Tag: god’s messengers

Entertaining Angels: Open to the Numinous

Entertaining Angels:  Open To The Numinous

2Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:2 NIV

Where Were We?

Our return to worship today after two weeks out due to snow reminds me of those old serialized radio shows that were so popular back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Before we got our first TV, I remember sitting at the kitchen table listening to The Lone Ranger on the radio. As each new episode began, the voice-over to the action went something like this —

When we last saw our hero, he was trapped in a burning building with no way to escape.  Will he survive, or is this the end of the Lone Ranger?

Or something like that.  Anyway, the point was to bring the listener up-to-date on the action.  So, let me do the same today.

The last time we met, which was January 24, 2010, I had just begun a series of sermons on angels.  Here’s what we covered so far:

— On January 3, we started off with the first sermon titled, “Who Are Angels and Why Do We Need Them?”

— On January 10, we looked a “Angels as the Servants of Christ.”

— Then, on January 17, after the earthquake devastated Haiti, I addressed that tragedy with a sermon titled, “Who Sinned? The Problem of Human Suffering.”

— On January, 24, we thought about “Angels as the Messengers and Armies of God.”

So, that’s where we’ve been.  We have filled in the gaps from Sundays on Wednesday nights as we shared our own stories of God’s supernatural intervention in our lives.  Interestingly, most of us had some kind of story, that either happened to us or someone close to us, of an encounter with angels.  Or, at least, that’s how we each interpreted those events.

So, today, we’re back, but I’ve had to do some rearranging of the topics I intended to cover because I want to finish this series before February 28, when we will have the privilege of hearing our Baptist association’s furloughing missionaries, Rev. and Mrs. Ed Ridge, for WMU Focus Sunday.  By then we’ll be in the season of Lent, and preparing for Holy Week and the resurrection of Christ on Easter.  Time, as they say, waits for no man.  Or even angels.

Which brings me to our topic today.  This series of sermons on angels is titled, “Entertaining Angels.”  Each week the subtitle reveals where we’re going for that Sunday, and today is no exception.

Today, we’re looking at Hebrews 13:2, from which I took the series title, and we’re thinking about being “Open to the Numinous.” What, you might ask, is “the numinous?”

Well, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “numinous” means —

Main Entry: nu·mi·nous
Pronunciation: \ˈnü-mə-nəs, ˈnyü-\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin numin-, numen numen
Date: 1647

1 : supernatural, mysterious
2 : filled with a sense of the presence of divinity : holy
3 : appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense : spiritual

So, that’s what we’re thinking about today, and that was really one of the main reasons I wanted to do this series on angels — to get us to thinking about the fact that God is still active in our world, and that his messengers, God’s holy angels, are still ministering today just as they did before any human beings were around to encounter them.  That’s what the numinous is — an encounter with the divine, the holy.  Like the stories we told about our encounters with angels.

But too often we treat those “angel stories” as the exception, when in the Bible and in the Hebrew tradition that ranges back over 3500 years, encounters with God and God’s angels were expected, anticipated, and cherished.

Entertaining Angels Unawares

I like the old way the King James Version of our Bible translates the passage we read this morning —

2Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. — Hebrews 13:2 KJV

There’s a quaintness to the King James’ English that is in itself mystical:  “…some have entertained angels unawares.”

When Alan Jones, the former Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, made a trip to Egypt several years ago, he visited the Coptic Monastery of St. Macarius the Egyptian.  Macarius was one of the legendary “Desert Fathers” — Christians of the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ who retreated to the desert to escape the decadence of urban life, and the lack of spiritual vitality in the Church of their day.  So, even after 1500 years, some things don’t change!

Jones said that when he arrived at the monastery, he was greeted by an old monk named Father Jeremiah.  Father Jeremiah’s long beard and friendly manner captivated Jones.  What struck Alan Jones the most was that here he was, an Episcopal priest of some considerable standing, visiting a Coptic monastery, and yet he was welcomed without a word of discussion or debate about the differences between the two traditions.

Father Jeremiah gave him a tour of the grounds, including the tombs of John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophet Elisha.  Ancient tradition said that the two great prophets of God — one of the Old and one of the New Testament — were buried side-by-side.  Their remains, called relics, had been venerated for generations, and had been moved to Alexandria at one time.  But in 1976, the remains of both had been brought back and re-buried at the monastery.

After Father Jeremiah related that story, he paused for a moment.  He smiled and said,

“Of course, it does not matter whether you believe any of this or not.  All that matters here is brotherly love.”

Jones said that as his visit concluded, Father Jeremiah presented him with three gifts — a handful of flowers and herbs gathered from the monastery gardens, a meal to refresh and sustain him, and 3 vials of oil for healing.  All three gifts were presented without introduction or explanation, as though they could speak for themselves.

When Jones commented on the hospitality of the monastery, Father Jeremiah replied with a laugh —

“We always treat guests as angels, just in case!”

Our Ministry to Angels

And, that’s my point today.  When we think of angels, we usually think about what they do.  They deliver God’s messages to humankind.  They protect us.  They deliver us.  They watch over us.  They do battle for us.  They minister to us.

But what about our ministry to the angels?  Do we have one?  And, if so, what is it?  How do we go about ministering to angels?  And, how will we know when we have done it?

Well, our scripture today gives us some help.  The author of Hebrews is concluding his letter to the band of believers in chapter 13.  In the first verse he says —

1Keep on loving each other as brothers.

Then in the verses that follow verse 2, he says —

3Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

And right away, we’re reminded of the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus taught the disciples to love each other, so much so that he said to them, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

But, he also taught them to care for others.  In that important passage in Matthew 25, as the angels have come at the end of time to help Christ in the final judgment, Jesus commands the angels to separate the sheep from the goats.  The sheep are those who have heard the Good Shepherd, and the goats are those who have not.

And what did the sheep do that pleased Jesus?  You know this passage —

35′For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Paul echoes the words of Jesus in his last instructions to these Jewish Christians — love each other, entertain strangers, visit the prisoners, and care for the suffering.  And when you do those things, you might be entertaining angels, whether you know it or not.

Receiving Others as God’s Messengers

We most often think of angels making an appearance like the angels who appeared when Jesus was born.  Apparently their presence was so dazzling and glorious that the shepherds who were tending their flocks that night were terrified.  And so the angels said, “Fear not, for behold we bring you good tidings of great joy!”

And while there are other passages where the first words out of the mouths of angels are “Fear not”, there are also stories of angels appearing to people, but they look like ordinary men.  Three angels appear to Abraham and Sarah, telling them that Sarah will have a child.  Sarah laughed at that news because she was in her 90s and Abraham was close to 100.

Way back on January 3, when we began this look at angels, we said that angels are the messengers of God.  We need to be open to those who might be God’s messengers to us, who might teach us something we need to know about ourselves and about God’s love.

When we lived in Tennessee, we attended a large church whose membership consisted largely of professionals — doctors, lawyers, business executives, university professors, and research scientists.   But the church was a warm and welcoming congregation, and there was also an open door for those who were not career professionals.

One of those people was a man named Harrington.  Harrington was probably in his 50s, with grey hair and a short grey beard.  It was apparent that Harrington had some challenges.  His speech pattern was halting and words came with some difficulty.  Debbie and I had been asked to host the class for prospective church members, which met for 13-weeks in the church fellowship hall.  Harrington was one of our regulars.  If he wasn’t there for the entire session, he usually came in toward the end, and he would stick around while we were cleaning up to talk to me.

Frankly, Harrington made me a little nervous.  I wasn’t sure about him, and tried to keep my conversations with him as brief as possible.  I asked the pastor about Harrington, and was told that he had suffered some difficulty at birth, but that his family had been a wealthy and respected family in the Nashville area.  That put me somewhat at ease, but I still wondered about him.

One day, Harrington approached me at church with a pen and his notebook in hand.  He handed me both and said, “Write down your address.”  That was the sum total of his request, no explanation, no reason given.  All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind — Why does he want our address?  Is he going to come to our house?  How can I not do this?

But, in the 3-seconds it took me to think those thoughts, I couldn’t come up with any way to avoid fulfilling his request.  So, reluctantly and with great concern, I wrote our address in his book.  I noticed others had done the same, so I figured that Harrington had made the rounds of his church friends with the same request.  That was in November.

Nothing happened.  No Harrington appeared at our home uninvited, and I forgot about the experience.  About a week before Christmas, I went to get the mail, and there were several Christmas cards for us.  Not surprising, since Christmas was around the corner.

As we looked at the Christmas cards, there was one with no return address.  We opened the envelope, and the card to see who had sent it.  Inside, signed in a halting hand, were the words, “Merry Christmas, Harrington.”

And right then I felt like the worst person on earth.  Harrington wanted our address to send us a Christmas card.  I am sure it must have taken him weeks to prepare and mail the cards to all his friends at church.  What came so easily to us, came with great effort to Harrington.  Which made the card that much more special.

When we saw Harrington at church the next Sunday, we thanked him for his card.  Later, he invited us to have lunch with him at the restaurant where he worked.  Harrington became a good friend, one whose conversations I looked forward to.  Harrington was God’s angel, delivering a powerful message from God  — “I am one of God’s children, too.”

An Ancient Celtic Prayer

There is an ancient Celtic prayer that Debbie and I have read many times.  This version appears in the book, Celtic Daily Prayer, and it reads —

Christ, as a light

illumine and guide me.

Christ, as a shield

overshadow me.

Christ under me;

Christ over me;

Christ beside me

on my left and my right.

This day be within and without me,

lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.

Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;

in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.

This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all powerful.

The idea that Christ is present in “the mouth of each who speaks unto me” is the idea that God’s messengers, God’s angels, come to us unexpectedly at times.  And they may come without us being aware of who they are.

After Father Jeremiah had told Alan Jones that the monks at St. Macarius Monastery always treated guests like angels, “just in case,” Jones later wrote —

“Being willing to explore the possibility of entertaining angels seemed to me to be both compassionate and perceptive, because it challenges the believer to live in a constant state of expectancy, openness, and vulnerability.”  — Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality, Alan Jones, pg. 14.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Oh, and Harrington, well he’s still at it, delivering God’s messages. This past week in the church newsletter this announcement appeared —

YOU ARE INVITED –  Harrington would like to invite all church members, family, and friends to the church on this Wednesday.  Harrington will give a talk titled “My New Home,” about the assisted-living home, where he lives now.  Everyone is welcome!”

Entertaining Angels: The Servants of Christ

Entertaining Angels:  The Servants of Christ

Second in the sermon series Entertaining Angels
January 10, 2010

The Angels Sing ‘Worthy is the Lamb”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.12In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:1-14 NIV

Angels and Other Wacky Beings

When I was about 10 years old, our family bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias.  I think my grandmother was selling them, actually, so we probably got a good deal.  But I remember the day those red hardbound books arrived.  We unpacked them and I began to look through them, amazed that any subject I could think of was included in the World Book.  Well, now we have the internet, which is a lot like a set of encyclopedias, except with lots of bad information.  Unlike the trustworthy World Book, the internet is full of both accurate, true, and totally ridiculous stuff.

If you google — and for those of you who don’t know the word “google,” it was named the word of the decade by the American Dialect Society — if you google, or search the internet, for the subject “angels” you get a lot of really interesting information. One entry I ran across mentioned both angels and ascended masters.  Angels I was familiar with, but I had never heard of “ascended masters.”

As I read along in the article for that website, they listed the ascended masters.  Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife on the earth and their two children, Buddha, and some other folks I hadn’t heard of.  The ascended masters, apparently had been angels, retired from their stints as heavenly beings, came to earth, married, and so on.  In other words, a pretty New Age sort of belief system, with no reference to Scripture, or even other ancient texts.

One entry on that same website responded to the question, “Am I a Christian?”  The answer was that the writer grew up in the Christian faith, but now with this new knowledge of angels, ascended masters, and some other sort of revelation had transcended the orthodox version of Christianity.  Love was mentioned a lot, too, I recall.

Now, my point in telling you all of this about ascended masters, none of which is either Biblical or true, is that some people want to latch onto angels in a sort of New Age spiritualism that separates angels from God the Father who created them, and Jesus Christ, in whose service they are engaged.

Let me say it more simply:  You can’t talk about angels if you don’t talk about Jesus.  Angels serve the Christ of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  So, any attempt to separate angels from the ministry of Christ is an erroneous effort to separate angels from their purpose.

Angels in the Life of Jesus

Last Wednesday night I handed out a partial list of the Biblical references to angels in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Let’s run down their presence in Jesus’ earthly ministry quickly:

1.  An angel announces the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist. Now this is my favorite angel passage because in it we get a glimpse into the sense of humor of the angels, and in this instance Gabriel the Archangel no less.  As Gabriel announces to John’s father the news that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son and they are to name him John, Zechariah, who is a priest in the Temple of God, begins to question Gabriel.  Here’s the exchange:

11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”  — Luke 1:11-20 NIV

Don’t you just love Gabriel’s answer — “I am Gabriel and I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”

2.  Luke records Gabriel’s appearance to Mary announcing that she will bear the savior of the world, and Matthew records an angel’s appearance in a dream to Joseph assuring him that it is okay to marry Mary.

3.  Angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds.

4.  Angels send Joseph, Mary and Jesus off to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the king, who is seeking to kill this newborn King of the Jews.  When the danger is over, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream again and tells him to go back home.

5.  After Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrate on this Sunday, Jesus goes into the wilderness where Satan tempts him.  After Jesus meets that challenge, and after he is exhausted from 40-days of fasting and praying, the angels come to minister to him in the desert.

6.  Angels comfort him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:41-43)

41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

7.  Angels open Jesus’ grave at the resurrection. (Matt 28:2)

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

8.  Angels witness his resurrection. (Luke 24:5-7)

4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!

9.  Angels explain his ascension. (Acts 1:10-11)

10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

10. Angels sing his praises in heaven. (Rev 5:11-12)

11.  Angels accompany Him at his coming. (Matt 25:31)

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
And, it doesn’t end there because the Book of Revelation is full of scenes in heaven where angels sing, praise, confirm, and worship Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
When you speak of angels you have to speak about Jesus because the angels belong to him.

Jesus Talks About Angels

But angels don’t just appear to Jesus. Jesus also speaks of angels as he ministers to people. Most of what Jesus said involved angels gathering the people for the final judgment, or acting as the messenger of Christ to summon them into the presence of God, like in this passage from Matthew 16:27 —
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

But Jesus also gives us some other clues about angels.

In speaking of little children, Jesus said ” See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” — Matthew 18:10

From that passage we get the idea of guardian angels, assigned to us, and little children in particular, to watch over and care for us.

And, in a question about marriage, Jesus says that those who have died…”At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” — Matthew 22:30

We’ll talk more about angels at death later in this series, but Jesus does give us clues as to the characteristics of angels in these and other verses.

Making Angels Happy

But the most important thing Jesus tells us about angels isn’t about how angels travel, or about what angels look like. The most important thing Jesus tells us about angels is what makes them happy. Listen to what Jesus says —

8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” — Luke 15:8-10

Angels are happy when people come to God. The mission of angels is to carry the message of God, and imagine how glad they are when that message is heard and received. When the message they deliver through their care, their ministry, their obedience, brings a positive response, the angels rejoice.

Angels are first of all concerned about our relationship with their Lord and ours, Jesus. Nothing else matters. Angels stand ready to do the work of God, and that work is reclaiming God’s creation.

That is why the angels in heaven are singing. But it was not always so. John the Revelator writes, in the passage we read today, that for a moment in heaven which may have lasted 10-million years, for one moment the angels are silenced. The angels have carried the message of God for uncounted millennia. But now John says there is a message, a scroll in the hand of God. The angels see the scroll, but it is sealed with seven seals.

In the first century Roman world, when the emperor sent a message, he sealed it with his ring, and if it were of special importance, he sealed it more than once. That message could only be opened by the one intended to receive it upon penalty of death. And the angels know this scroll in the hand of God is not for them. For the first time in the history of heaven, God has a message that the angels cannot deliver.

And so the Bible says, “a mighty angel” cries out “Who is worthy to open the seals?” And no on is found. And John says, “I wept and wept.” John, even as he sees this vision and lives this revelation, John understands that if no one can open the scroll that the final word of God will never be heard. But one of the elders, one of only four, says “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Finally, after searching through all of creation for one who is worthy to open the seals on the scroll, finally, at last, One is found.

The Lamb of God who stands in the middle of the throne, symbolizing his preeminence and centrality. This Lamb is worthy because he has been slain, and with his blood has purchased for God men and women, boys and girls, “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” His death, his resurrection, his victory makes him worthy to open the scroll of God, to pronounce the message of God, to finish the Word of God that the angels cannot speak.

And so the angels sing a new song. But….
This is not the song of bondage for the chains have been broken.
This is not the song of poverty for heaven is enriched with his presence.
This is not the song of sorrow for night has passed away and there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more death.
This is not the song of longing for in Christ all the longing of mankind has been satisfied.
This is not the song of the past for the past has gone, and everything has been made new.

No, the angels sing a new song, a song that has never been sung before because there was no one to sing it to. But now they sing a new song —

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

You cannot speak of angels without speaking of Jesus.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”