9/29/2012 sermon: Meeting angels

Location: Virginia PrideFest, Richmond, Virginia
Text: Revelation 12:7-12
Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Meeting angels

I’ve met all kinds of angels in my life. Perhaps you’ve met a human “angel,” someone who was so gracious to you, so kind, so compassionate, that you thought that person secretly was a cosmic being.

I trust and pray that you have been that kind of presence, that kind presence, in someone else’s life. But today, when we give thanks for “Saint Michael and All angels” and reflect on the angels we have met, this kind person is not the kind of angel we are celebrating. No, we are giving thanks today for the actual, non-human, celestial beings among us.

Now, for those who haven’t given much thought to angels lately, angels have three functions:

  • First, angels are messengers from God. Perhaps you’ve literally been visited by a non-human celestial being. Chances are that you have had an inspiration that didn’t seem to come from your own brain power, an inspiration or impulse to do good. If so, you were the recipient of a message from God, a message delivered by an angel.
  • The second function that angels perform is to protect God’s people. This is the function of “guardian angels.”
  • Finally, angels are thought to give us comfort at the time of our death. This was one of the premises of the movie, “City of Angels.” In this movie Nicholas Cage played an angel whose job it was to accompany people who had died to heaven. THAT angel always asked the people who had died what had been the best thing about life. I’ll never forget the five-year-old-DEAD-girl’s response, “Feet-ie pajamas.”

People in all times have felt “tended to,” at certain points in their lives, by helpful presences that they couldn’t necessarily see with their eyes. Lest you think that being aware of angels is just a remnant of a more superstitious past, let me hasten to share that 77% of all Americans, at the end of 2011, said that they believed in angels; even four in ten Americans who’d never attended church believed in these non-human helpers.[1]

I hope YOU believe in angels, because we are here today to celebrate the existence of angels among us, and to ask, “What kind of angel do you help?” The reading we heard from the Book of Revelation shares an ancient vision. The vision tells us of an enigmatic figure named Michael mobilizing the angels in heaven to defeat something called “the dragon” and ejecting the dragon and his minions from heaven.

The trouble in explaining such a passage is that the person who saw and shared this vision used—by his own description—symbolic language. So understanding this passage involves decoding the symbolism. Of course, there are all kinds of differing opinions about what the actual “reality” is concerning this vision.

  • Some think that this lesson tells us of how evil came to earth, to lead humanity astray in the Garden of Eden. Michael and his good angels threw evil and the bad angels out of heaven. But this explanation doesn’t explain how there could be BAD angels, how bad angels could exist in HEAVEN, how there could have been WAR in heaven, or how EVIL came to be.
  • Others think this lesson is a vision of the future, a vision of the end of earth, when—they think—there will be a cosmic war, played out in heaven and on earth.
  • Yet others see all of Revelation as coded language about what was going on the Roman Empire when the Book of Revelation was written.
  • Some think that Michael is an angel, or an archangel—a leader of angels.
  • Others think that Michael is Christ Jesus himself.

What’s fairly clear, though, is that there ARE angels—presences we humans have always felt around and among us. Some angels are visible, while others are not visible to human eyes. BUT—visible or not—these angels give us messages from God, protect us, and guide us toward the good.

We believe in angels even if and when we don’t believe in God, or in the dragon, or the serpent, or Satan, as the dark force is variously called in today’s lesson. For example, the screenplay “Angels in America” accepts that there are angels, even while expressing the misguided opinion that God has gone missing from our universe.

Now I don’t figure I have to convince YOU that angels exist, or that—as our lesson today suggests—there are two kinds of forces at work in our world. We meet both kinds everywhere: the one that inspires us to do good, and the other that inspires us to be destructive. We meet both kinds, even in church.

Ironically, LGBTQ Virginians have often encountered “the dragon” in the guise of the church. Just like this force tried to co-opt heaven, the same force tries to co-opt the church. This is an ongoing battle, being waged right here on earth, right here in Virginia, right here in Richmond.

As an openly gay and married lesbian who is about to become a priest in the Episcopal Church—in the Diocese of Virginia, no less—I can tell you that I have met both kinds of angels, human and celestial, at work in our world. Some work toward the good, while others seem bent on destruction. The trick is to love absolutely everyone; everything then gets sorted out. Those who thrive on love will grow in love, and the rest will slink away in fear and disgust.

I am here today to testify about angels, and about the church. Just as St. Michael—be he angel or archangel or Jesus Christ himself—just as St. Michael DID and IS and WILL mobilize the angels to vanquish evil, so, too, have LGBTQ people mobilized. Gay Pride, Pridefest, and other such events gather us together to teach us that there is strength in numbers; strength in coming out and in living an authentic life; and strength in being a community that is a force for good. I am here today to suggest that the impulse to become a community comes from God, and that impulse is being nurtured by Saint Michael himself, and his angels.

I suggest today that we shouldn’t let ourselves be run out of church, the most authentic community of all. Yes, some in the church need US to epitomize evil so that no one takes a close look at THEM. But there are so many others—human angels inside the church and outside of the church—making the church a safe place for us to be. And there are cosmic angels guarding and protecting us as a people until and while we find that source of light and life that is Christ Jesus.

What kind of angels have you met? What kind of angel have you helped? What kind of angel will YOU be? Choose the light wherever you find the light. Let God’s angels—let Saint Michael—lead the way.


[1] CBS News, “Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels,” http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57347634/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/, Dec. 23, 2011, accessed Sept. 21, 2012.


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