The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller’s Sermon
on the Sunday of Saint Michael and All Angels
“Conduits of God”
(Daniel 10: 10-14; 1: -3; Revelation 12: 7-12; Luke 10: 17-20)
at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
October 2, 2016
Today we celebrate Saint Michael and All Angels. We also celebrate Dylan Joseph Chase’s baptism. We celebrate as we sing with the angels.
But what exactly is an angel?
Today’s readings provide some insight: an angel comforted Daniel, of lions’ den fame, as he faced a wicked Persian ruler; Saint Michael and his angelic battalion fought ferocious dragons and vicious Satan in a heavenly war in the book of Revelation.
The Bible is crammed with angels. They tell wobbly old Abraham and rickety Sarah that they are about to become parents of a bouncing baby boy; they announce to skeptical Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth, also long in the tooth, is soon to be John the Baptist’s mommy; the angel Gabriel reports the staggering news to teenage Mary that she is going to be the mother of the Christ Child; and of course, angels serenade the shepherds with the heavenly song, announcing the dear Savior’s birth.
Angels fascinate us: archangels like Saint Michael; cherubs and cherubim, seraph, seraphim—those winged and sometimes bizarre creatures who sing before the throne of God.
The best definition I can come up with regarding angels is that they are messengers of God. Biblical angels are not the cheesy kitsch type sold in knick-knack shops nor do they resemble Shirley Temple with puffy cheeks, mascaraed lashes, and curly locks. Angels come to those who have lost every ounce of hope, telling frantic people, on God’s behalf, “Do not be afraid.”
Earlier this week, I told Diana Langer how much I enjoyed her reading at last Sunday’s Mass: I could hear every word. Diana’s response, “When I read, I try to stay out of the way. I simply want to serve as a conduit of God.” Now there is a definition of an angel: a conduit of God.
We are all called to be angelic conduits, telling those we love, “Do not be afraid, God is watching over you.” Admittedly, we do not look much like angels: our haloes are crooked, our feathers scruffy, our flying skills limited. But we, the earthly angelic band, do our best.
The exact moment I was typing this very sentence on Thursday morning, a former parishioner called to tell me her husband was about to have life-threatening surgery. What to say? I assured them both that St. Michael and All the Angels were hovering over them and singing, “Do not be afraid.”
In a few moments, we will have our opportunity to see angels at work. Keep your eyes open. We will gather at the baptismal waters with Dylan Joseph Chase. The church imagines baptism as a cataclysmic brawl between good and evil, between God and Satan. The great Leviathan, a hideously ugly sea monster, hovers deep in the font, ferociously straining to grab Dylan’s tiny toes and to tug him under the raging waters. Dylan might scream bloody murder and this, by the way, should never bother us. The screams signal that the battle has commenced and Saint Michael and his angels are standing guard at Dylan’s side as God crushes Satan. Who wouldn’t scream when in the midst of such a battle royale?
All of you—parents (Danielle and Young), godparents, grandmas and grandpas, new brothers and sisters in Christ—you are about to be asked to be angels: “Do you promise to nurture Dylan in the Christian faith as you are empowered by God’s Spirit, and to help him live in the covenant of baptism and in communion with the church?” With your “I do,” you vow to tell Dylan throughout his life, “Dear Dylan, remember your baptism and do not be afraid.”
As we bless the baptismal waters, we will face West. The ancients thought that as the sun went down and darkness blanketed creation, the devil might triumph and the world would end forever. I will invite you, as the church has done through the ages, to raise your hands in defiance of that pesky devil. When I ask, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” you won’t weakly respond, “I renounce them,” but rather you will shout at the top of your lungs, “I renounce them.” We are not playing! We will then face East, where the waters of life welcome us to the perfect Eden. With hands outstretched in a welcoming posture and using the church’s classic baptismal formula, we will confess that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, vanquishes death and promises us life everlasting.
Martin Luther urges parents to say this bedtime prayer from his Small Catechism as we tuck little ones like Dylan into bed: “I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
We must all go to bed. That final dark evening will come for us all when we close our eyes one final time and pray as we have since angels taught us when we were babies, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That is exactly what is about to happen as we process to the baptismal font: Dylan will die to the old sinful self and rise to a new life in Christ. As the water pours down his face and he is made a child of God, the evil one will be routed and those who love him will be his angels, announcing as clearly as we are able, “Do not be afraid, Dylan, for God is with you, now and forever.”