Gates of Heaven


The Pas                       19th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 25

Proper 21 – Ordinary/Lectionary 25 – Pentecost + 19

St Michael and All Angels

Year C

25 September 2016


Genesis 28:10-17

Psalm 103:19-22 pg 842

Revelation 12:7-12

John 1:47-51

God who created all things, seen and unseen, make us messengers of your compassion, so that with Michael and the hosts of heaven we may end ancient conflicts and pave the way for justice, kindness and humility; through Christ, the firstborn of creation. Amen.



Looking at the readings for today, I’m struck, not just by the emphasis on St. Michael and All Angels, which is our theme for today, but also on the emphasis of belief and how that relates to our lives of faith.


In our gospel passage, today, Jesus tells Nathanael “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (Jn 1:50)


Jesus isn’t asking Nathanael a question; rather he’s making a statement. Yes, Nathanael believes that Jesus is the messiah, “the Son of God, the king of Israel,” because Jesus said he saw him under the fig tree and declared that Nathanael is “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Yet, Jesus is also in earnest when he tells Nathanael that he will see even greater things than this realization of Jesus as the Messiah, than the spontaneous declaration that Jesus is “the Son of God; the king of Israel.” (Jn 1:47-51) Nathanael has entered the presence of the divine, and has reacted as spontaneously as we see Peter declaring that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God, to Jesus question “who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:27)


Even in our reading from Genesis, we read that “when Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.’” (Gen 28:16)


As he rises, this morning, getting up from where he slept on the ground with his head on a stone, Jacob looks at the terrain around him. He sees the wilderness on all sides. He sees the clear blue sky, and the rising of the sun. He hears the babbling of the nearby stream, and the dawn song of the birds in the shrubs and trees all around. Yet, here, in the middle of all of this wilderness he wakes up and declares aloud: “This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:17)


Jacob makes his spontaneous declaration, this firm statement of belief and faith because of his dream; his dream of angels ascending and descending a staircase, in this place. His dream of meeting God, and of hearing God’s promise to him, renewing God’s promise to his ancestor Abraham. God’s promise to be with him always, and throughout the generations.


Throughout this experience Jacobs faith, something that has lain dormant in the back of his mind, his experiences, his life until now, becomes a living guiding force in his life. His faith allows for God to enter in and to carry out the promises made to Abraham, promises that are fulfilled by Moses lifetime.  


Does it mean Jacob lives his life differently? Probably not; but it does mean that he’s aware that belief and faith are active parts of life and that the angels are proof that God interacts with the world, with creation, every day.


In our gospel, Nathanael has been searching his whole life for the Messiah, or for signs of the Messiah. He is a descendant of Jacob, so he knows of God’s promise to Abraham, to Jacob – that all of the peoples of the earth will be blessed through the Israelites, through the people of God.


At the same time, Nathanael knows of the history of his people, and of the world. he knows how they’re currently conquered by the Romans. That the Israelite people are just one race among many that now makes up the Roman Empire, under Roman rule and governorship.


Nathanael is already a man of faith, of belief. Yet he is searching because he longs to see the world blessed by the Israelite people in fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob. He longs to see his people free, and living lives to the fullest, contributing to the wold as God gives them gifts and talents and ability to do so.


He longs to see, to meet, to experience “the Son of God, … the king of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) He longs to see the fulfillment of prophesy and law.


What we know is that Phillip tells him “’We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph form Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Phillip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” (Jn 1:45-46)


Isn’t it interesting how God works with what’s familiar in our lives to teach us how to have an even deeper belief, faith in the working of God?


Jacob was just travelling from here to there, and he encounters God’s majesty, God’s magnificence, God’s house and the Gate of Heaven, in the wilderness. In one night his entire world, all of his perceptions are turned on their ear, not just today, but for the rest of his life.


Nathanael has hopes and dreams of seeing the fulfillment of God’s prophesy with in his lifetime; and today Phillip brings him to meet the Son of God, although he comes from Nazareth.


Every day, too, are invited to encounter God in the circumstances of our lives. We, too have the opportunity to encounter God, to encounter Christ in our day-to-day routine.


Every day we have the opportunity to be surprised by God’s love, God’s mercy, and especially by God’s grace. When he was here, a couple of weeks ago, Bishop Bill reminded us that God’s grace and mercy are gifts that we can do nothing to deserve. God’s grace and mercy come to us when we need them the most, when we find ourselves mired in the conundrums of our lives. God’s grace and mercy are gifts that are given to us, that we can do nothing to earn, yet, because of God’s love for all of humanity, they are offered to us, along with faith and belief, renewed each day.


At the same time, our bishop tells us that we are to look for ways to be surprised by the gospel, by the in-breaking of God’s love in our lives, in the world, and especially in the pages of the gospel. In our gospel, Jesus tells Nathanael “very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51)


Unless you were looking at the text, and looking at it closely, Jesus words ‘heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ are in single quotation marks, which means Jesus is referring to Jacob’s dream.


Jacob, in his dream, sees the angels ascending and descending on the stairway between heaven and earth.


At the same time, we experience Jesus, even at the beginning of his ministry, at the beginning of the book of John, we see Jesus fulfilling prophesy, as Phillip stated to Nathanael.


Today, we see Jesus’s words to Nathanael foreshadowing the crucifixion. Even now, we are able to see Jesus on the cross. We are able to see the crucifixion as the place of our faith, the place in which we discover not only our faith, and our belief, but we also discover God’s grace and mercy.


We discover, now, at the beginning of Jesus ministry not only the Gates of Heaven, on Golgotha, but we also discover that our faith exists at the foot of the cross, and we discover God’s mercy and grace, for all who believe.


Today, as we focus our energies, our attentions on St Michael and the Angels. We remember that the angels are God’s messengers, and God’s warriors. We rediscover that God is still interacting with the world all around us.


We discover that God sends his messengers, the angels, to us to guide us in our lives. To guide us in ways that will show us the splendour and the majesty of God; to guide others to find the gates of heaven in the world around us, to see the in breaking of the kingdom of God, in our hearts and in our lives.


Today we see the experiences of Jacob, and Nathanael as they both see God’s majesty in the world. We see how God and the angels are a apart of not only today, but every day in their acknowledgement of God’s desire to be a part of our lives, as well as the lives of all who believe.


Moreover, these experiences didn’t come to Jacob, to Nathanael because they ‘stood out from the crowd.’ Rather they came to them because God is willing to work in their lives, to bring fulfillment to God’s desire to be a part of God’s creation. Jacob and Nathanael are our examples, today, of God’s love working in our lives, and in our hearts.


There are many generations between Jacob and Nathanael. There are many prophesies, there are many opportunities not mentioned in today’s readings where angels have been instrumental in the fulfillment of God’s word. There are many people, many families, many examples of faith and life that have been touched by the love of God.


We acknowledge that when Jesus breaks the bonds of sin and death, that the angels rejoice, that Nathanael is able to see them ascending and descending on the Son of Man.


Today we are invited, by none other than God, to open our eyes, and to open our hearts to the inmost workings of God for our lives, and for the whole world.


We are reminded that the gate of heaven exists not only in the wilderness, but also on the cross, and in the depths of our hearts as well.


We are invited to see God in the mundane, in the everyday workings of the world around us, not just through the Holy Spirit, but through the messages of the angels. We are invited to experience God through our hearts and lives, as we experience the love, the grace, and the mercy of God, every day.




About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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