Sunday, September 29, 2019
Michael and All Angels
Baptism of Michael and Oscar
Prayer of the Day
Everlasting God, you have wonderfully established the ministries of angels and mortals. Mercifully grant that as Michael and the angels contend against the cosmic forces of evil, so by your direction they may help and defend us here on earth, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God whom we worship and praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3 All who are dead shall arise on the day of the Lord
Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22
Revelation 12:7-12 Michael defeats Satan in a cosmic battle
Luke 10:17-20 Jesus gives his followers authority over the enemy
Title: Baptized into the Mystery
So, Michael and Oscar, do you like a good mystery? Considering how many TV shows are mysteries that can be solved in 30 to 60 minutes. And how many movies are mysteries that can be solved in under two hours. And how many books are mysteries that can be solved in any number of pages. From the sum total of all these forms of entertainment, if you do like mysteries, you are certainly not alone. It seems like just about everyone loves a good mystery. There is certainly something captivating about a mystery. Whether it is a classic: “who done it”; or action filled challenges like: how will the Avengers get the infinity stones back? We are locked into a story – on page or on screen – until all the questions are answered, the blanks are filled in, the mystery is solved.
I hope you have some appreciation of a good mystery. Because here you are, you have come to the font to be baptized and our morning is filled with mysteries. First, it is the feast of Michael and All Angels. (A perfect baptismal day for someone named Michael. Don’ worry Oscar, he’s not getting anything that you are not getting, name day or not.) On this day we celebrate these mysterious beings. Some believe in them, some do not. Some feel they have had encounters with angels. Others find it all just wishful thinking. These heavenly workers and often times messengers to humans play an important role in God’s relationship with God’s people throughout the stories recorded in scripture. But perhaps, rather than get into a debate over whether this is mystery of angels is based in reality or based in fantasy; let’s look at the stories involving angels and see that the bigger mystery is why they bring their messages to the people they do? Why them?
In our first reading we see Daniel. He is part of a defeated people. What was a small, fairly insignificant nation – Judah, the southern kingdom (although they did have some good real estate) they have now been defeated by a superpower of their time. The are virtually wiped off the map and taken into exile. It is a fate that most nations never return from. But it is to this insignificant man of an insignificant people, that an angel from God is sent to bring words of hope and courage, and restoration and resurrection, even. (All that talk about heavenly warfare is simply a reflection of ancient belief that there was a parallel war being fought in heaven and on earth, and that the protector of one nation would be fighting the protector of another. The result of that battle was reflected in who won the battle on earth.)
But the mystery of: Why him? Why them? continues as we examine other angelic visitations recorded in scripture. There’s poor, down on his luck Elijah, the prophet whose life is being threatened by Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. He’s got the whole nation out to get him because he predicted a famine and it did come to be. And he is not the picture of faith you might imagine. He is questioning God and wishing he was dead. And yet, an angel comes to him and gives him comfort and food.
And then there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus. When it comes time for God to send, not an angel, but God’s self – taking on the form of a human in the person we call Jesus – God does not go to some princess in a palace where the child will want for nothing. God does not go to some successful young woman in a tower on 5th Ave. No, the angel comes to an insignificant girl, in an insignificant town, and brings her the world-changing news that she will carry and birth and raise and love the son of God.
And then, of course, there is that angel visitation to the shepherds on that first Christmas night. Why them? Rowdy, roughians that those guys were. Did the angels get the wrong address? Did they take a wrong turn? Of all the people to be the first to be told that Jesus was born, why them? Now there is a mystery.
All are mysteries. Why any of them? They were just people, everyday ordinary people, and yet an angel’s visitation, a message from God, changed them, changed their lives, changed the world.
“Why us?” That must have been the great mystery on the minds of those 70 that were sent out by Jesus and whose return we hear of in today’s gospel reading. Although they saw it with their own eyes, they must have been astonished to see what they were able to do in Jesus’ name. The mystery must have had various layers. Not just: Why Us? But also: How did we do that?
Jesus sort of solves the mystery by giving them insight into the kind of power that is his to give – both in heaven and on earth. And it could also be seen as a cautionary reminder for when we want to think that we are the solution to the mystery.
But for Jesus, more important than the mysterious power that he holds and that he passes along to his followers for doing his work in this life, much more important is the great peace-filled solution to the fear-filled mystery of whose we are in this life and what follows this life on earth. There is no mystery here, Jesus assures his disciples and us. Rejoice that your names are written in the book of life. And the cross and the empty tomb are all the proof that we need to solve whatever mystery we feel might be lingering after hearing and seeing Jesus’ solution spoken and displayed.
May your name be written and sealed in the book of life. Tiketev v Tiketem – it is the greeting that our Jewish siblings will be offering one another as they begin Rosh HaShanah celebrations tonight. Some will gather here in our sanctuary for worship.
And it is what takes place this day for you, Michael and Oscar, as you are baptized into Christ Jesus. It is certainly another mystery of the day that simple water can do such amazing things. But we know it is water joined with the word of God. Water that is filled with the promises of God that solve our mysteries. Promises of love and compassion – even when we are stuck in a mystery and asking ourselves: Where is God? Why is this happening? Promises of grace and mercy – even when we are asking: How can God claim me as a child? How can God forgive me? Promises of hope and peace – even when we are questioning: Am I in God’s presence now and forever? Why me?
Michael and Oscar, there are many mysteries that we are invited to live with and into in this place. I have learned, rather than try to explain or solve the mystery, it best to embrace and trust all that the mystery promises. Today, you are named sons of God. At the table you are fed with the presence of Jesus our savior. In all these things and in the fellowship of this community you are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit for the living of your lives. Mysteries beyond explanation. Yet witnesses across centuries, across ages, have testified to the truth and light, the life and love behind these mysteries. I include Vivian, your mother and Kathy, your stepmother and godmother in that long line of powerful witnesses.
So, come and be baptized. Not because you know enough or believe enough. Not because you can explain or ever hope to explain these great mysteries at the heart of our faith. Come, because there is no mystery about the love and grace of God. It is yours, it is ours. Freely given through Jesus Christ who saves and who leads us. And know that the Holy Spirit fills you this day and forever for the living into the fullness of your identity as children of God.
The Rev. Mark Erson,