Be a Michael
My theme for you today is the apostles’ prayer, “Lord, increase our faith.”
The Book of Daniel can be found in the Old Testament. One of the stories that so many times are highlighted in Sunday School is about Daniel and his friends being thrown into the fiery furnace. As we know, they came through the flames unscathed.
It is good to remember then, that sometimes the flames that appear to surround us may not be quenched, but still we may come through unscathed – although, perhaps, a little unnerved!
At any rate, scholars tells us that the background of the book portrays the life of Israel under the exile and captivity under the powerful kings of Babylonia, Media, and Persia, sometime six hundred years before the birth of Christ.
The book very much is about the story of Daniel and his friends. There we learn about the life of the Hebrew people living away in exile but, nevertheless, trying to live their “regular” Jewish faithfulness to God. The book, we are told, in general seeks to address the challenging issues of Jews living “by the rivers of Babylon,” where they could not resign themselves to praise God (Psalm 137).
In Chapter 10 we find the story of Daniel having a vision while he prayed by the banks of the Tigris River. The story tells us that he had been praying and fasting for about three weeks.
In the vision, Daniel saw someone like a blazing angel addressing him in this way, “Daniel – From the very first day that you began to pray, your prayer was heard, and I came to you because of your prayer.”
And the story continues to explain what was going to happen and the forthcoming liberation and return of the exiles to their promised land.
But first, I’d like to highlight are the opening words of the Angel from God, “Your prayer was heard since the first day that you began to pray in earnest.”
Praying to gods is quite common in all religions. Some pray to the gods of rain, or war, or fertility. Even in eastern religions prayer is usual, but with no real expectation that a particular god will consider the prayer. Prayer is understood more as process of spiritual growth.
Jewish and Christian prayer, on the other hand, is based in the belief that God indeed will listen to our prayers and will act accordingly. Not necessarily being answered as we want but, as we say every Sunday, “as may be best for us” (A Prayer of St. Chrysostom, BCP, page 126).
Jesus told his disciples, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7). Again, Jesus encouraged his disciples to get their act together and seek God, for whatever “two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you,” (Matthew 18:19).
And through all the story of the Church, beginning with the apostles all the way to our day prayer is made in the expectation that it will be heard and answered, as I said, “as it may be best for us.”
If as the Collect of the Day affirms, God is “always more ready to hear than we to pray,” then, the main requirement of prayer is that we pray. Saying “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers” is not good enough. The problem of prayer getting a bad rap is that people don’t pray and yet they expect their prayers to be answered!
But what Daniel’s story teaches us is that whenever we dedicate ourselves to pray and to gain insight into God’s will, our prayer will be heard. In other words, I do realize that the pressure of life reduces prayer just to an email to God. But the point is that prayer sometimes requires us to apply ourselves to prayer.
And if you do so, here is the good news. Your prayer will be heard from the very first moment.
But there is more. And perhaps, it may help us to understand that sometimes prayers take time to be answered – even if they are heard from the very first minute.
In the story we are told that the Angel sent to answer Daniel’s prayer was delayed in his way by powerful forces. Then, as the story goes, Michael, another angel, came to do battle against the forces that blocked the answer to Daniel’s prayer.
What I believe that the story is trying to teach us is that even if our prayer is heard almost instantly, for some reasons that we may not understand, our prayer may take time to be answered.
Let me suggest that, sometimes, the answer to our prayers may not be as straightforward as we believe it should be. Sometimes involves moving people in or out of our way, or circumstances that we may not be aware need to be in place for us to get the answer “as may be best for us.”
Or to be honest, perhaps we need to change and mature so we can handle what in our childishness we believe we can handle now right off the cuff.
Finally, let me suggest, the story teaches us that there may be a role for us to play in getting prayers being answered. And it is this – “Be a Michael.”
Become someone who can fight to see that God’s will is done here on earth as it is in heaven. Be the one that can fight so someone else can receive the answer to their prayers.
In fact, this is what we already do every Sunday.
Every time we pray for Bishop Stevenson, we are fighting to make his episcopate faithful and of rich blessing for the people of Virginia. That he, as the Prayer Book says, will “encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries and to nourish them with the riches of God’s grace.”
Every time we pray for the civil authorities, we are fighting for them so they can become agents of peace and unity and true leaders seeking to serve and not be served. Every time we pray we seek that they may be able to bring us together rather than pushing us apart.
Every time we list the names of those who entrusted to our prayers, we unite with them in fighting the good fight, seeking that God in his goodness may heal and help them in their distress or their needs. Perhaps, in a way, every time we pray for them, we may be fighting for the answer to a prayer that they may not have dared to pray.
But there is more. Perhaps as individuals there is a place for us to be a Michael. Every time we uplift someone, every time we encourage those who are burdened by the changes and chances of life, and every time we go out of our way to help those in need, perhaps unwittingly, we are turning into a Michael for them.
My prayer for you and for me is that we may become more and more aware of our role as Michael, the one who comes to the aid of those who are waiting in prayer.
And this is my sermon for you today. I trust that in God’s goodness the answer to the prayer of the apostles, “Increase our faith,” may be richly answered today and in the days to come. Amen.