If you go to Luther’s Table on a regular basis you’re bound to run into other regulars. Although I’d seen him many times before, I hadn’t met Michael until this past week.
Michael is a member of Lord of Life Lutheran in Renton. He’s not somebody who blends into a crowd. That’s his picture you see on the cover of today’s bulletin.
There’s something else you should know about Michael: Michael is an angel.
Today is what we call a “feast day” in the Lutheran church. It’s called Michael and All Angels. Every year it falls on September 29th. This year September 29th happens to be a Sunday—today!
The Michael that we refer to is not Michael from Lord of Life Lutheran. It’s the archangel Michael that we hear about in today’s first and second readings. Archangels in the Bible are the chief angels. Jews, Muslims, Christians, all include angels and archangels in the stories of our faith. Michael and Gabriel are the two archangels that appear in the Bible.
When we call someone an angel we mean that a person is really good, really kind. Sometimes we use the word to describe a child who is really cute and well-behaved. We often use “angel” to describe someone who has saved us in time of need. If you’ve ever been in some kind of trouble and another person came to your rescue you might have said, “S/he was my angel.”
But the word as it’s used in the Bible is simpler than that. The word “angel” simply means messenger. An angel is a messenger from God.
Michael spends a lot of time at Luther’s Table, partly because more and more, homeless people are spending time at Luther’s Table. One of Michael’s passions is ministry among homeless populations. He’s perfectly comfortable being with these men; he has coffee with them, sometimes does a Bible study with them. He’s very involved in the homeless ministries of REACH, our local ecumenical social ministry.
Michael does good ministry, good work—but that’s not why he’s an angel! Christian faith is not about Michael. It’s not about us. It’s not even about the good deeds we do. It’s about giving glory to God for who God is and what God has done for us. An angel is one who gives glory to God by delivering a message from God.
But not just any message. The message an angel brings is, “You are beloved. You are worthy of love.” Michael and his ministry among local homeless populations is doing just that. He may not say “God Loves You” in words, but by giving time, by providing a listening ear, by encouraging ministries for homeless populations, that is the message. You are beloved. You are worthy of love. That is the essence of Christian faith. That is the message that angels deliver.
Such a simple message. Such a simple thing–and yet, it’s the most important thing in the world, because, most of us don’t really believe it. Or, we may believe that we’re beloved, but if we do believe it, it might be because we believe we’ve earned it. We measure ourselves by the size of our bank accounts and investments, by our hard work, our success, our good deeds, by the size and shape of our bodies, by the particular groups that we are part of, by all the measures of this world that convince us that we are somebody, that we are worth something. Our accomplishments, our wealth, the groups we identify with—all these may give us some satisfaction, they may give us some sense of self-worth and sometimes maybe even convince us that we are better than others who don’t have these things, but none of what we have or accomplish has anything to do with God’s love for us.
God’s love, you see, is unconditional. Nothing you can do or think or say or believe or be can change that. What we do or think or say or believe, for better or worse, has a tremendous impact on other people’s lives. But the power of today’s readings is that even if we were to side with Satan and his fallen angels–not even that would change God’s love for us. The same is true for every other soul who lives, and who has ever lived.
So the question for you and me this morning is this: How are we God’s angels? How are we God’s messengers? Remember, it doesn’t have anything to do with our goodness. If we are angels it is because we find ways to communicate to others we meet—through attitudes, words and deeds–this message: You are God’s beloved. You are worthy of love.
If we began to see ourselves as God’s angels–God’s messengers to the world–what impact do you think that might have? If we were to begin seeing ourselves as angels, how might that change the world? Or, at least, how might that change your corner of the world?
Michael is being an angel in pretty ordinary ways down at Luther’s Table. He wears a hat instead of a halo. He wears a work jacket instead of wings.
Did you know that angels nowhere in the Bible appear with wings? That’s a human invention. They might appear in dreams or visions as radiant, supernatural beings. But often as not, they appear as ordinary people in ordinary ways. In the book of Genesis two angels appear to Lot as visitors to Sodom. Again, in Genesis an angel wrestled with Jacob. They appear as ordinary people, sometimes with troubling news, but the message behind it is always the same. For Lot and Jacob and Moses, for Mary and Zechariah, for Joseph and Cornelius, for Philip and Peter, for Daniel and John– all these received a message from God’s messenger: You are God’s beloved. And often that message included a word that appears in today’s first reading: Don’t be afraid.
So how is it with you? Do you recognize the messengers whom God has sent into your life? Do you hear that you are beloved? Do you believe it? And do you hear the word of encouragement that goes with it? Don’t be afraid. Just as importantly, do you recognize the opportunities that you have each day to be God’s messenger? At home, in the workplace, at school—in what ways do your particular, God-given gifts find expression in a way that says to those you meet, “You are God’s beloved. Don’t be afraid.”
I was at Fred Meyer yesterday for the Mayor’s Day of Concern for the Hungry. At the checkout stand the clerk said, “I am just amazed by the generosity of so many people today.” And I replied, “Yes, and I’m pastor of Lakeridge Lutheran Church, and proud of my people who are helping.”
And then I said to the check-out clerk, “And you know what. You’re part of this, too. By checking out these groceries, you’re helping provide them to hungry people.”
In that moment, I was an angel. Not for any good deed. I was God’s messenger, assuring the check-out clerk that she is beloved.
What a marvelous opportunity we have! We live in times of great change: both great danger and great opportunity. The danger may make us fearful, cautious, resistant to what is new. It certainly has that effect on the great masses of the world’s people. But God’s people hear, first for themselves and then for all people, You are beloved. You are worthy of love. Don’t be afraid.
Today we commemorate Michael…and all angels, including you! Beloved of Christ, how has God called you to be God’s messenger to the world today, and in the coming week?