Angels:  A Sermon


Angels:  A Sermon, by Rev. Mary Ann Tourjee


Hebrew Text: Daniel 6: 16 – 21a

Epistle Text: Acts 12: 5 – 11a

Gospel Text: Luke 1: 5 – 17

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you , O Lord. Amen.

Angels – those divine beings – “messengers from God” – that is what the word “angels” means in Greek. Did you know that an angel is encountered or referred to in 75 chapters of the Bible? And, yet, at least in my experience in my worship experience, they seem to only be discussed at Christmas – and that usually means that they appear in the Christmas pageant. But, if they appear in 75 chapters of the Bible, and most of those are not the Gospels, then they clearly are present with us more often than just at Christ’s birth. 

Do you remember Jacob? 

That dream demonstrates the close connection that exists between heaven and earth. If though we do not ordinarily see that staircase, it is still there and the angels constantly go back and forth. If you close your eyes for a moment – can you allow yourself to see them climbing that ladder, carrying our prayers in their hands to God? ……. And, now …. can you see them ….. coming down that ladder ….. some are carrying messages to us ….. some are sent for other purposes. 

When my son, Jonathan, was only 2 years old, we lived in a tall Victorian house on top of a hill in North Adams. When you stood in the back bedroom of the house and looked out of those windows, you were so high up and that you literally looked into the top of the trees that grew far below. 

I will never forget one morning in late fall when there was no snow and the limbs of the trees were totally bare --- there were no leaves left upon the trees. On that particular morning, Jon and I were together upstairs – I think I was busy doing some housekeeping – Jon was in the back bedroom playing with toys. Suddenly, I heard his voice cry out, “Mommy, mommy, come quick!” 

Well, when you have 2 year old, and you hear a cry like that, you drop what you are doing, and you go to see what is happening. And that is what I did! 

Jon was standing at the window, looking out. As I came into the room he looked at me with his eyes shining, there was a glow about him. He cried out, “Mommy do you see?” 

I turned from him and looked out the window. All that I saw were the bare limbs of the tree on that clear crisp autumn morning. 

Again, “Mommy do you see?” 

Confused, I asked, “See what Jon?”

“The angels in the trees? Do you see?” 

I stood there for the longest time – trying – to see what he clearly saw. While I never had the eyes to see, there is no doubt in my mind that my son did see angels that morning. And, I do know that my not being able to see them does NOT mean that they were not there. 

But, let me step back for a moment. You know, I have to admit that I did not always believe in angels. In fact, when I really think about it, I have to admit that I did not always believe in Jesus Christ. For me, Jesus and angels were just stories that I heard as a child – they were stories in the Bible, kind of like the stories we read in history books. I knew that they “had existed”, but I did not really know that they are still here now! 

For as long as I can remember, I have believed in God. Somehow, from my very beginning, God made sure that I knew He was there. God has always been real to me. And, I have always prayed to God. But, I have to admit, I did not always pray to God from the depths of my heart. 

When I think about Jacob’s dream and that ladder of angels, I am very thankful that God loves us so much that He made sure those Divine Messengers are there to make sure that our cries are heard – and when those answers come – the miracles – and the ones that we just don’t understand – well, it is the angels that deliver them. 

When I was 12 my father became critically ill and was in a coma; the doctors had given-up hope that he would survive. I remember praying – really praying – for the first time then. I dropped to my knees at the side of my bed and I prayed a simple prayer, “Dear God, please take care of my Daddy – may Your will be done.” I encountered God’s mercy – He allowed my father live for two more years – I think He did that for me, because He wanted to be sure that I knew up close that miracles can happen. 

But, even then, I still did not really know Jesus. That was not happen in my life for another 26 years! 26 years later, I was with my children at family camp at Camp Aldersgate. I attended a daily Bible Study at the camp. The study leaders, used music from the an album called “The Life” by Michael Card. I guess the angels made sure that my ears were open to hear that day – all that I can tell you is that I sat there with my eyes closed, listening to the songs – and suddenly it happened – life was breathed into Jesus Christ. I was changed in that instant! And, yes, my life was turned upside down. It took me several years to discover what I was “supposed to be doing” -- to discover that I was being called into ministry! 

That time at Aldersgate was my “born again” -- my mountaintop – experience. Do I believe in Jesus Christ? Is He real? Absolutely! Praise the Lord!

But, even with that, I still did not know the angels. I did not deny that angels might be there, but they just were not real for me. By then, I had had my experience with Jonathan, and that intrigued me, and it made me want to know more. As I think about it now, I know angels were present with Jon that day – that in fact Jon was acting as an angel – that he was a Messenger of God saying, “Look! The angels are real! They are watching over you! There are so many that they are filling the tops of your trees!” Only I did not get it!!! 

Sometimes, it takes more than one message to get through. 

After my “mountaintop” experience at Camp Aldersgate, a lot of things started to happen in my life. I am not going to go through all of that now, but I will tell you that it culminated with me finally “hearing” God asking me to answer the call to enter ministry. And, I said, “Yes.” 

Once, I said, “Yes”, the direction of my life began to change. And that change involved changing jobs. 

God brought me to a new job, and a new director who was there to again tell me about angels. I guess you could say I was a “hard study” on this one. Little by little He was chipping away at the blinders I was wearing. 

From the start, this director and I felt connected beyond just a normal working relationship. It did not take long for both of us to realize that we each had things to share with one another on spiritual level, and we did. And, what Pat had to share with me were two things: first, she had to confirm for me that she did not doubt that I was being called into ministry – that she, too, and felt called but her church – the Catholic Church – did not permit women to be priests, and she was deeply saddened by that. And, most importantly, she had to tell me her story about the angel. 

This is Pat’s story. Pat’s son had a very large dog and he asked his mother to take care of his dog for him when he had to be away. She had agreed and had this large and very strong dog at her home. Well, one day things transpired where she had the dog on a leash, the dog decided to run, and the powerful pull of the dog broke Pat’s arm and hand. She was hurt very seriously. Pat shared that she went through months of healing, followed by physical therapy. While her arm healed, her hand did not. After a very long journey with doctors, it was concluded that she would never have the use of her hand again. Now as a footnote, I have to tell you that as she told me this story, she had full use of both of her hands.

Pat continued, that she resigned herself to the situation and did the best she could with functioning with one hand. Then, unexpectedly, she made a trip to New York City. Pat said, “I was walking down a street in New York when suddenly this black man came up to me and said, ‘What is your name?’’ As Pat told me the story, she smiled and her eyes twinkled, and she said, “I don’t know why I answered this stranger’s question – certainly everything should have told me not to do that. But, I did. I told him my name. Then this stranger reached out and took my broken hand in his hands. He looked me directly in the eye and he simply said my name and that he would pray for me. He let go of my hand, and left.” She paused, and tears stood in her eyes as she told me, “Mary Ann, that man was an angel. When he left, my hand was healed. I looked for him, but he was not to be seen. In that instant he healed my hand! I have no doubt that he was an angel sent by God to help me!” 

In our scripture readings today we have seen others who were saved by angels – When Daniel is saved from the lion, he says: 

At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?" ---- Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! And, there is one more thing that Daniel says

“My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me.”

And as Peter is freed from the prison –

Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the LORD sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches"

When Zecharia is visited by Archangel Gabriel, we here:

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." 19 The 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.

There is no doubt in these passages that they are being visited by angels! And, today, there was no doubt from Pat, that she, too, had been visited by an angel!

that man was an angel. When he left, my hand was healed. I looked for him, but he was not to be seen. In that instant he healed my hand! I have no doubt that he was an angel sent by God to help me!” 

As I heard Pat tell me that story, the angels began to breathe in my life. Suddenly, they became real. 

How is it for you? How many angels have you encountered? Let me put it another way – how many of you can think of a time when you were saved unexpectedly – saved by a car not hitting your car when logically, it should have? Saved from falling when you know you should have hit the ground? Or, maybe you witnessed your child being saved from what could have been a horrible accident? Or, maybe the words of someone – a messenger – changed the course of events in your life in a way that saved you or a loved one from some tragedy. . . . Saved by an act of fate – an act of good fortune -- These are acts of angels.

Angels can deliver messages to us in unexpected ways. Today I have no doubt that I had to go to work for Pat. But, God had to get that message to me; I was not really looking for a job at that time. Things were not great where I was working, but I was not actively looking to relocate. One morning I checked my email, and I had an unexpected email from a colleague telling me about the opening at Pat’s library and suggesting that I apply. I did, and you know the rest of that story. But, what you do not know is that later I saw this colleague and I thanked her for sending me the email. She looked at me puzzled, and said, “Mary Ann, I did not send you that email.” …….Friends, that was the work of an angel. 

Billy Graham shares a story that I will share with you now. 

A pioneer missionary Rev. John Patton and his wife found themselves in their mission home surrounded by hostile natives one night. The group outside of their hut was threatening to burn the house and kill them. John Patton and his wife prayed all through the night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see that unaccountably, the attackers had left. They thanked God for saving them.

A year later, Rev. Patton met the chief of that tribe who had later been converted to Christianity. Rev. Patton asked the chief what had kept his men from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, “ Who were all those men you had there with you?” The missionary replied, “There were no men there; just my wife and I”. The chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard – hundreds of men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. They seemed to circle the mission house so that the natives were afraid to attack. Only then did Rev. Patton realize that God had sent his angels to protect them. The chief agreed that there was no other explanation. 

Angels are with us all of the time. They are there to do whatever God tells them to do. They are there to carry our messages to God, and to carry God’s messages to us. We just have to believe that they are there. We have to be willing to hear; we have to be willing ask them to help us. 

A couple of years ago, I was taking some theological classes at Duke University. The hospital at Duke is where my father spent the last two weeks of his life. Just before I left to go to Duke I heard in my prayer time that I needed to visit the building where my father had been. My father died on the night that he came home from the hospital. 

The last Sunday that I was at Duke, I set out to find this building. When I got there, I discovered that it was now an Oncology building and as it was Sunday morning, the building was empty. A security guard let me in to walk the halls. Nothing was apparent there. I left and went outside and saw a garden nested in the center of the building structure, so I went there and sat down. I closed my eyes to just allow myself to be in that space; suddenly a woman appeared from nowhere. I opened my eyes and saw her as she smiled at me and asked if I was there to enjoy the garden. I explained that I had come to visit where my father had been in the hospital many years before. She smiled, and said, “Isn’t it interesting how everything comes full circle.” With that she walked away. I turned to see where she was going, but when I turned, she was gone. I again closed my eyes. Immediately, I was shown my father in his hospital room being told by the doctor that he had only maybe another year to live. My father wept. The doctor left him alone. Then I saw and heard my father pray, “Dear God, please let me see my family and when I die, please take me quickly.” 

The day my father left the hospital, he insisted on being taken to see his parents and his brother, niece and nephew; then he came home to my mother and me. I knew when I saw him that day that he was going to die. 

I told him that I loved him, and I left the house, not wanting to be upset in front of him. My father died instantly shortly after I left the house. 

That day at Duke, I knew that the lady that came to me was an angel, and that she was there to deliver the message from God that my father’s prayer had been answered. 

Things like this happen all the time. Angels are with us, speaking to us, helping us. Sometimes they appear in human form; sometimes they are invisible to most of us – but they are there, and their work is very real! 

It is my prayer today, that you, too, will have an awareness of the angels at work in your life. That you will experience the joy and assurance of their presence that I have found in my life. If you can have the ears to hear them, they can greatly impact the course of your life. 

I leave you with this final true story. It is one shared by Hazel Raven in her book, Angel Therapy. (pp. 60 – 61)

Hazel Raven lives in England. I will tell this briefly. Hazel teaches classes about angels. She had an office in Manchester in the Corn Exchange. This was in early 1996. Hazel tells that she was given the message by Archangel Michael that “something Big was about to go down in Manchester,” and that she needed to move her office to another part of the city. Hazel had no idea what this was about, her office was well established, so she made the choice to ignore the message that had been given to her. 

Then on June 9th 1996 she is visited again by angels, and she is told that she needs to pray for protection around Manchester, especially around the Corn Exchange Building and all the surrounding area. She received very specific instructions to place her hands on the buildings and to pray, “walls protect me”; she was told to place her hands on the windows and pray, “glass protect me”, and to place her hands in the air and pray, “air protect me” She did as she was instructed.

A week later she was teaching a class at the Corn Exchange. Psalm 23 was very present in her mind, and brought her great comfort. As she arrived at the building, she could feel evil around her. She went to the classroom and then suddenly there was siren and call that there was a bomb scare. Quickly she got her students out of the building. Hazel tells that she went into Victoria Station. 

“While I was in Victoria train station (which had a glass ceiling) the bomb went off and one and a half tones of explosives were unleashed on Manchester, near the Corn Exchange …. 80,000 lives were at risk, 200 people injured, 700 million pounds worth of damage done. But no-one was killed, which was a miracle. 

The blast threw me . . . my physical body was lifted up in the air and thrown about. Glass rained down on me (and everyone else in the station) … the tiled floor was covered in a thick layer of black bomb dust, which made it as slippery as ice. Everyone was in shock, but the amazing thing was that I did not have a scratch on me. Of course, my …. Center was destroyed, as was the heart of Manchester … it was literally down. 

Did Archangel Michael and his “legions of light” make a difference to the outcome? Considering the miracle that no-one was killed, I personally know he did!”

God is with us. Jesus Christ – the Word, the Light of the world, Love – came here for us! The divine beings – angels – are from God. They are with us all the time. 

“Do you see? Do you see, the angels in the trees?”


A Footnote:

After delivering this sermon at a church in nearly a decade ago, following that service, great numbers of people from the congregation individually came to me, thanking me, and sharing their own stories of encountering angels.  Over and over again I heard them say, “I have never shared this because I thought people would think I am crazy!”  May we all Celebrate the Angels, and Let Our Stories Be Heard!  Praise the Lord!

Originally Published June 28, 2010