St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Octave of St Michael and All Angels, 2009, Rev Duncan Mclea

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The Rev Duncan Mclea, Rector of Christ CHurch, Kenilworth, preached at the Orchestral HIgh Mass on the Sunday in the Octave of St Michael and All Angels: 

It is an enormous privilege and honour to be asked to preach at your patronal festival. I am not sure if you realise the significance of this return invitation for me to come and reach here today. It was our privilege to have Fr Richard preach at Christ Church earlier in the year.

Christ Church Kenilworth and St Michael and All Angel’s Observatory probably represent the two wings of Anglican worship style and ethos. We are probably about as different as one could be while still remaining Anglican. Some would say of you, as some would say of us, we have departed the fold long ago. So we stand in solidarity with you in that.

But I am reminded of the words of David in Psalm 133. How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the LORD commands his blessing, even life forevermore. Standing on that promise, and with all the authority of heaven I want to declare blessing on you today. May the LORD bless you and keep you, St Michael’s. May the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” May all the fullness of heaven be unleashed upon you as a community of faithful worshippers of Almighty God.

And it is the angels and God’s heaven that is our focus of our readings. St John the Divine sitting on the Island of Patmos is given a vision of what is happening. The veil is drawn back – a window is opened, and for a moment he sees what is going on in the unseen heavenly reality. There is war! There is a battle of cosmic proportions as Michael and his Angels take on the Dragon, the Ancient Snake, the Devil, Satan. And Michael and his Angels win. The great dragon is thrown down. In fact in these few verses we are told repeatedly that Michael won the battle and the dragon was thrown down. He loves telling us that Michael won. (What you rather talk about – the ICC Cricket championships or Tri-Nations Rugby?!)

As John tells the story he is expecting a cheer or at least an alleluia. "And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven (Alleluia!). The great dragon was hurled down (Alleluia!) —that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth (Alleluia!), and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. (Alleluia!) They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

But this is a pastoral letter, not science fiction entertainment. This is no galactic stars wars movie to titillate their fancy. John has a message to people who are living in tough times with pressures from within and pressures from without. They are under attack! And it is John’s pastoral heart that wants to reach out to them across the sea and bring a word of encouragement, assurance and instruction. They rightly cry out, well if Michael and his Angels have won the battle why are things so bad. The answer he gives them is, “The dragon is ticked off ... He is angry ... To use a local expression ... Hy is die .... in! He knows his time is short!” He believes that Jesus is coming again soon – unlike many Christians – and he is going to get in do as much dirty work as he can. That is why he is so active. He is on a desperate rampage. In his death throes he is unleashing what evil is left. The suffering of the church is not a sign of the Satan’s victory. It is a sign of his realisation of his defeat.

In this passage we learn that the dragon goes after God’s people in three ways.

(1) John calls the dragon “The accuser of the brothers and sisters”
The Hebrew word “Satan” means accuser. He is relentless. John says “day and night” he accuses them before God. The Greek word for Devil means “slanderer”. The dragon hassles God’s people by slandering them before God and others, by saying they are not worthy of God’s love because of their sin. This is so effective in keeping God’s people useless and ineffective. If you believe the slander and accusations, you will never step out boldly for God. You will always hold back. If I don’t make waves then maybe God and will not notice me. If I just play it safe then nothing will probably happen good or bad. You think you can add anything ... you think you pray for people needing healing... you think your involvement contribution will be noticed ... you think you have anything to add. You must be joking! You are right. I will just hang back here in the shadows. God is probably angry with me or at least not too charmed to see me here. That is his first tactic.

(2) John says the dragon is a deceiver
In Rev 12:9 John says the dragon deceives the whole world. In the Gospel of John Jesus calls him the father of lies (John 8:44) and adds that when he lies he speaks his native language. One of the devil’s tactics and weapons is to lie. In fact whenever the words of Satan are recorded in Scripture he is lying. He lies to Adam and Eve. He lies to Jesus in the desert. Now there is good news and bad news. The good news is that that is all he can do. As you are in Christ Jesus, Satan has no power over you other than to lie.

The bad news is that he is a very good liar. He deceives us. The nature of deception is that it deceives. It keeps us blind to the reality of what is happening around us and in us. It blinds us to the truth of who God is and who we are in him. Now the thing about deception is that it deceives us. If it did not – if we saw it for what it is – it would not be deceiving us. That is the bad news. But there is more good news. Just wait a moment! So the dragon accuses and he deceives.

(3) The dragon seeks to kill
He is described earlier in chapter 12 in verse 3 as “red” - the colour of blood. The dragon intimidates with the threat of death. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of those who are held in slavery through the threat of death (2:15). “If you obey Jesus you are going to lose. If you obey Jesus you are going to suffer.” Because of the fear of death or of suffering we are tempted to back off. We are tempted to compromise. So this all begs the question – which no doubt the readers of John’s letter to them asked...

How shall we stand? Yes the war in heaven has been won. Victory is assured. But the enemy has not surrendered, and the battle now rages on earth. The key verse in this reading is verse 11. John says in verse 11 .... “they overcame!” In the opening chapters of Revelation Jesus spoke to “those who overcome”. At the end of each of the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 he makes promises to those who are victorious or to those who over come.

Now here in chapter 12 we are told how to overcome – how to be victorious.
And the key verse is verse 11. "They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."

Three ways we overcome, which correspond with the three tactics the dragon uses as he thrashes about knowing his time is short.
First against the flood of accusations we overcome by the blood of the Lamb
"They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb". The blood of the Lamb covers our sin. The blood of the Lamb pays the penalty for our sin. The blood of the Lamb cleanses us from our sin. The dragon is right. Yes, we have sinned. We have by our own actions placed ourselves in a place separate from God and cut off from his life giving flow. When the enemy accuses us either by a whisper in our ear or through the speech of those around us, we overcome him by confessing our sin. “You are right. I have sinned”. But them we preach the message of the Gospel to him and to ourselves. “But Jesus Christ died for me.” Martin Luther, it is said, at one time when he felt over whelming accusations, threw his ink bottle at the devil and cried out, “I am baptised!” I am in Christ. I am in covenant unity with the one who overcame you in the wilderness and out trumped you on the cross. Your accusations are invalid and of no import. Be gone! We may not want to throw an ink pot, if you had one, but we can as Jesus did, quote Scripture.

Romans 8:1, 33&34 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then can condemn?" No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. In the face of accusations we place ourselves under the covenant covering of the one who gave his life for us, paid the price of our sin, and cleansed us by his blood. “Dragon, be gone – you have no place here. Get out!”

Second in the face of the flood of deceit, we overcome by seeking with our whole being to know the truth, to speak the truth, to walk the truth.
Verse 11 .... "They triumphed over him… by the word of their testimony". The only counter to deception is truth, particularly the truth about Jesus. We overcome by not letting even the slightest untruth get a hold on us. If it is not consistent with Jesus then we need to reject it. The single moment of truth for Jesus was when he stood in the waters of the Jordan in obedience to the Father’s will and the heavens were opened and a dove descended and a voice spoke ... “This is my son with whom I am well pleased.” The truth of who Jesus was enabled and empowered him to do the Father’s will and win the great victory over the dragon and his minions. Baptism confirmed Jesus’ identity as the beloved Son of the Father.
Thirdly against the flood of threats from the dragon we overcome by declaring the gospel to the dragon and to ourselves.
The good news is that death has been robbed of its finality. Verse 11 ... "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death".

Why did they not love their lives so much as to shrink from death? Because death is not the last word; it is the second-to-last word. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing that can happen to me is that I turn my back on Jesus. There is a remarkable story that comes from Heritage High School in Atlanta Georgia. A 15 year, upset over a broken romance, fired shots into the crowd play ground. Six students were injured. The vice-principal, Cecil Brinkley, confronted the boy and calmly walked toward him staring him down and saying, “Give me the gun. Give me the gun”. Eventually the boy handed him the gun and Brinkley held the boy in his arms as he sobbed. Evil was overcome by one who did not fear death. He did not allow death to intimidate him.

The great red dragon has been thrown down from heaven. But they have overcome him by The blood of the Lamb, By the power of the truth, and By not being afraid to lose their lives. Martin Luther’s hymn: And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
That little word is “Jesus”.



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