Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ministry, not Satan

My homily went well last night and I felt good writing it and giving it. I had a moment of "oops" when I opened the bulletin and saw that the title of my homily was "The Fallen Angel." Matt. 4 is a dramatic Bible story, about Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness after Jesus has retreated and fasted for 40 days. I imagine that the scripture quoting that goes back and forth must be similar to what the Rabinical scholars do. The little detail of the story that has always had me puzzled is the part that says, "the tempter took him..." How did Satan transport Jesus here and there? Does the fallen angel still have wings? Did they magically transport through time and space?

I was focusing on none of that. When I got the phone call a month ago asking me to preach, I was told that the text was about the angels ministering to Jesus. There are lots of good, hard working angels in this passage who are usually overlooked because of the strong story of the devil and Jesus in the wilderness.

This sermon series was supposed to be about the angels in the Bible. It turns out that isn't much in the way of descriptions of angels. That there ARE angels is taken for granted, and there is no doubt that when an angel appears to someone, the creature is recognized as an angel.

But there is quite a bit about what angels do, so I focused my sermon on the "ministry" of the angels as an example that we can follow. Here is an excerpt from the middle of the sermon.

To minister is (1) to perform the functions of a minister of religion and (2) to give aid or service to another, especially to the sick.

When I was young, we didn’t use the word “Pastor.” We said “Minister.” Our minister was the person who lived at the church, we thought, and he was the person who was supposed to visit the sick, counsel the troubled and the happy, and he was to teach and preach and pray, and run everything in the church. And he was paid as little as the members could get away with. After all, ministering was God’s work.

But this church has a “Pastor.” Our bulletins say that the Ministers are the congregation. We teach that Christian ministry, caring, service, helping, etc. are a natural result of our faith. Because we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are changed. How are we changed? One way is that we have the examples of Jesus and the angels who ministered to others to follow. This changing grace and these examples help us to suppress our natural tendencies of selfishness and self-centeredness so that we will take time for others.

In order to minister there has to be someone to minister to. It is pretty easy to see lots of need in our community and in the world. But sometimes each of us becomes the recipient of the ministry of another.

The angels ministered to Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh no. I’ll be Ok.” Or “I came into the wilderness to be alone, so please go away.” Or “I AM the Son of God. I don’t need any help.”

For some of us, -- well, we value our self-sufficiency, we don’t want to ask for or accept help. We are afraid to admit our needs or our weaknesses. But there are various seasons in our lives, our needs and abilities change. Sometimes be humble enough to ask another for ministry. Be gracious in accepting the ministry of others, just as Jesus did.


  1. PS, I appreciated your message. We are indeed all ministers. I see my task as pastor to be to empower others for the ministry we share. As for angels, it seems like Satan was an angel who wanted the divine glory for himself. True angels serve as messengers of God and communicate God's glory.
    So, did you end up with a sermon or a homily? I usually think of a sermon as 10 minutes or more, while a homily is more of a short address, 5 minutes or less. But there's probably a more precise definition out there.

  2. It was probably close to 10 minutes. I got a very strong prositive response to the message. The part I didn't post contained "angel" stories that were true and about me and some people in our church. The concluding paragraph was:

    I have deliberately told you stories that were about real people, not about angels. Or were they angels? Does it matter? When we take time to help other people, to care, to listen, to sit with them, to give to them, we are following the example of the angels who ministered to Jesus in the wilderness. And we are following the example of our Lord, who spent his life ministering to all those around him.


And what do you think?