Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In 1529, a decade or so after Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses, he completed his Small Catechism. It was intended as a tool for parents to teach the basics of the Christians faith to their families. It also included prayers for the beginning and ending of the day.
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Some listeners may be surprised to hear mention of angels in the prayer, after all in many Protestant churches, angels are a lot like CEO Christians. They appear at Christmas and Easter Only. At Christmas, angels appear in the sky over Bethlehem announcing the birth of Jesus, and at Easter, the angels are seated on a stone announcing Jesus’ resurrection. Lutherans, however, have never shied away from acknowledging the presence of angels.
My friends, this morning, I would like us to meditate on Martin Luther’s thoughts on angels, and his conviction that these holy messengers are the hidden and unseen servants in God’s majestic plan of protection and encouragement.
As a young boy in southern Minnesota, there were three images that often hung on the walls in many Christian homes and churches; they were the religious icons of America’s Great Plains. There was the Finnish artist Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ. This was the picture that inspired many to believe that Jesus was blond and Scandinavian. There was the photographer Eric Enstrom’s image of an old-bearded man, with his spectacles folded atop his Bible, praying for his meager dinner of bread and water called Grace. And there was a picture that hung in many children’s bedrooms, “The Guardian Angel” by the German artist Bernhard Plockhorst. It is the image of a young boy and girl walking hand in hand across an old and forgotten bridge. The violent waters of an abyss are churning below, and behind them an angel with outstretched wings is closely following and protecting them. There was an assurance in that painting that nothing in all creation could harm a little child. It did, however, make Sunday School children wonder why they were to be afraid when angels appeared in scripture. After all, angels were friendly.
In a sermon for St. Michael’s Day, Luther wrote, “That angels are with us is very sure, and no one should ever have doubted it. It is certain not only that they are waiting for our coming into our future fatherland but also that they are truly around us in this life, providing for and guiding our affairs, if we would firmly believe it. Therefore we should learn that our best and most loyal friends are invisible. They are the good angels, who by their faithfulness and benevolence and by their many services of friendship greatly excel our visible friends.”
Of course, angels were also there to protect. That is whole the story we have heard in St. Michael the Archangels and his battle with the Serpent. They are prepared mightily to do battle against the forces of evil, but they are also humble enough to do whatever God bids. Again Luther wrote, “The dear angels are not so proud as we human beings are. They walk in obedience to God, serve mankind, and take care of little children. How could they perform a more significant work than taking care of children day and night? We do it out of obligation. But the angels do it with joy.”
By no means are children the only concern of angels. I have heard many stories from adults who were mysteriously saved from tragic events. They had no explanation for what happened. In a sermon for St. Michael and All Angels in 1532, Luther wrote, “If you see that something has turned out well you should say: The man had a good angel; otherwise, the matter would have turned out worse. For instance, it should not be called luck but the special work of good angels when a man is saved from drowning or when a stone falls upon someone without inflicting any particular harm.” There are no coincidences with God. Angels happen.
Every Sunday at communion, we are reminded that one of the primary tasks of the angels is to praise God night and day and to inspire all of creation in praise. The rosy-cheeked cherubs we use on Valentine’s cards and frilly seraphs who adorn the traditional nativity scene, are only two of the ranks of angels portrayed in scripture. They certainly don’t represent the whole of the angelic host. If we want to ponder the angels as represented in scripture if at our next Christmas pageant, we should enlist the fathers of the congregation to serve as the angels. Excellent choices would be those candidates in excess of two hundred pounds. Or perhaps the defensive line of the Vikings football team- on a good day. And we needn’t worry about their musical abilities either, for nowhere in scripture does it state that the angels sing in chorus. We read that the angels proclaim in loud voices. Their shouts are deafening like the roar of a football stadium with a touchdown score. St. Michael, himself is the divine military commander who casts Satan down from the heavenly court. These mighty warriors too have been called to the task of praising God.
People often say that a person who has shown kindness to them was an angel. It’s not a bad compliment, but it may be too broad. Luther wrote, “We must become accustomed to the language of Scripture. The word angel really means a messenger, not who carries letters, but one who is sent to deliver a message by word of mouth. Thus the name is commonly applied to in Scripture to all the messengers of God in heaven and on earth, whether they are the holy angels of heaven, or the prophets and apostles on earth. Therefore all who proclaim His Word are God’s angels and messengers. ”
In the book of Hebrews, we read of the angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Mind you, we don’t always recognize God’s messengers when they come to us, because we’re not expecting them. And we’re not alone. In scripture, people seldom recognized the messengers, and when they did, they were frightened by their presence. Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well and offer us encouragement, but their presence may be subtle. When angels spread their glittering wings over you, you may say things like “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or I just knew that everything was going to turn out all right. That is the unseen ministry of the angels.
Now you may be wondering, but why is this ministry of encouragement so important? Simply said, Satan is doing his best to make you lose your faith. He is striving to erase your name from the Book of Life, so we need God’ steady stream of messengers. In the face of anger, suffering and fear, it may be too difficult to hear a message of God’s love and hope. When a child dies; when a tornado rips through a sleepy town; when a job is terminated; when a marriage collapses. It happens all too frequently, but God understands that we need something more to keep us going. As he sends his angels to lift us help, lest we dash a foot against a stone.
Someone once wrote;
Angels come in all shapes and sizes; all ages and skin types.
They come disguised as enemies, teachers, students, even fools.
Like the taxi driver who told you that your eyes light up the world, when you smile.
They don’t take life too seriously, they travel light.
Remember the small child who showed you the wonder in simple things.
An angel leaves no forwarding address, they ask nothing in return.
Like the poor man who offered to share his lunch with you.
Like the rich man who showed you that it really is all possible, if only you believe.
Remember the stranger who just happened to come along, when you had lost your way.
Think back to the friend who touched your heart, when you didn’t think you had one.
Some cherubs have freckles, some have dimples, think of some with wrinkles, some without.
They are hard to find when your eyes are closed, but when you choose to see, angels are everywhere you look.
So, open your eyes and count all your Angels; for you are truly blessed.
My friends, there are no coincidences in life. Angels happen. God’s holy messengers are all around us, if you can count them, protecting us, watching over us, comforting us, inspiring us to raise our voice in praise, and inviting us to share a word of encouragement and hope with those in need. And so with confidence and faith, Martin Luther encouraged the faithful to pray at the end of the day;
I thank You, My heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day. And I pray that you would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into your hands I commend myself, my body, my soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.