On Our Side

J. D. Ousley

Sermon—30Sep12

Ps. 124

“On Our Side”

 

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

 

“Everyone is against me.”

At one time or another, most of us have said these words. We say them even when we know that they aren’t entirely true.

After all, you know that your aunt inTallahasseestill loves to hear your voice when you call. Your dentist stands ready to fix your teeth. The neighbor whose dog you occasionally take for walks always greets you warmly in the elevator.

Yet there are occasions in life when you feel beleaguered. You have a quarrel with your best friend and it turns into a running battle. Your boss can’t stop complaining about your work. You never have enough money to pay off your credit card bill.

The Psalms often express this feeling that nothing is going right.

For instance, there is the famous Psalm 139 that begins, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” Psalm 109 says, “Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me. They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.”

 

 

And there is the passage from Psalm 124, which the choir just sang:

“If the LORD had not been on our side, * when enemies rose up against us; Then would they have swallowed us up alive * in their fierce anger toward us…”

Fortunately, in the last Psalm, the prayer was answered. God didn’t letIsraeldown in its time of trial. The Lord was, indeed, on their side, and the Psalm ends with its famous reminder that, “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.”

Still, as the Psalms admit, there are many times when it’s hard to believe that God is on our side! That is why God has given us ways to remind ourselves of “the maker of heaven and earth.”

And on this day after the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we might recall the reminders that Christians are sometimes given by angels.

Of course, other religions also speak of angels: they appear for example in the Hebrew and Muslim scriptures. And in recent years, people with no specific religious affiliation but who consider themselves “spiritual” have become interested in these beings of spirit. If you go into the New Age section of most bookstores, you’ll find a lot of books on the subject of “Angelology!”

It’s curious, then, given the Christian tradition of belief in angels, and with the modern revival of interest, that we don’t hear much about the belief today in the Episcopal Church today. Maybe it seems unscientific like a belief in ghosts.

And I recognize the need to update our doctrines according to scientific knowledge through research is difficult in this case: as far as I know, there have been no technical studies of angels!

Still, I don’t think we need to discard the belief quite yet. After all, modern physics has required us to greatly expand our ideas of the universe. Some physicists argue that there are dimensions of reality beyond the three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time.

For me, at least, this scientific theory makes it easier to imagine a spiritual realm beyond the physical universe. That spiritual realm could be theKingdomofGod.

We might then imagine further that God would provide means of communication between the realm of the Spirit and our own reality. One of these means of communication might even be angels.

I admit that this conjecture is speculative. But it does seem to be a step in the right direction. We use our imagination to capture the essence of the traditional idea of angels—the belief that God reaches out to us, the assurance that God is on our side.

After all, Christians have sometimes believed that every person has a “guardian angel.” According to this idea, we each have angels assigned to watch over us.

You may have heard someone say, after she was nearly run down by a speeding car, “I almost died. My guardian angel must have been looking out for me!”

Now those who hold this belief don’t think that angels can protect us from all evils. Even with divine support, the world remains a place of spiritual testing. Into every life, some rain must fall. The world does sometimes seem to be against us.

Yet, still the belief in angels seems to me to be valuable. After all, in the Bible,

 

angels are often portrayed as the messengers of God. The word angle comes from the Greek word fro messenger. Jacob learns from an angel that his descendants will form a great nation that will bear his new name, “Israel.” Another angel asks the Virgin Mary to consent to be the mother of the Messiah.

Perhaps, when we think of angels, we should be reassured that God wants to speak to us—to tell us that, appearances to the contrary, God himself is with us.

But there is a corollary to this belief. Even though God wants to lead us to the future he has for us, he leaves us free. We’re free like the Virgin Mary to listen to his message, or not. So we need to use our freedom in the right way. We need to be on our own side!

How many times, when we feel that the world is against us, the problem isn’t the world—it’s us. The person who is irritating you was first been irritated by you!

Or you may just be making too big a deal of a minor misfortune. A malfunctioning computer is a great inconvenience and very annoying—but that computer isn’t evidence that the entire universe is aligned to harm you!

So it can be helpful, when we lack a clear message from God, to ask: if there were an angel whispering in my ear, what would it say? Would it say that I should try being less demanding of life? That if asked for less, I might be better able to appreciate what I have? That if I were more grateful, I might find that everyone isn’t against me, after all?

And, finally, my guardian angel might be addressing a question to me. The angel might be asking me, am I on God’s side? Sometimes, all it takes is for us to do

 

something for someone else, loving them as God does, and the world brightens up. Our own situation looks better. We find ourselves on the side of the angels.

 

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, nowand forever. Amen.


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