Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Michaelmas: A Devotional Commentary

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 Behold, a hand touched me, which set me on my knees and on the palms of my hands. He said to me, Daniel, you man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright; for am I now sent to you. When he had spoken this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, Don’t be afraid, Daniel; for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard: and I have come for your words’ sake. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to make you understand what shall happen to your people in the latter days; for the vision is yet for many days...The word of Yahweh also came to me, saying, Son of man, you dwell in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and don’t see, who have ears to hear, and don’t hear; for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, you son of man, prepare your stuff for moving, and move by day in their sight; and you shall move from your place to another place in their sight: it may be they will consider, though they are a rebellious house.

Revelation 12:7-12 There was war in the sky. Michael and his angels made war on the dragon. The dragon and his angels made war. They didn’t prevail, neither was a place found for him any more in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, the old serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, the power, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ has come; for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. They overcame him because of the Lamb’s blood, and because of the word of their testimony. They didn’t love their life, even to death. Therefore rejoice, heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time.”

Matthew 18:1-11 In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to himself, and set him in their midst, and said, “Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must be that the occasions come, but woe to that person through whom the occasion comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire. See that you don’t despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and all angels. In the Gospel lesson we see the disciples were arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. If the question were asked today, many might answer Mother Theresa or Billy Graham or the Pope or Joel Osteen or Rick Warren. But the argument over who is the greatest misses the point entirely. Jesus picks up a little child and says that if they rely upon their own striving to enter the kingdom of heaven, they will not receive the kingdom of heaven. They must become like children. You can only receive the kingdom of heaven by being like a little child.

Children were viewed as a blessing by many at the time of Jesus but nobody would have used them as a model for greatness in the kingdom of heaven. They were simply incapable carrying out the work and teaching that needed to be done. Today, things are worse. Children are viewed as a curse and absolutely useless. They are useless because they do not contribute. Fewer are involved in farming, so there is no longer a need for a large family to work the farm. They don't produce anything but dirty diapers and when they get a little bit older they tear your house apart. Our culture has become less and less centered around the family and more and more centered around the individual. But a little child has a better understanding of his own life than most adults have of their own lives. As adults we think we are self-sufficient and can get by on our own. We compete to do better than our neighbor. In Biblical times, begging was a legitimate vocation but now we look down on the beggar and are convinced that he just needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But in reality, we are all beggars. Little children know that their life is not about doing but receiving. Little children know they are beggars. The kingdom of heaven is not about doing but receiving God's good gifts. Children who receive food from their mothers' breasts would never try to argue that they earned that food or that they are the best breastfeeders of all.

These "little ones"--actual babies and others like you who know that the kingdom of heaven is all about receiving--are so loved and so important to God that He sends His holy angels to guard and protect them. God sends His holy angels to keep us from stumbling and to protect us from evil. Woe to that person who causes one of us little ones to stumble. Woe to pastors who preach something other than Christ-crucified. We "little ones" are not insignificant to God. He washes us in the waters of baptism and overcome the dragon with the blood given to us in the Lord's Supper by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And He sends His angels to protect us.

No comments: