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Sermon for St. Michael and All Angels at Zion Church, Baltimore 10/01/2006

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ST. Michael the Archangel and All Angels

Zion Church of the City of Baltimore

October 1, 2006

(Text: Daniel 12:1-4) Psalm 91 Revelations 12:7-12a

 

Die Gnade unsers Herrn Jesus Christus, die Liebe Gottes, und die Gemeinschaft des Hl. Geistes sei mit Euch allen. Amen. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

 

I bring you greetings from Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, greetings to this dear church Zion of the City of Baltimore. You have a marvelous location right beside city hall, right in the center of Baltimore. Some members of Old Zion asked me to bring special greetings to Pastor Otto and Prof. Gritsch. How wonderful for me to meet the Reverend Dr. Holger Roggelin your pastor, because he first mentioned to my brother, Philip, of the Lutheran Seminary in Germantown, Philadelphia, that Old Zion needed a pastor. Philip recruited me, and now I am hard at work in the ministry there. In my past I was an inner city pastor for churches of African America descent and in St Paul’s Lutheran Church of Coney Island I also served a Puerto Rican congregation for ten years and now I am going back to my German roots.

I myself was born in Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany during the war when airplanes fought in the sky above us and bombs were falling so that we had to climb in a hole for shelter. We were refugees and that is why I was born there Erfurt in Luther City, way up on a hill called the Steiger in Luther Park. Erfurt is sometimes called the Venice of Germany, because it has shops in a bridge and along the river and boat rides as well.

Our family came back from Germany in 1947 when I was four and a half years old, but I served the church in Berlin after seminary (1971-1975) and was ordained there on behalf of the Ohio Synod by the Bishop of the Church of Berlin-Brandenburg, Kurt Scharf, of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland. I served in the Philippusgemeinde, in Berlin-Friedenau and in the Sanct Annen Kirche of Berlin- Dahlem, in the West Bezirck (District) where Martin Niemoeller had been the pastor, the former U-Boat captain who stood up against Hitler.[1]

What a wonderful gathering we have here for St. Michael and All Angels, St. Michael the guardian angel of Germany. I believe Christ Church of the Inner Harbor, St. Mark’s Church, among many others are here. We have the historical German Society of Maryland and that of the Society of the History of Germans in Maryland. In Philadelphia we also have the German Society of Pennsylvania and Old Zion Church in Philadelphia that began its ministry in 1742 with Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of Lutherans in America.

It is wonderful that we have gathered together to celebrate St. Michael and All Angels. I think that the archangel Michael has been working overtime for Germany. You have the marvelous reunification of East and West Germany on October 3, 1990 and angels must have helped to take down the wall in October of the year before. Then Angela Merkel was elected and Germany has a woman chancellor! England had her Margaret Thatcher and now Germany has her Angela Merkel, where is America’s first woman president? What is the name of America’s guardian angel anyway?

But we have also gathered to celebrate the 250th year of the ministry of Zion Church of the City of Baltimore. Two hundred and fifty years and we thank God for every one of them. And we continue to thank God that not only the freedom to worship is enjoyed in all German-speaking nations, (St. Michael at work again) but that it is also enjoyed in this English speaking nation, where we are still free to worship speaking in German, where the majority of people do not understand a word we are saying. This freedom therefore gives us responsibility, as Abraham Lincoln said, to be touched by the “better angels of our nature”[2] and pray for our nation in German as well as in English in these times that trouble our consciences and give us anguish. We realize that this freedom challenges us to use our language, whether English, German, or whatever “tongue of mortals and of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1) we speak, for the sake of the Good News coming from the Kingdom of our Lord Christ, the late and breaking Good News, the history-making Good News of what God is doing for the Kingdom to come – Oh Lord Christ, where God’s will is done on earth just like it is done in heaven. We certainly can expect only first-fruits, but let us have some previews of coming attractions even if we know we have to wait for the feature presentation on the other side. As with German history, we know the Sonderweg is spiritual and the only way is through Christ and him crucified.[3]

Let us also thank God that we are gathered in an ecumenical way, with our dear Roman Catholic clergy present as well. Although I will follow Martin Luther’s Commentary on Daniel for the verses of our text, how could I fail to mention and look into what the angelic doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, said about St. Michael and All Angels. He is called the angelic doctor because he wrote a Treatise on Angels about 200 pages long and you can download a copy of it from the Internet. It is very hard to understand. I’ve tried. But he puts St. Michael into the fifth rung of the hierarchy of Angels, as a guardian angel of individuals.

The name “Michael” is also a battle cry against internecine forces trying to destroy God’s creation and the people of the world.

In his Commentary on Daniel,[4] Luther claims that Michael is really Christ himself in a spiritual struggle against the powers and principalities. The name is a battle cry in Hebrew, “who is like unto God?” None other than Jesus Christ is our confession. Jesus Christ is like unto God! But there may well be seven archangels at the beck and call of Christ and all are in Christ the same way we are all in Christ, especially the archangel Michael, whose name itself is a confession: Who is like unto God? Answer: Jesus Christ.

St. Michael and All Angels are fighting in behalf of humanity, the church, in behalf of the Kingdom so it continues overcoming the powers and principalities of alienation and dehumanization. In his commentary Luther traces the whole book of Daniel, chapter by chapter, investigating the history of Daniel’s time, then insists that its revelation of the last days in the particular way that it immediately proclaims the resurrection, makes it a prophesy also for the time of Jesus and the disciples. So according to Luther, Daniel proclaimed the resurrection to eternal life the same way that the disciples did in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and the victory of St. Michael is that of the Lord Christ, whose followers only multiply during one Roman persecution after another, until the Roman Empire cannot beat the followers of Christ but has to join them.

Thus Constantine declares Christianity the official religion, from my point of view, in order to domesticate and distort it for the purposes of the Roman Empire instead of making the Roman Empire accountable to the Kingdom to come.

To translate from Luther’s commentary:

Even if Michel has a name of an angel, we however, still understand him to be Christ himself, just like in Revelations 12; Christ, who came down to earth to us with his angels, who are the preachers (of the Gospel) to fight against the devil through the Gospel, for he calls him a great prince (WABL 11:2:108).

Thus Michael, who is like unto God, is Jesus Christ himself, according to Luther, and we preachers are the angels of God, God’s messengers and ambassadors sent to defend humanity, to defend God’s creation, to defend God’s Church, from the evil one, the accuser.

     Let me digress to another place in the Scripture where St. Michael is mentioned before I again return to Luther’s commentary. It is in a book that is often forgotten because it is only one page long and comes right before Revelations. I am referring to the Epistle of Jude, the brother of James, and therefore also of Jesus. The tradition in Jude has the demons accusing Moses of murder and St. Michael is defending him by saying that judgment belongs to God. The struggle over Moses’ body is here depicted and it is another case that shows the wisdom of Luther’s insight into our human condition again: Moses may well have murdered that Egyptian overseer and thus he was a wretched sinner, but at the same time God covered up his sin, forgave it, and declared him righteous, and the angels bore his spirit home, as the old Negro spiritual puts it.[5] St. Michael refused to let the demons take their prize to hell. And Michael, that is, Christ, will stand over each one of us, and see to it that our sins do not count against us, but will bear our spirits home to heaven. Thus Luther says in the commentary, “St. Michael is Christ and comes up and stands with Christians and comforts them with [such] words of grace” (Ibid.).

     In the anguish we feel for our country, in the anguish we feel for the Church and humanity and environmentally for all God’s creation, Daniel proclaims a message about as close to the resurrection as the Hebrew Scriptures get.[6]

Daniel writes:

The people will be delivered, everyone found written in the book, and many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever (12:1c-3).

A Hebrew poetic effect really joins the last two ideas together, as if to say: those who are wise and point the way to “joyful justice” shall shine like the sky [on a bright summer’s day] and like the glorious stars at night forever and ever.

     So we preachers of the Good News, of the late and breaking Good News of what God is doing through Jesus Christ, that is, the history-making Good News, are the angels following Michael, the one like unto God, who is Jesus Christ, and with “Michael” our battle cry, we fly to the ends of the world, as Daniel writes, and tell of the resurrection of the dead. Michael comes back and tells the preachers and teachers that we need to shine like a bright summer’s day and like the glorious stars in heaven[7] so that many are converted before the dead arise. Daniel prophesies that beforehand the city will be destroyed and the last days will be filled with anguish.

     In his commentary Luther says that that Daniel does not mean physical suffering and disaster here but spiritual suffering and disaster: it is about whether the church stands or falls before the challenge it now faces. Luther maintains that it is being challenged from two sides:[8] the first is the Epicurean one. What an appropriate word for our day! It refers to the materialism and the pleasure as paramount in life. So the church tries to market itself by being more entertaining and gathering large “audiences” for the consumption of spiritual entertainment. Meanwhile our soldiers are over there in Iraq in harms way, becoming casualties, getting their limbs blown off, returning as psychological casualties, and here I am: I just can’t wait to get another video to watch tonight. The Epicurean way disrespects the word and sacrament, according to Luther.

From the other side, Luther continues, the church is attacked by fear, anxiety, and consciences filled by despair. Again, how apt for our situation! We do not listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said there is nothing to fear but fear itself. We can become governed by irrational fear so that the things we do are more dangerous than the things we fear. A friend of mine calls Osama bin Laden, Osama been-Hiding and Saddam Hussein, Saddam Insane. We have to pray for God to change the heart of our enemies and we ourselves have to repent in order to bring about reconciliation.

     How does the church respond to this challenge? If it is tormented by feeling it is not doing enough, then Luther states that it is still trusting in its own works. Even the post-World War II, Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt pronounced by the Assembled Churches in Germany, as important as it is, is not free of this misplaced emphasis:

We accuse ourselves for not standing up for our beliefs more courageously, not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyfully, and not loving more ardently (October 19, 1945).

We preachers and teachers have to stand up in the love and light of Christ and spread the word about what God is doing through the word of God’s mouth, so that in this time of anguish the Gospel spreads more and more, the way it did in the early times when it brought the Roman Empire to its knees, and when the Gospel spread like wildfire because of the Reformation. “For the word of God comes, whenever it comes,” said Luther, “to change and renew the world.”

     Thus if we do it, it will not be enough. But if we proclaim it, St. Michael and all angels, i.e., Christ and all the teachers and preachers of the Word of God, will challenge the church to respond so that humanity will not be destroyed, but will become reconciled and gathered together under the wholesome forgiving words of grace.

     Thus when St. Michael, i.e., Christ, and all the Preachers and teachers proclaim the late and breaking, history-making Good News, then we can’t help already claiming the victory. The victory is won, because God’s love prevails over the evil one. How do we put it in the Augsburg Confession? We receive forgiveness and one day we will be joyfully just (to use a few of my words) by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. Amen.

 

Pastor Peter Krey, PhD.


[1] I really should not say I had his pulpit. I was the interim pastor for it, but then called for six months after my ordination (March 2, 1975).

[2] From the conclusion of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, given Monday, March 4th 1861.

[3] The Sonderweg is a controversial thesis in German history. I take it way back to early modern Germany. It could not form a nation because it believed in the spiritual unity brought by the Holy Roman Empire under the guidance of the Papacy (Heiko Oberman’s argument). While England and France, for example, were consolidating, Germany was breaking up into smaller principalities. Fifty-five of the 300 of them were ruled by prince-bishops under the monarchical papacy. Italy shared some of this heavy religious influence with Germany and both became nations later and through more complexities than most other European nations.

[4] One version can be found in Luther’s Works, volume 35. But I translated from Luthers Werke, the Weimar Edition, Bible volume 11, book 2, i.e., WABL 11:2, pages 108-113.

[5] He arose, he arose, he arose from the dead, (three times)

  and the angels shall bear my spirit home.

[6] Only Isaiah 26:19 might be closer.

[7] I left out the part where I explained how Plato said that it was because of virtue that a horse grew wings and thus became Pegasus. So too if preachers become angels it is because the more virtuous we become, the more our souls grow wings, following Plato. For Luther angelic wings would begin to sprout, if ever he would have entertained that idea, the more beautiful the feet, the cadence of the one proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News.

[8] WABL 11.2:109-112.

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Written by peterkrey

October 3, 2006 at 3:16 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

One Response

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  1. It would be interesting to compare a sermon I gave at St. Phillip’s in Berlin-Friedenau on the Day of St. Michael, the Archangel. It was delivered on September 29, 1972. It is a pretty interesting take on angels and our own exisitence. See the post for 7/28/2008

    peterkrey

    July 29, 2008 at 3:22 am


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