"Finding Angels In Our Midst"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 19, 2004

Ecclesiastes 5:8-15; Luke 16:1-13

     Several years ago there was a company that experienced a major disaster.  A large fire destroyed part of the corporate offices and badly damaged the larger facility where the company’s manufacturing was done.  Several hundred people were displaced from their jobs.  Even though the building and contents were fully insured, it would take many months for the company to rebuild and once again open its doors for business.  

     Everyone empathized with the families involved.  Many families were living from paycheck to paycheck as many do today.  Not being able to pay their bills would translate into many of their homes and cars being repossessed.  The fire had affected the entire community.  

     The owner of the company had done exceedingly well financially.  He gathered his employees together and announced that he would continue to pay their salaries until the company could reestablish itself.  He told them that they were his extended family, and since all of them including him, depended on the company for their livelihood, they would stick together.  The word “angel” was used to describe him by a number of the employees.  Clearly he had quieted many of their worst fears. 

     When reporters covering this story interviewed the owner of the company, appearing to be such a hero humbled him.  His spin on the decision, however, added another dimension to it. He said, “We have many highly trained specialists working for us.  If they located jobs elsewhere or left our community, we would have to find new people with their level of expertise that would fit into our corporate culture.  We are like the movement of a Swiss watch that has been broken.  We can put ourselves back together again in good working order if we retain all the parts.”  

     Was his “angel” status somewhat tarnished or suspect because part of his motivation had its roots in something other than love for his people?  This is an interesting question and it is one that Jesus addressed with his parable in Luke’s Gospel. 

     Luke is the only writer to use this illustrative episode featuring a shrewd manager.  To recap, the manager was living rather lavishly on his master’s money.  This activity was reported to his boss.  Upon hearing this news, the wealthy property owner demanded an immediate audit of all accounts.  During the process of settling the accounts, the manager instantly became an “angel.” 

     He discounted every account.  For example, if someone owed his master a hundred barrels of olive oil, he settled for fifty.  If someone owed a thousand bushels of wheat, he planned to collect only eight hundred.  In this way, he would appear generous and gain for himself a nice network of grateful people who might be able to assist him once he lost his job. 

     Jesus made a very interesting comment.  He said, “After observing the activity of his manager, the master praised him for doing such a shrewd thing.”  Jesus went on to say, “The people of this world are much more shrewd in handling their affairs than are the people who belong to the light.”  

     Jesus then supplied an insightful text for a sermon on Stewardship.  He said, “Share your worldly wealth in order to make friends, so that when you reach the time in your life when money will no longer be useful to you, you will be welcomed in the eternal home.” 

     I do not intend to talk about money this morning, but rather about the nature of the angel who lives within each of us.  Is that angel easily recognized by others?  Jesus taught, “Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in larger ones.”  Then he put a negative spin on his next thought, “If you have not been faithful in handling worldly wealth, how can you be trusted with real wealth?” 

     If we examine the deeds of the two managers, we quickly discover that they were reaching out to others because it was “good business” to do so.  Jesus was telling his listeners that such people are more astute at engaging in this practice than  “people of the light.”  What was he referencing?   

     His message was very clear that people grounded in enterprises of this world know how to deal very effectively with people.  Shrewd managers know that it is a good practice to give small rewards to the people around them, to offer incentives that tend to create loyalty in others and to compliment people on a job well done.   This is common sense in the business world.  Yet, can such behavior be found consistently among those who claim to follow Christ?  

     There is perhaps no other written prayer that captures more effectively the essence of Jesus’ point of view than the words of St. Francis.  He was praying to be an instrument of God’s peace.  Notice where he wanted to invest his energy.  He wanted to sow seeds of love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy when he found people who were trapped in the opposite universe of:  hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.  How consistently do we want to reveal this angel of light within us? 

     Many people in the business world clearly understand how to do this.  In fact, they are trained constantly on this one skill.  Read The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwartz, or Leadership is an Art by Max DePree and you will understand the lengths to which managers train to sell their product, to influence their clients or to manage their teams more effectively.  

     On a number of occasions, Wal-Mart has built stores in the middle of the poorest communities.  Public Relations wise these were brilliant decisions.  The store would provide badly needed jobs for members of the community and win the praise of everyone.  On the business side, however, such a move was equally as brilliant.  The property was very cheap to purchase.  Wal-Mart would experience little resistance from the community.  The labor pool to be trained was readily available. 

     Jesus’ point was that businesses are very shrewd when it comes to serving others.  People of the light, however, are often far more sensitive, demanding, righteous and less than accommodating when issues in life become challenging.  Let me give you an example.           

     A friend of mine e-mailed me not long ago from Texas and said, “I need some advice.  There’s a guy in my office that is hitting on me.  I am avoiding him and it is becoming awkward.”  I wrote back and asked, “What is he doing?”  She said, “One day he told me that he liked my dress.  Another day he talked to me about how much he liked my new hairstyle.  Then last week he told me that I had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.”           

     I probably was not as sensitive to her fears as I might have been.   I responded, “Don’t you women spend hundreds of dollars to be noticed, to stand out and to look your best?  The next time he says anything complimentary to you simply say, ‘Thank you’ and go on about your work.  You do not need to engage in a conversation that he might misunderstand nor do you have to play hide and seek with your eye contact.  Thank him for his astute observation and let it go.”           

     Why do such episodes in the office become interpreted as ones where we need to defend ourselves?  St. Francis would have taught her to turn such an experience into a moment when she could display graciousness and appreciation for his validation of her.  People of light often miss who they have been called to be when they find themselves in first-time circumstances.  They chose to hide their angel.  

     Now of course, saying “thank you” may not bring an end to his obvious advances but it is a much better place to begin than with fear, dread and paranoia.  Not every man in the work force has an agenda that includes every female with whom he works.  Some of us are nice guys!     

     In the business world such a reflective comment as “thank you” would be automatic.   This was Jesus’ point.  In the business world, “all people are to be treated with kindness, respect and listened to with an attitude toward service.”  Yet, in churches a number of people find it easy to dismiss their angelic identity as they draw battle lines over an issue about which they have strong feelings.  The angel within them becomes well hidden.           

     In the second half of his prayer, St. Francis described what the angel in us looks like. He contrasted our human neediness with our desire to be an angel in someone’s life.  He wrote, “May I not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love.   In essence, “Do we want the world to come to us or do we want to reach out and allow our angel to show?”           

     About five or six years ago we had a couple that had attended St. Matthew’s for a number of months.  This was during a time when we still had our coffee hour in the narthex.  This couple would stand there and wait for others to speak to them.  What they were doing was in direct violation of everything for which St. Francis prayed. Presumably these were people of the light who had forgotten how to radiate their energy and to recognize that hand shakes and introductions work both ways.  They presumed that St. Matthew’s was unfriendly and they did not return.

     This illustration is not to find fault with them.  This is often where some people are emotionally when they engage in the process of finding a new church family. They are strangers who may be self-conscious in the new setting.  They may not find being gregarious, immediately joining the choir or being an usher something they feel comfortable doing.  

     Such people can easily be ignored because we have forgotten how to master our own levels of discomfort when we are with newcomers.  This is a skill that Wal-Mart has finely tuned when customers enter their stores.  Again, this was Jesus’ point.  

     In many churches, including our own, finding people willing to say, “Welcome” is a challenge.  Our clipboard in the tower of opportunity has plenty of room for sign-ups.  Remember Jesus’ words, “Whoever is faithful in small matters will know how to be faithful in larger ones.” 

     Do we think that we would be a kinder, gentler and more loving person if someone were paying us $20 an hour to do so?  If that is our attitude, we have missed completely Jesus’ understanding of what it is like to live in the Kingdom of God while living in the physical world.  Being an angel cannot be imitated or faked every day.  Besides, being one is its own reward.           

     I recently read a question that was part of a survey directed toward women suffering from depression. Tracy Content, a member of our church, who has authored a book on depression, created this survey.  She is currently doing research on a second book.  The question was, “In what ways, if any, has your experience with depression made you a better mother?”  A woman responded with these words, “I have seen myself as completely broken, and then accepted and loved even in that broken state.  This is a powerful peace and sense of grace that I can now teach my own children.”           

No matter who we are or who we have become, the angel within us is still capable of making this world a brighter and more loving place for people to live.  The guidance comes from how we choose to invest our energy even when no one is paying us to do so.   Equally we may realize that no one is even noticing our behavior.  Being noticed is not the point. Those who have chosen to live this way are now in charge of managing what Jesus referred to as real wealth, something all angels readily know how to do.  Do we find ourselves among them?


    Thank you, God, for giving humanity the seventh day of creation as a time of rest.  When our minds are still, insights often come.  Help us focus on our thoughtfulness rather than on our desires.  Help us to remember our reason for being rather than focusing on specific outcomes.  Inspire us to look for solutions rather than for what will please.  Guide us to find value in revealing our authenticity, peace and optimism while living in a day when so many stress the opposite.  As we learn to set aside the barriers our attitudes create, may we see your Kingdom dawning in more and more people.  Thank you for helping us to remain wise stewards of the light we possess.  May our innocence, character and integrity give others hope.  Amen.


    Loving and always present God, thank you for creating us to be social beings that desire to live in community.   The natural disasters entering our lives during recent weeks have focused very sharply on why we could not survive without others.  Even the strongest among us is powerless without those who restore our electricity, rebuild our bridges and homes, furnish us with insurance adjusters and who remove debris that can be found everywhere.   

    Our thoughts are with people who still cannot locate loved ones, with those who were vulnerable in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and birthing centers and those who are working around the clock to provide food, water and clothing to those who have lost everything.  While so many people mourn their losses, help them cling to their values, faith and your divine presence that will always remain visible to the eyes of the spirit. 

    If there was ever a time for angels to abound among us, it is now.  As Nature has given so many people an unwelcomed pause from their routines, may neighbors discover neighbors.  May those who experience isolation either by design or circumstance come to know that a real world of love, compassion and friendship does exist.  Allow spirit to melt away the barriers that have been built between peoples so that permanent bridges may take their place.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .