Angels? Demons? Christ and the Good News.

Grace and Peace to you from God, Our Father and from our risen Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I still cannot fathom exactly why I agreed to preach on these texts. Maybe because I figured I’d might as well and have this experience delving into Scriptures such as these since apparently from looking at my preaching schedule, I’ve been blessed with being assigned most of these Feast Days.

Angels. War. Satan. Chaos. All of these seem so ancient to us. As progressive, modern and intellectual Christians in Western Christianity, the ideas of both angels and demons seem nothing more than fodder for fiction writing. Yet, with all that erupts across our global community we find ourselves weeping, struggling, asking and pleading, calling on Jesus Christ’s name for intervention and expulsion. Expulsion of the pandemonium that trips up our steps as we journey through life. Expulsion of the war that rages and scatters the serenity of our own personal heaven, right where we are. Expulsion of the negativity that creeps up as thickening, choking vines within our gardens. Expulsion of the darkness that blocks out the radiating warmth and ethereal light which pours onto our spirits from God. Expulsion of the evil that stalks us in shadows, rendering us immobile and frozen in fear. We have been labeled and marked with the sign of the cross forever as the beloved children of God, made in God’s image and yet this morning, this text finds us caught off guard and ill equipped to face the dire warning that cracks and splits the evening skies above as it rolls, “But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath because he knows his time is short.”

There is struggle with this Revelation text because something as fantastic and horrific as war has broken out in a place where we have been promised there is no pain, no fear, no suffering, no illness, no chaos, no war and yet the first thing we are faced with this morning is the subject of war: “And war broke out in heaven.” The book of Revelation is already confusing because for so long we as Christians were told this is what we would face in an apocalyptic future with angels bringing us foreboding warnings of watchfulness and destruction; angels bringing messages of more condemnation than salvation. Angels storming into battle as God’s warriors lead by Michael, clearing out of heaven the fallen angels, namely satan/lucifer/the Devil. One commentary that I came across gives us food for thought: that perhaps this war was not of something we should fear in our future but of a victory because of the presence of Jesus Christ. It stated that “this war in heaven describes what subsequently happens as a result of the prior birth and victory of the Messiah on earth.” Think about that for the moment. Jesus Christ addresses the seventy disciples when they return stating, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.”   In the midst of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, blessing and commanding his disciples, followers and the faithful to go out and spread the Good News Jesus was also vanquishing any foothold that satan mistakenly though he had on humanity. By living out His mission that God, Our Creator had given and bestowed upon Him, His presence alone was setting up a chain reaction that would empower the celestial victory of Michael and all of the angels who would proclaim “Now have come the salvation and the power; and the authority of God’s Messiah.”  The battle cry that was heard was Jesus telling these seventy to go out and spread God’s Word saying to all “Peace to this house.”

We share a sign of the peace every morning in this church community with a hug, a handshake, even a peace sign not because we are glad to see each other or are merely friends but because we are commanded by Jesus Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves and to share that love with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with that same simple phrase “Peace be with you”, “The Peace of Christ be with you!”

If it was only so easy to affect change our world here and now with those words, which spoken from our lips sometimes seem ineffective and powerless because our humanity sometimes gets in the way. We find ourselves on the outskirts and outcast from this world, who mocks and demeans us to nothing more than Jesus freaks.  That passing the peace could hold so much weight as it did for the seventy missionaries, those seventy followers who were able to go out among the ancient peoples and affect lives. They were able to strengthen, to heal and to exorcise demons all by mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. Hearing these miracles we as brothers and sisters in Christ today lament that we are not as fortunate to be flooded with the power that Jesus Christ gave to the seventy. They returned exclaiming, excited “Lord in your Name, even the demons submit to us!” Was their faith any different than ours today? Was their dedication any different than us as people of faith today? Perhaps they were able to block out all the worries and ills of the world and strictly be mission driven, because we find that our own missions are tangled in the distractions of our life here and now. The seventy were able to call upon Jesus Christ’s name to illuminate, expose and drive out the suffering, agony and darkness in their fellow brothers and sisters lives. Why is it not as effective today? We should be able to call upon the name of Jesus Christ, standing in the middle of the plight and violent world of our urban streets across the United States that is polluting those places in neighborhoods that should be sacred for all. We should be able to stand in the midst of flowing, ancient oceans as living witnesses that those who plunder every aspect of Creation in the name of profit margins and wealth should hear the mightiness in Jesus Christ’s name and be still! We should be able to place our hands, God’s hands upon the ugliness of walls that separate peoples from each other, people who are brothers and sisters in Faith and call upon the name of Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God and cause those walls to crumble into dust liberating all. We should be able to stand in doorways of respite and sanctuary, spreading our arms wide and embracing our brothers and sisters bringing Christ’s message “Peace be with you,” in love through the power of the Holy Spirit when their Spirit is trapped and cornered by the dark and demonic. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we should not be blind as to not realize and dismiss the angelic warning that evil, that satan, however you want to address, it is here. That this darkness void of the brilliant light and love of God, is angry and unleashes its wrath upon us, God’s Creation because we lean upon God’s love, mercy and grace for healing and protection; that we are seen as fragile, weakened lambs.

But there is Good News.

The Good News is here right in this confusing Revelation text “But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”  The Good News of Jesus Christ is that Christ’s sacrifice was poured out for all of God’s Creation, for all of us washing away any permanent chaos, confusion and death that evil thrives on in this world. The evil that lurks is fully aware of its temporary hold and the infection it has brought in our lives, and screams out in frustration from the pit of oblivion separated from the ever powerful eternal light of God.  It cannot fathom the fact that God is Our Protector because God loves us so much that He created us, but that He sent His Son, the Risen Christ “who forgives all of our iniquities’, who heals us of all our diseases, who redeems our lives from the pit and who crowns us with love and mercy.” And the Good News, beloved is because we as people of faith and children of God faithfully have been sent out to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, we can count ourselves as angels here on earth. Just as Angels are messengers of God, so are we when we share with one another our faith stories, our struggles, our prayers, our hopes and joys. When we share our praises singing, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul and all that is within me, Bless His Holy Name,” the darkness, the evil, the negativity and the demonic is defeated, by the Word of our Testimony. Evil and its confusion can only thrive if we allow those fallen angels who appear in the forms of every ill from greed to jealously, from exclusion to denying basic human rights to those whose voices are muffled on a daily basis, because there are those in this world that simply do not want to hear. It loathes the fact that it has to sometimes work extremely hard to contaminate our very being and influence who we are as children of the Most High. In those moments when our role falls from saint to sinner, the Good News is that our protection and redemption comes from the blood of the Lamb and the power of sharing our testimony, our witness of the Good News of the Gospel.

Jesus Christ is in our midst, beloved! He speaks to us in those times we feel utterly hopeless, powerless to do anything and are lost; He cradles our spirit and speaks life into who we are saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus Christ reminds us that we should rejoice, “because your names, our names are written in heaven.” We should rejoice because no matter whether we celebrate the presence of angels upon high, upon saints in our lives or upon the shoulders and strength of our ancestors, God gives to God’s people so many advocates to remind us how precious we are and how we are not forgotten. These messengers of God share whispers of encouragement intertwined in Creation itself: Do not fear for Jesus Christ is with you and you are loved.  Do not weep, for we bring Good News that the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ has risen, has overcome death and the grave and goes among the heavens and the Blessed company to prepare a place for all of us.

Thanks Be to God.

Diving Head First: Inaugural Internship Sermon

Grace and Peace to you from God Our Father, and from our risen Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

What sin could be considered unforgiveable? What atrocious thing could human beings do to one another that would be awarded the title of “foremost” sin? Opening up any newspaper or watching any television cable news show, well unfortunately we could take our pick. There are the governments of the world who although they were appointed for a life of service very rapidly slip into patterns of self service and greed with destructive laws and regulations that have no benefit to the people they are supposed to be serving. There are dictatorships whose key goal it seems is to continually place their subjects in harm’s way by denying those basic human rights and resources and instead hoarding them for their own selfish needs. There are those who repeatedly disrespect the legacy of their elders by refusing them access to communal relationships with others and instead lock them away so that their “annoying” habits won’t interfere with a picturesque life of perfection. There are those who have a misunderstanding with what it means to sacrifice the comfort of one’s life in order to nurture and raise a beautiful, fragile new one. There are those whose mis-education of where their own ancestral journey begins renders them blind to fellowship with those who do not mirror their own. Then, there are the sins too deep for words that wound our own souls when the pain has been brought to light because we just don’t understand how a fellow human being could do that to another. We find ourselves weeping, crying out to God, Our Deliverer “No. No! There should not be forgiveness for this!” We cry out for justice and physical retribution; this person, this man who has murdered, this woman who has tortured has the mark, the label of being the worst human being and their lives deemed worthless. Even if they attempted a poor show of trying to be redemptive, those words would fall on our deaf, closed ears.

But isn’t that just what is occurring in this letter in 1 Timothy? The writer exclaims to those who are perhaps gathered around the reader listening to these words “In my weakness, Jesus Christ has found me worthy and has given me newness of life!” This ancient call story or faith share does sound strangely familiar to us; this story of a violent man who as the letter continues goes on saying, “but I received mercy because I had acted ignorant in unbelief.”

There was probably no argument that of all these ancient sinners Saul/Paul would have his name at the top of the list because “Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example.” How this echoes our psalmst who exhorts “Against you, you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Although the debate continues on to this day of whether this one of the Pastoral Epistles was actually penned by the apostle Paul, it is fitting that Paul’s conversion story whether written by Paul or retold by those dedicated to a life of living Christ-like stands as an example. An example that no matter what the transgression and sins were before God, Our Redeemer that God would not forsake nor leave them to perish.

Yet this is not a “conversion” story in the sense from one tradition religion or spiritual expression to another. Paul was not converting from Judaism to Christianity; he still remained dedicated to the faith of his fathers. Rather one could view this as a conversion from destruction and despair that he repeatedly piled upon his fellow brothers and sisters. This was about converting from unspeakable anguish he repeatedly inflicted upon his own people into the unconditional love and grace that began to pour out from his soul the moment the scales fell from his eyes. This was about taking someone who was labeled persecutor, blasphemer, the foremost sinner and black sheep and bringing them home hearing them cry out “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” And the risen Christ echoing to all of Creation “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost.”

Is that hard for us today as brothers and sisters in Christ to fathom that happening as we stand off to the side, grumbling and complaining “This Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Don’t we scoff and refute when we hear of “prison house conversions” where inmates make public declarations that they have found Jesus that they have undergone a change and beg for second chances and forgiveness. We view these people with great suspicion and scrutiny: “You know they are only saying that because they want our pity.” We take issue with anyone who comes publically after their actions have left a loved one or community members damaged and we judge them uttering “You know they are only saying that so we will feel sorry and not demand their ouster from public office or their position” or “Do they really mean what they are saying?” They come crawling to the shores of mercy and peace but we respond by shoving them back into the unclean waters of unbelief. Our pain, our issues, our anger, our sorrow becomes the dam between who they were and the flood of forgiveness.

What about our own sins? Well, we whisper and acknowledge with some silence and shame that they were only tiny sins but didn’t Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord invite us to those shores of mercy and grace? Didn’t He welcome us to His table all the while others were muttering and grumbling and pointing at us saying “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus Christ extended fellowship and broke bread with us offering us eternal life, mercy, healing, wholeness, newness! That is the Good News, beloved. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that He, the Risen Savior of All Creation came into this world as a sacrifice for our sins no matter what they are or how big they are.  In that moment of your weeping, your failing, your stumbling the risen Christ strips away all of those labels that the world places on your shortcomings and pronounces you “healed”, “new”, “revived”, “Good”, forgiven.”  The Good News of Jesus Christ is that Christ came into this world and gave of himself for our sins. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that Christ’s sacrifice is for everyone and available at any time whether we have always known or whether we have wandered on this life’s journey with questions about who Jesus is and where is God in this sometimes chaotic life. It is available when we are cared into this church in our parent’s arms. It is available when we are trapped and blinded by the responsibilities in the daily throes of living. It is available when we have turned away and turned to other things, because we are human. It is available when we are sitting in that jail cell or that rehab center or that halfway house with our head in our hands trying to figure out how we got here. It is available when we cannot do anything else for ourselves, tears pouring out of our eyes, afraid and calling out to God saying we are sorry. It is in these moments that the risen Christ comes to hold our hand, to remain at our side, to never leave us or forsake us, who tells us “It’s okay, I understand, You are forgiven.” It is in these moments that Heaven rejoices because we who thought were lost, forgotten, abandoned receive nourishment at the Table, our sins forgiven.

Forgiven. Healed. Found. Important. Counted. Loved.  These are labels that we would wear proudly, cradled in the Savior’s arms as He announces to all of Creation, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost.”

Thanks Be To God.