Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost – 9.29.19

Do you have a favorite book of the bible? Many people love the book of psalms. Or the Acts of the Apostles. Many people pick the book of Revelation. It has so many iconic scenes: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the woman giving birth, a dragon ready to devour her child, the triumphant Lamb, the new heaven and the new earth. The tree which has leaves for the healing of the nations.

In two of our readings, Michael is named as the champion who fights against evil, and we see a cosmic battle going on. Good and evil really slug it out. In Revelation, Michael is named as fighting alongside the angels.  In the book of Daniel, Michael is there to assist Daniel: and is “described as “the great prince, the protector of your people.” These are words of hope. As a great prince, this Michael has been fighting on their behalf. He is a guardian.

The title, “prince” in Daniel 10 and 12 refers to a superhuman, celestial being who represents and has responsibility to protect a particular people . . . and it suggests Michael has been their guardian from the very beginning of their existence.”[1]


Our texts today describe a world parallel to ours where the forces of good and evil are in combat.

Have you ever wondered about angels? Have you ever sensed one working on your behalf? Or the opposite? Sometimes there are incidents that feel as if angelic beings are at work among us. Perhaps some of you have had an experience that you point to as a sign of angelic intervention.

I had a student who told me he had once been waiting on a street corner for a friend. Something made him uneasy and restless, and he crossed the street to the other corner. The next moment, right after he crossed, a car came hurtling through the corner where he had been standing. If he hadn’t moved, he would have died in a car crash. He attributed his safety to an angel.

Another student at the same school, came up to me and told me he had sold his soul to the devil. He had prayed to Satan for money. The next moment, money was on his bed. Put there by human hands, I’m sure, still in his mind Satan had provided for him. I went to the chaplain who poo pooed my alarm. Because I taught religion, this boy would come up to me now and then to remind me he had sold his soul to Satan.

You think there is no cosmic battle going on?


We’re fascinated by angels and the struggle between cosmic good and evil, and angels show up in movies. Remember Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? Or Michael, played by John Travolta. In the film, Wings of Desire, the director, Wim Wenders, shows angels among us, leaning over people in places like the library to give comfort.

In some ways, angels as we depict them, are easier to deal with than Christ. We make angels cute like Clarence or John Travolta, trying to domesticate and romanticize them. Real angels are messengers of God and they CANNOT be domesticated. If you’ve ever seen Angels in America, the angels are fearsome. Scary. Messengers from an AWESOME God. A REMINDER that we are to have a healthy fear of God. Remember the angel of death in Exodus that took the first-born, even the pharaoh’s first-born son? Angels are more like that.

When the angel Gabriel appears in Luke’s gospel he says, “FEAR NOT,” to both Zechariah and Mary. Fear not, because the angel IS fearsome. Standing behind the angel is always GOD, so BE afraid AND try to fear not! AWE is a sign of GOD’s PRESENCE.

In Luke Jesus sends out 70 disciples to counterattack evil, and in today’s gospel, they return And marvel that even demons submitted to them when they spoke in the mighty name of Jesus. “Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” SIN has its hooks in us and our world, and Jesus is predicting the END of evil, yet Jesus has to drink the cup of suffering as a way to ultimately DEFEAT evil for us.

On that terrible Good Friday, what did people see? As Jesus was dying on the cross, most people saw nothing but a criminal who dared to defy the religious authorities and the Romans. They did not see with the eyes of faith, so they saw someone foolish, who could have run but didn’t. His disciples had deserted him, the same ones that in today’s gospel rejoice at the power of his name to make the demons run. Yet, with Jesus dying on the cross, giving his life for us, he is doing important work on our behalf.

It was beyond the imagination of independent forces of evil which are committed to doing us harm, that God’s Son would give his life for us. Our short name for this destructive force that takes delight in our destruction we call, Satan. The forces of cosmic evil lack the imagination that God’s Son would choose to fight the evil that holds us humans bound. Evil by its nature is LIMITED and lacks the imagination to understand what LOVE will do. Evil can’t comprehend God LOVES us so much he would take on the SHAME and humiliation and torture and PAIN of crucifixion. EVIL cannot see what Love can and WILL do. Evil has no eyes to see with LOVE what Jesus will do for us. Without LOVE, we cannot SEE. God gives us GRACE to see as God sees.

            Jesus dying on the cross was winning the COSMIC BATTLE against evil.

At the end of the book of Revelation, we see the triumphant Lamb, Christ, leading OTHER lambs, people like us, who have WON, with God’s Holy Spirit, over the forces of evil. We are to take HOPE. This is a PROMISE for us, even when it seems evil is winning or has won.

What does that mean for US? How is that relevant NOW?

First, we recall that Jesus, our PRINCE, goes before us. He fights for us and works for our salvation in ways that we cannot see. In your prayer time, you might meditate on how we are surrounded by these holy angels. God sees us, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, as bold and strong and can confront violence, sin, and rebellion.[2]

We celebrate today the feast of Michael and All Angels who are the patrons of first responders: police officers and fire fighters, EMT workers and ER doctors and nurses. Sometimes when we are in need, we look at them as angels. Marion had an occasion this week to see Jeana as her angel who suddenly appeared to help her!

We depend on these brave people. These are people who are on the front lines to help us when we are in pain and suffering. They have responded to an inner call to serve. We’re grateful for people who are trained to help in emergency situations.

We also thank Michael Giordano, (this is his name day!), our new member, who is an ER nurse, who knows something about caregiving under stress.

9/11 recently passed, and as a country we mourned the lives of the heroes and martyrs who ran INTO collapsing and burning buildings, while the people streamed OUT.

They were God’s instruments bringing their courage, decency, and valor that day to a site of violence and hatred.

We know that in the aftermath, a cross made of steel girders was dug out of the pile. It’s a perfect cross shape, and in it we see the suffering Christ who stands with us.

He shares humanity with us. That cross was found at the epicenter where an evil deed was done to innocent life. It stands in my old neighborhood of Inwood, outside of the Good Shepherd Church, corner of W. 204th St. and Broadway. A reminder that we pass THROUGH Calvary before we reach Easter Sunday. It’s a reminder of God’s love during the most difficult times.

We often don’t have an inkling how we are supported by invisible angelic forces. Yet, we can be inspired by the first responders, the police and firefighters, the ER nurses and doctors who look at many grisly things in the course of their jobs. We can be inspired by them to not look away from violence, and the consequences of sin. Christ shows us a path of nonviolence surrounded as he was that Good Friday by violence.

How can WE offer nonviolence as the BETTER way? How can WE stand up for righteousness in the face of oppression and death?”[3]

 How can we be small angels in our world to offer HOPE in a world that insists violence is the way? The only way.

Lord, show us the path to non-violence. Give us your grace and courage to combat evil. Let us be inspired by the angels around us to work for a more just world.

We pray always in the name of your Son, Jesus Our Lord.



[1] Anathea Portier-Young.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.