Sunday, October 1, 2017

http://October 1, 2017
St. Michael and All Angels Sunday
As Liberal Catholics, we tend to have a more open mind and even charismatic mind on the topic of Angels. What can be written about Angels would be very great and extant; while at the same time insufficient and minimalist. We know so much; yet we know so little. Should we focus on the recognized Canon of the Bible? Or should we consider all known Deuterocanonical (or as the non-Catholics call them, the apocryphal) sources as well? How about oral Tradition handed down from the Apostles? Or maybe Ancient Judaism, such as the Midrash or Talmud?
When one digs, as I have over the years, there is far more written and believed than many may think, but large chunks of it develops more questions than answers. I often wonder if this is not how it is meant to be. Maybe we are not meant to comprehend; maybe our finite brains simply can’t grasp all that there is to know. Maybe we have to be more like the Angels or more “perfect” like God to be able to understand and to do so without prejudice.
Why without prejudice, some have asked me? Maybe, it’s as I said; we need to be “perfect” like God to better understand and thus not try to interpret what we think we know by our carnal minds. As example, let’s briefly look at the argument of “gender” in regard to Angels, and you may understand what I mean.
There is no doubt that every reference to Angels in Scripture is in the masculine gender. The Greek word for “angel” in the New Testament, angelos, is in the masculine form. In fact, a feminine form of angelos does not exist. There are three genders in grammar—masculine (he, him, his), feminine (she, her, hers), and neuter (it, its). In Scriptures, Angels are never referred to in any gender other than masculine. In the many appearances of Angels in the Bible, never is an Angel referred to as “she” or “it.” Furthermore, when Angels appeared, they were always dressed as human males (Genesis 18:2, 16; Ezekiel 9:2). Of course, there exist many non-scriptural texts that state otherwise, but I am strictly referring to Scriptural.

The only named Angels in the (Catholic) Bible—Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Lucifer—had male names and all are referred to in the masculine. “Michael and his angels” (Revelation 12:7); “Mary was greatly troubled at his [Gabriel’s] words” (Luke 1:29); “Oh, Lucifer, son of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12).  “Almost as soon as he left the house, he found himself face-to-face with Raphael. Tobias did not know that Raphael was an angel of God, so he asked him where he was from. “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in the glorious presence of the Lord, ready to serve him” (Tobit 5:4-5 & 12:15).
Other references to Angels are always in the masculine gender. In Judges 6:21, the Angel holds a staff in “his” hand. Zechariah asks an Angel a question and reports that “he” answered (Zechariah 1:19). The Angels in Revelation are all spoken of as “he” and their possessions as “his” (Revelation 10:1, 5; 14:19; 16:2, 4, 17; 19:17; 20:1).

Some people point to Zechariah 5:9 as an example of female angels. That verse says, “Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.” The problem is that the “women” in this prophetic vision are not called angels. They are called nashiym (Hebrew -“women”), as is the woman in the basket representing wickedness in verses 7 and 8. (Interestingly, some modern scholars translate nashiym as Lilith, a demon like character. This, however, is not how ancient Jewish scholars translated this word at all, which tends to throw this view into a more mythical light. Some also argue that demons and Angels are not the same. That’s another argument we will not get into.) By contrast, the Angel that Zechariah was speaking to is called a malak, a completely different word meaning “angel” or “messenger.” The fact that the women have wings in Zechariah’s vision might suggest Angels to our minds, but we must be careful about going beyond what the text actually says. A vision does not necessarily depict actual beings or objects—consider the huge flying scroll Zechariah sees earlier in the same chapter (Zechariah 5:1–2). (I suppose one could also argue that many scholars tend to say that Angels do not actually have wings; it is a human rendering, but that can be disputed in either direction also.)

Some confusion about genderless Angels comes from a misreading of Matthew 22:30, which states that there will be no marriage in heaven because we “will be like the angels in heaven.” The fact that there will be no marriage has led some to believe that Angels are “sexless” or genderless because (the human thinking goes) the purpose of gender is procreation and, if there is to be no marriage and no procreation, there is no need for gender. But this is a leap that cannot be proven from the text. The fact that there is no marriage does not necessarily mean there is no gender. The only thing Jesus states is that Angels ‘do not marry’, but we can’t make the leap from “no marriage” to “no gender.” (One can also argue that Nephilim were children of Angels and human women [Genesis 6:1-4], as did our early church fathers [Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Commodianus]; however, this was not how the ancient Jewish rabbis translated this text. To them, these were merely human beings of exalted social station. There are actually a few other arguments on this text, that we do not have time to go into here. Suffice to say, we can see how much we know and don’t know regarding Angels and how confusing it can become.)

Gender in language, then, is not to be understood strictly in terms of sexuality. With a couple exceptions where the translation of Scripture is difficult to translate, God frequently refers to Himself in the masculine. The Holy Spirit is never described as an “it.” God is personal and authoritative and is referred to in the masculine gender for reasons that may be lost to time, or merely beyond our human comprehension. I wonder if we haven’t allowed our earthly difficulties and prejudices with gender and sex to cloud what may or may not be God’s view. However, this is not meant as argument to convince one over the other, so much as presenting what we do know. We may all be surprised how this is dealt with when we arrive in heaven. One beauty of our church is that we might study these topics, but we do not get “hung-up” on how some may prefer one type of personal pronouns over others when referring to God of the Angels or as to who and what Angels are.
Now let’s deal with the war in heaven and Angels in general. I will try to list what we know from Scriptures. If I stray too far from that basis, we would be here all day, and this is meant to be a sermon – maybe even a short lecture; not a thesis. I will not state the specific Scripture passage, however I do have them written in my sermon for those who might want to see and research them. Please refer to my posting on Facebook or ask me for a copy.
There has been a war in heaven since the fall of Satan (Isaiah 14:2-14; Ezekiel 28:11-18). Satan’s domain is the earth and the air around the earth. (Job 1, 2)  This is why the Scriptures describes him as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and his demon hosts as “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his minions have actively opposed both the Holy Angels and God’s people since his fall.
In the Old Testament demons sought to hinder the ministry of the Holy Angels to Israel (Daniel 10:12-13). In the present Satan prowls around like a lion (1st Peter 5:8), opposing the spread of the Gospel (Matthew 13:19, 37-39; Acts 13:10), oppressing individuals (Luke 13:10-16; Acts 10:38), and uses sin to disrupt and pollute the church (Acts 5:1-11). Believers are to be wary of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), give him no opportunity (Ephesians 4:27), and resist him (James 4:17).
The future conflict will involve Daniel and the dragon which is identified as Satan. The grammar structure in our reading today points to the fact that Satan will start the battle. Scripture does not reveal how Angels fight nor would we be able to comprehend such a battle. We do not know with what weapons and by what tactics this heavenly warfare will be. We tend to try to visualize this in art, but these are mere imaginings.
When Michael finally prevails, and Satan is forced forever out of the heavens. This event could be sparked by the end of the age, or the “Rapture” as some tend to call this. It would seem that Satan tries getting in the way of the believers passing through this realm into heaven during those times; the prince of the power of the air and his demon hosts will try to hinder their passage. Some speculate that this may trigger the battle with Michael and the Angels.
Michael is always seen as the defender of God’s people against satanic destruction. In Daniel 10 the inspired prophet gave an example of him in action. A Holy Angel, dispatched with an answer to Daniel’s prayer (Daniel 10:12), was delayed for three weeks by a powerful demon who was in control of the Persian Empire (Daniel 10:13; vs.20). It was not until “Michael one of the chief princes came to help” him (v.13) that he was able to prevail.
Daniel 12:1 also speaks of Michael’s defense of God’s people. The New Testament also speaks of Michael as the defender of God’s people. Jude 9 describes his conflict with Satan over the body of Moses after Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). Michael contested Satan for possession of Moses’ body, which Satan apparently wanted to use for some pernicious purpose. In the Lord’s power, Michael and thus Moses was buried in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day (Deuteronomy 34:6). Which leads some, further nuanced by Moses’ appearance to Jesus at the Transfiguration, that Moses was never actually buried.
There will no longer be a place for Satan in heaven anymore after his battle with Michael. The heaven’s cleansing is the earth’s pollution, however, as Satan’s full fury explodes on humanity when he is cast down to earth (Revelation12:12). The time of Satan is short.
Diablos (Devil) means slander, defamer, or false accuser - a fitting word for Satan, the ultimate false accuser (Revelation 12:10). Satan is a malicious prosecutor of God’s people, constantly trying to arraign them before the bar of God’s holy justice. 1st Peter 5:8 says that part of the prowling around more than likely includes looking for believers who are struggling in there walks and thus they may be accused before God’s throne. But the glorious truth is that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) because “if anyone sins we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1). Romans 8:31-34 points out the impossibility of Satan destroying the bonds that those who are in Christ possess.
Satan was the most glorious created being (star of the morning Isaiah 14:12), and is now and forever branded the adversary. He demanded to be God (Isaiah 14:14) to ascend to that position which only God can have. He deceitfully led Eve into sin by manipulating her to distrust the nature, character and Word of God (Genes 3:2-5).
The Bible describes Angels as fellow believers (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), but the wording implies they and we are unequal.
There is an end to Satan’s reign, I want to point out. Satan’s time is only short for the remainder of the Tribulation-for his final assault on God’s people. His actual time will be three and a half years (a mockery of the 3 PM time in which Christ died on the cross) three and a half years of the reign of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:5), whom Satan places in power immediately after being cast down from heaven. It is a short time because Jesus Christ will return to establish His earthly millennial kingdom. No matter how sickening this situation looks, God is in control. Satan will rage against them but believers can take comfort in knowing that his ultimate defeat is certain. In the words of Martin Luther, “The Prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure; for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”
So, today instead of an inspiring sermon, you have had an educational/thought provoking one. I merely wanted to break down why it seems all the Angels seem to be embodied as male based on Scripture and what Scripture does say about the war in heaven. Boring for some; interesting to others. Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael pray for us.
Let us pray.
We ask that You send Your Holy Messengers to bear tidings of salvation to all of Your people. May Your people experience Your Holy Angels more frequently in our time. We pray to the Lord. (Lord, hear our prayer.)
We pray for those beset by tragedy, chaos or turmoil. For those fleeing the evils of war and those struck by the perils of nature; that the victims may know peace, shelter and assistance; may the soldiers, aid workers and civilians be given courage and resolve as they seek to rescue and give comfort. Especially we pray for refugees forced to flee their homes. We pray to the Lord.
That the Church may be a leader in civil rights and demonstrate love toward all people. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to put the interests of others before our own. We pray to the Lord.
That You bless all who suffer in illness and struggles this week; bringing them healing, comfort, peace, hope and visible answers to their needs. We pray to the Lord.
Father, let the peace of heaven that surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.