Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sermon: Angels & Demons

         Just to remind everyone, as a summer sermon series I’ll be preaching topically. Specifically, I’ll be preaching on questions that you all have submitted over the last month.

         Today, both questions are questions involving spiritual beings. They are:
1.   What’s the deal with Angels? Do humans become angels when we die?
2.   Is there a particular significance to Jesus casting the Legion of Evil Spirits from the Gerasene Demoniac into a herd of swine?

Let us pray:

         To start off with, when we talk about Angels it’s important to admit right off the bat that they are mysterious.
         For example, in the book of Genesis various patriarchs run into what appears to be a human messenger, then they describe it as an Angel, then sometimes it becomes the Angel of the LORD, then finally it is described at God!
Clearly something odd is happening.
         Likewise, if you read the book of Ezekiel you’ll find Angels who are things, for example pieces of God’s throne, and elsewhere angels described simply as “flaming things.”
         All that to say, they’re strange things and I’m clearly not going to nail down what they are, but we can at least take a few swings at it.

         Tackling the second half of the question before the first, there is nothing in scripture that indicates humans become angels when we die.
         The closest we come to an actual example of a human becoming an angel is one non-canonical
—meaning from writings which are not considered scripture
—one non-canonical instance in which Enoch,
remember Enoch, the guy who walked with God and then was not—Noah’s great-grandfather…
well, there is a tradition in which Enoch is translated into an angel named Metatron.

         That said, there is a larger Pastoral concern behind the question, there is a bigger question being asked, which is:
“Is there still a connection between me and my dead loved one?”
         And to that I respond yes.

         We are held fast by the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who Will Be, the one who transcends time and has conquered death.
         Each Sunday we eat together before the altar, at a meal that anticipates the destruction of death and the wiping away of all tears,
anticipates this great culmination, (here’s the kicker) which has already happened through Jesus Christ.
         So, when we kneel before this half-circle altar rail… half-square actually… we can be confident that the invisible other half of the railing around the altar is filled with our sisters and
brothers who were and who will be.

         As to the other half of the first question, what are angels?
         There are a lot of different ways to think about the nature of angels, I’m just going to briefly give you two I think can be helpful.

         The first comes from Augustine’s City of God. He reads the creation of light on the first day in Genesis chapter 1 as the creation of angels as “partakers of the eternal Light which we call
the only-begotten Son of God.”
         As for the darkness, Augustine writes, “If an angel turns away from God, he becomes impure,” an unclean spirit.
Essentially angels are like the moon, they are beings who reflect the light of Jesus Christ, and when that light is eclipsed they become evil.
         Now, the interesting thing that comes out of this meditation upon Angels and Demons is that he affirms, “Evil has no nature of its own. Rather, it is the absence of good, which has received the name evil.”
         This is probably one of the most powerful realizations in all of Augustine’s works—evil isn’t a thing, it is simply the absence of
good! The dark side of the moon isn’t defective, it simply needs to
reflect the light of the sun!
Imagine what this means for our redemption!

         For the second way to think about angels we need to fast forward 1600 years or so from Augustine to a guy with the funny name Walter Wink.
         Dr. Wink wrestled for years and 100’s of pages with the question “what are these spiritual beings?”—Angels, Powers, Heights, Depths—all those things which Paul writes can not separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.
         And it was in reading Daniel that Dr. Wink hit upon an in to understanding the Spiritual Powers. The angel who comes to Daniel was slowed down by the Prince, the Angel, of Persia. Dr. Wink thought through the meaning of particular nations having Angels assigned to them, and concluded these Spiritual Powers are (dis?)embodiments of those things which no one person controls.
         So, for him, Spiritual Powers are almost like the ethos of corporations, nations, places, etc.
         And, he goes on to point out, like all created things, they are fallen and in need of redemption… in fact this is one of the tasks of the Christian faith.
         His main example is the end of Apartheid in South Africa. By seeking a non-violent solution to the transition of power in that country, through Truth and Reconciliation, the Spiritual Ethos of South Africa was redeemed—an exorcism of Apartheid was done to that country.

         Let’s take this way of looking at Angels and other Spiritual Powers and bring it a little closer to home:
         About two weeks ago some of us got together and began to explore what hunger looks like in the US, and we were overwhelmed with how many moving parts there were, and that some things being done to alleviate hunger actually weren’t doing much good.
         The systems in place in this country to feed people well, are out of whack—Walter Wink would say this is actually a Spiritual problem, these systems which are bigger than any one person are in fact tied to a Spiritual Power and that Power is sick, if not demonic, and therefore it is our duty as Christians to try to, through non-violent self-giving acts, redeem that system so it once again functions as God intended it to.

         And finally, in a very round about way, that gets us to the question about Legion. Notice the demons are named Legion—the same name as Roman Legions, the army, who occupies Israel.
         If an army, a thing bigger than any one person, had an Angelic sense to it, it would be one which focused on defending the weak and needy (this is why Luther recommend that we ask for God’s Angels to Defend us), yet Roman Legions occupied Israel making it’s population weak and needy—this is a perversion of God’s intentions, it is Demonic.

         This person, whose home is occupied by Roman Legions (or alternatively is himself a cast-away member of a Roman Legion), is occupied by unclean spirits named Legion. The physical reality is being manifest in a spiritual way.

         And so Jesus decolonizes this man’s Spirit, and the colonizing power, Legion, doesn’t want to be kicked out of the land currently being occupied by the Roman Legions (see verse 10). So Jesus sends an unclean spirit into an unclean animal, a swine.

         In summary:
1. Jesus finds an unclean place for an unclean thing.
2. Reflecting upon the nature of Angels help us
a) think about redemption as a passive reflection of the good light of
Christ, and that
b) redemption can involve the spirit of whole systems.
3. Finally, we don’t become angels when we die, but we can trust that
all the Saints of God—both living and dead—are one in Christ Jesus.