How To Entertain An Angel

For those of you I haven't told, my grandson says he saw an angel in our worship one Sunday.
Micah is almost 3 and his parents have raised him to know that Jesus loves him, and I guess he also knows about angels too. Apparently he does because he told his mom that he saw an angel in our worship.
Some might say, "how imaginative."
A more cynical person might say, "clever boy...he knows how to get on his mom's good side." His mom of course is my daughter.
My response is like the baseball fan after a good call from the home plate umpire..."good eyes there, ump!"
Except in my case it's "way to go, Micah!  I've always thought as much."
I do believe that angels worship unseen alongside us.
In the Book of Hebrews we read, "Do not forget to to be hospitable to strangers for by so doing, some have entertained angels unaware."
What is pictured is the well known story of Abraham and Sara giving hospitality to three strangers. They turn out to be angels of God who then in turn bless the couple.

In a similar way Jesus tells a parable about sheep and goats. It is found in Matthew chapter 25. In his story, people have been kind or unkind to the Lord by way they treated others, especially those in difficulty.
They say, "Lord, when did we see you?"
He says, "When you did it to one of these the least of my children, you did it to me".

In the passage we read in Luke, Jesus talks about doing acts of kindness for those who cannot return the favor. When we give without any idea of being repaid, we give as if we were giving to God, and the Lord receives it as such. When we give with the expectation of being repaid, Jesus doesn't condemn that. He simply says, then you already have your reward.

There is nothing wrong with investing in a project you believe will be profitable. But when you receive your dividends, then the transaction is complete.
On the other hand, when you give out of compassion or a desire to serve God, you release your gift to accomplish what God wants it to accomplish and there is no telling what God will do.

How do you entertain an angel?
According to Genesis and other references, the answer is "with kindness and hospitality".

But there is another principal about how we treat others in general.
There is a story of the famous rabbi Gamaliel who lived around the time of Jesus. At his son's wedding he poured wine for his guests who thought it inappropriate for so distinguished a scholar to wait on guests. They remembered that Abraham, a greater man than Gamaliel had waited on his angelic visitors.
 "Aha!", said some "but they were angels he served."
"Yes", said others, "but he did not know they were angels at first. To him they just looked like Arabs"1

A story that may be apocryphal is set in London.

A man was having dinner with his parents at a stylish London restaurant. The food was superb, and the setting?complete with chandeliers, crystal and silver?was unbelievably elegant. Nonetheless, when his mother's main course arrived, she felt the need for a little salt. Trying the three silver shakers that were on the table, she discovered each contained pepper. She called the waiter over only to be told that she must be mistaken. Each table always contained two dispensers of pepper and one of salt.

A second attempt, however, showed that their table did, indeed, have three pepper shakers. Horrified, the waiter immediately brought her a saltshaker. When it was time for dessert, the maitre d' appeared, insisting that because of the oversight they choose something "on the house."

The woman protested, "It's not that important."

"But, Madame," he replied in all seriousness, "what if you had been the Queen?"2

With God, there is no "what if". How we treat one another is how we treat the Lord.
That thought can become a burden or it can give new life to our tasks.

A man I knew who was caretaker of a large downtown church saw his work as a service to God.
He had immigrated from another country and his unfamiliarity with the language and local customs meant he could not engage in his original occupation of sales. So he became a church caretaker. During most of the years he worked at his job, the pay was not great and he was always frustrated feeling that he didn't have just one boss, but dozens.
He solved his frustration by deciding he wasn't doing the work for all his critics. He was doing it for God.
Once he decided that, everything changed. Well everything but his salary.
He took pride in his work. He wasn't just a lowly caretaker. He was a servant of the Lord.
His favorite text was Psalm 84:10 "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of iniquity."

Doing a service for another person may be a burden until you see it as a service to God.
Linda M Thomas from North Carolina writes:

I was told that John came from a well-to-do family, but because he was mentally handicapped, they rejected him. Somehow John came to our community, and Daddy and Momma took him in. John would stay with our family for a while and then go to another place. This seemed to be his life pattern. I was just a baby at the time, so I have no recollection of John during the time he lived with us.

Sometime in the early '40s, while John was in another community, he was accused of assaulting someone and was sent to Dorothea Dix Hospital, an institution for the mentally handicapped. Apparently he gave the officials of Dorothea Dix Hospital my father's name as his guardian. Through the years Daddy was one of the few people who kept in touch with John. Every now and then a letter would arrive from the hospital needing permission for one thing or another for John or just simply delivering a message to us from John.

Some years later, the state reversed the Dorothea Dix residency policies; John was sent to a nursing home in Morehead City. By this time my father was in poor health both physically and mentally. His condition resulted in his moving to a local nursing home. Our family requested that John be moved to the same home, and he was. At this point, Daddy was more mentally deficient than John. John, then, took to overseeing Daddy's welfare. In our daily visits to see Daddy, we always found John's wheelchair right beside Daddy's. If Daddy had a bad day, John let us know it. If Daddy needed anything, John was his greatest advocate.

For all those years Daddy had befriended this man who was a ward of the state. Little did any of us realize that God would use John Sabiston to be Daddy's guardian angel during his last days on earth.3

I hear something frequently and it gives me real pleasure. I frequently hear from visitors to our church how warm and inviting our congregation is. So there is a pat on the back. One of the things I continually challenge our leaders about is to make sure they all take responsibility for greeting a new person in the church. We do not always get 100% response, but the overall sense is of warmth and welcome. At least that is what I am told.

I think back on what my grandson said about seeing an angel in the church.
Maybe God allowed us to know that for sure we have angelic visitors. Maybe they know when they are welcome.
But if the opportunity arises, and with a three year old it may not,  but if it does, I am going to ask Micah where he saw the angel sitting or standing. Maybe he just mistook one of your for an angel.
Either way, I can't think of anything better to be thankful about.

Be kind and hospitable to all. It's what our Lord expects of us. And you just never know who you are greeting when you do. It may be an angel at your door.

Preached  August 29, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1.F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, New International commentary on the New Testament, Eerdman's 1964.
  Bruce  quotes both Josephus and Philo.
2. Sermonnotes.com, quoted in Preachingtoday.com
3.Linda M. Thomas, "Today's Woman Touching Tomorrow's World," North Carolina Women's Ministries Newsletter of Pentecostal Holiness Church, (undated), p. 6 , cited in preachingtoday.com

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