Reading Ramblings – September 29, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019

Texts: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 91; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20

Context: My memory is getting worse, as I don’t remember a special Sunday set aside in previous lectionary cycles for St. Michael and the Angels. Angels are one of those topics that many people have ideas about, but which are described very scantly by Scripture. We affirm the existence of angels (and by extension, demons). Spiritual entities different from human beings (so when we die we don’t become angels or demons), they serve God in holiness and perfection. This includes roles of protection as well as messengers to God’s people. Although popular culture has elaborated Biblical references to angels, we should take seriously the existence of these spiritual entities at work around us without attempting to domesticate their identities or functions.

Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3 – In this reading we are introduced to one of only two angels named in Scripture, Michael (the other is Gabriel). The initial figure speaking to Daniel here is not Michael, but another, unnamed angelic figure who references Michael in v. 13. Michael is shown to be very powerful, more powerful than the speaking angel despite his powerful appearance in vs. 5-9. We get a glimpse in these words of the struggle between angels and demons, between servants of the living God and those servants who followed Lucifer into rebellion. This struggle is real, despite the inevitable victory of God over all of his enemies whether human or spiritual, the struggle is allowed to persist for the time being. There seem to be hierarchies of angels and demons, with some being referred to as princes compared to others, such as the speaker. And ultimately, while we might speculate further on how these words could be applied or interpreted, the key issue is that the servants of God prevail over the machinations of his enemies. This is both in the temporal sense as well as in the final, eternal sense. We are to take hope in all circumstances, knowing our status as the people of God who are destined for eternal life.

Psalm 91 – Praise and glory belong to God alone. Culturally people may prefer to focus on the concept of guardian angels as a means of reassurance and comfort, but this should never be separated from the reality of the God who created both angels and humanity. Satan quotes this psalm out of context in tempting Jesus to presume upon the will of God in order to take his mission into his own hands. Jesus rightly recognizes this is not the point of the psalm, which praises God for his ability to deliver his beloved from any and all forms of danger and harm. Yet while we are to trust completely in God’s ability to deliver we leave completely to his divine wisdom and will if and how He will provide temporal deliverance, knowing He has shown us the eternal deliverance granted to us through faith in the atoning death of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Angels may be involved in our temporal deliverance (Genesis 19, Daniel 3, etc.) but we rest completely in the hands of our loving Father, who alone directs his angels and determines their actions.

Revelation 12:7-12 – John witnesses the vast story of Satan’s efforts to undo God’s graciousness to his creation. These particular verses depict a battle between the angels of God and those who rebelled after the great dragon, Satan. This is not the final battle, but the battle which sweeps Satan and his followers from the presence of God in heaven. Note that this occurs after the woman’s child is brought to heaven in v.5. Some believe this battle occurs when Jesus ascends back to heaven after his resurrection. At that point, his successful obedience to his heavenly Father has proved Satan a liar in his accusations against the people of God. Whereas for some period of time Satan came and went from the presence of God as did other angels (Job 1:6-12), accusing God’s people, with Christ’s victory Satan’s lies are exposed once and for all and he is ejected from the heavenly realm. We share in that victory over our accuser as we cling to the promises of God and, unlike Adam and Eve, reject the accusations of Satan and cling to the Word of God made flesh, Jesus.

Luke 10:17-20 – All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18), and that power is given in turn by the Holy Spirit to those God the Father determines and for his purposes and glory. Jesus’ disciples marvel at this unexpected aspect of their missionary activity. Jesus redirects their awe and excitement to the final defeat of Satan as well as to the greater importance of remaining faithful to their heavenly Father. We are easily frightened or titillated by brushes with the spiritual realm, yet any such encounters are entirely within a Biblical context of God’s eternal power and authority and the temporary rebellion of Satan and his followers. Their power is passing, already defeated and soon to be judged finally in that defeat for eternity. We need not fear them, not should we unduly seek them out. The Holy Spirit will prompt us if it is necessary to confront the powers of Satan directly, and we should remember that such encounters are not always as predictable as we might like to think (Acts 19:13-17).

Rather than obsessing about the spiritual realm we, like the disciples, should keep our eyes focused on Christ, and the life we receive through him rather than through any spiritual activities of our own. We are privileged among all of creation in that we are granted the unique opportunity to cling to God in faith, rather than in the simple obedience of fuller knowledge. We will no longer have this unique privilege in eternity, but it should form the center of our lives and attention here and now, regardless of the powers at work around us.

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