Ray-Thomas Memorial
Presbyterian Church


And Angels Waited on Him

Mark 1:9-15                  February 18, 2018         The Rev. Dr. Carrie Benz Scott

“And the angels waited on him.”

The tradition of the church is to read Jesus’ temptation story on the first Sunday in Lent. We usually focus on the temptations and pretty much gloss over this line: “and the angels waited on him.”

According to Matthew, the angels waited until the testing was over, and then ministered to the weary but victorious Lord. Mark reports the angels were there the whole time. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan for 40 days, he was with the wild beasts for 40 days and the angels waited on him…somehow there for 40 days, seen or not until the end.

In both accounts, there were angels. What do we do with that? There are angels in the Christmas story and it just seems right that they are there, you know, with a baby and lambs and everything. But angels appear other places too – in Scripture and even in our PCUSA Book of Confessions. 

Are angels just religious myths? Are they real divine beings who surround the Son of God? Are there forces out there surrounding even us that we don’t recognize?

This is one of those topics that most folks won’t bring up in 2018. We don’t talk much about angels in polite society. The lucky ones among us, though, can identify friends who have been like angels to us –friends who have stuck with us through it all. Friends who know all about us and like us anyway. Friends who show up at just the right time, with the right hug, and even if they can’t figure out the right words they have exactly the right look in their eyes. Friends who only have to say, “I’m sorry,” in our grieving for us to know we are not alone. Friends who lure us back out into the world when we hole ourselves up. Friends with whom the invitation, “How about lunch?” becomes a lifeline. Friends who are somehow part of us. Maybe we’re not so sure about angels, but it’s not such a stretch to recognize that the friends who have been with us in our wilderness and waited on us are much like angels. It’s not such a stretch to suspect God sends our friends as gifts, as signs of God’s own presence, like angels.

Sometimes I still wonder, though, if there’s not more than flesh and blood that surrounds us. When the Apostle Paul said, “faith, hope and love, these three abide,” was he just talking about feelings, or are faith, hope and love somehow forces that are more than human emotion? When the Bible talks about powers and principalities, flesh and blood is involved but more than flesh and blood is at work too.

I have a friend who’s a mystic. We met each other at our college orientation. Even though we were incredibly close, I didn’t find out she was a mystic until we were in our 40’s. Back in college I discovered she was a devout Catholic only because the rest of us ne’er-do-wells would sleep in on Sunday morning, but Anne would always go to mass. It made me feel guilty, good Presbyterian that I was supposed to be. One time I wandered down to a Presbyterian church to check it out. But their only service was so early – 10 am! – and though Anne was getting up for mass, I wasn’t sure I could manage it.  Besides, church was one of those things I wanted to do with someone. Walking into a church as a lone college student felt – well, dangerous. What if they pounced on me and wanted me to lead their youth group? So I never went. The bottom line is that for all we talked about, and we could talk for hours, we rarely, rarely talked about our faith. I felt like, for Anne, it was an invasion of her privacy.  A deep invasion of her privacy.

Only years later did I discover why. Anne did not want to reveal her mystical side. She was afraid I’d write her off and think she was a nut case.

I’ve never talked to angels, at least not the kind lacking flesh. But Anne has.

This deeply sane, professional, once upon a time stock broker and the youngest Vice President her firm ever named, says she’s talked to angels. She also says it wasn’t her idea. She didn’t ask for it. But they came anyway. And changed the course of her life.

I don’t know what to make of it.

Scientists declare space is empty, and then they discover forces in the space they didn’t spot before and declare it’s not that empty after all. How do we know for sure that the seeming empty spaces around us are, in fact, empty?

Someone very wise once said that it is normal to question our faith; but we also must remember to question our doubts.

Mark tell us angels waited on Him. Angels.

No wonder the church sticks with the temptation. It’s ever so much easier to grasp and nobody calls you a lunatic for talking about it. After all, which one of us hasn’t faced some temptation or another? We know about temptation. And we may even realize that, unlike Jesus, sometimes we’ve lost to it.  And worst of all, sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing battle. We are so easily duped, so easily blinded, so easily manipulated. Many of us resonate with Paul, who was utterly frustrated that he could not get himself to do what he ought to do, or not do what he ought not do. No wonder we talk about temptation. We know all about temptation.

But the Gospels say angels waited on Jesus in the wilderness. And the tradition tends to lean on the Matthew side, where they were on the sidelines until after Satan departed.

If there are angels, were any of them in Parkland, Florida on Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day? Were any angels there with the kids and teachers that day? Did they help point out hiding places? Were these ministering spirits at work in ways we don’t fully recognize?

In the story about Jesus in the wilderness, in battle for his identity, his calling, his life, the angels did not do front-on battle with Satan. Instead, they ministered around the edges. Maybe even Jesus didn’t notice them until after Satan departed. Then they were there, tending him.

They were recognized after the battle.

Whether we believe there are angels, or think angels represent our attempt to talk about the mysterious presence of God, this story makes me wonder because of the truth of it.

In some of the hardest battles in life, when we do battle with the very forces of evil, we don’t always recognize the angels, if you will, in the heat of the battle. But we discover them later, at the end.

I know you know about that terrible time in our lives when we were in court fighting to get a child molester away from our daughter and all daughters. Rage and pain, the trauma of all of it on all of us, was suffocating. We didn’t know how the court case would end up. What if he wasn’t convicted? What would I have done by putting my daughter through this?  The only tangible proof we had had been suppressed, declared illegal because it was an invasion of his privacy. So, we went in, feeling alone, with only our prayers to cover us.  We testified alone. I couldn’t be in the courtroom for my daughter’s testimony. She couldn’t be there for mine. We each testified alone, without any family present for support. We felt alone. Like we were doing battle alone. It was only after the verdict, when he was declared guilty on all five horrific counts, that I discovered there were far more with us than I ever imagined. After the trial the bailiffs came to us. It turns out all three knew about us and were praying the whole time. The jury came to us, too, surrounding us. They shared how one of them felt a nudge to look closely at the wedding ring worn by the woman staged to appear as the defendant’s wife. She realized the ring matched one of the lawyer’s, not the defendant. Where did that nudge come from?  The jury saw and sensed and recognized far more than we thought possible. And I don’t know how it is, but forces seen and unseen manifested themselves at the end and ministered to us. Only at the end did I realize we were not alone.

Did you see the editorial by a man who had been a student at Columbine? He saw his friend shot and killed. He saw what no child should ever see, and it took a toll. Somehow though, by some holy grace, he has survived and has dedicated his life to helping youth fight the demons of addiction and violence. What holy nudges came to him? What ministering spirits surrounded him? What angels may be surrounding the Parkland youth and that community today?

Why we don’t always see the angels in the wilderness, I can’t tell you. But that we spot them at the end, I can.

And I want to emphasize this: the angels did not do the battling for Jesus. Jesus had to battle Satan on his  own two feet. Jesus had to face the time of testing. The angels could not do it for him.

I submit to you that our nation is being tested today. Not that God has made these shootings happen, but we are being tested. Our very mettle, our very soul is being tested.

We must do something as a nation about these mass shootings. We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and pretend we’re helpless.  We can’t do battle with evil by doing nothing.  It won’t just all go away. Angels are not going to fix it for us. We must find a way past our arguments and stalemates to enact meaningful changes at so many levels. We are being tested.  We must engage in the battle.

We may feel alone. But we won’t be alone. And none of us is exempt.

All with ears to hear, hear. Amen.

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