Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Always Room for Another Angel”
(Genesis 18: 1-10a)
St. Michael & All Angels & Blessing of the Holy Trinity Icon
St. Michael and All Angels…do fluff-winged creatures stir your imagination?
Who doesn’t like angels? We call our children “little angels,” we top off our Christmas trees with gorgeous golden angels, the sight of tiny cherubim causes our heart to go aflutter.
We love talking about angels, too: what exactly are angels, how do you think they really look, do they hover over our heads this very moment? Cherubim and seraphim and archangels, Gabriel and Raphael and Michael—they appear as soft as new fallen snow and at other times ferocious enough to wage war against the devil.
I hate to disillusion you, but most of these angelic ponderings hold little fascination for me. I would never enter an angel shop and, for the life of me, I can’t imagine wearing an angel t-shirt. Do they have wings, halos—I could care less!
What does matter to me is what angels do.
The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, who died a few weeks ago, wrote: “An angel is simply one to whom God gives a mission and whose own reality is constituted by this mission.” We might say angels are like John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd in “The Blues Brothers:” they are on a mission from God.
Did you ever stop to think that you might be an angel? Aren’t you on a mission from God?
This morning, we bless our beautiful new Holy Trinity icon. This icon was painted (or prayed as the Orthodox Church would say) by the Russian monk Andrei Rublev in 1425 AD. It is referred to as “The Old Testament Trinity” or “The Hospitably of Abraham.” Rublev painted this icon so people’s hearts could be put to rest in a time of enormous social and political upheaval.
Gazing on this tender icon calms our anxious hearts as we rest in the lap of divine love in a similarly tumultuous and hate-filled time. We behold a loving God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—our congregation’s name.
Western Christian art often portrays God differently: The Father is an old bearded white guy; Jesus is seen at his heavenly Father’s bosom; and the Holy Spirit is frequently depicted as a dove hovering overhead.
Andrei Rublev portrayed God as three angels, reminding us of those mysterious characters who once visited Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre: is it the Lord, are they wandering men out in the wilderness, could they be angels?
Rublev’s Holy Trinity icon, as all icons do, gently invites us to gaze through a window into eternity, to mediate on God’s beauty and on the wonder of God’s kingdom. It feels other-worldly with their hands and faces a bit out of perspective—not as we usually see things—more heavenly perhaps. Mystery sweeps across the Three as if in perpetual motion. They fill us with awe. The Holy Trinity invites us into deeper prayer, pleads with us to be more loving to one another.
Icons are like delicious meals whose flavor can never be adequately grasped. See the color blue on all three angels symbolizing the divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See their golden halos radiating holiness. See the scepters in their hands inviting us to ponder their Lordship, three in one and one in three. Look how the three gather around the table, an altar, just like this one. Be amazed that these three loving figures do not dominate the room: there is always an additional place at God’s table for another angel—for you, for me, for all those in our groaning world. Notice the rectangle in the front, just below the chalice: enter the narrow way, I beg of you, so they seem to say; be the loving community in our name, Holy Trinity, here at 65th and Central Park West. So much going on in this icon, so much beauty, wonder, and awe.
One of Holy Trinity’s pastors, the Rev. William Lazareth, who served here from 1983-1988, and then became the bishop of this Metropolitan New York Synod, wrote an article with the Romanian Orthodox theologian Dan-Ilie Ciobetea, in the book “Icons: Windows on Eternity.” “This image of the divine Trinity rules out all egotism—whether individual or collective—all life-destroying separation, any subordination or levelling of persons,” wrote your former pastor and bishop. “It invites all humanity to make this world a permanent eucharist of love, a feast of life.”
The angels/ the Holy Trinity/ the Lord came to announce to Abraham and Sarah that their barrenness would soon come to an end and that they would become parents of a bouncing baby boy. These three mysterious ones come to us today, as well, inviting us to be angels on a mission of love in this place. We have no wings or halos—I don’t think! We are plainer than that, of course, but we are certainly just as wondrous. Look around this very moment and see if you can spot an angel sitting near you.
I am deeply touched that you have given my favorite icon, in honor of my 40th anniversary of ordination, to be hung downstairs in our community room. We will gaze upon these blessed Three at countless suppers and celebrations; homeless women will rest well knowing that these holy angels watch over them and that the wicked one will have no power over them; and the good people of HUG who assemble on Saturdays will discover that three other divine wanderers in search of a loving community have joined them for a meal in our community room.
My seminary professor, the late Father Henri Nouwen wrote, “I pray that Rublev’s icon will teach many how to live in the midst of a fearful, hateful and violent world while moving always deeper into the house of love.” That is why this icon was created six hundred years ago, not just for people in Russia then but for us here now as well. This icon invites us to be a faithful people, to dance together with angels at the table of perfect love with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.”
St. Michael and All Angels – October 2, 2016
Mass – 11 o’clock in the morning
The Baptism of Dylan Joseph Chase
Join the growing number of members, prospective members, and visitors worshiping together at Holy Trinity.
Pastor Miller’s Sermon: “Let Your Holy Angel Be with Me”