Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon for Christ the King

“Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, 
you did it to me.”

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,
then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 

We are at the judgement.
Jesus sits on a throne in glory, angels around him.

This must will be wonderful sight, one we will all behold, one we will all share in.
Christ the King,

All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

It gets a bit trickier there.
This idea of separation.
Sheep and goats.

It all seems quite harsh.
But I suppose the good thing is that in the passage, we are given the criteria of this judgement.
In this passage, Jesus tells what it is that we are to be judged on.
And with the overall message of Matthew’s Gospel,
we are given a lens with which we can focus the message

Jesus says to the those at his right hand, the sheep:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.” 

This list is more or less repeated four times in this passage.

Hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned.

Listen to those.

Hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned.

Think of the kind of people that will suffer them.
These are the people who are having it really tough.
Some may have made bad decisions that have led them to be in such a situation.
But I don’t hear anything in what Jesus says that would allow that to be a reason to not help.

Food, water, welcomed, clothed, care, visited.

Listen to those.

Think of the kind of person that would respond to those in trouble in such a way.
This is a person who responds to need.

Think of the kind of heart that responds in such a way.

This is a heart that is open to another.
This is a heart that is not hardened by life.
This is a heart that is not cynical or suspicious.
This is a heart that responds openly with love.

The actual acts, the actual needs are not the important element.
They are repeated to emphasize the idea of need,
to really bring home the hopelessness of some people’s lives,
but in and of themselves they are not the point.

The main point is what is going on in the person who responds.

It is about showing mercy.

Mercy is a strong feature in Matthew’s Gospel.

In the calling of Matthew,
when Jesus is being criticized for associating with tax collectors and sinners, he replies
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Again, when he is criticized for doing something unlawful on the Sabbath, he replies
But if you had known what this means,
“I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless.

I desire mercy and not sacrifice

In both instances Jesus is quoting the Prophet Hosea
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings. 

Steadfast love, mercy.

This is more important to God than anything else.
To do the works,
to clothe, feed, visit, and care,
but without a heart that is filled with steadfast love,
to do such works as these without a heart that is acting out of mercy
is to miss the point.

It is mercy that God desires from us.

He longs for us to not only look after those who are doing it tough,
but more so to join them in their pain and suffering,
to be one with them, hearts joined, their pain is our pain.

At the outset of his ministry,
Jesus laid out his manifesto of sorts, in which he said:
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

He says to those who have shown such mercy
Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world

Mercy, true heartfelt, at one with others mercy will receive mercy from him.

But this goes even deeper that just judgement.

Look who is speaking.
Look at who is being fed, clothed and cared for.

It is Jesus.

“Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,
you did it to me.” 

So, on this feast of Christ the King, when we celebrate the exalted Lord,
we are to remember Christ as one of the least.

And think of Jesus words when questioned about the greatest commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 

With Jesus self identification with the least, our neighbour, this statement becomes deeper.

In loving and serving our neighbour, we are loving and serving Christ.

The two commandments have become one and the same.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

It will be in our showing mercy, that we will receive mercy

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

Jesus tells us this parable about the three slaves and their master.
He uses the things of the world around him to express a greater truth.
He uses the present to express the eternal.

He uses these images to express something about the Kingdom:
The master is God, we are the slaves.

The master is going away
and before he leaves he gives his slaves money according to their ability.
Some are given more than others.
They are to do their best with this money.
Invest, build, whatever.
It is a gift to them and they are to use it according to their abilities.

Two of them do well with this.

They use their gifts to increase the amount.

The master returns, and they present their results.

Here’s the thing.

They are given this according to their ability.
They are given this to use their gifts.
Not someone’s else idea of what their gift is, but their own abilities, strengths.

It is their true being,
their heart and soul that is being given the opportunity,
not their ability to follow instructions,
or their ability to please someone else,
but it is their very being that is asked to do this.

God asks the true self to use its gifts for the growth of the kingdom.

“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Now I hope that when I die and I am called to give an account of what I did with the gifts that God gave me,
that I am able to answer honestly from my true self.
I hope that I can say I used the gifts I was given for the good of the kingdom.
I hope that I don’t have to make excuses.

I hope I don’t hear:
“Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,
You have done exactly what the parishes demanded of you.
You have done everything that everyone has asked of you,
even when they were the opposite of each other.
Well done, good and trustworthy slave,
you completely lost your true self to the will of a few.
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

That is not what will be said.

The point is that God has given us all gifts,
and we are to use them for the good of the kingdom, not to keep others happy.
We aren’t to lose our true selves.
If we lose our very being at the altar of criticism, we have lost everything.

Think of the last slave.

This is a man who is acting out of fear, or rather inacting out of fear.
He hides the gifts given to him.

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.

The problem is he has misread his master.
He views him as a figure to fear.
And in doing so, he hides the gifts that were entrusted to him.

He is more afraid of getting it wrong and getting in trouble than using the gifts that God has given him.

How many of us view God like that?
How many of us think it is better not to do something in the risk of getting it wrong?
How many of us have hidden our gifts because we are afraid that we will get it in the neck?

How many in the church are afraid of doing ministry
because they think they will be told they aren’t good enough?

How many in this congregation hide their gifts from the parish
 because they are afraid they will only end up in the middle of some stupid historical battle that no one really understands anymore?

How many within this parish bury their gifts
because they know if they actually revealed them they would only receive grief and whinging?

Is that how it is?

Have we all become like the third slave,
acting out of fear and hiding our true God given selves in the hope that we just don’t cop a serve if we get it slightly wrong?

From my own experience, I can say that is exactly how it feels some days.

I am not surprised many have hidden their gifts.
The culture of blame, criticism, us and them,
all tangled up in a survival mentality has taken a strong root in this parish.

It fractures relationships between parishoners and clergy,
it limits relationships with the greater community,
and nullifies any evangelism and ministry that might take place.

More importantly, all this can have a very negative effect on our spirituality.
If the church negates our gifts, we start to think of God as being the same way:

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, so I was afraid,
and I went and hid your talent in the ground. 

In his letter to the Thessalonians,
Paul tells them that the God is not about wrath, but about eternal life in Jesus Christ.

If the church acts towards those within with wrath, what are we saying about God?
What might that look like to those who are not yet with us?
It can only reinforce the image of a vengeful God.

Paul writes:
God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.
Not criticize and tear down.

Everyone has been given gifts by God.
Jesus calls us to use them for his kingdom and the building up his body, the church.

To bury your gifts in fear is to deny yourself who you really are, and to deny yourself what God has given you.

To chastise, criticize, wear down, and complain about someone’s ministry or work is only to deny that person the chance to be who God has called them to be.

Paul tells us:

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.

It is in doing that that we will be able to be who God has called us to be, so we will hear:

Well done, good and trustworthy slave; enter into the joy of your master

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

When I hear of the second coming of Jesus, I think of a few things. 
In my prechristian days, I think I heard about this more than anything. 
I’d see pictures of people with sandwich boards proclaiming “The day is near” or something. 
I thought they were mad. 
To this day, when people carry on about Jesus return, 
I still think they are a bit unbalanced. 

It also reminds me of the Jesus people movement of the 1970s. 
Much of the music that was recorded at that time speaks of Jesus return. 
Nearly every album by these artists will contain a song about Jesus return. 
The two texts that the hippy Christians really responded to were Revelation and the reading we had from 1 Thessalonians today:

For the Lord himself,
with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air;
and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 

It is true, we do need to consider this. 
It is something we all believe: 
we say it together in the Creed, 
we acclaim it in the Eucharist, 
so this is not something foreign or wrong. 
It is though, an issue of emphasis. 

The problem is that this has been used as a way of control and keeping people in a state of fear. 
Fear is the best way to control people, as governments past and present know full well. 
Life with Christ should not be based on fear. 
It should be based on love:
Love of God and love of neighbour.

So what is Jesus getting at with this parable about the ten maidens.
We can look at all the details, 
we can question whether the 5 wise ones should have given the oil to the 5 foolish ones. 
We can ask what does that mean for us? 
Should we not share our oil with those who have none? 
Are we to look out for ourselves and not worry about those who can’t, 
for what ever reason?

All that is is to miss the main point:

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Keep awake.
Be ready.
Be prepared.
I was a scout. Be prepared was the motto. 
I can’t exactly remember what that meant as a scout, but it has stayed with me.

There will be items that you will always have with you. 
Wallet, phone, whatever. 
You know the things you need to have with you so you can do whatever it is you need to do, 
and if there something you might have to do.

It is those ‘just in case’ things though. 

Back home, there was a rule: always take a coat. 
You never knew how cold it was going to get, or how long you were going to be.

These days, there are several things I do to always be prepared. 
There are items I always carry with me: 
  • the Scriptures, 
  • the Prayer Book, 
  • Reserved Sacrament, 
  • Oil of the Infirm, 
  • a Stole. 

These are always in  my bag, wherever I go. 
So whatever situation I am called into, I have what I need.

These are practical things.

We keep our houses tidy in case someone pops around.
We check how much petrol we have before we go on a long drive.
Basic stuff.
We are now being told to get our bushfire plans in place. 
Be prepared.
Jesus is telling us the same thing, but on a much more serious scale. 
And even more so, he is talking about a constant state of readiness. 

Keep awake.

What does that really entail for us.
What is our state of preparedness?

I think one of the key issues is that this can’t be based out of fear.

If we only do good because we are scared of being punished, 
because we are scared of not going to heaven, 
then we are missing the point. 

Keeping awake is important for its own sake.
Being prepared is being awake to God. 

By being awake to others around us, 
we are awake to what God is doing in and around our lives. 
By being awake our hearts are opened to know the pain in other peoples lives, 
to see where God is present to begin his healing work. 
When we are truly awake, we understand that it is through us that this work is done.

When we are awake, we are prepared. 
We are prepared to see Christ among us, in us, and with us. 

We are awake and prepared when we live our lives loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves

By keeping awake, we are not only ready to see Jesus when he returns,  
but also our true selves are awoken to know his presence in every moment of our lives. 

We are awoken to the eternal presence of God.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sermon for All Saints' Day

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; 
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 
Then he began to speak, and taught them

Last week we heard Jesus being tested about what the greatest commandment was, and his masterful answer:
Love God and your neighbour as yourself. 
Jesus reveals that love is the law.
All things must come from love.

With talk of commandments, when we hear from the gospel today,
we will be struck by the similarities between Jesus and Moses.

Indeed that is the connection Matthew is making.
As Moses ascended the mountain to speak with God,
Jesus here ascends the mountain and the recently called disciples follow him.

Matthew is setting this scene as a new beginning.

But then we hear what Jesus says.
Blessed are the…..

Compare it with what Moses says when he descends the mountain:
You shall not…. You shall

And this is why we need to be careful with the Beatitudes.
They are not a list of proscriptive rules or laws.
Many try to turn them into such things, and many interpret them in such a way,
Be merciful.
Be pure.
Be meek.

This is not how they are to be treated.

Jesus isn’t telling us how we should be.
Unlike the commandments,
where God through Moses told the people what they should and shouldn’t do, here Jesus is telling us how things actually are.

Jesus isn’t telling us we should be poor in spirit.
Rather he is telling us how God views those that are.
He is telling us that these are favoured.
God will look after such people.
Everything will be ok.
This is how things actually are, not how we are to be.
Jesus is informing us of the reality, of how God views us, how it actually is.

But is this the reality we live in?
Is this the reality of our world?

Look at who is blessed.

‘Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Those who mourn for a loved one are generally given a month or so to grieve, then everyone expects them to sort themselves out.
Those who mourn the way things used to be are told to get with the times.

‘Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

The meek if anything inherit nothing.
The meek are trodden on and seen as weak and useless.
They are ignored, abused and forgotten.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Those who protest at injustice are seen as troublemakers and lawbreakers.
They are seen as whingers.

‘Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.

To show mercy in the face of wrongdoing is seen as weakness and backing down. It is the giving of power to those who would harm us.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
To be pure of heart is seen as naïve and idealistic.
It is to be a dreamer with no hold on reality.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

To yearn for peace,
especially at this time is seen to not be part of Team Australia.
It is to be unpatriotic, it is weakness,
it goes against the grain so much that we dare not suggest it as the way to be.
Our world seeks vengeance and violence not peace.

If we think about it, the world that Jesus is talking about,
and the world we live are two very different things.

This may indeed be the point.

Jesus is saying
you lot see the world like this,
a world where being gentle, caring, generous, idealistic, humble, peaceful,
are seen as weakness.
But God see’s these very things as qualities that he blesses.
God favours people who are these things.

In this way, the beatitudes are a protest against the values of the world,
and statement of the kingdom.
They are what we need to value when we see them in others

Jesus tells those first disciples the values of the kingdom.
He isn’t commanding them to be like them,
He is telling them to view the meek, the mourning, the merciful,
as God views them.

On All saint’s Day we are reminded of the very qualities of saints,
qualities that we see in the beatitudes.
Saints are those who hold these qualities
while the world around them does all it can to pull them down.

The kingdom Jesus is telling us of,
and what he showed us in his life, is a new way of seeing,
and ultimately a radical way of being.
The world may reject those who God blesses,
but we are invited to see the new reality that is coming.

When we learn to recognise such qualities as being blessed,
when we call those who embody such qualities saints,
we begin to participate in the realisation of the kingdom.

For theirs is the kingdom of God

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.’

The religious and civic leaders continue to challenge the authority of Jesus.
They are now trying to trick him, to trap him.
They bring up issues from life and scripture that demand an answer.
They are the kind of questions that essentially are lose lose for Jesus.
But, Jesus is far smarter.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying,
Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’

The Pharisee’s aren’t talking about taxes in general.
They are talking about a particular tax, ‘to the emperor’ tells us that.
Everyone paid all sorts of taxes, Temple tax, land tax, all sorts.
The tax the Pharisees are talking here is the Imperial Tax, ‘to the emperor.’
This was paid to Rome to support the Roman occupation of Israel.
They had to pay a denarius a year to their oppressors.
A denarius a year to keep being oppressed.

You can imagine that this was highly unpopular.
Most would have resented it. Nationalist zealots in particular.

The two groups which have conspired on Jesus with this question had very different views on this tax.

The Herodians were fine with it. They had been put in power by the Romans, so of course it was in their interest to keep the Romans happy.

The Pharisees on the other hand had a trickier relationship with this tax.
 The tax had to be paid with a coin engraved with a picture of Ceasar, which also stated his divinity. This is of course a problem for those so religiously devout: just having this coin breaks the first two commandments:

You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol

So you can see what is happening.
This tax was a controversial issue.
Most were opposed to it, so if Jesus says they have to pay it,
he will be offside with the crowd.
He will be seen as supporting the oppression.

If he says they don’t have to pay it,
he will immediately be in trouble with the authorities.

The two groups who have bought this question to him don’t agree on what the right answer is either.
The only thing they agree on is that they want this trouble maker gone.

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said,
‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’

This is the first bit of brilliance.
He gets them to hand over the coin.
By doing so, they reveal their own complicity in the system.
He also reveals that he is not. He does not have a coin to show.
At this very moment, their plan to trap him begins to unravel.
You can almost hear the gasp of the crowd.

If this handing over of the coin wasn’t enough, he makes it clear.

‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’

They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’
Their answer tells everyone they know exactly who is on the coin, what is written on it, and therefore not only are they complicit in the system, they are in fact breaking their own rules by doing so.
The coin carries a graven image, and states the divinity of emperor.
Two commandments broken.
And the fact they can name this, means they can’t plead ignorance.

Their plan is now gone.
Their trick is over.

Then he said to them,
‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.’

So what is the emperors and what is God’s?
Taxes, rates, all those things are dreadful.
None of us like paying them.
But, we have to.
Even if we don’t like the government, or agree with what they are doing, we have to pay our taxes.
That is the emperors.
A small or sometimes not so small part of our money.

To start carrying on about not paying them suggests something else. It suggest the idea a few more dollars as being of supreme value.
It tells of what is in the heart.
Give to the emperor what is the emperors. Don’t let that become your big issue. Don’t let holding on to a bit of cash become what is imprinted on your heart.
For where your heart is, there will your treasure be also
Your heart, your whole being belongs to God.
Give to God the things that are Gods.

While the emperors image is on the coin, God’s image is in us.
We are created in God’s image.
Give to God what is God’s.

This ends up going deeper than about a coin, money, or taxes.
In his this statement Jesus reminds that we are God’s, and that we are to give ourselves, our time, our minds, and our hearts to him.
Give the government its tax, but give your whole life to God.
Be in the world, but not of the world.

Jesus is setting the Pharisees straight about their hypocrisy, and in doing so he sets them onto a higher way of thinking.

He says the same to us.
‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.’

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes

In the parable we hear today, Jesus is telling as an allegory of God’s work within Israel.
He uses images from the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms to tell the religious leaders what has happened, what is going to happen, and how this is going to effect them.

On the surface, it seems to be quite straightforward, but a closer look reveals what Jesus says is far more potent, and also raises some difficult questions for the church today.

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. 

This imagery comes from the Isaiah reading from earlier:

Let me sing for my beloved
   my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
   on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
   and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
   and hewed out a wine vat in it.

The beloved is God, and the vineyard is Israel.

Jesus is setting the scene for the religious leaders, so they know exactly what he is talking about. There would be no question in their minds about what he is talking about:
 it is about God and Israel.

Two sets of slaves are sent to collect the produce:
The first set of three, one is beaten, one killed, one stoned.
The second set is larger, and is treated in the same violent way.
These slaves represent the prophets who were ignored by the religious leaders at the time.

The landowner sends his son, and they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him

The son is Jesus, and this fortells his crucifixion.

We have to look at the owner of the vineyard here.
He sends a delegation and they are killed.
A normal human reaction to that would have been to send an army to sort this out.
But he doesn’t.
He doesn’t react with violence.

He sends another delegation.
When they are killed, surely his response should be ‘they’ve had one chance, now I’ll send in the army and get them out of my land.’

But it isn’t.
He send his son, the heir.
This is not a normal reaction.
After two sets of horrific violence and death inflicted on your people, why would you send your son?
Surely now would be the time for vengeance.

The son is killed.
Jesus puts it to the chief priests and elders:

Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 

They said to him,
‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

The chief priests and elders react as we would expect.
Jesus does not supply this answer.
It is the chief priest and elders.

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”? 

He questions their response.
He doesn’t agree with them.
He doesn’t condone the violent response at all.

Have you never read in the scriptures.
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”? 

God didn’t retaliate with violence.
Instead he sent his son to die, the stone the builders rejected.
He was raised, he became the cornerstone

This is a different way of authority and power.
It shuns violence and aggression and revenge.

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

Jesus is saying to the chief priest and elders
that because they are still clinging to power and authority,
they can’t see how God might be working in a way that does not take life,
but rather gives life.
They can’t see how their use and abuse of their authority is actually keeping God out.

The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

This is a message for the church today.
We don’t stumble over the block that is Christ, the cornerstone.

We stumble when we follow the way of the elder and chief priests.
We stumble when we strive to hold on to authority and power.
We stumble when we embrace the way the world understands power
rather than the way of God,
God who showed us the ultimate power when his son gave his life on the cross.
God who showed real power is not life taking, but life giving
when his son was resurrected to new life, a life in which we all share.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom will be taken from us if we continue to act out of power instead of love, compassion and selflessness.

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone

The cornerstone of the faith that is borne out of love, and forgiveness, not power, control and violence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St Michael

You will see greater things than these. 

And he said to him,
‘Very truly, I tell you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

In John’s Gospel, when Jesus says, very truly, what comes after is something very important.
It is normally something prophetic,
something he is going to do,
or something that is going to happen top him.

These very truly I tell you statements usually end a discussion.
They are the final say on what has gone before.

Today’s ends chapter one of John’s Gospel.
We have had the prologue, the wonderful almost creedlike introduction.
We have heard about Jesus’ baptism.
We have seen how Jesus called the first disciples:
What are you looking for?
Come and see.

Nathanael makes the proclamation of Jesus divinity, based on Jesus seemingly clairvoyant ability.

‘Where did you come to know me?’
Jesus answered,
‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
You will see greater things than these.

Look out.

you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man

This phrase “angels of God ascending and descending” is unusual.
It occurs only in one other place in all the scriptures, Genesis chapter 28.
Jesus is using this strange phrase to tell us something. The passage it comes from is helpful.

Genesis chapter 28 tells us the story of Jacob

Jacob has left Beer Sheba, and is on his way to Haran.
He lays down for the night. He takes a stone and uses it for a pillow.
He has a dream.

there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven;
and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

God speaks to him in the dream, promising him the land where he is forever,

I am with you and will keep you wherever you go

Jacob wakes up and says:
‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’
‘How awesome is this place!
This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

The idea of angels ascending and descending is one of a gate of heaven, or heaven being opened.
It is a place where there is no division between us and God,
where communication, contact are open.
The angels are Gods messengers, they are also the symbols of holiness and divinity.
It is they who show us that this gate is open, that heaven is opened.
They are the markers of such an event.

Why would Jesus use this same image to express what is about to occur.

Notice in Jacob’s dream, the angels are ascending and descending on a ladder.
When Jesus tells us, it on him.

Jesus is the ladder that the angels will ascend and descend upon.
For Jacob, it was the stone on which he lay his head, the place was the gate of heaven.

Jesus tells us that he is that gate:

As he will say in chapter 10,
I am the gate.
Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The angels of god will ascend and descend upon him, not a ladder.
He is the link between heaven and earth.
He is the way the things of heaven will now come down to earth.
He is also the way the things of earth are shown in heaven.

Where with Jacob, this reality was in a place,
and was made sacred by his anointing the stone with oil, making an altar,
Jesus is saying that he is supercedes this.

By using this phrase, the angels of God ascending and descending,
Jesus is telling Nathanael, that he is the way to know of God.

Those same words can still have the same effect today.
To people who do not know Jesus Christ, but who know of the presence of angels in their lives.

To a world that is more comfortable speaking about angels than it is about the Son of Man,
these words of Jesus are a reminder.
To a church that is afraid of speaking about other beliefs,
these words are a reminder.

These words tell us that angels work with Jesus and us.
Angels are not outside of our faith, they are a part of it.

They tell those who don’t know Christ, that the angels they speak with most certainly do,
and in fact are doing his work.

It is my belief that as Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth,
angels are the bridge between the world and the church,
a middle ground, a meeting place to speak with such people.

But for today, we celebrate Michael and All Angels.
We celebrate their being with us, and we worship God with them, as we say every week:
“with angels and archangels, we worship you Father, in songs of never ending praise”

And as our collect for today says:

as your holy angels stand before you in heaven,
so at your command
they may help and defend us here on earth.