A sermon given during the 6pm Evening Prayer, by The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould, on the 9th of October 2022.

I believe in Angels.

When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch do keep.
Two my head are guarding:
Two my feet are guiding:
Two are on my right hand;
Two are on my left hand;
Two who warmly cover;
Two who o’er me hover;
Two to whom ’tis given
To guide my steps to Heaven.

(Engel Burt Humperdinck)

At a very young age I learnt this song, and as a child I inherently believed it. There has never been any doubt in my mind about the existence of angels.

Rather over many years I have learned a lot more about how other people have experienced angels and also how the Church has defined the work of Angels based on references to them in Scripture.

We are probably all familiar with the story of the Visitation of the Angel Gabriel the young unmarried girl, Mary, to tell her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s Son. We have heard that story so often that it is easy to miss the enormity of that message.

The Bible mentions many angels—sometimes seers see tens of thousands at a time. But for all the angels in the Bible, only two are explicitly named. Gabriel is the first. The other is Michael.

Michael is mentioned in the Book of Daniel in the Old testament. Michael was the advocate of the Jews.

In the New Testament, Michael leads God’s armies against Satan’s forces in the Book of Revelation where during the war in heaven he defeats Satan. In the Epistle of Jude Ch.9, Michael is specifically referred to as “the archangel Michael”. By the 4th century, he was seen as a healing angel. Over time his role became one of a protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil.

Within Christianity there has been a tradition Guardian Angels. A Guardian Angel is an angel assigned to protect and guide a particular person, group or nation. It’s a concept which played a major role in Ancient Judaism. 

A Guardian Angel is assigned to protect you and help you throughout your life, as a reminder of God’s constant and never ending care for you.

(A priest friend of mine told his congregation that he thought that the wings of his guardian angel must be pretty tattered, due to the interesting and challenging life he has led.)

So why do I believe in Angels?

Well, for a start, I believe what the Scriptures and the Church and the Church’s tradition teaches me. I believe in the “Holy Angels Bright that sit at God’s right hand”; I believe in the cherubim and seraphim who sing their endless praises of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory…” to our Creator; I believe in the Angels from the Realms of Glory who sang creation’s story, and proclaimed the Messiah’s birth.

But more intimately than that, I believe in the angels of compassion, the angels of friendship, the angels of encouragement, the angels of comfort, the angels of hope and the angels of healing that God sends to me in the form of a friend or stranger when I need them most.

Over the many years of my ministry, predominantly in hospitals, in healing ministries and in the community I have become increasingly aware of what I call God-incidents in my life. I used to call them co-incidents, but they have happened too often and in very diverse situations, and almost always they have been accompanied by a significant and unexpected spiritual experience for me, the other person or both of us.

For example, a couple of years ago in the middle of COVID, I had asked to see Bp. Denise about my work. I was feeling confused and depressed because I had left my ministry at Christ Church but was unsure who and what I was and where I really belonged.

As it turned out between the morning eucharist at 7.30am and seeing Bp. Denise at 11am, around the streets of North Adelaide and in the coffee shop I encountered four people from various times in my ministry, three of who I hadn’t seen for decades. Each one of them surprised me by telling me how my ministry had helped and encouraged them- and then they want on their way.

The fourth person who had severe mental issues I almost avoided as I met her right outside the bishop’s building and with 2 minutes two spare before my meeting! But she too had a rare message of joy and I was so grateful I had stopped to talk to her.

By the time I got to Bp. Denise’s office, I just burst in saying “Bp. Denise, God is Good!” I told her about the amazing people I had met that morning.

There was little doubt in either of our minds that God had sent me those angels of hope and encouragement that morning. And so, we prayed and gave thanks for God’s grace and mercy. There was little left to talk about! Bp. Denise said “I think you know what your ministry is, just keep your heart and eyes open to God’s messengers!”

You don’t have to be a theologian, you don’t have to be ordained. By just being willing for God to use you as a channel of God’s grace you too can, and no doubt have been, an angel to someone in their moment of need. Likewise, I’m sure there have been times when a special person has been there, or phoned at just the right time for you. At that time, perhaps they have been your angel – your messenger of grace, peace, and love from God.

And when we realise that God cares for us so much that God uses us, in our frailty, to be messengers of hope to others, and uses other frail human beings to come close to us with messages of hope and love when we need them most, how else can we respond but to sing praises to God.

In the words of the psalmist

“I will give thanks unto the Lord with my while heart:

 Secretly among the faithful, and in the whole congregation.” Ps111:1 May the angels of God proclaim to our aching world the Gospel of Healing, to our anxious souls the Gospel of Peace, and to our celebrations, the Gospel of Hope.