Angels and Demons

Friday was The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Below are some musings on the subject; but first, take a look at the exorcism portion of the liturgy in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. This section, found in the Book of Common Prayer is sometimes called the renunciations and affirmations section of the baptismal rite.

Q.  Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q.  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q. Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q.  Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
A.  I do.

Q.  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
A.  I do.

Q.  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
A.  I do.

When a priest is ordained, he takes vows to be pastor, priest, and teacher. All three constructs aid the archetype of priest; however, I’ve come to believe there is one underlining metaphor that unites these offices. A priest is a journeyman – not in the sense of journeying alone – but rather, as someone who ‘journeys with’. A priest has been called (by Christ and His Church) to journey with others; and not as the hero, but as a companion along The Way. Put differently, and in the context of parish life, the priest accompanies his parishioners along the hero’s pathway.

I am at my best when I see the parishioners I serve as heroes. I can easily forgive in this mindset. I remember compassion. I do not forsake love. You might say a priest is more Sam Gamgee rather than Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings. Sam was right there by his friend’s side every step of the way. He spoke as needed, but knew the supremacy of silence. He evoked the power of metaphor at times, heard confessions, and gently corrected his hero when necessary. In a variety of situations and quests evil was fought, spirits were restored, and persistence remained.

Although priests are as much flesh and blood as the next person, scripture and tradition teach that there are also spiritual companions to help guide and protect along The Way. Actually, that’s putting it nicely. Angels (who we are celebrating this feast day) are better described as warriors, or maybe even secret-service agents that shield and defend us from the powers and principalities that corrupt our world. Humanity has always had a fascination with good and evil. Judeo-Christian thought has classically personified it. Roman Catholic Bishop, Robert Barron says this about evil incarnate:

“What are his usual effects? We can answer that question quite well by examining the names that the Bible gives to this figure. He is often called diabolos in the Greek of the New Testament, a word derived from dia-balein, to throw apart, to scatter. God is a great gathering force, for by his very nature [God] is love; but the devil’s work is to sunder, to set one against the other. Whenever communities, families, nations, churches are divided, we sniff out the diabolic. The other great New Testament name for the devil is ho Satanas, which means “the accuser.” Perform a little experiment: gauge how often in the course of the day you accuse another person of something or find yourself accused. It’s easy enough to notice how often dysfunctional families and societies finally collapse into an orgy of mutual blaming. That’s satanic work. Another great biblical name for the devil is “the father of lies.” Because God is Truth, truthfulness—about oneself, about others, about the way things really are—is the key to smooth human relations. But how often we suffer because of untruth!””[1]

St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans suggested that nothing, neither death, nor life, nor angels [fallen or otherwise] nor rulers…nor powers…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39). In other words, evil (like death) has lost its sting; yet, that’s not the end of the story. As Christians, we remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory (BCP, 368). We’re still living in the midst of the first two statements, and until Christ comes again [whatever that looks like], those powers of evil (which paradoxically have no power at their root) still persist to tear us (and our world) apart.

These days, a preacher (especially in The Episcopal Church) may get a scoff or two preaching a sermon on angels and demons. “How silly”, they might say. “Fr., haven’t you heard of myth and metaphor?” But I say unto you, “Haven’t you heard of Holy Eucharist, Confession, prayer, the Bible, and spiritual direction, to name a few?” Classically, these have been the tools of spiritual warfare within the world of the Christian. These gifts of the Church not only open us up to God’s love, grace, and goodness; they also protect us from evil like a devouring lion scattering and tearing our souls, communities, and families apart. We have Christ. We have His Church. We have the Angels. We can call on God’s Spirit to help us discern. We can use the sacraments and spiritual tools of the Church to strengthen us. We can call on St. Michael and his army to defend us. All of this is orthodox. It’s nothing new, but modernity casually puts it aside.

As I look around the catholic church today, I often wonder if we have forgotten how to see. Are we invested in too much of the modern spirit that we forget the Spirit of God? Are we so set on ‘not offending’ that we mirror the culture instead countering it? Are we so immersed in the ideology of inclusion and tolerance that we have forgotten Love? Love in the sense that not every idea, behavior, or thought should be given equal value or consideration. Put Biblically, we must practice discerning the spirits. We cannot do this on our own. We need the sacraments. We need prayer. We need study. We need God’s help.

In the story of Jacob’s ladder, we find Jacob wrestling with the angel. Afterwards he proclaims, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.” That may be postmodernity’s mantra. God isn’t in the sacraments. What you need is additional counseling. God isn’t in nature. You only need to study biology. God isn’t real. Mankind created Him. But aren’t these classic temptations from the ‘father of lies’…who desires to violently divorce, separate, dis-order, to set one against the other and God?

Let me go on record and say: Good is real. Sin and evil are real. They reside in us, and in the world. To give into the modern religion of relativism is to claim that there is no Truth, and taking this ideology to its final argument will show that there is no meaning to life. This leaves one in a state of perpetual nihilism that is very hard to overcome. As Christians we claim that these dualities (good and evil; black and white) are finally reconciled in and by and through Christ. We are made one in His Love. In the end, we are not separated because of His Love. Remembering this oneness, and living into this Truth gives us (and the world) hope. It may be an audacious hope, but our faith tells us it’s there.

I started out this blog by musing on the metaphor of a priest as journeyman. Together, let us journey with one another with God in our hearts, and all the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven forever defending us, protecting us, and fighting always for the Good.

[1] Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire Ministries,


Remembering Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17 – Year A – The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” ~Richard Rohr

 “[T]o understand baptism, we must understand the reality, the physicality, of being human, and what it means to say that God saved us by becoming just like us.” ~Steven D. Driver

Throughout scripture, mainly in the writings of St. Paul, we learn that who we really are and why we are has everything to do with Christ. We live, move, and have our being in Christ. We love and are loved in Christ. We forgive and are forgiven in Christ. It was Jesus – The Christ – who taught these things, and lived out these things in His own ministry. By taking on the mind of Christ, and through imitation of Him, we practice His ministry when we, walk in love as Christ loves us. So it is no surprise that many first century Jews and Gentiles imitated Christ through the two sacraments Jesus instituted: Baptism and Communion. Two sacraments we will remember and renew today. Two sacraments that take meaning out and into the world every time gathered Christians are dismissed to go forth in the name of Christ (BCP, 366).

It’s been said imitation is the first form of flattery, and I would argue that humans have been trying to imitate God ever since the beginning. Our ancestors first imitated God by creating. God, the Book of Genesis reads, created the heavens and the earth [and] the earth was a formless void; yet, God formed something out of this void. Likewise, the first humans formed something out of a void through the act of procreation. It can be argued that the family was one of the first expressions of humans creating, and how mind boggling this must have been for earth’s first mother. First there was nothing – then (for Eve) – there was something. A true miracle; and, like all creation God and mankind use what they have around them to create, and in doing so create a new thing.

John the Baptist was creating a new thing out of a very old thing. Just like the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, John the Baptist would wade into the waters of the Jordan, and invite others to do the same. He intuitively knew that water cleansed, that water washed, that water nourished, and anyone who wanted to participate in this new/old thing were welcomed. By baptizing, John’s intention was to publicly name (right then and there) that this person (or persons) have repented. But then, Jesus wades into the waters. They must have been familiar to Him; after all, if we believe in a Trinitarian God, then Christ was present in the very beginning hovering over the face of the deep dark waters. After Christ swept over this water, then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Similarly, Jesus told John, “Let it be so now,” then, the Gospel reads, John consented, Jesus was baptized, and God (yet again) created a new thing. Going back to the book of Genesis, God said that the newly created light was good. Then Matthew’s Gospel reads, that [God] was well pleased with His Son. God always sees the good in His creation and is well pleased with His creativity. God the Father always loves His Son through the Holy Spirit. God, at all times and at all places is constantly inviting us to participate in His goodness. God saved us by becoming just like us. It was a new thing. It was a good thing. It was a holy thing.

This Epiphany, ask yourself what it means to imitate God, to take on the mind of Christ, to live into the waters of creation. Marvel in the miracle of new life, new birth, and new opportunities to co-create with God. Remember your baptism, renew it with Christ’s Body and Blood, then you will be invited to “go forth in the name of Christ. Thanks be to God.” AMEN.



What Should We Do In Our Culture of Fear?* A Lesson from Luke 3:7-18

What then should we do?” The question, coming from a people to a prophet. I can tell John the Baptist is indeed a prophet, not a philosopher, because he does give the people something to do. He gives them a word, and invites them to make it flesh. Isn’t that what any prophet, or preacher, or even a politician desires? That the people whom they serve will actually live into that which they have been called? The trick, I believe, for any prophet, preacher, or politician is to examine themselves, and make sure before they say, or proclaim, or preach, that they are indeed doing the things that they are asking other people to do. They preach what they practice, and they practice what they preach, in other words. Society formalized this practicing what we preach in the form of liturgies, ceremonies, and services. And somewhere in the middle of these ceremonies an oath, or a vow is taken. It’s not taken in private, but in front of God and everybody else. This morning, I thought it be fun to look at a couple of vows and oaths that professionals take. I tried to keep it in the context of today’s story. So, for example, the question, “What then should we do?” Was asked by a crowd first, then specific professionals within that crowd. We have a tax collector and a soldier that forms part of that crowd. Since crowds don’t usually take oaths, I took the artistic liberty to think that maybe there was a couple in the crowd who was married. So, this morning, I’ll be reading marriage vows, an oath of office for a tax collector, and an oath of enlistment for those serving in the United States Army, and finally, since this group has been in the news so much this year, I found a police officer’s “oath of honor” to read to you this morning.

The Marriage Vows (Taken from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 427)

In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my wife, to

have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse,

for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to

cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Each tax collector before entering on the duties of his office shall take and subscribe to the following oath in addition to the oath required of all civil officers:

“I, , tax collector of the County of , do swear that I will

faithfully discharge the duties required of me by law as tax collector, and

that I will diligently collect all taxes required by law for me to collect

and faithfully pay these over to the persons authorized to receive the

same. So help me God.” (

The wordings of the current oath of enlistment [in the United States Army] are as follows:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962). (

Police Officer’s Oath of Honor. Slightly different than the oath taken at office. (

On my honor,

I will never betray my badge,

my integrity, my character,

or the public trust.

I will always have

the courage to hold myself

and others accountable for our actions.

I will always uphold the constitution

my community and the agency I serve.

Many of my own, personal heroes and heroines, are the day-to-day people who put their head down, show up, and do the work that they are supposed to do. They don’t get a lot of praise, mainly because they don’t want the attention. Often times, they don’t even get recognized for the little and the big things that they do to make life a little easier for all of us. The people I’m referring to are definitely not the ‘brood of vipers’ that John is referring to. No. The brood of vipers was those persons and professionals who had forgotten the oaths that they took, had easily misinterpreted the vows that they made, or all together forgot who and whose they were. They were a people whom God had a covenant with, but for some reason, and somehow, they had forgotten this covenant, this promise, this peace. And along comes John the Baptist, and he calls them out. What a good friend John was for not letting the persons he was closest to get away with what they were doing, or how they were acting and reacting. In fact, he called them to repentance. And what exactly were they repenting of? They were repenting of their self-centeredness, their egotism, and narcissism. They had forgotten the oaths they swore to uphold. And what do oaths represent? They represent something that is huge. Some thing that is bigger than us. Something that is bigger than the person taking the oath. The sin (or at least the temptation) is to identify us as It. “I am the one true soldier/tax collector/citizen; therefore, I can take the law into my own hands. I can choose to share when it’s convenient for me. I can do whatever I want.” But like an oath that is bigger than we are, and will be around long after we are gone, John points to the ultimate promise, the ultimate covenant, and the ultimate peacemaker. He points to something paradoxically outside himself, but somehow and some way experiences it as a part of himself; and not only a part of himself but also a part of his brothers and sisters. He points to the Messiah; the anointed one; the Christ: Who was and is and will be forever and ever. Repentance reminds us that we are not It. We are not the center of the universe. That part’s already covered for us. So, when I feel unworthy, I look to God who is worthy. John reminds us of that. When I have forgotten the vows and oaths that I have taken, I turn to God who is still keeping His side of the deal. This is good news. This is grace. This is promised to all. And what a relief. Instead of pushing people to do what you think is right; you are invited to walk alongside of them. “Don’t just do something – stand there,” Bishop Neil Alexander used to say. In other words, pay attention. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” How can we tell who doesn’t have a coat if we are caught up in the cult of busy-ness? “What should we do,” was asked three different times, and John did give the crowd something to do or something not to do, but it was not for the sake of busy-ness. It was for the sake of Being: Being that which God already knew one to be, as well as standing there and living into the oath, the vow, the covenant one had promised to uphold.

In a moment, we’re going to renew our Baptismal Vows, our Baptismal Covenant (found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 292) or promise that we make and made to God, self, and one another. Are there times that we have broken, damaged and dismissed our side of the deal, or even ignored it all together? Are there times when John the Baptist might have called us a “brood of vipers.” Yes. I think so. I’m as guilty as anyone else in this room. But where I find confidence is in remembering who and whose I am. These vows help me to remember this, and challenge me to be on guard, to repent, and to turn to God time and time and time again. And on those weeks where I don’t renew my vows formally, I’m invited to the altar. I’m invited to the table of the Lord to receive something that I am unworthy to receive, yet I do receive it because I worship a God who is worthy. That’s what the people listening to John needed, and that’s what we need right now. Not a politician, policy, or procedure. Not a law, politically correct language, or luxuries. What we need right now is the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ to snap us out of our narcissistic ways, to take us by the hand and walk alongside of us in our day-to-day, moment-to-moment mundane lives. “He coming”, says John the Baptist. “I’ll wipe away your sins with water, but he’ll burn them in the fire of justice.” “I’m unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals, but he’s worthy, so pay attention, be alert, snap out of it, sleepers awake…he’s coming.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when the whole world is scared, and anxious, and fearful, and falling a part. When hearts are hardened instead of softened, and the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, I (for my own sanity) have to look outside myself – not to a politician, policy, or new law, but to Jesus – my Savior. Why? Because there is no fear in him. There is no anxiety about him. He is walking alongside of me, and sometimes in my deepest anxieties, he is carrying me, holding me, and loving me. And it’s funny to say I go outside myself, because really I don’t. I go inside myself, to my inner room, to my heart of hearts where Jesus is whispering to me that everything is going to be okay.

It’s hard to follow Jesus in a culture of fear. It’s hard not to give into the temptation to hate, to suspect, and to ignore. And even though I said that my heroes are the ones who put their heads down, show up, and do the work that they were given to do, I also know that sometimes you just have to be, and let be. Sometimes we have to remember that we can’t figure all of this out on our own. That’s giving into our own narcissistic tendencies. Instead, we go outside our egos by going inside our hearts and discovering that still small voice who’s inviting us to keep alert, to keep awake, to be still and know that I am with you…with you [Brandon, Saint Julian’s, United States of America, Syria, Paris, Charleston, San Bernardino, in your cancer, in your broken family, in your loneliness, anxiety and fear]. I am with you always, says Jesus…even until the end of the age.

*Sermon preached at Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church on the Third Sunday of Advent.


Exorcism in the Church

The Church defines a sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. One example of a sacrament is Holy Baptism where the outward and visible sign is water. The inward and spiritual grace comes from God, and is an act of love between Creat-or and creat-ed. It is an unconditional love, unearned, and undeserved.

Within the rite of baptism there is a lengthy question and answer portion that the minister asks the candidate. This is followed by another Q&A section where the minister asks those who are present to both remember and renew those same words once spoke during this holy sacrament.

Scholars tell us this portion of the rite is a good old-fashioned exorcism. If you don’t believe me, take a look yourself:

Question     Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer       I renounce them.

Question     Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer       I renounce them.

Question     Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer       I renounce them.

Question     Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer       I do.

Question     Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer       I do.

Question     Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Answer       I do.

What do you think? Exorcism, or no? Also, did you notice that the things that were renounced have a cosmic, worldly, and a personal dimension to them? Did you notice that you couldn’t defeat these things on your own? That is why we turn to Christ, and say, “I do” and receive His grace and love. In other words, we need a Savior. We need help. We cannot confront these things on our own.

It is humbling to think that there are powers and principalities in this world that have been here since before we were born, and will be here after we’re gone. Personally, there is both institutional and individual sin that I am so caught up in that most of the time I’m not even able to see (much less) acknowledge it. Most of what I’ve done (or left undone) during the day goes on without full awareness, and I find myself confessing my sins while stumbling all over the place.

It is also humbling to know that the powers of love, grace, joy, and peace (to name a few) will also be here after I’m gone. Candidates for holy baptism are reminded of this when the community gathered around them say they will do all they can to support them in their life in Christ. They follow this up by making verbal promises to persevere with these persons with their own strength, as well as with the help of God. Again, we all need a Savior. We all need help.

What in your life needs an exorcism? What in our world needs an exorcism? Are you aware of your own limits, or do you think that you are like God and limit-less? What cosmic, worldly, and individual sins are you/we/the world caught up in now?

We all need a Savior. We all need help.