Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Here we go. “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world was thrown down to the earth”
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. We do so because, veiled within this dramatic myth, are the core elements of Christian theology. Here is the narrative: God won dominion in the heavens, and now the only place evil, mortally wounded in the battle, could reside was the one venue where God does not reign… And the name of that place? Earth.
The battle with evil had come to us. And so, God reigns in heaven. Evil is cast down to earth, where we are made to meet it, and crush it. And the weapons at our disposal, as noted today in the Book of Revelation are:
1) the blood of the Lamb;
2) the testimony of the word;
3) and fearlessness in the face of death.
Those are the three weapons; today we’ll only focus on the first: the blood of the lamb. But before we go there let’s return to the cosmology of heaven and earth. The first thing to remember is that heaven and earth are places. The first line in the Bible makes this clear: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” (Gen 1:3) They are places. Heaven is where God lives, and where God is king, and where what God wants to happen happens the way God wants it to happen. And what we hear today is that God did not want the patterns of evil to pollute the rhythms of God’s creation; so war broke out and the Devil was cast down to earth; which, like heaven, is a place; it is the place God reserved for human freedom; for human choice.
It is common to think that heaven is a place way out there, far, far away, maybe in the 11th dimension, maybe someplace we go when we die. And earth is this spinning globe upon which we now dwell.
But the theology of Christianity is just the opposite, claiming heaven is here. It includes the ground upon which we stand, and the space between our protons and our electrons and our neutrons. Heaven is where we live. It is also where the lion roams, and the eagle soars. And when that eagle dives into the Sound to catch a fish…that too is part of the natural rhythm of the Kingdom of God. From nuclear fusion in the farthest star, to the movement of leptons, to the cry of a newborn baby…these are events in heaven, and heaven is where we live, and heaven is where God lives as well. Where is heaven? Right here, this near, closer than our minds can imagine.
So, if earth isn’t the place we are stomping around, where is it? Our Christianity cosmology claims earth as the place where God subjugated God’s priorities in favor of our freedom. Freedom being an absolute necessity if we are truly the children of God, made in the image and likeness of God.
Earth is a synonym for human choice; and within the realms of choice there are three venues: That space between you and me. The patterns and priorities of communities; and that place deep down inside the human heart.
Three venues: Relationship. Community. The human heart…those are the realms of earth, those are the places of human freedom, and those are the places where evil went to hide, after being mortally wounded by God.
Lions aren’t evil. Eagles aren’t evil. Leptons aren’t evil; Nuclear fusion isn’t evil. The only place evil lurks is in relationships, communities, and the human heart. These are the venues where we are to stamp out evil. Our task is to bring together earth and heaven. Our task is to align our decisions with God’s hope for our lives. Our task is summed up by Jesus this way: “on earth as it is in heaven.”
That is the goal of all of creation: “on earth as it is in heaven;” where heaven is revealed in that space that exists between you and me; where heaven is revealed in the aspirations of the larger community; where heaven is revealed in the human heart; singing: “on earth as it is in heaven.” That is the goal of Christianity.
So now let’s talk about evil, the devil, Satan, the deceiver. Our tradition personifies evil as a means of helping us grow spiritually. A personified evil gives us a force to push back against, without criticizing the character of the person tempting us to do something that is not heaven on earth.
Jesus models this for us in the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. He and the disciples are walking to Jerusalem. Jesus tells them that is where he will be crucified. Peter says, “God forbid it Lord.” To which Jesus replies (to his best friend), “Get behind me Satan.”
Peter is not Satan, but in that moment he is the Tempter, personified tempting Jesus to choose his way, rather than the path God has laid out for Jesus. Evil tempts us to act in a way that God would not want us to act. Evil is seductive and then turns perverse. It looks good and then decays into bitterness, brittleness, and contempt. It blocks us from seeing the good in the other, and makes our blood boil.
Our task is to finish evil off. The possibility of doing so is presented to us at this feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and our weapon is the blood of the lamb!
I taught the junior and senior high school students during the Everybody Hour two weeks back. The topic was the Eucharist, and the word blood came up… and Jesus. And Jesus’ blood. And the weirdness of all that. And the difficulty of explaining that to people who were not brought up in the church. And how it is just better to lie and say you don’t go to church, than to get trapped in a conversation about the body and blood of Jesus…which we eat on Sunday.
And yet, it seems the blood of the lamb is one of the vital weapons for fighting evil. So, let’s understand why.
First a little history. Blood, since time immemorial, was thought to be the thing within a person that gave vitality, power, and charisma. And so, when people heard the word blood they thought of a person’s vitality, power, and charisma. Why? Well, because when the blood leaked out of a person they have lost their vitality, power and charisma. Blood symbolizes vitality.
And the blood of the lamb symbolizes the vitality of Jesus. To be a Christian, means to be a follower of Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus, means being a student of Jesus. To be a student of Jesus, means patterning our lives after Jesus in the context of our own times.
And so, this weapon against evil, this blood of the lamb, is unleashed when we act as Jesus would if he had your life or my life. We recommit to this battle every week when we participate in the Eucharist. Here we are nurtured, locked and loaded with the love of God, to fight evil wherever it corrupts relationships, disrupts communities, and hardens human hearts. And the crescendo of the Eucharist is found, together, when we sing, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
So, I’m driving down the road the other day and someone did something they shouldn’t have (in my opinion.) I took umbrage. My face flushed. My blood boiled. Have you ever had that happen? A surge of righteous indignation pounding through your body and you’re ready to go war? Do you know what that is like to have blood boiling in your heart?
Have you ever raged against a family member as your blood begins to boil after asking someone to do something (someone who is younger than you by 30 years) for the sixtieth time? Do you know what it is like to have your boiling blood spatter upon a relationship?
And then there is community. Have you picked up a newspaper lately? Has your blood boiled? Need I say more?
When your blood is boiling consider the blood of Jesus. Consider the vitality of Jesus in the context of your life. But it takes more than trying to be like Jesus, it requires training to be like Jesus. The Eucharist is a spiritual exercise. It is a formative event that changes us over time. The story we hear from behind the altar, is a story that gets embossed upon our hearts, as the vitality of Jesus story becomes more and more our story; and our lives are lived more and more at that place where earth is subsumed into heaven and evil no longer has a place to hide.
That is what we celebrate at the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. We celebrate the victory of God through the vitality of Jesus as heaven reigns in our relationships, and in our communities, and in our hearts. Or as Jesus says: “on earth as it is in heaven.”