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Angels Everywhere – Br. Luke Ditewig

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I must say I didn’t expect it from him. I was caught off guard, surprised by what he said. It didn’t fit. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not from him. Not from them. I wasn’t supposed to like what he said. But I did. I heard a most encouraging interview with a national Christian leader last week: Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. Yes, that right-wing evangelical powerhouse founded by Dr. James Dobson who was so aggressive in his mission.

Focus on the Family has been on my “other” list. I expect to hear things I strongly disagree with, or get mad hearing about from them. That in itself is a reversal. I grew up listening to Dr. Dobson and was positively nurtured by Focus on the Family as a child. But as a young adult I cut ties. I distanced myself so far from them that it is rather shocking to be impressed by and grateful for Jim Daly. 

The interview is from the public radio show “On Being with Krista Tippett: conversation about meaning, religion, ethics and ideas.”1 The Jim Daly piece is part of their Civil Conversations Project which seeks to cultivate bridges, to have moral conversations on divisive political topics. They seek to be human, to be relational, to both listen and speak well across dividing lines. I highly recommend it.

We’re not good at talking to people with whom we disagree, especially strongly. We don’t listen. We try to stop them, shut them down. Like the disciples in our gospel passage this morning. They were so quick to divide up and limit the kingdom. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”2 He isn’t following. He isn’t in our group. He’s clearly not with us, so he must be against us.” Obviously the disciples speaking here are with Jesus. Obviously we are with Jesus. So that other guy, he’s suspect. He should be stopped.

But Jesus says, “No.” Don’t make such assumptions. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”3 The bigger problem, the one you should be worried about, is stumbling blocks, hindering someone, especially a child, from God. You don’t have a monopoly on the kingdom. You have a limited perspective and influence. There’s so much more to this. My Father and I include him and all sorts who are not in your group. Stumbling over your dividing lines is more of a problem.

The Bible is full of improbable people whom religious leaders consider outsiders or unworthy, yet whom God works and speaks powerfully through. Some of these are women, foreigners and those with particular sins. Consider Rahab the prostitute who helps the Israelites conquer Jericho and the Samaritan woman at the well who has such an extensive and articulate conversation with Jesus.

Consider Moses. Rescued from a basket on the river, he grew up in a palace then later fled as a murderer to hide as a simple shepherd. God sent Moses who complained that he couldn’t speak to the most powerful king with the message “Let my people go.” Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and on a long journey through the wilderness.

In today’s passage, Moses gets fed up with the people in the wilderness. Like many of us, since times are tough they gripe most about the food. Moses says “I’ve had it with all the complaining. God, these are your people. Why am I the one to act like their babysitter? I can’t bear them alone. This is too much for me.”4

God says, “Bring me seventy elders, and I’ll distribute the responsibility. They will share the burden with you.”5 Moses, the messenger, asks for help and notice how God provides: with people already there, people Moses knows. God seems to be saying, “Ok. There are good people right here with you. Invite them in. Show them your need. Share your work. I will help you through them.”

I wonder if Moses was surprised. He wanted a quick fix. Kill me or end the problem. I wonder what it was like for him to begin to share power with people he knew. We may long for some idealized rescuer or helper when there are loving companions right here with us. Not the people we would choose but the people already given to us, people right here, people both inside and outside the circles we’ve created.

God is so much bigger than the circles we create! God surpasses them. God surprises us by coming through the people we already count insiders but have to learn to share with like the seventy elders for Moses. God surprises us through people outside our circle like Rahab for Joshua and the Samaritan woman for Jesus’ disciples. God shows up today through the challenges of community life with our own families and people we had written off like Jim Daly. In whom has God surprised you recently?

Yesterday we celebrated St. Michael and All Angels. Angels are simply messengers. They aren’t necessarily heavenly. God has many ways, many angels, to convey messages. They are often improbable people, like Rahab or Moses or Jim or the stranger on the bus who acts weird and so I look away and pretend not to notice or the family member with whom I must interact but find so challenging or the neighbor with such a different lifestyle.

Angels are everywhere. God speaks in so many ways. Usually our lives are so full of noise and blocked by narrow assumptions. Noise and busyness that hinders listening. Assumptions that confine and restrict our attention. God is speaking everywhere in love. “God is love and where true love is, God himself is there.”6Keep your eyes open. Be attentive and listen. God has sent out messengers of love for you. They may be close by and they may be outside the circles we’ve created. May you be surprised how God comes to you today.

 

 

1 “The Next Christians with Jim Daly and Gabe Lyons.” September 17, 2012

 

2 Mark 9:38

 

3 Mark 9:39-40

 

4 Numbers 11:11-15

 

5 Numbers 11:16-17

 

6 Latin; tr. James Quinn (b. 1919), alt. The Hymnal 1982, #577

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18 Comments

  1. Rhode on February 12, 2017 at 17:30

    May we, who believe Jesus is God’s love, run to be the angels needed now. May we not be afraid to jump off a cliff before the evidence of wings. (nod to W.S.Coffin)

    • Georgia on February 13, 2017 at 09:41

      Great perspective! Many of us look for the angels in our lives without ever conscioously offering ourselves as angels. Nice.

  2. Companions | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on February 12, 2017 at 00:05

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  3. Ruth West on October 1, 2016 at 01:17

    I often read in obituary columns that so many people consider that a child who dies becomes an angel in the afterlife. I cannot accept that theory.
    I firmly believe that true angels are of a different order of beings than we are and that a human cannot be transformed into an angel, in the Biblical sense.
    I do know we use the term angel quite loosely, and so do I, but not seriously so. I have some Christian friends who are truly angelic in their lives and deeds.
    I agree with you concerning learning from so many who are unlike ourselves in theological beliefs. I used to reject the 700 Club, because the ones seemed too charismatic for my tastes. However, I have come to enjoy that show very much, because I can see the huge amount of good the leaders and the organization are doing to promote God’s kingdom, especially in ministering to the poor all over the world. I pray that it may continue. Also, they are praying day after day for our nation. It has become one of my favorite T V programs. God uses all manner of people in spreading the gospel story.
    Thank you for calling our attention to some important truths. May God bless you and keep you and all the brothers there.

  4. David Cranmer on September 29, 2016 at 20:16

    I too was a listener to Focus on the Family in years past and found a lot of their broadcasts quite helpful to me as I was struggling with figuring out how to relate to God. I was also attending a charismatic Episcopal church at the same time. Over the years I have come to realize that God’s umbrella is much bigger than I ever thought it would be. I have found insights from fundamentalists through to those who are quite liberal in their theology. It may be that we call have only a piece of the pie. And God in His mercy blesses us with that.

  5. Marje on September 29, 2016 at 12:58

    Well said. Thank you for reminding me that the Lord will speak in so many ways….
    Sent from my Verizon phone

  6. Marta E on April 14, 2016 at 00:43

    Many months ago, I “discovered” a little book called “Jesus Calling”, a day-by-day evangelical reading based on scriptures. I incorporated it into my morning spiritual readings and have found it very helpful, particularly in how it focuses on the relationship God wants with us, an intimate, personal calling. The readings do not parallel the readings in the daily liturgical calendar, but sometimes are surprisingly similar, and allow a deeper reading of a select verse. Thus isolated, they are very helpful to me. It seems that they are “messengers” also!

    Referring to my previous (2015) post, this past weekend I attended the Baptism of my newest grandaughter two months old. I was reminded that we are “sealed as Christ’s forever” and reminded that Bonhoeffer said, as he was summoned from his prison room, This is the end; but for me the beginning”.
    Recently I attended an entombment of ashes at the UVA columbarium. Although I did not stay for the sealing of the tomb, I heard that it was very “striking” to watch the screws being turned as the marble tile was sealed shut on the wall. The widow told me later that it was a firm reminder and enactment of our Baptismal Covenant, “Sealed as Christ’s forever”.

  7. Anthony Reynolds on April 5, 2016 at 09:29

    Thank you both for what you said and also for the graceful manner of your saying. I am able to discern God’s messengers when my centeredness is in Him and not in a point of view or a doctrinal position. There is so much more to be gained by being open and aware that the “other” is also a child of God.

  8. Laura Manges on April 3, 2016 at 15:59

    I wonder, with the political climate as it is at the moment, if we are not dealing with dark angels, who will, nonetheless, show us Light by the very shadows they cast. In the midst of chaotic personalities, lies, and incivility, I see angels of order, truth, and great decency. Thank you, Brother Luke, for reminding us that we are all connected by the larger circle of Love, so must look outside the small, safe circle we claim to see God’s movement in our lives and world.

  9. G Irre on April 3, 2016 at 14:10

    Thanks for the reminder of angels. It has been a wonderful day of gifts from on high.

  10. Marta E on October 17, 2015 at 04:27

    Surprises!! Yes, and from the strangest quarters. I am taking a Religious Studies course on Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and King: Resistance and Reconciliation. In writing a paper on Bonhoeffer and his monastic experiences which kept him prolific, focused, protected, and on target before the end of his life, I learned that he had visited the SSJE’s. Not that I was “surprised” by this fact, just that I felt even more connected with both my further inquiry in Bonhoeffer’s life as well as how much your website gives to us when we read it and contribute. I opened and closed my paper with comments on the game that he and his twin sister played when they were quite small of talking before going to sleep of their anticipation of “eternity” and angels round their bed.

    Thank you for your years of faithfulness and generosity in helping us to continually look for the surprises and angels which continually lead us to a better understanding of Christ.

  11. Christopher Engle Barnhart on October 16, 2015 at 08:01

    I love the phrase below:
    “God speaks in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”
    We have to be willing, ready and able to accept those things. It simply comes down to the six questions: “how, who, what, why, when and where.”

    • Pat on October 16, 2015 at 09:34

      Christopher – Well stated!! How true!

  12. Ruth West on September 30, 2015 at 01:01

    Thanks for this good reminder about angels. I am reminded of my mother’s message to us children during the Great Depression years when there were many men without work. We lived about a mile from the railroad where there were many “ho-bos” who walked the rails. Many of them came to our door asking for food. My mother never turned one away. She said she considered that she might be “entertaining angels unaware.” She always found something to give, no matter how dirty they appeared to be. I’m sure her smile and kind words were gifts, too. She believed that God placed angels in our midst to bring us messages from Him. As a child, I could not understand it, but I do, now that I am old.

  13. Anne on September 29, 2015 at 22:58

    I am surrounded by angels, as are we all. It is part of the mystery of the kingdom of God. Thank you for being one of those who realizes this phenom and is willing to speak out in grateful witness.

  14. laura ricard on September 29, 2015 at 17:50

    Some of us were so severely wounded by evangelicals that it is not possible for us to restore the “ties” (to use Bro Luke’s word). It is enough for some of us to say “go in peace” and leave it at that.

  15. MIchael on September 29, 2015 at 08:13

    The willingness to listen to others is always a first step. Somtimes a difficult first step but ultimately one that can lead to a better understanding of others and of our own perspectives and beliefs. Oftentimes religion is viewed as narrow and restrictive. Openess to differences will get us much further than an exclusive and rigid point of view. Thanks for helping to point that out

  16. Tracy on September 28, 2015 at 18:26

    Very inspirational – particularly as I am exploring my own faith regarding evangelical & liberal theology & perhaps other doctrine in between & is there somewhere they can all meet???? Perhaps too idealistic? I ache for that point every Christian can be, feel & know they all share that one point & differences just pale into insignificance because they just don’t matter…. But I’m also learning or becoming more aware of assumptions & presumptions & I fear I’ve a lot more to learn!! It’s so easy living in a comfort zone – but Lord Jesus calls is to be ready – doesn’t that mean we’re ready with coat, hat & bag for the taxi to arrive at any time – that’s not sitting in front of the telly with a cup of lovely ground coffee. Basically, I agree – eyes open, including the mind & expect God to speak through anybody, anytime – but I’m sure He’ll still catch me out regardless how much I try.

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