Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Those were Jesus’ final words last Sunday, spoken to a bunch of Pharisees who wished to condemn Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees despised the man with dropsy because they were proud and self-righteous. They considered the man beneath them, socially and spiritually; therefore they thought themselves justified in not extending to him love, mercy, and compassion. The Pharisee’s pride had enslaved them, for pride is in continual need of maintenance to keep it high and lofty and full. Pride is insatiable and will not bear the slightest diminution. And, because pride must be maintained, satisfied, and protected, the proud are inhibited from loving others. Pride is the epitome of self-love, selfishness, and self-righteousness. The proud will not, and cannot, enter the kingdom of heaven, for the kingdom of heaven cannot be obtained by effort, decision, or choice, but it must be received as a free gift by grace through faith.
And so today we heard Jesus’ disciples question Him about greatness in heaven. It was a wrong-minded and backward, though innately human, question. Our fallen humanity’s predilection to selfish pride, self-justification, and a belief in the merit of our works is definitive of our fallen nature, the Old Adam in each of us. Try as we may, we simply cannot shake off the beast entirely or crucify our flesh and its desires and passions. And yet, that is precisely what Jesus calls you, exhorts you, and commands you to do, every day of your life. Every day you awake, remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross “In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Confess your faith by praying the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. And confess your sins and pray for God’s absolution and protection throughout the day using Luther’s Morning Prayer. And then, at the end of the day, before you retire, remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross once again, “In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit,” confess your faith and your sins, and pray for absolution and protection through the night using Luther’s Evening Prayer. Bookending each day of your life in remembrance of your baptism, in repentance for your sins, and in the confident assurance of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ helps you to crucify your flesh and its sinful pride. It keeps you humble. It keeps you in Christ. It keeps you in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus answered His disciples’ wrong-minded and wrong-hearted question about greatness by teaching them about the necessary Christian virtue and fruit, humility. Jesus placed before them a child, a paidion, that is, a young child, a helpless child, maybe even an infant. Such a child, like the widow, the unclean, Gentiles, or known sinners had absolutely zero social standing in the first century Jewish culture and religious community. Such a child was the epitome of humility. And yet, Jesus taught His disciples that, if they did not become like that little child, they could never enter the kingdom of heaven. This was a continual theme in Jesus’ teaching. He told Nicodemus that he must be born again, and Nicodemus was confounded asking, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” However, Jesus was talking about baptism, being born again of water and the Holy Spirit. Truly, being born is the most humble human experience there is. You did not decide to be born. You did not deserve to be born. You had no right to be born. You did not choose your sex, your race, your parents, your nationality, your financial or social status. Being born is not a decision or a choice, but it is something that happens to you in which you are completely passive. Jesus would have you understand that this is how you are in relation to your God. This is how it is that you come to faith and are saved: Passive. God causes you to be born again by the creative work of His Holy Spirit through His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through Him – period.
You must humble yourself like a little culturally and socially and spiritually irrelevant child. You bring nothing to the table with God, not a one of you, which means that you are no better than anyone else when it comes to your standing before your Creator. Therefore, you must view your brother and sister in Christ, you must view your neighbor, the stranger, and even your enemy as being no less than yourself. You must receive them and respect them and love them and forgive them as God, in Christ, has received, respected, loved, and forgiven you. Only when you humble yourself and repent of your sinful pride, selfishness, and self-righteousness will God declare you great in the kingdom of heaven.
God’s holy angels look after His humble, repentant, little children. That is why there is rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents. God’s mighty, powerful, holy angels guard, protect, and defend His children from the Evil One and his demonic horde. And, woe to you, therefore, if you cause one of His little ones who believe in Him to sin. Woe to you if you present before them a stumbling block by your arrogant, prideful, selfish, and self-righteous treatment of them. So serious is the Lord about this that He says to you, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” and “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” Jesus says, “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Yes, God’s majestic angels, so mighty and powerful and holy, were created to serve Him and, perhaps surprisingly, they were created to serve you, His humble children. And, that was something one particular angel, Lucifer, could not handle. As I suggested last Sunday, Lucifer’s immense pride was, in large part, the cause of His fall. Lucifer could not accept the fact that God had placed Adam and Eve and all humanity above him and the holy angels. Lucifer perceived this as a slight to his pride and he was filled with anger and hatred for God, and for you whom God loves so very much. Therefore, since he could not harm God, his wrath was poured out against the object of God’s love, you His precious children. Truly, Satan hates you because he hates God. He doesn’t care if you worship him, but all he wants is for you to reject God and His Christ. He wants to destroy you, to murder you, to see you suffer the pain and eternal torment that he suffers. He knows that this is the only thing that can hurt God, to cause you to reject Him and burn in hell forever. Therefore, Satan tempts you. He tempts your pride, so that you look down upon others and judge and condemn them. He tempts you to selfishness and self-righteousness, to lovelessness and lack of mercy and compassion. He tempts you to justify yourself in your anger and hatred against others, to be merciless and unforgiving, to harden your heart so that you cannot love and, consequently cannot receive love or be forgiven. You will become like the hard packed soil of the path, and Satan will snatch the life-giving, faith-creating Word of the Gospel from you, and you will die.
There was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the great dragon Satan and defeated him. But he was thrown down to the earth in a great rage where he now afflicts the children of God. He is filled with great and desperate wrath because he knows that his time is short. He is a liar and a deceiver and a murderer. But he is defeated. His power to keep you in death was destroyed when the sinless Son of God Jesus Christ died in your place. Then the “Seed of the Woman” crushed the head of the seed of the serpent. Therefore, do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear only the One who can kill both body and soul in hell. That One is NOT the devil, but that One is God.
There was a war in heaven, but now that war has come down to earth, and your soul is the battlefield. The truth is, your Enemy has been defeated, but still he tempts you and deceives you to despair that he is the victor and to destroy your faith in Christ. Do not give into him by being fearful and prideful and unmerciful and unforgiving. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Pray. And, repent, daily, in all humility. Return daily to your baptism and put on the armor of God by which you may withstand the fiery darts of Satan. Do not be afraid. You are not alone, but God’s holy angels watch over you, protect you, and defend you. God commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. And, do not, by your pride and arrogance, selfishness and self-righteousness, and lack of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness despise any of the LORD’s little ones who believe in Him. But, come, now, and be cleansed and forgiven, nourished, strengthened, equipped, and sent in the precious and holy body and blood of Jesus Christ that you may persevere and endure. To God alone be all glory, praise, and honor.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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