The text for the sermon is taken from the Gospel: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”
This morning is the start of the XV week in Trinitytide, and I want to call your attention to the collect for this Sunday, which is listed in your bulletin. It reads: “Keep we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is a collect of petition, in which we ask the Lord to support His Church because as a result of the wounds of the fall, our lives have been infected by sin and death. We are in need of healing as we wait upon the Lord. The question that arises is whether God really answers these prayers. Does he sustain the Church with perpetual mercy? How would he do that even if God did act?
To answer that question, lets take a look at how God has worked both in the natural and supernatural realms here at All Saints just in the last two days. We are a small corner in the vast kingdom of God that is called the Church, and yet, at the same time, we in this small country parish encounter the fullness of that faith and we embody the total Church in a local expression. So when we ask the question of whether God works in His church, we can look globally through all of history, or we can look locally and specifically at our own parish. And the first manifestation of the work of God is here present with us this weekend: the Bishop. Bishop Grundorf is one of many Bishops, but the office that he holds is the full apostolate that Jesus instituted. Let me quote Mascall to help explain: “The diocese, gathered round its bishop, is thus not merely a part of the Church of God but is its full manifestation in a particular place. Like the cell in a living organism, it is a coherent organic entity, yet it lives only because it coheres in the whole body.”
He is not some delegate of the people, but the Bishop is an Apostle, an emissary of Christ Himself, employed by Jesus to do his work. You see, God has been at work here, and He has poured out His love and mercy upon us.
Part of that work is to ordain men for what the BCP calls the ministry of reconciliation. The Bishop’s role is to bring people as a shepherd into the Church, the Body of Christ. And to help with that work, yesterday, Fr. Mark was ordained to do some of that work as Messenger, Watchman, and Steward. God has been at work here, and He has poured out His love and mercy upon us.
And now today we have confirmation where you, Comfirmands, were given the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit. You entered into the Body of Christ at your baptisms, but God has supernaturally ordered His kingdom, that he also gives gifts at confirmation so that you can now faithfully live out those vows. You are a soldier of Christ, given the full armor of God to live out morally what you are ontologically. God has been at work here, and He has poured out His love and mercy upon us.
All of these wonderful gifts that we have witnessed in just the last two days have been the supernatural work of God, but he has also ordained the natural world to keep us from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation. Today is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. We first must remember that just because angels are spiritual does not mean they are supernatural. In fact, angels are part of the created order. Material and spiritual are not opposites, but are two forms of creation. So even in the creation of the universe, God made a wonderful order, where angels help us, pray for us, and instill in us the right thoughts and insights to follow after God.
It should not surprise us Fr. Mark, that as we have been praying for you, so also have the angels of God been interceding on your behalf as you were ordained yesterday. Confirmands, it should not surprise us that the highest angels of God were praying for you all to prepare you for these gifts of the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Are not all ministering spirits (angels) sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?“
God is at work, establishing his kingdom both in the universal church, and its local expression here at All Saints. In all of the gifts that I have mention above, God seeks us out, He seeks to be present with us, to help us from all things hurtful, to lead us to salvation, all through His love and mercy. Therefore, God’s kingdom is a kingdom of love and His children are expected to become like Him, loving and merciful.
And so we turn to our strange Gospel lesson this morning for the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. In it, Jesus is teaching what His kingdom looks like, and his description was alien to His disciples. They had been concerned about which one of them would rule when Jesus claimed his kingdom. They were concerned about the hierarchy of political structure and their personal gain in that kingdom. But the kingdom of God is altogether different, isn’t it? Jesus brings a small child in front of them, calling the disciples to a life of humility.
We need to avoid a sentimental reading of this passage, that children have a certain innocence that is lost in adults. Jesus is challenging his disciple’s notion of hierarchy and power with the image of a child. Children are utterly dependent upon their parents, they have no right unto their own except that which is given unto them by their parents. They have no acquired status. In fact, the only status that they have is the one in which they have inherited, the status that has been given to them by their parents.
Jesus therefore is calling those who live in His kingdom to deep sense of humility, and this humility depends on how we view our status as one living in that kingdom. Christians have humility and grow in humility because we realize that our entrance into the kingdom was a gift, our status in the kingdom as children of the king was a gift, and that our continued sustenance in the kingdom is a gift of Our Father.
This acceptance of status is the beginning of our humility. It is the beginning of true thankfulness which grows into love towards God. The kingdom of God is built upon this love for this is the love that God has shown to us. It is so important that those living in the kingdom of God understand this, that Jesus encourages us to cut off anything that hinders this humble love.
Jesus is so emphatic about this point because the opposite of this love, prideful lust of status, inherently hurts you and those around you. As soon as you seek status by what you have acquired, you put yourself above another, offending a child of God. In our world, children are often despised. We live in a dark age that freely kills children, but in the kingdom of light, even the simplest disciple, the new convert or the Christian of no worldly means and status, is cared for and protected by the highest angels. The angels that Jesus mentions in the Gospel behold the face of God, something humans cannot do and live. And it is these angels that God has appointed to intercede on our behalf. You see, God has been at work here, and He has poured out His love and mercy upon us. +