Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
All who are dead shall arise on the day of the LORD
Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22
Bless the LORD, you angels, all you hosts of God.
Michael defeats Satan in a cosmic battle
Jesus gives his followers authority over the enemy
Combining Forces, by Pastor Fred
I didn’t know if the story was true or not. A friend of ours, told Kim and I, some years ago. But turns out – it is, absolutely true!
It happened on March 28, 1990, when first team All American, Stacey King was a rookie with the Chicago Bulls. King was admired as much for his basketball skills, as for his quick wit and good humor in the locker room. If Michael Jordan was the leader of the team, Stacey King was the comic relief. On the hugely talented Bulls team, Stacey was more of a role player, a rebounder and shot blocker. Typically, he was the 2nd man off the bench, that year, and for the Bulls first 3 of 6 NBA championships that followed, before Stacey was traded to Minnesota. And after his NBA career ended, he returned to Chicago in 2006 to become a voice of Bulls, and color commentator, a beloved role he occupies to this day.
So, of the 1990 game, on March 28, the rookie Stacey King is now famous for understated, and humorous quip: “I’ll always remember that game as the one me and Michael combined for 70 points, to win it in overtime!” It just so happens that Michael scored a career high 69 points that night, while Stacey had 1 free throw!
Today, we celebrate that 4(3) sisters and brothers in Christ will combine forces with some 70, or so, of us here at Unity, to journey with us and become members. Whether we score 69 points, or 1 point, we’re all in it together. It’s what we do together, and how we combine our talents and various skills, as followers of Jesus, that matters!
We’re also, all in it together, with (the other) Michael and All Angels! Angels have most recently been thought of as guardians, helpers in our personal battles, sometimes even, as someone who has died and come back as an angel to bring good karma to us in our lives, or in our grieving. Though, when I was younger, they were often depicted as your good and bad conscience, one over each shoulder, battling it out, as a metaphor for the decision you were in turmoil of making, usually something worldly, tempting you, like sweets or alcohol.
Back in the several centuries before Christ, in between the Old and New Testaments, many types of supernatural beings, especially from the near eastern religion of Zoroastrianism, had been influencing Judaism. What developed at that time in Jewish angelology, was the idea that God had four angelic assistants, holding up the throne of God, and each had distinct jobs: one was Gabriel, who was to announce the end of the world; a second was Michael, who was the conqueror of Satan and protector of Israel; thirdly, Raphael, who healed the sick and protected travelers; and lastly Uriel, who punished evildoers. Christian story-telling retained the first three archangels, but dropped Uriel. By the middle ages, many artists depicted the archangel Michael as victorious over the monster Satan. Identified with warfare, Michael was popular in Christian imagination. Martin Luther, for one, absolutely lived and breathed it all in. (https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources/2019-9-29/2060#resources)
But the Bible is not quite as obsessed with angels! In the New Testament, Michael is only cited twice, once in the book of Jude, and today, in our 2nd Reading from Revelation. The whole book of Revelation, of course, is basically the visions of John of Patmos, visions of what is to befall the 7 churches he writes to, warning that, if they are not faithful to the end, even in the face of persecution by Rome, evil would conquer, but in Christ, we are victorious.
Revelation’s vision of the end times, believed that a war would break out in heaven, and Michael and all his angels would fight the dragon, that ancient serpent from the creation story in Genesis, who is called the Devil or Satan – the power of evil. And the defeated dragon would no longer have a place in the heavens, but by the authority of God’s Messiah, and the blood of the Lamb, he would be cast out. “Lamb-y,” as Barbara Rossing says, or the risen Christ, is really the conqueror, by the power of cross and resurrection.
Being thrown out of the heavenly skies above, of course, meant the dragon would fall to earth, and would, even if for only a short time, cause woe among the believers on earth, by aligning with the 4 Beasts, which mostly represented various forms of Rome or its Emperors.
In our Gospel reading, ‘Jesus sees Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.’ Luke’s account is apocalyptic, a post-resurrection vision, of the power the followers of Jesus are given, as they go out, like ‘the seventy’ did in this story, to create communities of believers. Jesus gives us authority to stamp out evil, tread on the snakes and scorpions. The church is given power over the enemy, the deceiver, and ultimately, ‘nothing will hurt you,’ Jesus says to us!
So for us in these in-between-times, after the resurrection and before the eschaton is fully revealed, the point, says Jesus, is not to get all puffed up about knowing the heavenly battle is ultimately won in Christ, but rejoice that your names are written in the book of life! That is, as we battle the power of the dragon right now – even when it looks gloomy, and we may not be winning most days – God has entered us in the heavenly register of life already. Right now!
Some days when we lose two strong and beloved members of our congregation, in a matter of a couple of months, God brings us twice as many new members, and we see Satan fall like lightning!
Some days when our elected leaders seem to be betraying us for the umpteenth time, caving in to corporate raiders and enriching the already rich once again, God sends a brave whistleblower revealing a single, crystalizing truth, which convinces even the most timid ones to rise up and plead our case against corruption and dereliction of duty.
Some days when the news of terminal illness, or natural disaster strikes, God sends a message of hope, a newly discovered medicine, or a heroic story of rescue that saved those who seemed lost.
Today, we inscribe 4 new names in our Unity book of life. Four new travelers to rejoice with on our journey toward Jerusalem’s cross and resurrection. We will take all the help we can get! – for our battles in this life are real. We face joblessness and a lack of resources in our city, illnesses and a broken health care system, a climate crisis raining down on us, and there is that invisible power, a dragon, that continues to pit us one against another, polarizing us, and isolating us into individual silo’s. But we are fervent pray-ers and faithful fighters, even in the face of systems that are rigged against us and seem to make us lose in this world.
And Michael and All Angels are our messengers. They bring good news of a great joy, that in Christ Jesus, a Savior has been born to us, and by the faith of Christ our names are already written in the book of life. Together – whether we are stars, or role players, whether we score 69 points or 1, or even no points in the game of life – we are in it together, in the Church of Jesus Christ, and here at Unity – where we are one, and unbeatable!
The battles we are in are ultimately spiritual battles – battles for justice and peace, and for a life that really is life, which can only be won non-violently, together. The dragon who urges polarization, is a house divided against itself, that will ultimately collapse.
Let us rejoice in the victory that is already won! We have seen Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning! Let us rejoice in the heavenly dwellings in the age to come, where our names are already written in the book of life.