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.

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