Note: This sermon was preached on Thursday, September 29th, 2016, being the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, and on the occasion of the blessing and dedication of our new front entrance.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Church of The Ascension in Rockville Centre has, I think at least, a well-deserved reputation for being a welcoming church. Plenty of individuals have made this observation to me, and it is certainly something I have experienced myself. To welcome outsiders into our community is very important, but if we are going to minister to the community in which we live and if we are going to evangelize the next generation of Christians, then being welcoming will simply not be enough. We need to be an inviting church.
You see, in the recent past going to church was taken for granted. It is just what you did. When people moved into a new community they went church shopping and very often the church they selected was the one that was the most welcoming, or the one that most suited their needs or their tastes. People were looking for church and your task was to get them to choose yours. Alas, that is not the world we live in anymore.
Most people in our society are not looking for a church anymore. Sure, you may encounter a few here and there, but they are fewer and farther between. People still have spiritual needs and they still long for answers to life’s tough questions, but they are less convinced that church is the place to have those needs met. That makes our job, as Christians that are called to spread the good news, a bit harder. We can no longer depend upon people coming to us, so we must go to them. We cannot just welcome people into this worshipping community, we must invite them.
The world we find ourselves in is less like the 1950s and 60s of our parents and grandparents, and more like the 50s and 60s AD of Paul and the Apostles: We live in a largely secular world that is mostly unfamiliar and unconcerned with the teachings of Jesus. But, that is the same world that Christ sent his disciples out into; he sent them, he didn’t tell them to wait until the world came looking for them; he sent them out and told them to go out into the world making disciples of all nations. That is the world in which we live: we are not just reminding people of the good news; for many people we are helping them encounter it for the first time.
Now you may be wondering: what on earth does this have to do with new church doors and windows? It’s this: people no longer assume that church has much to offer their lives. They aren’t going to fight to overcome obstacles to get in. We have to invite them to take a look inside. We need to show them that this isn’t just a door into a community meeting space, but a gateway into a different kingdom. Our new entrance isn’t just designed to be pretty; it is designed to be inviting. It is designed to remove barriers. It is designed to entice people to go deeper; to encourage them to look within and maybe, just maybe, respond to the God that is calling out to them.
It is fitting that standing guard over this new entrance are four archangels. Tonight is the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels; it is a day when the Church celebrates God’s angels and the work they do for his kingdom. Now I feel that I should point out here that there are many misconceptions about angels in popular culture. The biggest misconception is that angels are what we become when we die. No. That is not what the church teaches. Angels and humans are entirely different types of beings created by God. We might join the ranks of the faithful departed when we die, we might even be called saints, but we do not become angels. What we do share with angels though is a common mission: angels were created to be the special messengers of God, to work for God’s kingdom here on earth, and we as Christians are called to do very much the same. The angels that grace our doors direct our thoughts not only to the things we ought to pray for as we enter this building, they remind us of the work we need to do as we leave this building.
Saint Uriel, the giver of divine light and patron of poets and artists. Saint Uriel’s task is to inspire. To make people wonder at the greatness of God and all his works. We pray to Saint Uriel to fill our thoughts with the beautiful ideas that come from God and we pray that like Saint Uriel, we too can inspire others in our own way.
Saint Gabriel, the announcing angel who visited a young virgin to tell her that she was with child and that that child was the son of God. Saint Gabriel’s task is to proclaim. To announce to the world the coming of Jesus Christ and to proclaim the truth that this child is unlike any other. We pray to Saint Gabriel that he may continually make Christ known to us and we pray that we can be so bold as to proclaim that same child to an unknowing and unbelieving world.
Saint Michael, the prince of all the angels, the angel who casts Satan down and protects us from every attack of evil. Saint Michael’s task is to defend. To use his strength to defend those that are weaker in the name of justice. Saint Michael is the patron saint of police officers, soldiers and all law enforcement and that window is given as a tribute to all those who have answered the call to serve and protect. We pray to Saint Michael that he will protect us from the evil in this world, and especially protect those who put their lives in harms way on a daily basis, and we pray that we too will have the courage to stand up to evil in the world whenever we encounter it.
Saint Raphael, the medicine of God and the patron of pilgrims. Saint Raphael’s task is to heal. To embrace those who are suffering in body, mind or soul and give comfort and consolation. We pray to Saint Raphael that he may heal our infirmities, including our sins, and we pray that we too can be the instruments of God’s healing in the world.
Saint Uriel, Saint Gabriel, Saint Michael and Saint Raphael. As we enter this building, they remind us of the things for which we need to pray; as we exit they remind us of the work that we too are called to do in the world. We too are messengers of God, and we are called to Inspire, to Proclaim, to Defend, and to Heal. When we go out into the world doing that work, we invite people into relationship with God. The new entrance stands as a witness, not just to welcome those that are already coming in, but to invite those that are walking past. Our lives should do the same.
There are, of course, two more windows, which I haven’t referred to yet, and they are the most important. The windows at the heart of our front entrance, the two center doors, are mostly clear, and standing outside as you peer through them you first see the baptismal font, and then beyond that in the distance, the high altar and the tabernacle containing the body and blood of Christ. This is the feast that the angels are inviting us to. This is communion, becoming one with Christ and one with God. We go out into the world. Like the angels we serve as God’s messengers: we inspire, proclaim, defend and heal, but this is what we are inviting people to: to become the body of Christ in this world and ultimately to become citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
Those aren’t just new doors and steps out there that lead into an old building. It is the gateway into a different kingdom and a different way of life. We have reason tonight to celebrate. We celebrate Alice Mary Roggenkamp who began pushing for a ramp for people with mobility problems to get into the church. We celebrate all those who contributed to the 125th campaign to help fund this project and especially the committee and those who worked long hours over the past couple of years to make this a reality. We celebrate the courageous lives of our soldiers and police officers who we will remember every time we see the light shining through Saint Michael’s face. We celebrate the lives of Mildred Savrda and Russell Dee Cooper, William and Dorothy Challice, Alfred and Ruth Frauenberger and Judith Berglund, for whom the other angel windows are given. Finally we celebrate the life of one man that wasn’t a member of this congregation; wasn’t even an Episcopalian, but nonetheless Fred Quenzer found in this church a place of spiritual refreshment and of grace. The front doors, the two center windows, the floor under your feet and even this vestment set that we are wearing were all made possible by the generous bequest from a man who only came here because someone invited him. If you have found God in this place, if you have experienced God through his angels, if you have been convinced of the truth we proclaim, if you want to fight for God’s kingdom and if you want to heal a broken world, then don’t just wait to welcome the souls that make it inside: go out and invite them.