I am one of those people who takes Jesus at his word.
So when Jesus says, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning,â€ť I know two things must be true.
One, that God is in Christ Jesus. God in Christ Jesus and not some other person, because next to Saint Michael and all the angels in heaven, God is the only other to have been in heaven and watched Satan fall.
The second thing I know must be true is that God in Christ Jesus has been around a long, long time; since before the foundation of the world, just waiting to become incarnate â€” to take flesh and blood among us â€” long enough to finish the job.
You see, God was not simply set on becoming incarnate among us to deal with our own fall â€” and the sin and death the come from that fateful fall of Adam â€” but to deal with the fall that preceded that fall: to deal with evil itself, the great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.
For God not only loves us, but loves the whole creation. God desires for us, and the whole world to live in a single peace.
So incarnate God became. Incarnate in Christ Jesus who â€” as the Creed puts it â€” was crucified under Potius Pilate, who suffered death and was buried, and who on the third day rose again in accordance with the scriptures.
This God came down from heaven to redeem us and the whole world, once and for all.
This God came down from heaven not simply to destroy death, but to break the bonds of the evil one, to crush hell underfoot, to give light to the way of the righteous.
This God is our God. And, to borrow Godâ€™s words from creation, that is good, very good.
However good God and Godâ€™s ways are, we donâ€™t always live them; the church doesnâ€™t always live them; the world doesnâ€™t always live them - redeemed.
Death is destroyed, but its ways are still practiced. The bonds of the evil one are broken, but they still ensnare. Hell is crushed underfoot, but its shadow still lurks. And when we see or experience the saga of these things â€” writ large in international discourse or as near to us as in our personal lives â€” we learn what is true about being redeemed: to be redeemed is also to be redeeming.
Thanks to Saint Michael and all the angles, to God in Chirst Jesus, Godâ€™s work to redeem us and the whole world is accomplished but it is not yet over.
Once upon a time, and in a galaxy far, far and away, the church called this time that was accomplished but not over, militant. By extension, those of us who live in that time were called the church militant.
I grew up singing one of the church militantâ€™s favorite hymns, Onward Christian Soldiers, with its now-flagrant images of Christian soldiers marching as to war,with the cross of Jesus going on before.
The logic goes something like this: Saint Michael wields a sword in battle in heaven, and we wield the cross in battle on earth.
Until the 150th Anniversary Festival Historic Hymn Sing last Sunday, I hadnâ€™t heard that hymn â€” let alone sung it â€” since I was a child. Memories of days gone by came rushing back to me as our Cantor led our singing with a persistent, march-like ostinato â€” a left-right-left accompaniment accomplished seemingly by every church organist non-stop for some 100-odd years.
It was during the first Gulf War, when so many young people from my childhood church were actually sent off to war in the Middle East, that animated singing of going off to war faded, replaced by even more animated, persistent songs for peace, for safe return from service, for healing of the whole human race.
I have no idea whether or not the shift from epic battle to peace like a river was a battle among church committees. I imagine it was, for change of any sort in any church is most always a battle.
I take the shift as an important and wise witness of my elders, many of them members of my own family who stood by the United States in every war or major military skirmish back to World War I â€” their honored graves we so often visited attesting to the ultimate sacrifice made for God and for country. They know far better than I what is lost, and what is gained, by shifts such as this in congregation song; for we are, as our Cantor so aptly illustrated last week, shaped by what we sing.
But this I know: church militant signaled very clearly that God has accomplished something and there is yet more to be done, that God has redeemed and is still redeeming us and the whole creation. While also signaling that we are involved in that which is yet to come, and that we play no small part in the world itself being redeemed.
Wisely, our more decorated ancestors bid us bend our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Peace, human rights they insisted should be our way: at the United Nations; by furthering the work of church unity; among people in every community not matter how diverse; in sacrifice for others.
Every generation faces the call to Godâ€™s redeeming work, and every generation faces an enemy to that work. Last week our bishop called the enemy the â€śAlmighty I.â€ť
Iâ€™m beginning to wonder if the â€śAlmighty Iâ€ť has two related, but different, expressions. The first is the sense that the world is â€śall about meâ€ť â€” thatâ€™s the particular attribute commentators have long levied on the boomer generation, and those immediately flanking it. The second is the sense that â€śI donâ€™t matter at allâ€ť â€” thatâ€™s the conclusion the so-called â€śmillennialsâ€ť have made.
In full disclosure, in case you havenâ€™t guess it, I am one of those millennials â€” people born plus or minus 10 years around 1980. One of many who came to adulthood during those Gulf Wars and witnessed the nationâ€™s lack of care for people like them; who came to adulthood or will come to adulthood in a post 9-11 world; who emerged into adulthood by making adult decisions like earning a college education only to have the economy collapse, along with it meaningful employment, early (or any) equity in a home, or the ability to pay back student loans.
Two generation, a common malady: none of us wants much to do with the more that which is yet to be done. The â€śall about meâ€ť folks see redemption, are happy to have it themselves, and are even more delighted to gleefully walk away from anyone elseâ€™s problems. The â€śI donâ€™t matter at allâ€ť folks see redemption as a thing of the past, a failure, and are resigned to a world where they donâ€™t matter; at least not in any significant way.
Yet, by God, there is plenty yet to be done. Saint Michael and all the angels didnâ€™t fight Satan in heaven for nothing. And God in Christ Jesus did not die for us for nothing. There is still much redeeming to be done for us and for the whole world, whether we care to admit it or not, whether we think weâ€™ll ever be part of it or not.
Our bishop said that â€śthe culture will change only if Christians invest themselves and organize.â€ť That is, if we get beyond the â€śAlmighty I.â€ť Attach ourselves to eachother with the same fervency as the Onward Christian Soldiers generation did so proudly. Not copying their ways, but with their wisdom passed along to us.
Surrounded by their great witness, as grand as a cloud, we see that Godâ€™s active redeeming is less about a sword, than it is about a cross; less about a battle than about a meal.
You see, in the wake of a generation that is â€śall about meâ€ť and another generation that canâ€™t see that â€śits about us at all,â€ť our God takes up a cross. Gives up Godâ€™s own life. Offers up the most profound sacrifice for us. Rises up in order to go forth from the grave in a new and different way. And bids us do the same.
If there is anything Satan would like more than anything else, it would be to follow the â€śAlmighty I.â€ť To disregard eachother whatever the way and in whatever generation.
Here at this table. Here in this Eucharistic meal. We gather together. All gather at table in need of healing. And God nourishes us. All gather at table in need of reconciliation. And God binds us together. We all sit at table, and in this way usher in Godâ€™s ongoing redemption of the human family, the entire creation.
Some might call it a miracle: Jesusâ€™ death resurrection a miracle; the renewal of the face of the earth a miracle.
We call it something far more profound; something far more powerful; something far more life affirming and life giving. We call it the mystery of faith.
For here in this Eucharistic fellowship, the most awful of tragedies â€” awful of violence â€” is remembered, so that it is no longer practiced. Betrayal is remembered, so that fidelity is kept. Death is remembered, so that life may be held in even greater regard.
Godâ€™s promise to us every time we gather at table. Godâ€™s promise with us ever time we march forth from table. Cross before us, yes. But carried in humble service. With hearts to love. And hands to give. And life to live.