Readings and Collect from the Feast of St Michael and All Angels: Job 38:1-7; Rev 12:7-12; Mt 18:1-10
May I speak in the name of God, who sends his angels to watch over us.
Well, Fr Michael, you have caused your Archbishop to find himself in a state of confusion! First of all, today is the Feast of St Joseph, but you choose the readings for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, almost 5 months away – though we do understand that St Michael is the patron saint of the Society of the Sacred Mission. Second, you invite us to a service of thanksgiving. But how are we to greet you? Normally on such an occasion, one would say Happy Birthday, or Happy Anniversary or something similar. But somehow Happy Bombing really does not sound right!
But it certainly is a privilege to be here today. Thank you, Fr Michael, for inviting me to share with you – and with the many people around the world who are holding us in their thoughts and prayers. As the many messages in the service booklet bear witness, we have so very much to give thanks for. We give thanks, dear Fr Michael, for your survival of that terrible deed of premeditated violence, perpetrated upon you twenty years ago by agents from within the apartheid government. So perhaps our greeting is Happy Survival!
And we give thanks that God – through the subversive triumph of the cross and resurrection – has enabled you to turn that act of evil into a stepping stone to redemption: not only in your own life, but to others, through your testimony, through the witness of your living example, and through your vision for the Institute of the Healing of Memories and the work in which you have led it so effectively.
For myself, I give thanks for many years of friendship and collaboration in the gospel which we have shared. I particularly remember the time, 18 years ago, when you stayed with me, and Lungi, my new bride, in the Rectory that had previously been your diocesan offices, Archbishop Tutu. Fr Michael, you should have known the uncertain ways of old church buildings and their plumbing. But you used the spare shower that we had never tried out – and we soon found ‘living water’ seeping through the ceiling of the kitchen, the dining room, the lounge ... No, Lungi and I, will never forget that visit! Thank you also for our partnership as chaplains to Anglican students, where I succeeded you as Provincial; and for the many blessings I have received from the Society, for which I am privileged to be Visitor.
Today I want to reflect on the glorious mysteries of God’s transformative love and power, through which he has turned an act of deliberate hatred and cruelty reflecting all the evil of the apartheid regime, into a beacon of compassion and hope that shines far, far brighter; far, far wider. Around the globe, wherever evil and violence are perpetrated, we know they will not have the final word.
Yet even so, our hearts grieve that brutality and torture still continue today. We do not understand why it is that our all loving, all powerful, heavenly Father, does not step in and thwart such evil in its tracks. Nor do we understand why it is that one man survives devastating explosives, deliberately intended to murder; while a student who walks in on a burglary in his own home, is stabbed to death, as happened in this city two days ago.
The purposes of God are beyond our ability fully to grasp. Job recognised this, when, after wrestling to find answers to his own suffering, he encountered the Lord speaking out of the whirlwind. He received a glimpse into the unknowable – enough to see that there is a whole spiritual realm where ultimate truths of good and evil, life and death, are played out.
There is deep mystery here. We cannot fathom it all – but we can encounter enough to know that it is so, and that, as is recorded in the Revelation to St John, ‘now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah’. We do not need to understand – we need only to believe and trust.
As our gospel tells us – we need to become like children: not childish, but child-like. When my children were small, they used to love to run and throw themselves into my arms. They knew I would catch them. They didn’t worry about how, they just trusted that I would not let them fall.
Fr Michael – in your life, you are a vivid challenge to us to do the same, to trust ourselves unconditionally, as little children, into the hands of the living God, who will not let us fall. We do not know what life will bring – I don’t suppose that when you first left New Zealand, you had even the smallest idea of how events would unfold. But you dared to say an unconditional yes to God’s future for you.
Any of us may find that terrible things do happen. But you are a living demonstration of the truth of Romans 8:28 – that ‘all things work together for God for those who love God’. This is not to say that all things are good. By no means. But nothing is so terrible that God cannot work in it for good, if we let him.
Indeed, I want to go further and say, however great the evil, the good that God can bring is greater. Easter shows this. The glory of the resurrection more than trumps the devastation of the cross.
And you, Fr Michael, show us this is true in your life. The good that has followed – because you dared to keep on trusting God as his little child – the good that has followed has been far greater than the evil that began it all.
We thank God for his amazing goodness at work within us all – and especially as we see it displayed in your life, Fr Michael. Therefore, let us in turn entrust ourselves into the hands of God even as we boldly root out mediocrity, corruption, greed, malice, inequality, racism, and anything that undermines, demeans and marginalises God’s people and harms our planet in our lifetime.
So we thank God for his angels that watch over us, and – in the words of the collect – we ask that as they inspire us in our worship, they may also strengthen us as they have strengthened you, dear Fr Michael, in our fight against evil.
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip us for every good work, so that we may always live ‘to the glory of God, in the doing of God’s will’. Amen