Heb. 12: 22-24, 28, 13: 1-3 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Isaiah 58: 6-12 February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
Prayer: Blessed be you, O God, and our Lord Jesus Christ and all your angels, and all on earth who bless your holy name. Amen.
Are there angels among us? Have we been entertaining them completely unaware? These are good questions to ponder as we embark upon this Lenten worship series tonight. My thanks to our Worship Team A members as they try out their thespian skills!
There has been a good deal of speculation over the centuries about exactly what angels are. And, the short answer is: “Who knows?” Only God knows.
The longer answer is, amid all the speculation, that they are the subject of speculation. In our human understanding, many people frequently will think of angels as celestial beings with halos, wings, and are cute, little girly creatures that fly around blowing trumpets, like at Christmas time—take a look a that banner. Others will picture them as supernatural beings in human form that appear as helpers at the right time in our lives and are gone as soon as they’ve accomplished their purpose. Think “It’s A Wonderful Life” or the hit TV show of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Touched By An Angel.
The Bible states that angels are real. They’ve been created by God. There are over 300 references to angels, both directly and indirectly throughout both testaments of the Bible. They are God’s messengers whose chief business is to carry out God’s will, whatever that may be, but most often, it’s assisting God as spirits among us, ministering to us (see Heb. 1: 14).
Scripture also affirms that angels belong to the spiritual dimension of God’s creation which we as humans have limited or no ability to see with our eyes, but can perceive with our hearts. Apparently, angels can move from the spiritual realm into our realm and back again because the spiritual realm is right here, all around us,only our eyes have the metaphorical veil over them. We cannot see this part ofGod’s realm in all its glory… not yet, anyway.
And, Scripture affirms that there are good angels and not-so-good ones. Some of the good ones are God’s warriors and agents; some bad ones have gotten lost, even “fallen” out of heaven, which is perplexing all by itself.
So suffice it to say, what angels actually are, compared with what we think they are, may be wide open for debate.
I wonder if how we understand angels has a lot to do with how awake we are to angelic occurrences in our lives. My guess is, if your angel has to have wings with a halo, chances are you’re going to miss a lot of angelic occurrences. If you’re looking for an angel to be a magical, mystical creature that can appear and disappear like magic, and do miracles like magic, then I bet you’re still be looking for one.
What if, on the other hand, we are able to perceive that God is an active participant in our lives, sending us “angels” all the time? Angels that may be in the form of a person who responds to our need? We might say that the person who reached out to you as you struggled with the death of your loved one was an angel, for example. An angel may be the one who confronts you with tough love and challenges behavior that is unhealthy to you and others. Are we awake to these kinds of angelic occurrences? Do we see God’s activity in them?
Kind of reminds me of an adaptation of a fictitious, silly, but familiar of story of a man whose home on an island was getting flooded out by a hurricane. As the water rose up and up, he went higher and higher in his house, but he knew God would come and save him. Finally as the rising water forced him onto his roof top, a helicopter flew overhead, and a voice over the loudspeaker said, “Take hold of the rope!’ But, the man refused. “God will come and save me!” he cried back. The helicopter left. A few minutes later, a boat came by and the emergency responder guy shouted to the man, “Get into my boat. I’ll take you to safety.” “That’s alright,” the man shouted back. “God will save me!” The boat left. Well, the water rose up so much that it overtook the man, and in the current, he drowned. In the afterlife, he
went immediately to God and said, “Why didn’t you come and save me?” And God replied, “Who do you think sent my angel to fly the helicopter and pilot the boat?”
If we are willing to look at every circumstance in our lives as a circumstance that God is active in, then perhaps there will be no shortage of angels in our lives. Your spouse may have angelic qualities. Yes? Maybe? Your co-worker who stepped up on your behalf may remind you of an angelIPossibly? If we see someone standing up for someone who’s been wronged, perhaps we might awaken and see that as angelic activity? If we see someone fighting against injustice, maybe we’re seeing an angelic occurrence taking place? Someone who loosened the bonds and undid the yoke? Someone who let the oppressed go free?
Last night, I saw the last half of the movie Schindler’s List. Oh my gosh! I’ve seen it several times, and in light of tonight’s message, I can’t help but wonder if Oskar Schindler resembled an angel among those Jews. He saved 1100 Jewish people from certain death by purchasing them to work in his factory that produced faulty mortar shells for the Third Reich. The most riveting part of the movie for me was at the very end when he broke down and sobbed, crying out, “I could have save more. I could have saved more!” And Ishtak Stern says, “you did enough.”
A person who does a good thing for another person often is called an angel. Sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless in… Angelic? Perhaps when we heard our governor say that Pennsylvania would welcome Syrian refugees, we witnessed something of an angelic occurrence?
These are just examples, but Isaiah’s words from God are clear. When we do things such as these, then shall your angelic light break forth like the dawn! Your light shall rise in the darkness, and even your worst moments will be as bright as the noonday sun. God loves it, I believe, when these things happen.
The letter to Hebrews is also clear. The letter is really a sermon that gives instructions at the end to all the Jewish folks who have become Christians (see Hebrews 12:22-24, 13: 1-3). The instructions are for them to thank God, to offer reverent worship filled awe, to let mutual love continue, and to show hospitality to everyone.
The author encourages those folks to follow these instructions all the time, because you never know who you might be showing hospitality to—could even be someone of divine origin, with holy importance, like an angel.
It’s the “cover all bases” mentality. If you show love and hospitality to everyone all the time, you don’t have to worry that you didn’t have that base covered if and when someone of divine importance does show up.
Of course, each of us is “someone of divine importance” to God, right? Each of us might be and can be angels among us, but each of us may also need God’s help in seeing another person as someone of divine importance, too.
So, during this season of Lent, I invite you onto a spiritual journey that takes you to places of being awake to angelic occurrences and angelic people in your life, while you actively grow toward being an angel in the light yourself. Light awakens awareness. May God help us all be God’s angelic ministers, ministering to and with each other. Amen.