Sermon for Michaelmas

Once upon a time, in a land not far away, there was a seminary where lucky young men and lucky young women came to train for the priesthood and open their lives to all that God was hoping for them.

It was a place that I knew but did not study in myself but a place that some of you may well have known and visited in its day.

Now this seminary was, like St Mary’s a bit of an international place. It was somewhere that people from all over the world would drop into for a couple of months of Sunday. It was like a liturgical finishing school for the world. It was good in those days (and still is a good thing I fear) for you to have had a bit of time in a British seminary if you were studying for the Anglican priesthood from furth of these shores and wanted to climb the slippery slope of clerical advancement.

And thus the seminary in question used to admit external students from time to time.

And one of these students arrived in this place. He came from a part of Anglicanism where Portuguese was the dominant language and though he had studied English, it was a hard work at first for him to communicate.

Well, he arrived and was shown to his room and the first time he met the student body was the next morning for breakfast.

As he stirred his porridge and gave thanks for his good fortune, he looked up at the other students and said, “Last night. Last night the Virgin Mary came to me – she told me everything would be OK”.
And the student body was perturbed.

For though this is the kind of thing that Mary is often said to be wont to do, it was somewhat outside their experience.

It became something of a sensation. Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in a seminary of the College of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Who in the church wouldn’t have something to say about that?
The weeks went on and the foreign student spent more time imbibing the culture and the language around him. And towards the end of his time in Edinburgh for it was in that great city that this took place, he woke up one morning and went down to breakfast.

The porridge was stirred and his new friends were all around him.

“Do you know what”, he said, “I dreamed about the Virgin Mary again last night. I guess things are going to be OK”.

And the student body turned to him in surprise – “What do you mean a dream?” they asked as one. You mean it was all a dream all along?

“What’s the difference?” came the answer.

Now I tell that story because I think it is an interesting one and because it may throw some light not only on the feast that we celebrate today but also throw some light on who we are who gather here to celebrate it.

You see – there is this persistent belief in angels that I find it hard to speak with any certainty about.

And my hunch is that as we listen to stories of the angels climbing Jacobs ladder or of St Michael swooping down from heaven fighting evil and putting the world to rights, I am aware that we won’t all be reading it the same way.

And you know what, I delight in that.

And I want to use this feast as a reminder that people gather here in this place and manage on a weekly basis to celebrate the miracle of religious worship amongst people who are not the same, who are not alike and who don’t think the same things.

It is one of the joys about being here personally but it is also a glimpse of the kingdom and hope for the world.

For one of the biggest questions of our age is whether people of difference can mingle and coexist and thrive cheek by jowl.

In a church like this one, there are people who see and hear angels. There are also those who spend their time deconstructing the very idea of the miraculous realities.

There are folk who know that the world is not merely physical. And there are people studying the world sure that it most certainly is.

And you know what? I think it is marvellous, wonderful, incredible and miraculous that we manage to worship together – breaking open the same word of God and finding it feeds us all according to our earthly needs and god given personalities. For we are not all alike. Yet God meets us here.

I’m not joking when I say that some people see and hear angels here. I’ve had several reports of such sightings in the last year.

Most notably a report that someone saw an angel hovvering up in the rafters near the organ enjoying the singing.

I have to say I’ve not seen the same myself, but if I was an angel looking out for someplace fun to worship on a Sunday, perched on one of the rafters in St Mary’s hardly seems like the worst option.

I was in one of the other churches in the diocese yesterday for an ordination and was struck by the way there were angels all over the building. Right over the alter there was Gabriel with a lily to chuck at Mary and Michael standing by with a sword ready to swoop down upon us all.

If you add Raphael to that little group you’ve got the three archangels we know by name.

And you know what, I don’t care a bean how you interpret them. For it is what they mean that matters to me not the whys and wherefores.

I’m interested in the messages that angels bring and not in how many angels can dance on a theological pinhead of an argument.

The Archangel Gabriel came to bring news to Mary that God was with her in such a special way. (And people of St Mary’s I tell you the same message is true for you today for you are all pregnant with the good

The Archangel Michael swoops down with the heavenly host to put wrong things right and makes sure we know that the battle between good and evil will ultimately be won. And in a time when our government is undermining welfare and when the international community seems further than ever from peace then I’m prepared to stand up and look as foolish
as anyone wants to see me in saying I believe in knowing right from wrong and fighting for it.

And Raphael whom we know less well still comes bearing a name that promises healing and reminds us when we think about the angels that healing is part of the natural order and that our ultimate spiritual destiny is to be divided and fragmented no more but whole and wholesome in ourselves and to one another.

And those are just the angels we know by name.

How much more goodness does God have for us and for the world God has put us in to change for the better?

The angels are not too obvious in St Mary’s. Gabriel is up far behind me telling Mary in her local tenement flat that, ready or not, God is coming.

But the angels that I love best in the murals here are those who are caught up in the trees in the mural in St Anne’s chapel on my right.

The scene is the West End – Kelvingrove park in fact. Not only is the gospel unfolding in a scene that most of us know very well.

But you’ll find if you look that the trees have not only leaves but angels in them.

Your task this week is to take a walk through Kelvingrove and see if they are still there.

Angel-spotting is a hobby worth pursuing.

Angels are God’s messengers – they tell us things.

God loves us. God is with us.
God will help us put all wrongs to right.
When do you hear them? When do you see them? When do you discover
those things are true?


  1. ‘breaking open the same word of God and finding it feeds us all according to our earthly needs and god given personalities’.

    Ought to be emblazoned over the door of every church.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Azrael – is that not the named fourth great archangel?

    • Oh, I knew someone was going to get picky about other Archangels.

      I deliberately said something about them being named in the bible. Raphael sneaks in because of Tobit.

      I think if you want to bicker you’ve a better case with Uriel than Azrael.

      Azrael is better know in Islam and Sikhism (oddly) than in Christianity. Uriel meanwhile gets a singsong in the Creation. However, Raphael, Gabriel and Michael have got a bit more of a secure biblical foundation.

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    The more archangels the better, mind you …

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