Guardians of the Soul

Luke 4: 1-13     Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Romans 10: 8b-13             February 14, 2016

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Prayer:  We live in your shelter, O most high God!  Our refuge is found in you, O God.  Let your angels surround us as we awaken to your presence in us and in them.  Amen.

Last Wednesday evening we began this Lenten season with an awareness that there is much speculation about angels, what they are, who they are, where they are, how they work, etc.  But, what we did take a stab at understanding is that perhaps angelic occurrences are more frequent than we might realize, especially if we are awake to God’s activity and presence in our lives.  If our spiritual alertness to God is heightened…  if we’re awake to God’s activity in all the circumstances that we face… if we’re open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the people who come into our lives, then perhaps there will be no shortage of angelic occurrences happening all around us.  We see into things more deeply.  Pouring a cup of coffee for someonemay be just as much of an angelic occurrence for them as another person inviting you and your family over for supper could be for you.  Both involve a spirit of compassion and goodness that reflects God’s compassion and goodness instilled in us, I believe.  When we do good things for and with one another, we say, “Oh, you’re an angel,” right?

So, our spiritual journey for Lent involves what I’m calling a “sacred wakefulness.”  I’m encouraging us to be awake to God’s presence in the circumstances we face and in the people we encounter, believing that these moments could be us entertaining angels unaware.

So, as we go along, we hopefully will be better able to sense God’s angels among us, detecting how they minister to us, perceiving how they might assist or protect us, sometimes in our physical world, which often is through other people, but mostly I think, on the spiritual journey, helping us with the struggles we face, providing aid, often unseen, on our behalf.

In terms of assisting and protecting us in our physical world, most people apparently, believe each of us has our own personal guardian angel.  In 2008, almost 8 out of every 10 Americans believe that each of us has a guardian angel.  That statistic was confirmed in 2011 and again in 2013 (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=5833399&page=1 and http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/, retrieved February 12, 2016).  In fact, 55% of Americans said “Yes” to the statement “I was protected from harm by a guardian angel at some point in my life” (http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/family/item/407-most-americans-believe-in-guardian-angels,retrieved February 12, 2016).

One of the more famous stories comes from the book Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.  In 1980, 25 year old Dave Carr of Bangor Maine felt an inner calling to open a gathering place for the homeless, but he resisted because he didn’t have the resources.  The idea nudged him strongly, though, so one night he decided to just look at possible sites in downtown Bangor.  He was walking around looking at abandoned buildings.  Now Brewer, the city just on the other side of the Penobscot river, had potential sites, so Dave decided, rather than go back to his car, that he would just walk across the bridge.  While on the bridge, another car approached, and three men got out and came toward him menacingly.  He knew he was in trouble, and in fear he said, “God, help me!”  Immediately he felt a presence near him.  And, suddenly Dave’s attackers stopped.  They grew terrified, and bumped and shoved into each other each other as turned in fear back to their car, piled in, and sped off with tires screeching.  “Thank you, God,” Dave whispered.  A few minutes later, a friend of Dave’s named Danny, drove by, honked, but kept going.  The next day, Danny saw Dave and apologized… “Sorry I didn’t stop and pick you up, but I had passengers and I never could have fit all of you in my car.”  “All of us?” Dave asked.  “Those three huge guys walking with you.  They were the biggest people I had ever seen!”  Dave knew God’s angels were with him, and never resisted the calling again, and in 1986, he opened a Bangor coffeehouse for the homeless which apparently still runs today (adapted, cf. Joan Wester Anderson, “Invisible Guardians” in Chicken Soup for Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p. 168-171).

That’s interesting, isn’t it?  The Catholic Church probably has had the most influence upon our cultural belief in guardian angels.  The Church teaches that everyone has a guardian angel based on references in scripture, mostly Matthew 18: 10 which has Jesus talking about little kids being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus says, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their

angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.”  So, the Church has taken Jesus’ words to mean that all people have an angel (http://www.catholic.org/saints/angels/exist.php, retrieved Feb. 12, 2016).

Even Jesus.  Angels announced his birth.  And early on in Jesus’ ministry, he faced the devil who, according to tradition from the Hebrew scriptures, used to be one of God’s angels in the spiritual realm.  But, this angel wanted to enthrone himself and become equal to the Most High God which drove him out from heaven (cf. Isaiah 14: 12-14).  So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the devil knows scripture very well and uses it to tempt Jesus, including the passage from Psalm 91 which states that God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Ps. 91: 11).  But, Jesus knows scripture equally as well, and for every one of the tempter’s uses of scripture, Jesus trumps with scripture references of his own.  And then, interestingly enough, in Matthew’s version of the Temptation story, guess who comes to minister to Jesus as soon as the devil leaves?  Angels! (see Mathew 4: 1-11).

So, whether you believe that every person has an angel who ministers to us, or not, well, that is totally up to you, but suffice it to say, perhaps Jesus’ words, “for God, all things are possible” (Mark 14: 36, Matt. 19: 26) can be applied here.

 In terms of assisting us on our spiritual journeys, especially in the points where we struggle, I wonder if this is a significant role for the angelic presence in our lives.  Maybe angels mostly are the guardians of our souls, tending to our inner spiritual lives.  Perhaps God empowers them to watch over the part of God’s spirit that lives in us, assisting us in nurturing our relationship with God?

Many people struggle with the crisis of the soul.  Sometimes that struggle shows up as depression.  Other times, it manifests itself as intense, never-ceasing questions about God or faith coming from deep within our inner spirit.  Lots of times the struggle comes as we have to deal with calamity, grief, disease, accidents, divorce, death of loved ones.

In the middle of the darkness of those struggles, perhaps that is where God’s angels pay close attention and are at work?  The answers may not come in a flash; resolution to the struggle may be nowhere of sight, but something… someone… some how a divine presence may be helping when we feel a little bit of hope, a little bit of energy, to take the next step.  The next step is all that’s needed. “One day at a time” is a familiar slogan.  Perhaps as we realize that God’s angels are close by and ministering to us in our spiritual lives, what calm assurance we could have in facing the cataclysms of life.  While we do not place our faith directly in angels (remember Jesus was clear: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.”), we can place our faith in God who rules the angels; then we can have peace.

As I think and pray about these concepts, I am drawn to the conclusion that  maybe we are in partnership with God and with God’s angels?  This means that as we face spiritual crises, or decisions of faith, by keeping close to God and understanding that angels working with and for us by God’s command, we will find our way through, on the journey.  When we come to the place on our faith journeys of accepting Jesus Christ into our hearts, and believe in his sovereignty in our lives, and have faith in God who raised him from the grave, not only is God justified in enabling us to experience the power of God’s saving grace, but maybe angels, under God’s direct orders, are also there to help us.   And as we are helped, might we also become an angelic presence in the lives of others?

A woman named Robin Johnson wrote in an email while she was in the hospital to the editor of a Christian magazine.  She said, “Presently I am in the hospital.  I have been here eight days.  Throughout these eight days I have been in contact with one angel.  When you have a close relationship with God you can recognize God at work in your life and in the lives of others.  Nurse Kathy [is my angel.  She] turned around my attitude and my physical recovery by her care” (Robin Johnson, in e-mail correspondence with Homiletics. http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?keywords=%22angel%22&imageField2.x=5&imageField2.y=11, retrieved February 12, 2016).  I think it’s possible that Nurse Kathy acted in angelic ways becoming aguardian of Robin’s body and her soul.

Robin was awake to a possible angelic occurrence.  She was actively engaged in a sacred wakefulness, being alert to a holy presence in her nurse who tended to the physical and spiritual parts of her life. Robin may not even had known it. If we’re awake to God’s activity in all the circumstances that we face… if we’re open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the people who come into our lives, then perhaps there will be no shortage of angelic occurrences happening all around us.

I pray we grow in sacred wakefulness.  Amen.