September 23, 2019
Thou reignest in glory; thou dwellest in light;
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all laud we would render; oh, help us to see
'tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #834, verse #4]
The assigned lectionary readings for September 29, 2019, the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
However, September 29 is also the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and some congregations will observe this festival instead. So here are the readings for this so-called "lesser festival."
Following our wedding, my wife, Linda, and I honeymooned in Niagara Falls. We were married on the 24th
of September, so St. Michael's fell during our time away on a Thursday. In order to please me, she and I worshipped at a Catholic church on the Canadian side, which had daily masses and was celebrating the festival. Who else, after all, but a pastor, visits a church during their honeymoon?
There was nothing memorable about the mass, except for the lady in front of us that complimented me on my singing voice and invited me to join the choir. But when our anniversary rolls around, I am reminded of that brief humorous exchange.
Angels have managed to capture our human imagination, and I am no exception. One of my favorite television series was, Touched by an Angel, which ran for nine seasons on CBS. Each night it came on I was transfixed to the television screen. I always knew when the angel named Andrew showed up, things were about to take an unfortunate turn. Andrew, you see, was the angel of death, and his appearance was not a good sign. I believe the reason television programs depicting angels are so popular is because all of us have a natural curiosity about heaven and about heavenly beings.
In scripture there are over 600 references to angel hosts. The word angel actually means "messenger or envoy or representative." Every time you see the word "angel" in scripture, you could substitute the word "messenger." For example, anywhere you read, "The angel of the LORD;" think instead, "The messenger of the LORD," and it makes perfect sense.
Before the age of text messages or e-mail (or even the telephone or post office), God was already sending messages long distance by way of angels.
I would guess we are most familiar with the appearances of angels in the gospels.
The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah to tell him about the birth of John the Baptist. Gabriel also announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. An angel appeared to Joseph to tell him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and later to warn him to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod. In the Gospel according to Mark, the angels waited on Jesus after he had been tempted by the devil. Even at the empty tomb, an angel explains Jesus' resurrection to the weeping women. Those are but a few examples.
Angels come to people at many different times and for many different reasons.
An angel came and fed Elijah in the desert after someone tried to kill him (1 Kings 19:5).
An angel has to release Peter from prison on two separate occasions because of the disturbance caused by his preaching (Acts 5:19; 12:7-10).
Do angels exist in reality? I firmly believe that YES, they do; although I think that God is more likely to use flesh and blood people as his angels/messengers in the world today.
Probably many of us have had strange, hard-to-explain spiritual encounters with God. Some of us may talk about "angels" to try and explain the unexplainable while others may talk about "God" or the "Holy Spirit" or "seeing Christ" to try and describe the same event. When we have been encountered by the almighty God, our human words and images (e.g., "messenger") will never be sufficient.
Martin Luther wrote the following on the subject of guardian angels:
"We Christians should have the sure knowledge that the princes of heaven are with us, [and] not only one or two, but a large number of them as Luke records (2:13) that a multitude of heavenly host was with the shepherds. And if we were without this custody, and God did not in this way check the fury of Satan, we could not live for one moment."
So on this upcoming festival of St. Michael and All Angels, let us simply say thanks be to God for holy angels. And thanks be to God for God's son Jesus Christ, the king of the angels, for giving them to us for the sake of our salvation.
Tuesday of this week I will be with the rostered ministers of the Canton-Massillon Conference at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Massillon.
From Thursday until next Monday, I will be at the Conference of Bishops in Chicago as we gather for our Fall meeting. Among the major topics we will consider is how to address the leadership concerns in our church as it relates to the need for Word and Sacrament ministries in local settings in light of the clergy shortage and those struggling and shrinking congregations that cannot afford a full-time pastor. It promises to be a spirited and engaging discussion.
This week and always, may God's holy angel be with you, that the evil foe may have no power over you. (adapted from Luther's Morning Prayer)
+Bishop Abraham Allende