The feast of St. Michael and All Angels invites us to meditate on angels, specifically how they, “serve and worship God in Heaven,” and, “help and defend us here on earth” (Collect for the Day). The readings recall how Michael fought against Satan and how spiritual warfare on earth is a type of the ultimate warfare in the heavenly realms.
The danger for such a festival is we find ourselves lost in pious speculation about angelic orders or overconfident in our engagement in spiritual warfare. For me, the Gospel reading serves as a corrective. It teaches us to see our lives in light of spiritual warfare but, ultimately, to entrust all things to Christ in light of His saving work.
What I like about this text is how Jesus brings a cosmic vision to bear on an earthly experience. In preaching, rather than begin with the heavens, I would start on earth. I would open with a real, earthly account of the joy we have in doing God’s work. Then, I would let the words of Jesus deepen this joy and ultimately redirect it so we are encouraged, even in the midst of failure, to delight in the comfort of the Cross.
Carolyn had just come back from a mission trip to Mexico. When she was asked how the trip went, she had a simple response. “I’m tired,” she said, “but it’s a good tired.” Carolyn was the oldest person on the team from her church. In one week, they held a VBS for children, weeded a plot of ground for farming, built a handicapped ramp, and installed insulation and ceiling tiles. Tiring work, she would tell you, “But it’s a good tired.”
Discipleship challenges our cultural norms. We live in a culture of convenience. 24-hour convenience stores. On-line ordering. Drive-thru service. Electronic devices designed so we can control our lives with the push of a button or a spoken command. In this world, it is easy for us to associate the good with the easy. Goodness does not involve being tired, it involves being taken care of. Served.
Christ however calls us into a different kind of kingdom. Not a world of luxury but a life of service. Discipleship will be filled with moments when we are tired…, “but it’s a good tired.”
The disciples have just returned from a mission trip. 72 of them have gone out to towns where Jesus was about to go. They were, “lambs in the midst of wolves” (10:3). They lived on the hospitality of others as they proclaimed the reign of God. Upon returning from their mission trip, the disciples rejoice. They are experiencing the goodness of God’s work. “Even the demons are subject to us in your name,” they say (10:17).
When Jesus speaks to His disciples, what He does is beautiful. He deepens their experience of joy and then He redirects it.
First, Jesus deepens their experience of joy. Notice how Jesus helps the disciples see that the subjection of demons to His name is just one part of a much larger cosmic war. Jesus says, “I was watching the Accuser fall like lightening from Heaven” (10:18). While the disciples have their eyes on their mission, Jesus has His eyes on His much larger work. He has set His face to go to Jerusalem (9:51), to defeat Satan and to bring about the restoration of all Creation by His death and resurrection. This mission experience of the disciples is just one small battle in His much larger cosmic war.
That remains true even today. No, we may not be casting out demons, but the battle continues and all of God’s people are involved in it. At baptism, we are taken from the Kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God. Our works in this world are part of the much larger reign and rule of Christ.
Jesus deepens our joy by offering us a much larger vision of His rule. Carolyn’s VBS work in Mexico is just one small effort in one small mission. But it is also part of a much larger cosmic war. Christ’s disciples are involved in something much greater than they realize – the mission of Jesus to restore Creation – no wonder we are tired but, “it’s a good tired.”
Second, Jesus redirects the disciples’ joy. While they are rejoicing in demons being subject to His name, Jesus asks them to rejoice that their names are written in Heaven. The true joy of the disciples lies in the work of Christ for them.
Sometimes our Christian service leads to a “good tired.” But this is not always the case. There are times when we work but see no results. Or worse yet, we experience failure. A conversation at work leads to accusations of religious harassment and we lose our job. Disciples bear the cross.
In the face of such suffering, Christ redirects our hearts to the true joy which cannot be taken away. Christ has secured the ultimate victory for us so that, even though we may suffer and die, we know He will raise us from the dead and we shall live in His eternal Kingdom.
This text is thus filled with goodness for God’s people. It is not the goodness of our culture, associated with relaxation and ease. No, it is the goodness of God. Mission trips and moments of service woven into our days are really part of a much larger working of God. On those days when we can see and celebrate the good God has done, Jesus encourages us to rejoice in the “good tired.” On those other days, however, when we are defeated, even then there is goodness. Satan may win the battle, but ultimately Jesus has won the war. Even our days of defeat rest in the hands of our risen and ruling Lord.
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching for St. Michael and All Angels.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach for St. Michael and All Angels.