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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


3rd October 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity XVII

Have you seen any angels recently? A few are already appearing in the shops just in case they are late for Christmas as there are only three months to go! Those of you who came to our morning Eucharist last Thursday will have found some in church, when we celebrated Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael and all angels. Keen gardeners amongst you will have noted their Michaelmas daisies.

Even if some educational institutions still keep the Michaelmas term, Michaelmas has lost it's standing as a quarter day when business was transacted. Therefore it has now passed out of the popular imagination. Even M & S have down graded St. Michael - may be that's why they are doing so badly!

And yet in recent years angels have made something of a come back in popular culture. It is part of the growth of 'New age' spiritualities and of pick 'n mix religion. It is reflected in the design of cards and decorations.

In the Churches it has been a different story. In the 1960's angels went out of favour. For clergy raised on Bultmann and 'demythologising', angels became an embarrassment and were the first to go in the attempt to recover the historical Jesus uncluttered by later myths. Certainly the popular image of winged creatures with harps can get in the way of proclaiming the faith but we can note the unexpected divergence of academic theology and popular culture. It is as if the latter has caught the angels thrown out by the former!

If we wish to take the Biblical tradition seriously we won't be able to dismiss angels quite so readily. So what are angels? If you want more speculative details you need to turn to Thomas Aquinas or Milton's Paradise Lost. Angels make several appearances in Bible stories. Some times they are human figures. Often reference to angels is a literary device used to reinforce a theological point. Later in the Biblical tradition they are portrayed as spiritual creatures. Biblical writers are less concerned with what angels are, more with what they do. If you like expensive cars here is an easy way to remember - BMW.

  1. B) Angels fight in the battle against evil. Revelation describes 'war in heaven' when Satan was defeated by Michael the archangel. Elsewhere St. Paul describes how Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare against evil. If you have been to Coventry Cathedral you will have seen on the external wall the famous image of St. Michael destroying Satan. It is a powerful testimony to the hope that out of the evil and suffering of war comes the possibility of reconciliation. Our faith tells us than we are not alone in adversity and struggle that spiritual forces are marshalled with us against evil. Remember Elisha being granted a vision of such a spiritual company in response to Elijah's prayer when the military odds seemed stacked against them.
  2. M) Angels are God's messengers. Mary received the message that she was going to be the mother of Jesus from the Archangel Gabriel. In the OT human beings who delivered a message from God were seen as angelic. Thus we can say that anyone who brings us God's message is being angelic. It might be one of those little nudges we get from time to time that we ought to pursue a particular course of action.
  3. W) Angels worship God. When we worship we never do so alone. We always do so in the company of others, with saints and angels. The stories of angels remind us of this. So we might share the Eucharist with two people, a dog and the whole company of heaven. In our liturgy you will find many such references to angelic accompaniment, often obscured by familiarity. Worship, giving God his worth, is vital for us. Without it there is an empty gap. More dangerously we can begin to worship something else, evil.

Quite how we wish to interpret Biblical stories of angels will be a matter of personal inclination. Some will want to hold to a more literal interpretation than others. What is important is that we hold fast to the spiritual realities being described. Also we should remember; - that the angels share in a spiritual battle that Christ has already won, that angelic messengers point us to Christ and that angels share with us in the worship of Christ.

So have you seen any angels recently? If you have seen someone fighting a battle against evil, if you received a life-changing message from a stranger, if you have shared in worship, then you may have done so unawares.

Amen

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