Tag Archives: rapture theology

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1] Luke 10:17-20 and Revelation 12:7-12

**sermon art:  Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, September 29, 2019

Festival of Michael and All Angels [OR ☩ May God’s Holy Angels Watch Over You][1]

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 10:17-20   The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Revelation 12:7-12  War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“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 comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”

[sermon begins]

Holy Communion is an open table here at Augustana. It’s Christ’s meal, not ours. This means that during communion, Pastor Ann and I extend the open invitation to everyone here as well as the invitation to those who’d like to come forward but, for reasons of their own, would rather receive a blessing instead of receiving communion.  The blessing that I most often say to children and adults alike is, “The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ is given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.”  It sums up a lot of scripture in a short blessing:  Jesus comes first; the self-sacrifice of Jesus is given in love for you; and angels are powerful, heavenly beings, created by God and busy on God’s and your behalf.

Angels seem to hold cultural appeal if their appearance in books, movies, music, and art is any indication.  But their appearance in scripture and sermon is bound to put some of us on edge.  Artwork is fine…harmless even.  But for many of us, angels are in the category of aliens and UFOs – not saying they don’t exist, but the personal experience with them is zero to none.[2]  When it comes to scripture, though, angels are hard to avoid. In the Bible, they turn up often – 234 times, and even more than that if you include all the verses about heavenly hosts.  In the Old Testament, “angels comforted Hagar in the desert, delivered Lot from Sodom, guided Israel through the wilderness, fed Elijah under the juniper tree, surrounded Elisha with chariots of fire, saved Hezekiah from Assyria’s onslaught, led Isaiah to spiritual commitment, and directed Ezekial into ministry.”[3]  Angels show up in human form or sometimes in supernatural shimmer-lights; sometimes angels have wings and sometimes they don’t.[4]  Regardless of form, they appear in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation.

Angel presence intensifies around the birth of Jesus.  The angel Gabriel from heaven came to a woman named Mary and announced that she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus; an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, “the good news of great joy for all people.” That angel was joined in song and praise by a multitude of heavenly host.  From there, angels are involved in Jesus life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.[5]  Angels abound.  So why don’t we get any of those stories for the festival of Michael and All Angels?

In our readings today, those stories are nowhere to be seen.  In some ways, those are easier and oddly more accessible stories.  Even though angels seem to startle people when they appear.  Angels’ opening remarks are often some form of, “Do not be afraid.”  Why would they have to say this but for the reason that the human in the story is probably very afraid?  (Maybe a “Keep Calm and Carry On” angel t-shirt would have helped?)  Just like in the communion blessing in which Jesus comes first, angels begin their work after God instigates the work to be done.  Angels are not rogue creatures acting of their own accord.  They are God’s creatures – messengers of God’s will.

Today’s readings have to do with the archangel Michael.  In the reading from Revelation, Michael and his angels have thrown down the dragon (a.k.a the devil a.k.a Satan a.k.a. the deceiver of the whole world) from heaven to earth by “the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their own testimony.” It’s easy to get caught up in the imagery and, frankly, to start arguing about the book of Revelation in general.  Much of it is thought to be written in code for Jesus followers living and dying by 1st century Roman persecution.  The writings inspire faithfulness during an outbreak of violence against the early Christians.  Cracking the code of Revelation has been attempted many times to mixed results.  The worst of which is probably 19th century rapture theology.[6]

At the level of story, though, this snippet about the archangel Michael tells a cosmic tale of evil in its death throes at the beginning of time – an act of desperation on the part of the deceiver because he knows that his time is short.  How do Michael and his angels defeat the deceiver?  Verse 11 says that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  It’s the classic children’s sermon answer that fits almost any question.  In this case the question is…how do Michael and the angels throw down the deceiver?  Answer: Jesus.  While we’re preparing for communion, we sing about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and we ask to be granted peace.  The Lamb of God is one of Jesus’ many epithets (and maybe not quite as popular as a children’s sermon answer).  Lamb of God means the One whose self-sacrifice on the cross closes the gap, what we often call sin, between God and us.  So Michael and his angels are able to overcome the deceiver by the blood of the Lamb of God, by the blood of Jesus.

Meanwhile, the disciples in the gospel reading from Luke returned from their long walk through many towns.[7]  The seventy “returned with joy” from making demons submit to them in Jesus’ name.  Jesus does what Jesus often does when his disciples go off the rails by refocusing them, rejoicing that their “names are written in heaven.”  This is relevant because, for Jews, there is a destination called the End of Days. Biblical prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, and Hosea repeatedly point to the End of Days messianic era marked by world peace with no wars or famine, and enough for everyone to live on.[8] Rabbi Dubov writes that “even in his darkest hour, [the Jew] hopes and prays for a brighter future – a world of peace and spirituality.”[9]  Jesus and his disciples understood this.

There’s another problem with the cosmic battle imagery of rapture theology. Some people see themselves as earthly extensions of a cosmic battle yet to be finished. “Some people” include neighbors, friends, politicians, and more. Hollywood has picked up rapture theology quite successfully and made millions. But there’s a significant, scriptural problem with the violence that is glorified in final battle imagery. Christian scripture argues that the final battle is already won by Jesus on the cross. Being told that the final battle is already won is confusing for people itching for a fight.  Even more problematic for people who want a smack down in the name of Jesus is that Jesus is the one who was smacked down by violence. One of the things the cross reveals is that violent human solutions are a dead end.

Jesus died on the cross in non-violence – putting violence to death and bringing death to life.  The end is known.  The angels know it too, so we celebrate with them and their message today. Whatever cosmic battle we think we’re participating in, think again.  From an earthly perspective, evil can seem unstoppable.  Evil rages not because it is powerful, but because it is vulnerable.[10]  It’s “time is short.”[11] Christ has already won the victory.  The deceiver and all his empty promises are exposed when we proclaim this good news with the angels.

The body and blood of Jesus Christ ☩ are given for you; and may God’s holy angels watch over you.  Amen.

____________________________________________________________

[1] Sermon artwork: Lily Yeh, 1994, Paint, A Mural of Contemporary Angels, Interweave exhibition, Jamaica Arts Centre, New York: Artasiaamerical.org/works/256

[2] Inga Oyan Longbrake, Pastor, Messiah Community Church (ELCA), Denver. Michael and All Angles sermon, September 2013.

[3] Ibid.  I’m grateful on so many levels that that Pastor Inga preached this sermon ahead of my own so that you all can benefit from her study and proclamation.  Her sermon echoes throughout mine.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Barbara R. Rossing. The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 178-181.  Rapture theology is a 19th century construct, a recent biblical interpretation.

[7] The mission of the seventy is described in Luke 10:1-12.

[8] Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov, Director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK. “What is the ‘End of Days’?” for Chabad.org. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/108400/jewish/The-End-of-Days.htm

[9] Dubov, ibid.

[10] Craig R. Koester, Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN. Revelation and the End of All Things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001).

[11] Revelation 12:12

Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3 – For That Is What You Are

Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3 – For That Is What You Are

Caitlin Trussell on All Saints Sunday – November 2, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver

[sermon starts after these three Bible readings/paragraphs]

Matthew 5:1-13  When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Revelation 7:9-17   After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

1 John 3:1-3   See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

 

[sermon begins]

Ahhhh, the Book of Revelation from which our first reading comes.  Such comfort, consolation, and encouragement to be found.  Seriously, though, it’s a shame we shy away from the Book of Revelation.  Granted, a lot of it is uninterpretable – although rapture theologians won’t let that stop themselves from trying to leave us behind.[1]  But the book itself is written to comfort people who have been through a “great ordeal.”  An ordeal that leaves them in need of a comfort only God can give.

And, oh, what a people.  The writer tells us that, “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”   This text gives us no way to imagine a limitation because it is all inclusive – “be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic, economic, and on and on the list goes.” [2]

The last verses of the Revelation text reads, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   It is easy and tempting to try to minimize this promise of comfort.  I was leading a Bible Study at the women’s prison a few years ago.  There I stood, waxing on about different takes on heaven, when a woman from the back row raised her hand.  She told me it was all well and good that I had time to play with those ideas but she believed in a place and time when there would be no more hunger, no more thirst, and no more tears.  She counted on it.  She ended up being the preacher God put in our midst that day.   And she is definitely a saint.

The woman from the prison doesn’t fit the description of “saint” as it’s more commonly used to mean a “best-ever-super-great person.”   But she does fit into the saints who are part of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”  She is a saint who defiantly bears hope in the face of all things to the contrary.

Speaking of contrary things, Lutheran Confessions was a class I had to take in seminary to become a pastor.  The class isn’t quite as racy as the title makes it out to be.  For that you would have to turn to The Confessions of St. Augustine.[3]  But there were some gems.  One of them was the professor.  He liked a good argument and found plenty of them.  His passion for arguing was matched by his passion for walking into any situation regardless of the discomfort involved – his or anyone else’s.  At one point he whipped off his pastor’s collar, waved it around in the air, and told us that with this collar we were able to walk into any situation, bearing hope, where many would fear to go.  Well, I’d argue with him on that – which of course he’d love.

I’d argue that it is by our baptism into Christ that we are able to walk into any situation, EVEN IF we are afraid to go.  It’s not the collar.  It’s the cross that bears all things, even death. The author of the reading from First John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

As children of God we are saints by baptism, not by our own action.  At the same time we are sinners, bearing the hope that has been put in us through the Jesus’ death on a cross.  This sainthood is Christ’s to give and it is given freely.  Through his gift, we defiantly bear hope and bring peace in the face of all things to the contrary.

What are these contrary things, these things that would defy hope?  Let’s try those verses in Matthew to answer that question.  Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom is revealed into through a poor spirit, grief, hunger, thirst, persecution, and false accusations.  How do we bear hope?  We bear hope by being with people.  I hear these stories from you time and again.

You’ve sat in the hallway at a nursing home waiting to visit someone and take the time to hear another resident’s story because they need to tell it to somebody.

You’re the one who’s child died and you let someone sit with you while you felt everything and nothing all at once.

You’ve been with a friend who spouse has left them.

You’re the one whose “no” meant “yes” to someone who hurt you and then you needed to trust somebody else to help you heal.

You’ve been with the undocumented family who has no home.

You’re the victim of war who was caught in the crossfire and taken to safety in a new place with new people.

You’ve been with each other in places that seem the most forsaken by God because, if the cross means anything, it means God shows up in the worst possible places and situations.

Grief, poor spirits, all the contrary things, are not mentioned by Jesus as things to achieve and wear as a badge of honor.  These are the hard things that just happen in life.  Hard things that we get to bear with each other and for each other.  I get to show up for you, you get to show up for me, we get to show up bearing hope for each other in situations that seem utterly hopeless.  This is true when we don’t have words that fix it.  Perhaps it’s true especially when we don’t have words that fix it.  What’s most important is showing up for people regardless.  Showing up, bearing hope, does not imply that we’re not afraid.  It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to pay some kind of emotional or physical price for showing up.  Showing up, bearing the suffering and bearing a defiant hope, is a gift we give each other in the face of really hard times; because it is a gift first given to us.

See what love the Father has given you, children of God, for that is what you are…

Jesus shows up for the multitude, in the multitude, for you, and in you.

Children of God, for that is what you are, be at peace – the kingdom of heaven is yours.



[1] Rapture theology is a fairly recent historical development dating to the early 1800s.

[2] Eric Mathis, Professor of Music and Worship, Samford University.  Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17 for November 2, 2014 at WorkingPreacher.org.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2182

[3] Saint Augustine.  The Confessions of Saint Augustine.  (Project Gutenberg, eBook, June 2002) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm