptures. Wrongly, faith has become a matter of the heart and entirely personal. The corporate faith of the church catholic cannot be trusted. The creeds are false.
How often have you heard it said, “you can’t tell me I am wrong because I know in my heart I am right?” How often have you heard that it wrong to be slavishly bound to our doctrine, that is, our teaching, since no one can know for sure what is right and true? How often have you heard that church membership and one’s public confession are irrelevant or unimportant because “we’re all going to heaven anyway?”
Our skepticism rejects the institution of Christ and His church. We hate that God has given us churches where the promise of the Gospel lies and nowhere else. We hate that he charges us to hear this Word preached from a fellow baptized believer, rather than our own private meditation. We look to the water in the font (when the lid is off) and wonder what all this washing is really for. We can’t stand the fact that he wants us to take and eat something that doesn’t look like body and blood and believe it truly is.
If it is true that the Scriptures are of Christ and in Him is life, than apart from the Holy Scriptures and the holy institutions contained within, there is only death. Skepticism leads only death, doubt to decay, and lies to all sorts of malice and vice.
In tonight’s particular case, outside the church is death at the hands of the wicked Serpent and all his fallen angels, now demons. Actually the case is not all that particular to tonight. Its been the case since the fateful day that Adam sinned. Its been the case every dying day since. Every generation has struggled to the death with this dragon, the ancient serpent and his angels.
Our struggles aren’t what they seem. We think that our hatred of God’s moral law is just between us. We think that our doubt and skepticism of the Gospel and the Sacraments is a simple weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The battle is bigger and the stakes are higher than we ever imagined.
It began around the time that the breath of life was breathed into the formed clay, the beginning of man. The holy archangel Michael initiated a battle with the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back but could not withstand St. Michael’s onslaught. Their defeat was their condemnation. They opposed God and his messengers. For such as these, there is no place in heaven.
And that great dragon was thrown down, the ancient serpent, called the devil and Satan, the great deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to earth and his angels were thrown down with him. What does he do there? The deceiver and his messengers torment us day and night with lies. He is the great liar.
All skepticism of God and His Word is whispered into your ears by the dragon. You may have thought it harsh for me to accuse you of hating the church, the Word preached, the water of the font, or the blessed Lord’s Supper. Maybe. Do not be deceived, dear Christians! That doubt, that lie, that fear—it is real and it has infested your flesh.
Who among us has not doubted the clear testimony of God? Who among us has not hated the Word of Law preached by Christ’s angels? Who has not doubted that their baptism destroyed the bonds of sin and has made you a saint of God? Who has not wondered in skepticism whether a simple wafer and amber wine can be and do what our Lord has promised?
We have doubted because we are sinners. Our flesh desires not the Word of God but rather the word of the deceiver. We struggle with our unholy lives because we constantly hear two words being spoken, one of truth and one of lie. There is a battle being waged in our members and it will not be over until after we have struggled for the last bit of sin-infested air of this world.
What St. Michael began, continues to this day on earth. This battle, though, is different than any man has known. For the victory has already been declared. While war still is being waged in our bodies, the final outcome is assured. While Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, his maw is toothless and his paws declawed.
He is defeated. His power is lost. His fierce scowl cannot frighten us anymore. His lies have been exposed. Even his temptation to sin has been rendered void. Sin is forgiven, death is a peaceful slumber, and on the last day he will be bound to the hell while we are welcomed into the heavenly host.
St. John tells us of the age of Christ: I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ has come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
His accusations are worthless. Our conscience has been freed. Our guilt remitted. Our shame covered. For we 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.
When you doubt God’s holy word, whether his commands or promises, his church or preachers, his Sacraments or holy Word of forgiveness, remember those words. Skepticism is of the devil. Doubt is of Satan. Unbelief is trust in the lies of the Great Deceiver. Instead, trust in Christ. Hear His Word. Believe and live.
You have conquered this evil one. His lies do not hold you captive. Your sin is forgiven. Your death is destroyed. You are not powerless but have been given the victory in the blood of the Lamb. The very same sinless and blameless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, now sits upon this altar. His flesh and blood is enthroned in glory for you, received into your mouths, working new life in your from the inside out.
This is without a doubt the truth. God has spoken. The testimony is trustworthy. The Word is life and saves. You have heard the voice of your savior. you have been quickened by the Holy Spirit. Now the ancient serpent cannot deceive you and you cannot lose. Remain in Christ and believe.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
And what of that? Even the devil’s worst wrath cannot destroy the faith of these little ones. For we are already great in the kingdom of heaven. We are adopted children of the heavenly Father, restored into right relationship in him, all through the blood of Jesus. The victory is one, the battle is o’er, one little word has felled even the great dragon. It is finished!
Therefore, rejoice! Sing holy, holy, holy with the whole heavenly host. Sing loudly with cherubim and seraphim. Rejoice for heaven has come to earth, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Rejoice and dwell with the saints and angels forevermore.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church