The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
St. Michael and All Angels – Pentecost XV – 25 September 2011
Isaiah 6:1-7, Psalm 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, John 1:47-51
From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
Recounting his heavenly vision, Isaiah said, I saw the Lord seated upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly.
From the Revelation to St. John:
St. John proclaims his vision of the great War in Heaven in which St. Michael the Archangel defeats Satan, and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is call the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world – he was cast out into the earth and his angel were cast out with him.
And From the Gospel According to St. John:
Speaking to the guileless Nathaniel, our Lord said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
You may have noticed that I used the King James Version as I quoted from this morning’s lessons assigned for the celebration of St. Michael and all Angels. I did so simply as a way to honor the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible – one of the most, if not THE most, popular and successful versions of Scripture ever produced. I have written about this in the October issue of the Steeplecock News where you can find a more comprehensive account of the history of the Bible’s translations.
Although more recent translations have made significant corrections – and yes, improvements – and offer more readable renditions, the King James remains overall the most beautiful translation in our language. For instance, the New International Version translates the passage regarding the seraphim standing above the Lord’s heavenly throne saying, with two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet and with two wings they were flying. Well, that’s OK. Accurate. But not especially inspiring.
But it cannot compare with the King James that with inspiring beauty proclaims with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly. Verbal aesthetics here bring the Word forward with both power and grace, most certainly lacking in the NIV. The language itself is high and lifted up just as is the Lord is high and lifted up upon His heavenly throne.
And that’s the point that I want to make this morning – a point not so much about language – although it most certainly applies – but much more so about the Christian faith and religion as it is currently practiced.
And my point is this. Our generation has abandoned the true nature of Christianity, which is inherently high and lifted up and replaced it with a lowest common denominator religion the glorifies human nature as if it were divine and it profanes the divine nature as if it were, at best, an instrument for human accomplishment.
The troubles – social, political and economic troubles – and do not make the mistake that the true faith has nothing to do with real, material life – the troubles that we’re experiencing in the United States of America today is because both our leaders and far too many of the citizens of this once great nation have abandoned the true faith and gone lowest common denominator. They see themselves as somehow equal to God – or see themselves as gods themselves – that their will – not God’s will – will be done – and that Christianity and religion in general is a man-made phenomenon to be used for their purposes.
The same applies to Europe – but even more so there. Moral and ethical accountability, especially when it comes to the stewardship of wealth – but also as it applies to every aspect of life – has virtually evaporated since consciousness of divine judgment has been ignored. Without accountability, literally all hell can – and will break loose – unless we turn this around.
The prevailing religion in the West has become self- adoration replacing adoration of the One True God. We’ve talked about this so often before- self-gratification, self-realization which in nothing other than self-worship – humanism in its most dangerous form. Even true spiritual realities – to the extent that they are acknowledge – are seen as important only to the extent that they serve one’s purposes.
Hence, as we speak of angels this morning, the prevailing belief – for those who believe at all – is that they exist to help us get what we want. Noting could be further from the Biblically revealed truth – they exist to accomplish what God wants.
When God called Isaiah the priest to a prophetic ministry, Isaiah said Woe is me! for I am undone because I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King…. In contemporary practice, very few would say I am undone – a totally humble acknowledgement of one’s inherently unclean, sinful nature. Rather they would celebrate themselves not humble themselves.
Furthermore, seeing God as King – the true reality proclaimed in Scripture over and over again – that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings as well as the King of Heaven and the King of Angels – well, too many of us see Him as a good buddy who has no expectations of accountability. No so.
I don’t know how to express this in any other terms except Biblical terms; that unless and until one finds himself – or herself – completely undone in the face of the divine presence, acknowledges one’s absolute need for redemption – in the full knowledge that no one can do this for himself – and receives the burning coal on one’s lips – in fact, deep in one’s soul – until that happens then one has not yet come to know the Lord. (Re: The burning part of the burning coal – remember, the flames of the Holy Spirit burn but do not consume – they purify, give light and energize.)
The world, to use the words of a devout friend of mine who has committed himself to a rigid discipline of daily worship, says that we are under divine chastisement. The events of the times – now as has always been true throughout human history reflect our faithlessness to God. Faithfulness brings good times. Faithlessness brings trouble. When people move away from God’s Holy Spirit, the space gets filled with unholy spirits.
And the world is filled to overflowing with unholy spirits. The account of the Great War in Heaven in which the Archangel Michael throws out the rebellious Lucifer who then becomes known as Satan, the Devil and the Great Deceiver – well, the devil and his angels land on earth.
Their job is to fill in any space not occupied by holy spirits and the Holy Spirit in particular. The battle, invisible unless one has eyes to see, rages. It’s ongoing and will continue until the end of time when Michael accomplishes Satan’s defeat on earth as he has already done in heaven.
Now, in Isaiah’s vocational vision, the seraphim, the seraphim being angelic beings from the highest order of purity, holiness, light and power – a seraph takes the burning coal from the altar. This imagery may at first escape us. We don’t have altars with burning coals. Isaiah references the altar of incense in the heavenly temple – just like the altar of incense in the Jerusalem Temple with which Isaiah was so familiar. He was, after all, a priest. He knew all about the purpose and function of incense as a manifestation of the presence of God.
We should remember another priest at the altar of incense – a priest who lived some 750 years later, Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. The burning coals cause the incense to release the fragrance of holiness. The burning coal that the seraph touched to Isaiah’s lips released him from his uncleanliness – from his iniquity – so that holy prophecy could be released from his lips.
Well, as I have said in so many sermons over the years, humility remains the first and most important mark of the rue Christian. Humility means the opposite of self-aggrandizement and stands over and against every form of deception. That deceptiveness that pervades so much of our unredeemed society is guile – the desire to manipulate and control through deception.
When Jesus saw Nathaniel, our Lord said, Behold, an Israelite…in whom is no guile. Our Lord found in Nathaniel, a humble, honest man. And that’s what He seeks in us and in everyone today even as He did two thousand years ago.
An honest humility opens one’s eyes to see an ultimate and transcendent reality that transforms this material reality. Jesus said that Nathaniel would see angels ascending and descending on the Son of man. Angels – the spiritual beings through whom God sends His Word – who function as agents of healing, encouragement, grace, mercy, comfort, strength and power; and who wage war and fight on our behalf in the ongoing battle between good and evil for which the earth is the battlefield.
The degree to which any of us is authentically honest and humble – that is, free from guile – is the degree to which we are open to God’s holy angels, to transforming spiritual realities that can and do change our material lives – and change this world for the better as we anticipate the world yet to come.
But it’s not only angels that descend from heaven and ascend back to heaven, it’s God Himself. He descends – condescends – leaving His heavenly throne to take on human flesh and human nature in the Son of man who is also the Son of God. He descends to the lowest common denominator of a humiliating death due to human arrogance, deception and guile. Sinful man lifted Him up on the cross so that the holy God could lift us up from the depth of sin and death. High and lifted up, He will lift us high – to the heights of the gates of heaven – if we humbly acknowledge our sin and receive His saving grace.
Right now, there are a few signs of a turn around. The Roman Church is currently lifting up the Mass from the often grotesque, comic degradation to which it has fallen since Vatican II. We see some resurgence of devotion in Europe.
Protestant worship still, for the most part, reflects a self-centeredness that will destroy it. But here and there holy worship does exist as believers offer themselves to God in response of His offering of Himself to us on the cross of our salvation.
And that’s our job – to offer ourselves to Him to serve with His angels in the righteous cause of His saving grace – and to lift Him up on high in our hearts, minds and souls – and in our conversations, actions and in every aspect of our material living – so that He can lift us up to heaven.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that your Holy
Spirit will powerfully move through this world to open the eyes of those who delight in deception, who manipulate, deceive and destroy all that’s good and right and true. Grant to us, whom you have called, the courage to fight in your army, to advance your cause, to speak your truth, to rise up and lift up those cast down and bring honor and glory to the most Holy name of your Son,
our only Saviour,
Jesus Christ the King,