The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels 2019

Sep 29, 2019

Preacher: The Rev. Jamie L. Hamilton, Rector

Summary:

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels September 29, 2019 - Year C Genesis 28:10-17 Psalm 103:19-22 Revelation 12:7-12 John 1:47-51

Detail:

One of my earliest memories of church is with my Nana, as we walked up the steps to the Cathedral of San Rafael.  The stone steps were wide apart, an arduous climb for a five- year old. She held my hand as she patiently waited for me to secure each step w/both feet.

Every time I spent the night with my Nana (we all took turns), I was treated to white peppermint candies, morning pancakes, sweet hugs and kisses, and always a “mid-week drop in” to the Cathedral to pray.

Once we reached the last step and walked through the monstrous doors, we lit candles and found a place in a darkened pew, and Nana prayed for me, asking the angel Rafael (Michael, Gabriel, and Uriel, as well) to protect me, to guide my beautiful light, and to heal any of my hurts or fears.  She held me tight. We usually prayed to St. Anthony as well to find her glasses, which she often misplaced.

 We never spent more than ten minutes or so in the Cathedral, yet these visits became church for me, in ways Sunday service never did.  I think it was how personal it all was, dignified, loving, mysterious, and beckoning… to what?....  I could not name, yet now that I look back it was my first invitation to rest with God, encouraged by angels…… heavenly “messengers.”

Today throughout Christendom, the Feast Day of St. Michael and all the Angels is being celebrated. Yet, unknown to most people, Angel Michael holds a special place in all three monotheistic religions.

 In Judaism, as the prophet Daniel prays and fasts, Angel Michael comes to him as a protector of Israel.  Michael is named in the Book of Daniel, and, though not specifically named in other Hebrew Scriptures, he is believed to be the angel that rescues Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and who told Sarah she was pregnant with a son, who stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, who was the lead angel, ascending and descending Jacob’s heavenly ladder, and who later wrestles with Jacob and puts out his hip joint, who holds the Book of Life on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.  Michael:  God’s messenger from the heavens who will enter into our daily living.

 In Christianity, as referenced here from the reading in Revelation, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.  This “war” in heaven is elaborated later in John Milton’s Paradise Lost where Michael with expansive wings, shielded with armor and sword and dressed in a dazzling raiment, defeats not a dragon, but Satan, and throws him to earth soundly defeated, yet who will return, later, to do his best to “lead the world astray.” 

 In the Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Michael is believed to be the angel who will lead Christ in his Second Coming.

In Islam, Michael is one of the three angels who visits with Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, and with whom Abraham responds in hospitality and a meal fit for a king. For Muslims, Michael and all the other angels are responsible for the force behind nature’s movements- time, space, wind, energy, gravity, matter, light.  From the tears of Michael, other angels are created, as the helpers of Michael.  Out of suffering, these angels are created to spread kindness, to be seekers of pardon on our behalf, and to support us in following the path of religion.

One of my favorite images is the one of two angels, sitting on our shoulders.  The one of the right (Michael) leading us to do the right thing, and the one on the left (Satan/Iblis) leading us astray. In Islam, Satan does not represent evil, just our inclination to turn away from God.  I remember trying to describe this concept to students in my Islam class, and one student spoke up.  “Oh you mean Iblis is like a really bad backseat driver!”

On this Feast Day of St. Michaels, we are reminded of the biblical passage from Hebrews: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Yes, to entertain angels…..Nourishment for the soul.

Through the insight of our monotheistic traditions, angels come to us visible or invisible, aware or unaware, as messengers of God.  In invisible ways, angels come to us in prayer, intuition, a sixth sense, inspiration, moments of deep meditation, by a muse, or in music.  

They come to us in visible forms as well…. A kind gesture from a stranger just when you needed it, or good advice from a friend that you weren’t ready to hear, yet it finally sinks in, or as a loving embrace from a nana, or as needed support from a colleague, especially when you were feeling isolated or lost, or from a teacher who for the first time invites you into “the inside of things” and you finally “get it” and the lightbulb goes off.

In so many ways, we are touched by heavenly reaches from others and other things that help us enter into the depths of our soul.  The gap between the finite/infinite seems smaller, closed by angelic forces in our lives (the force behind the energy).

 

Don’t let the Secular beat of our times make fun of the church’s belief in angels.  We are pressured to be informed, to be objective, to be independent, to be successful. Our worthiness is often measured by how well we accomplish these goals of Autonomy.  God is nowhere to be named, and idea of angels scoffed as just a bunch of hokus-pokus.

And yet, what do the great mysteries of Life tell us?  Being only informed is empty and shallow, dare I say bankrupt, compared to the power of being formed by love and grace and connections.  Angels, who give us love-notes from God, remind us of our Light.

We are a not a people who thrive on “correct data,” but rather we thrive when we are engaged, passionate, leaning in, caring about what we discover- when our hearts spin around to a new viewpoint that releases us from anxiety and worry and fear. 

When we are in relationship with each other in a cosmic dance of living and loving, we feel our deep connections to the Source of Life…. And angels abound- helping us to fall out of our limited small self that worries and frets….

And (instead) fall into the Great Self of God, where we see anew, loving, trusting, risking, surrendering, hoping, and forgiving. 

This seeing anew was brought home to me NOT through my theology classes, but of all places, through science (talk about entertaining angels unaware).

In 1983, a geneticist, Dr. Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for medicine for her discovery of principles of genetic transposition…. The way that genes communicate between organisms. 

Through her work, she created the first genetic map of a chromosome for corn and from that theorized genetic transference…. Something that other scientists could only demonstrate much later using computer modeling. 

She was just across the street from my Seminary, at Columbia, where for 50 years, much to the chagrin and ridicule of her colleagues, she planted corn in her lab (cheap, plentiful, easy to grow) and paid an “enormous amount of hours paying attention to the corn,” so much so that “I had a hard time leaving the corn, so attached I was.”  She believed she was in a “place where the mysteries lie,” listening to what the corn needed to tell her, “allowing it to teach me its secrets.”

Mind you this is a scientist. A Nobel Prize winner.

When interviewed later, Dr. McClintock tried to explain her deep relationship with corn.  “You somehow have to have a feeling for the organism.” 

When pushed to explain further, and at a loss of words, she said, “Really, all I can tell you about doing great science is that you somehow have to learn to lean into the kernel.” 

Her interview blew me away.  I think Angels, in all shapes and sizes, visible or not, metaphorical or real, are the way we talk about the help we need to lean in, to trust, to want to dance with each other, to be in deep relationship, to listen to each other’s mysteries and try to find where they lie, and to believe that these mysteries have something to tell us.  Poets and mystics and saints get this….. but Scientists, too.

And so can we, as we celebrate all the ways angels have touched our lives.  AMEN