St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-01-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-01-2019

Angels Unknown

Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 112, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Imagine this: You’re sitting on your porch one summer afternoon; it’s too hot to do anything but sit still, drink some cold beverage of your choice, and pray for a bit of a breeze to cool you off. Suddenly, unexpectedly, three strangers are walking into your lawn. What do you do? Do you tell them to leave, call the cops, offer them a drink?

Imagine this one: You’re out for a walk in the woods and notice a bush along the trail of a kind you’ve never seen before. You pause to look more closely and you suddenly hear a voice coming from it, calling you by name. Do you run, pull out your cell phone to call a psychiatrist, swear-off ever again having that beverage you had on your porch yesterday.

Try this one: You’re walking your dog down the street and it suddenly freezes, staring straight ahead at something you cannot see, and then suddenly bolts in the opposite direction, yanking you off your feet and dragging you down the street on your belly. Does your dog need a psychiatrist; or was he into that beverage when you weren’t looking.

Another: One night you have a dream and in the dream you see creatures that look like flying snakes with six wings… and they start singing hymns. Well, by now you’ve given up on that special beverage; maybe it’s the new medication the psychiatrist prescribed; or was it that Italian meal with cheesecake dessert you overindulged in right before bedtime.

Yet another odd dream: This time you see creatures similar to those in the last dream except these have four faces; that of a human, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. Maybe it’s time to become a vegetarian and give holistic medicine a try.

By now you may be fasting, nothing but bread and water for you! And you go down to the river to relax and do a little fishing. But as you’re sitting there, watching your line for signs of a bite you glance up and see a man with a crystal body, arms and legs of polished bronze, a face as bright as lightning and flaming eyes. In that split second before you pass-out cold, face down in the mud, your mind is thinking “Jesus walked on water, maybe if I got my feet moving fast enough I could run across the river to get away from this guy.

And just one more, a bit more somber this time: On your way to work one morning you stop to place flowers on a loved-one’s grave. Thinking you’re alone you kneel down to say a prayer and when you rise to your feet you find that there are two men, dressed in dazzling white suites,  standing with you. Finally you realize this isn’t a dream, you’re not hallucinating; these are Angels who have come to give you a message as were the previous encounters.

 

We all have a mental image of what angels look like, well engrained images of gender ambiguous, winged, human-like forms hovering over the stable of our nativity scenes; winged naked infantile bodies flying around on the face of greeting cards, gleaming white-robed men at the empty tomb of Easter. But by the examples I gave, we are forced to ask “Would we know an Angel if we saw one”?

The word we translate to angel, in both Greek and Hebrew means “messenger”. It’s used in both the Old and New Testaments to mean either human or divine messenger. We come up with the word Angel from the Greek ‘angelos’ to distinguish between the human and the God sent messenger where in the original languages it was designated by stating simply ‘a messenger’, or ‘a messenger of God’.

Understanding this, ask yourself again “Would I know an Angel if I saw one”?

 

Years ago, when I lived in Tucson, this classic cowboy was attending my feed store one day and a man drove into my lot in a VW van; his hair was long, he sported a beard, he wore blue-jeans, a tee shirt, and sandals on his feet. Everything about him was classic hippie.

Now, understand, classic cowboys aren’t exactly fans of classic hippies. But I was open to conversation and I soon learned that he was a drifter; traveling wherever the mood took him; earning his way with his artistic abilities; mostly painting murals, sometimes signs, and an occasional portrait. He was looking for a place to park his van for the night.

His name was J; he never gave me a last name nor let me know if J was short for Jayson, Jacob, or whatever

Long story short, the landlord allowed him to stay as he painted murals on several of the buildings and some other odds and ends chores in the business complex.

J and I got to know each other in the few weeks he was around and, through this unlikely pairing, I learned much from his gentle soul; things like not judging by appearances, being content with what you have no matter how little, finding peace in solitude, and the joy of not being bound to others’ expectations; all this consistent with the teaching of scripture though faith was never mentioned.

I had received a message.

Another time, in more recent years, my wife and I were running late to get to a theatre in Philadelphia. As we got into the city we were more and more aggravated with people crossing the street against the lights, one block after another our light would turn green but we had to wait for the pedestrians to clear the intersection; then, at yet another light we were held up again; this time by a man in a wheelchair, with no arms, propelling himself backwards with his one remaining leg. Simultaneously Kathy and I looked upward and said “OK God, we got the message”. The world doesn’t revolve around us and if being late is the worst thing that happens to us tonight, we’re good.

It’s nice to think that these two experiences were, indeed, encounters with Angels; and I believe that’s a real possibility; perhaps not heavenly beings but messengers nonetheless.

But if I believe they were Angel encounters, I also have to ask myself, “Did I know all the Angels I have seen”?

The gentile encounter with J, and the smack-upside-the-head encounter with the dismembered man in a wheelchair are obvious and the messages were received. But how many times have I turned my back on the intrusive Angel, the unfamiliar Angel, the threatening Angel, The snake-like Angel, the ugly Angel, the angry Angel… because they didn’t look like my preconceived notion of what an Angel looks like; because they didn’t look like something that would be delivering a divine message?

This, too, is something we must be mindful of, for just as important as showing “hospitality to strangers, for by doing that we may have entertained Angels without knowing it” we can, just the same, turn our backs on Angels without knowing it.

Amen

 

The opening 7 paragraphs are based on the following readings, respectively…

Gen. 18:1-5 The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.”

Exodus 3:2 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed

Numbers 22:23 The donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road.

Isaiah 6:1-3 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.

(Seraph means serpent) 

Ezekiel 1:10 (Cherubim)  As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle;

Daniel 10: 5-6 I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.

Luke 24:4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing;

 

Jeremiah 2:4-13
2:4 Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.
2:5 Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
2:6 They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?”
2:7 I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.
2:8 The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.
2:9 Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.
2:10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing.
2:11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.
2:12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD,
2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

 

Psalm 112
112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.
112:2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
112:3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
112:4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
112:5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
112:6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
112:7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.
112:8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
112:9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.
112:10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
13:1 Let mutual love continue.
13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
13:4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
13:6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
13:15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14
14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.
14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;
14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.
14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”