Thy will be done, in earth as it is in Heaven.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This is the day on which we celebrate our Patron. Most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican churches have Saintly men or women as their Patrons. Some take their names from the essential moments of Christ’s life – like the Church of the Incarnation, Church of the Transfiguration, Church of the Nativity, Church of the Holy Cross, Ascension, and so on. We chose St. Michael & All Angels because we had a keen desire for heavenly protection and defense, strength and power, and the celestial joy and rapture that must envelop our spiritual pilgrimage.
If the angels are to provide us with the service we desire, first we must have a better understanding of who they are. Angel comes to us from the Greek word αγγελοσ, which means messenger or one who is sent. We know that angels are creatures who have been made by God, and so have not existed from all of eternity. Today’s Psalm verifies this truth when we sing, Praise Him, all ye angels of His: praise Him, all His host/.... For He spake the Word, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created. (Ps. cxlviii. 2,5) St. Paul tells us that by Christ were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him…. (Col. i. 16) We know that they existed before the creation of the earth since God asks Job, with no small amount of imposing irritability, Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding… when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job xxviii. 4,7) We know that the angels were created to live for eternity since Jesus tells us that in the Resurrection of the Dead men will not die anymore but will be equal unto the angels… the children of God…. (Luke xx. 36) Angels were the first offspring or children of God. And we know that they are pure spirits or intelligences and thus have no bodies since their creation predates the creation of any kind of matter. St. Augustine tells us that they are to be identified with the first created light in Genesis. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Gen. i. 3-5)This could not have been physical light, since God would not make the sun until the fourth day.
So the Church’s Tradition has it that the angels were the first created spiritual light. They were the created spiritual and angelic light in and through which all else that was created makes sense. And lest the pure created light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness should be darkened by ill will, malevolence, envy, jealousy, and pride, we read that God divided the light from the darkness. The darkness was not created, and so we believe that this must be that band of good angels who rejected God because they desired rather to bask in the radiance of their own beauty, truth, and goodness rather than God’s. St. John the Divine has a mystic vision into the creation and redemption of the world and describes the origins of evil through a description of the warfare between the good and bad angels. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light, and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness, and they live in the spiritual Night of everlasting darkness. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So from the beginning of the creation we believe that the good angels were commanded by Michael, whose name means one who is like God. Michael is an Archangel, and this word comes to us from the Greek αρχαγγελοσ, meaning chief angel, and the Greek Church calls him αρχιστρατεγοσ, meaning chief commanding officer. If Michael has been involved in the warfare of heaven, we can rest assured that he will lead the charge in defending the redemption of creation that his fallen friend Lucifer is determined to disrupt. Michael and his fellow angels have never swerved from their intention to do God’s will. For as Richard ***** reminds us about Michael and his friends, beholding the face of God, in admiration of so great excellency they all adore Him. And being rapt with the love of His beauty, they cleave inseparably forever unto Him. And [their] desire to resemble Him in goodness maketh them unweariable and even unsatiable in their longing to do by all means all manner of good unto all creatures of God, but especially unto the children of men. (Eccl. Pol. iv. 1)
Michael and his friends desire to resemble and reflect God’s overflowing goodness, and so they long to transmit and impart this goodness to all of creation and especially to men. And why to men, you might ask? Because as ***** says, when they look upon us, they behold themselves beneath themselves. (Idem) So in us they see that spiritual potentiality and capacity that with them can know, adore, love, and serve God. In us they find another self – a friend, brother, sister, fellow child of God whom they long to aid, assist, and associate with the motions of God’s Word, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. And so their prayers and praises always surround us, to include us in their unending desire and longing for our salvation. They have always been one with God, and it is into this unity that they passionately pray we might find our rest and home at last.
Their knowledge and love of God moves them into greater service when the Word of God will reverse man’s Fall in the Incarnation. Gabriel the Archangel foretells John Baptist’s birth to Zachariah. (Luke i. 13) He defines Joseph’s role as Foster-father to the Messiah. He calls Mary to become the Mother of the Word made Flesh: Hail thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee…. Fear not,... the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (St. Luke i. 28, 30, 35) When the child is born, the heavens open with a multitude of the heavenly [angelic] host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (St. Luke ii. 13) Then with Gabriel’s warning the Holy Family flees Herod’s murderous wrath. Much later, after their old friend Lucifer tries and fails to tempt Jesus in the desert, the angels came and ministered unto Him. (St. Matthew iv. 11) And prior to His passion and death, St. Luke tells that when His human nature felt its powerlessness to perform the task that lay ahead, he said, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done… [and] there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. (St. Luke xxii. 41-43) At the Crucifixion, the angels can do nothing. They are silenced with all creation into wonder and awe at the unimaginable need for this Word made Flesh to die. G.K. Chesterton reminds us that they stand at attention ready to do battle for their Lord, but must look on and learn what Christ’s Love alone must do to bring man home to God.
Seeing Him fallen where thou couldst not follow,
Seeing Him mounted where thou couldst not fly,
Hand on the hilt, thou hast halted all thy legions
Waiting the [It is finished] and the acclaim…
St. Michael and his friends come to learn that the Crucifixion involves warfare beyond their strength which the Son of God alone can fight and win in order to free man from the bad angels and reconcile him to God. They return to active duty revealing the truth of the Resurrection to those who believe. One of them rolled away the stone from the entrance to the tomb, and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen…. (St. Matthew xxviii. 3-6) With Christ’s Ascension they understand the nature and meaning of the new life Christ died to unleash and discharge, and so they ask, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. (Acts i. 11) And so the angels will forever thereafter assist Peter, Paul, and all faithful others who long to become the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that St. Michael and All Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they bear to us from Jesus is the purification of our bodies, the illumination of our souls, and the Spirit’s new desire for our unity with God. If we pray for their protection and defense, they will surround us, make a safe place for Jesus’ sanctification of our souls, and carry the gifts of His love into our lives. As the first offspring of God, they long without ceasing that we should become their brothers and sisters, as God’s will that is done in the Heaven for them, might be done in like manner on earth in us. And so it is with great thanksgiving that on this day we sing with Edmund Spenser:
…O the exceeding grace
Of highest God, that loves his creatures so,
And all his works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed Angels, he sends to and fro…
How oft do they, their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour vs, that succour want?
How oft do they with golden pineons, cleave
The flitting skies, like flying Pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aide us millitant?
They for vs fight, they watch and dewly ward,
And their bright Squadrons round about vs plant,
And all for love, and nothing for reward… (Fairy Queen, ii. viii)
For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
(St. Matthew ix. 13)
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle. Matthew and his brother St. James, who was another of the Twelve Apostles, were the sons of Alphaeus. They came from Galilee, which was home to Jesus during most of His adult ministry and was ruled under Rome by King Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist and played a role in the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord. St. Matthew was one of those Jews who would have been more hated and despised by his own people than by the foreign Roman occupiers since his livelihood was made by collecting taxes for Caesar. We have read about Matthew’s conversion in today’s Gospel, and following the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, as he went out to evangelize the nations, he also wrote down his memory of it all in the first Synoptic Gospel, which bears his name. Some say that he died a martyr in Ethiopia, others say it was in Persia, and still others say he died a natural death. But for our purposes it doesn’t really matter whether his life ended naturally or by the enemy’s sword. He died having lived a life moved and defined by the life of Jesus Christ which leapt from his heart into the lives of others.
Tax Collectors in Roman-occupied Palestine were considered to be the worst of sinners. It was not only that they committed sinful acts against themselves and others as the normal way of sin ran its course. And it was not only that they made a false god out of money, becoming hoarders or spendthrifts as greedy men do. Rather, they collected Jewish monies for the purposes of Caesar’s pagan Roman domination of Israel. And more than this, the publicans were known to be thieves since it was their custom to overtax their Jewish brethren in order to make a personal profit. We know that they were in the habit of doing this since St. Luke tells us that when the tax collectors went to John the Baptist to receive the Baptism of Repentance, he warned them to exact no more than that which was appointed them. (St. Luke iii. 13) So they were despised and abhorred, exiled and alienated from the Jewish community, and thus found friends only in the company of other sinners.
And so it is all the more remarkable that the Gospel tells us that, more often than not, it was into these communities of the despised, rejected, confused, and compromised that Jesus traveled to make new friends. The Jewish religious establishment of the day was, of course, scandalized. Why wouldn’t it be? Men who think that religion is all about personal sacrifice, good works, pious practices, and clean, moral living tend to look down upon those who don’t live up to their standard. If true religion is the prized possession of those who think that they have made themselves righteous and proved themselves holy, then, by all means, they do well to avoid notorious livers whose association might blemish their good reputations. And so, in today’s Gospel Jesus, having called St. Matthew, and proceeding to break bread with him and his friends, is accosted by the Pharisees. His Apostles are asked, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? (St. Matthew ix. 11)
Before we find the answer, we must examine the nature of those lives that Jesus’ love dared to invade. St. Matthew, his publican friends, and the other sinners had found no hope for conversion and transformation in looking at the religious men of their day. What they saw was a judgment that offered no mercy. What they sensed was a law that offered no love. What they perceived was a condemnation that smothered all hope. Their present state elicited neither compassion, nor pity, nor kindness. Not one man cared enough to ask about their past, how painful it was, and how it might have formed and molded the lives they lived. The external and visible world of Jewish piety condemned them to a ghetto of despair and dejection. And so they lived in a community of misery.
Now, to be sure, publicans, in particular, benefited financially from their complicity with the Roman Government and their robbery of the Jewish people. They had all the money in the world. But their earthly riches could never have compensated for the loss of identification and unity with their people. The publicans were useful tools for the Roman political and financial machine, but they were neither citizens nor kin to their foreign overlords. They were by birth Jewish and so destined to inherit the promises of God, and yet their occupation ostracized them from the worship and fellowship of the Temple. So what they had was the love of money, which, as we all know, is the root of all evil. (1 Tim. vi. 10) The more one has of it, the less happy he is likely to become. The problem with it is that its value or worth comes and goes like the southwest wind, and all that it can promise is a return or profit that arrives and departs with equal probability. Its promise of happiness is so uncertain that the maddening anxiety that its possession engenders should really encourage its immediate release. And yet more often than not the man in this state falls rapidly into its total possession and control. We do well to remember that the words miser and misery go hand in hand. And yet as Bertrand Russell once remarked, Extreme hopes are born from extreme misery.
And so it is into this world of extreme misery that Christ’s love comes, for Christ Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners into repentance. (St. Luke v. 32) St. Matthew doesn’t tell us about the life he used to lead, or that he was purified, washed, cleansed, and made good like the Pharisees. Matthew wasn’t good at all, and he wants us to know that it is because Jesus finds him in it that he is then called out of it. And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. (Ibid, 9) St. John Chrysostom tells us that St. Matthew disguises not his former life, but adds even his name. (Hom. xxx) St. Matthew is not presenting a type of sin that Jesus comes to eradicate. Jesus comes to catch out a true-to-life sinner in the act of his sinning! And if Jesus can catch out a self-acknowledged, money-grubbing sinner named Matthew in the evil of sinning itself, he wants us to know that there is hope for us too!
Chrysostom reminds us that Jesus calls him while he was sitting at the receipt of custom - to show the power that can, in the midst of evil living, lift a man out of it. (Idem) Jesus doesn’t come to bless and consecrate righteous living into His service. Men are not meant to make themselves presentable or tastefully tarted-up for the visitation of the Lord. He wishes rather to come into our misery, pain, sadness, sickness, ugliness, and sin in order that we might feel more powerfully His love that desires to conquer it all. For it is only in knowing, acknowledging, claiming, confessing, and revealing our true sinful state in the face of Christ’s longing gaze and merciful eye that we can then be startled and stunned into such need and desire for Him that when He says, Follow me, we cannot help but arise, forsake all, and follow. (Ibid, 9)
The Pharisees ask, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? (Ibid, 11) And Jesus answers, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Ibid, 12, 13) Jesus desires mercy and not sacrifice, and what He means is that He desires to give God’s merciful and all-powerful healing to those who most need it. Those who most need it are those who know themselves to be most spiritually maimed, alienated, exiled, confused, frightened, hurt, wounded, sick, and lost. This self-knowledge alone forsakes all and follows Jesus, because such misery longs most deeply for the all-powerful mercy that can love it out of its sinning.
My friends, today we are called to be arrested and called by the desire of Jesus out of our sinning and into His loving. George Herbert describes the call of love to one sinning like this:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
St. Matthew was arrested by that love that shined into his sin and longingly called him from the receipt of custom and into the new life that leads back to God. In Jesus Christ, St. Matthew perceived a love that seized and embraced his soul. St. Augustine describes such love like this: What does [this] love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. This is the love that captured the heart of St. Matthew the publican and sinner. This is the love whose worth and value made the coinage of his custom house but dust and dung. This love is made for men who are so sick of their sin that they jump to the call of love’s offer of new life. This is the love that calls forth its own potential capacity and nature from the hearts of those who once knew only hate. And this is the love with which St. Matthew then responds when he opens his house to Jesus and all others. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in [his] house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. (Ibid, 10) … So [they] did sit and eat. Amen.
Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you,
that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
(St. Luke 10. 23, 24)
Before Jesus proclaims the blessing that introduces today’s Gospel lesson, He offered thanksgiving to His Father for beginning to generate a new kind of sight or vision in the eyes of His Apostles, whose infant eyes He was opening into the new world of His mission and meaning. Sight here relates to knowledge. But the knowledge or comprehension which the Apostles were beginning to discover was a vision into the nature of love. This vision led them to know and then receive the love of God in Jesus Christ, which alone could redeem and save them. This love is [God’s] only gift enabling His faithful people to render unto [Him] true and laudable service, to obey Him, and finally to attain to [His] heavenly promises. (Collect Trinity XIII)
To show how difficult it really is for natural man to get right with God so that he might obtain God’s heavenly promises, Jesus allows His praise of the childlike faith that is being born in His friends to be challenged. So, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted [Jesus], saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (St. Luke 10. 25) The lawyer seems to resent Jesus’ blessing of the Apostles’ new spiritual vision and hearing, which seems to challenge and contradict his own. What he sees and hears appears alien to the good work of his long established religious practice. So Jesus asks, What is written in the Law? How readest thou? (St. Luke 10. 26) The lawyer answers, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. (Ibid, 27) Jesus answers, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (Ibid, 28) So Jesus’ meaning is, in effect: It is clear that you know the Law. So if you really can do this, do this and you shall find eternal life. That the lawyer cannot do or fulfill the Law naturally becomes clear immediately when he shows that he does not understand it. Willing to justify himself – or prove himself blameless, [the lawyer] said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? (St. Luke 10. 29) Had he been able to keep or do the Law, he would not have needed to ask the question. There is even an air of condescending superiority and pride in his query that seems to suggest that he has had very few neighbors. The lawyer may have known the Law, but he did not know who his neighbor was, and so was not able to love his neighbor as himself. St. Cyril suggests that in asking ‘Who is my neighbor?’ he reveals to us that he is empty of love for his neighbor, since he does not consider anyone as his neighbor; and consequently he is also empty of the love of God. (C.A. Pent. xii)
This latter point will prove decisive as Jesus drives home its implication in today’s Parable. A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (St. Luke 10. 30) Here Jesus pictures and narrates the story of everyman’s Fall and how God, through Him, will respond to it. All men, because of sin, have freely chosen to journey down from the paradise of God’s Jerusalem and into the sinful world of Jericho. As a result, they have fallen in with the devil and his angels, who have stripped them of the clothing of their original righteousness and wounded them with the sting of death, [which is] sin (1 Cor. xv. 56). Fallen man is wounded and abandoned but is left only half dead in relation to God. Throughout the history of man’s fallen earthly existence there has always been hope for man’s salvation and return to God. But God’s Law and its representatives have never been able to do more than reinforce man’s sense that he is a sinner and lost in sore misery, half dead, alienated from God and his fellow man, and, therefore, in dire need of what neither the Law nor any man can generate. By chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him and passed by on the other side. (St. Luke 10. 31, 32) The Priest and the Levite represent religious men who can see and look on the problem, but must pass by because they lack the tools to secure a solution. And this is because knowledge of God’s Law is never enough to stimulate that love that alone can fulfill it. As St. Paul says, for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. (Gal. iii. 21)
And so we read: But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (St. Luke 10. 33, 34) The man who is self-consciously fallen from Divine Grace in earthly life lies helpless in the ditch. Along comes a Samaritan - an outsider to the promises of Israel literally and an alien to human expectations spiritually. Samaritan means one who observes the Law, and this Good Samaritan will turn out to be the only man who can both do and fulfill it. For this Samaritan is one who is so full of compassion and love that he alone can share and impart the love that he receives from God to others. For him God’s Law is His love and that Love is the Law of his life. And thus it is he alone who can and does draw near to, touch, and remedy every man’s spiritual alienation from God. For, as Origen of Alexandria reminds us, this Samaritan never journeys without his medicine bag of spiritual remedies, for he must have enough bandages, oil, and wine to heal not only this self-consciously fallen man, but all self-consciously fallen men who know and experience sin’s desperate hold and sway in their lives. (What Must I do…Or.) And conscious that fallen man’s disease is so serious, this Samaritan sets him upon his own beast, carrying and bearing him on to the next stage of healing, loving him still, for he knows that full and complete spiritual health will involve the labor of a lifetime.
The Good Samaritan is, of course, Christ Jesus Himself, who alone bears and carries the burden and weight of all self-consciously sick and sinful men on to their spiritual healing and redemption. He carries man to an inn and cares for him. The inn symbolizes that half-way house or hospital for sinners, who are merely passing through and over to their appointed end. Specifically it refers to the Church, whose innkeepers are first the Apostles and then their successors. Jesus the Good Samaritan spends a night in the inn, symbolizing the time of His Resurrection, in which He not only cares for fallen man but teaches the innkeepers, His followers, how to continue the care and therapy He has so lovingly begun. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (St. Luke 10. 35) The Good Samaritan leaves the innkeepers with two pence, the price and cost of ongoing care. These symbolize His Body and Blood, given to the church then, and also now, as the way and means of ongoing spiritual convalescence. The price has been paid, the offering has been made, and because of what Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, has done, the salvation process has been well underway ever since. When the Good Samaritan returns, He will repay the spiritual caregivers of the Church what He owes them – Love’s reward for Love received and passed on.
At the conclusion of the Parable, Jesus asks the lawyer and us, Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? (Ibid, 36) The lawyer answered, He that showed mercy on him. (Ibid, 37) Jesus said, Go and do thou likewise.
And though we don’t know it, we pray that the lawyer did not do it. Why? Because he could not have done it until he came to see that our neighbor is not, first and foremost, the man in the ditch, but the Good Samaritan or Jesus Christ himself. We pray that the lawyer was beginning to realize that he could not go and do likewise until Christ became his neighbor or Good Samaritan to him. Our neighbor is not then, first, the man upon whom we are called to show mercy. Rather our neighbor is the One who shows mercy upon us. For, truly, we are the man in the ditch in need of spiritual restoration and salvation. And until we realize that Christ Jesus is the Good Samaritan who comes to bind up our wounds, heal our bodies and souls, take us into the inn of the Church, where we can convalesce and recuperate by the Grace of God through the movements and motions of His Holy Spirit, we shall never so adequately and sufficiently receive with thanksgiving that Love which is born to be shared with all others.
Yet if we accept the loving care and remedy that Jesus Christ, God’s Good Samaritan, brings to our fallen condition, we shall be nothing less than sore amazed as His incessant desire and all-powerful might sanctify and save our souls. We shall be stunned, startled, and stupefied with the work of Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit in our lives. And then we shall not only see, hear, and obey God’s law of Love in and for ourselves, but we shall love our neighbors as ourselves because the Love that loves us can do nothing other than desire to share His compassionate healing through us to them. For if we receive the all-healing and all-curing Love of God from the heart of Jesus, as Archbishop Trench says, we shall not ask, ‘Who is my neighbor’? For the love [of God]… is like the sun, which does not inquire upon what it shall shine, or whom it shall warm, but shines and warms by the very law [and light] of its own being, so that nothing [can be] hidden from [its] light and heat. (Par. p. 252) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons