October 7, 2018

2018 October7

Proper 22 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

There is a reference to Angels in both the Old Testament and New Testament readings.

 

  • Job 2:1 – One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord
  • Hebrews – having become as much superior to Angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (and other references)


First and foremost: Do you

believe in Angels?


(Get responses)


What is an Angel? (Get responses)


The Bible is not exactly clear on what an Angel is. There are many definitions or references to beings which could be Angels or are translated as the word “Angel”.

 

  • Sons of gods
  • Divine beings
  • Holy ones
  • Ministers
  • Commander
  • Hosts
  • Army
  • Envoy
  • Man of God
  • Watchers
  • Spirits
  • Glorious ones
  • Thrones
  • Authorities
  • Powers
  • and many other descriptive and functional terms.


We have narrowed it down to the Greek word άγγελος which actually means “Messenger.” Indeed, probably the image that comes to mind the most is the Archangel Gabriel announcing the births of John the Baptist and Jesus to Zacarias and Mary, respectively. Gabriel is definitely a Messenger. However, as I just listed, Angels serve as more than just messengers.

 

The history of Angels is complex and varied. Angels feature in the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, as well as in other religions of the Ancient Near East. The different ideas of what an Angel is and does would fill a semester curriculum. So, basically, in modern Western Christianity, Angels are some sort of heavenly beings who serve God and assist in fulfilling God’s will. The Catholics are far more comfortable with the idea of Angels than Protestants are, and they have created somewhat of a cult around Angels like they have with Saints. And of course, we Anglicans approach Angels somewhere in between the Catholics and the full-on Protestants. According to the Episcopal Church website’s glossary:

 

Angels are: Created spirits that are understood to be sent as messengers of God to human beings. Angels are spiritual beings of a different created order from humanity. They are “spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrew 1:14 – one of the verses omitted from today’s Epistle). Angels are pure spirits because they do not depend on bodiliness or matter for existence. Divine interaction with people is often heralded by angels in the Bible. For example, Jesus’ Incarnation and nativity. Angels minister to Jesus after his temptation in the wilderness and before his arrest and crucifixion. An angel rolls back the stone after Jesus’ resurrection. Angels herald Jesus’ victory over death. Angels serve God’s glory and power. Angels are involved in God’s judgment by separating the wicked from the righteous. However (and here is our Protestant side coming through), angels are not to be worshiped (Colossians 2:18).

 

The Church celebrated the Feast of St Michael and All Angels just the other day, on September 29. Michael, himself, is mentioned four times in the Bible: twice in Daniel, once in Jude, and once in Revelation when he fights the dragon. He is also in other literature in which he appears as ‘the great captain’ ‘who is set over the best part of mankind’. The Church throughout history has believed Michael to be the helper of Christian armies against the heathen and the devil. So,


Angels help people

on behalf of God.


Who is familiar with the 1990s TV show “Touched By An Angel”? That show has much to do with our concept of Angels and what they do – or what we want them to do. I never saw the show, but I did some research.


“The show was a supernatural drama series on CBS from 1994 to 2003. It starred Roma Downey, as an angel named Monica, and Della Reese, as her supervisor Tess. Throughout the series, Monica is tasked with bringing guidance and messages from God to various people who are at a crossroads in their lives.”


That sounds pretty cringe-worthy. But, that is what we want. Sometimes as believers, we want Jesus or God to sort out everything for us. The concept of Angels gives us a mechanism by which that can be accomplished. “Come on, Jesus, just send me one of Your Angels to sort out my life for me.” If Jesus sent an Angel to the couple who are planning to divorce (in the Gospel), well, all the problems would go away, and divorce wouldn’t be necessary. Love would prevail.

 

Angels support our belief in an

interventionist God.

 

That sort of stuff happened in “Touched By An Angel”, which made it so popular.

 

Have you ever noticed that Angels for Christmas trees and depicted in film and television tend to be female? Just look at “Touched By An Angel”. In a 1999 People Magazine article, Deepak Chopra is quoted saying,


“I think the real reason the show has become a grassroots phenomenon is that it represents a return to the feminine ideal. The qualities that these angels represent are nurturing and love — that’s what people are looking for.”

 

Yet, only 3 angels in the Bible are given names, and they are all male: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. I don’t want to be sexist and suggest that Angels must be male. Actually, I’m suggesting the opposite: that in popular culture, Angels and those qualities of nurturing and love need to be represented by both male and female. But then we get into the nature of Divine, which becomes complicated, and the fact that Angels are created beings, but not human, so do they even have gender at all? What is important for our understanding of Angels is that they ARE compassionate, and they exist to enable God’s will to be done among God’s people.

 

“Touched By An Angel” has elements of what’s called “shoulder angels”. The reading from Job could easily put a picture in one’s mind of a devil on one shoulder and an Angel on another, sending conflicting messages about what a person should do in a particular situation. Those are called Shoulder Angels and Devils, and they are not just in TV and film.

 

Shoulder Angels and Devils are thought to derive from an early Christian book called The Shepherd of Hermas from around 140–150AD. In it there is a reference to 2 Angels with a man: “one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity”. The Angels enter into the man’s heart and attempt to guide his emotions. Hermas is told to understand both Angels, but to only trust the Angel of Righteousness. Freud comes into this concept, too: The Shoulder Angel represents the Super-ego (the source of self-censorship), and the Shoulder Devil represents the Id (the primal, instinctive desires of the individual).

 

With the introduction of the Angel of Death, Andrew, in Season 2 of “Touched By An Angel”, the show now strengthens the notion that Christians believe in an interventionist God who sends Angels and Devils to tempt and control us. It greatly contradicts the concept of Free Will. Sorting out the degree to which we have Free Will and to which God intervenes is a conversation that would take far too long for a Sunday morning sermon. But let’s suffice it to say that “Touched By An Angel” romanticizes what we want from God when we are in crisis. The Book of Job serves as an early template for a plotline. The Psalm, too, enables us to believe in Angels and call upon God for Divine assistance to come to us in some form or fashion to help us against evil plots and to assist in living a life of integrity.

 

But what about the children about whom Jesus speaks? People often refer to children as Angels. Also, Angels in modern pictures, like for greeting cards, or posters, and Angels as toys or knickknacks tend to be children.

 

If you recall, Jesus exalted children as a means of helping the Disciples understand the degree to which they are to submit to Godly ways through Jesus Himself. I mentioned 2 weeks ago that references to children in Mark’s Gospel may be more about being obedient servants of Jesus. Most children held very low status with little value, they were lowly servants and slaves. True followers are to welcome the worthless children, and be slaves to Christ in order to have access to the Kingdom of God.

 

We, on the other hand, have elevated the status of children. Polite society in the West sees children as the future, and we do all we can to protect them and to cherish them. Perhaps centuries of Christian teaching has engrained in us that which Jesus is trying to teach the Disciples, who, repeatedly in the Gospel of Mark, fail to understand anything that Jesus is teaching them.

 

Is it possible that the reading from Hebrews alongside the end of the Gospel readings might be juxtaposed to tell us something about raising our children? Maybe we are the Angels in their lives. They aren’t the Angels; we are to be the Angels, the Messengers, the Holy Ones, the Ministers, the Watchers.

 

“You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet. What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?”


I don’t believe the humans are Angels. Angels, whatever they are and whatever they do, are in the heavenly realm. But,


if we humans were created to be

just below the Angels, then I

believe that we can be and are

agents of God. We can and do

function as ministers,

commanders, watchers

messengers and even glorious

ones. We can be and are God’s

agents to one another – and

sometimes we fall, and

sometimes we fail. We need to be

God’s agents to our children that

they may grow in faith, hope

and love.


We need to care for our children, not refer to them as Angels. Being an Angel is too much of a burden for them to take on. Let us take on the burden of being God’s messengers to our children, and help them to live with integrity, that they may know that they are blessed as Jesus blessed the Children in the Gospel.


Roma Downey, who played the angel Monica in “Touched By An Angel” was quoted in the New York Times review at the end of the show’s 9-year run:


“Our message was simple:
there is a God and God loves you,

and we’d find pertinent family

situations to remind people

of that.”

 

Let’s do that for our children: daily give them that message that there is a God and God loves them. And what does the Presiding Bishop always say: If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. Maya Angelou clearly understood that when she wrote her poem, “Touched By An Angel”. In it, the word “Angel” is never spoken.


TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL POEM by MAYA ANGELOU


We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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