Sermon for Luke the Evangelist
2 Timothy 4:5-17
She named the child Ichabod, meaning, ‘The glory has departed from Israel’
1 Samuel 4:21
I think that when we hear today is the feast of Luke the Evangelist we might have a couple of responses. Firstly we have a bit of a problem with ‘Evangelism’, and secondly we might ask – don’t we rather prefer to think of St Luke in terms of healing ??
Well perhaps our problem lies as much with healing as it does with Evangelism . . .
Over the past few weeks, I have referred on occasion to the complete distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which was occasioned when ‘Christianity’ came into being. That is to say when the Way of Jesus Christ was turned into a religion, most effectively by the fifth Century Roman emperor Theodosius, although Constantine is the name most associate with this change.
From a mass movement mainly amongst the persecuted and marginalised followers of Jesus – ‘Christianity’ was born as the Religion of all. And because it was ‘of all’ the words of Jesus became ‘spiritualised’ As I said a few weeks ago the Church moved from being those who sought a glass of water, who were hungry and fed, who were naked and clothed, who were in prison and visited, to that Religious institution who carried out such good works, before often returning to comfortable homes . . .
No longer was one ‘not to resist an evil doer’. No longer was taking money on interest a bad thing . . . no longer did the ‘Church’ suggest one could not be a soldier and a follower of Jesus . . . Jesus’ message became a ‘spiritual message’, with a promise of ‘heaven’ hereafter, and business as usual before you died. No longer was anyone persecuted for their private belief – after all what threat is such a ‘religion’?? The Sermon on the Mount became a message about heaven, completely ignoring Jesus warning about hearing and doing or not doing in the story of the House on the Rock, and of course no one for a moment could think that the Poor were blessed – rather it was the pious, ever so ‘umble and self deprecating ‘poor in spirit’ who were truly blessed, despite the fact that for Jesus ‘the poor in Spirit’ the anawim, were those who barely scraped living on the land . . .
But, and here is the horrible irony . . . in spiritualising Jesus’ words, in getting all spiritual, the Spirit disappeared . . . And this is best illustrated by the famous story of St Thomas Aquinas and Pope Innocent II. The Pope was showing the great Doctor of the Church the splendours of St Peter’s Church in Rome, and said ‘Look, Thomas – no longer can we say ‘Silver and Gold have I none, and the St, well schooled in Scripture retorted – and neither can we say ‘in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk’
Peter and John had neither silver or Gold – why would they? They were Jesus’ people, utterly dependent upon the hospitality or otherwise of the world, like their Lord, with nowhere fixed to lay their heads. So they cannot give the lame man alms, but they are not so much spiritual, as their bodies are full of the Spirit. So they declare to the lame man, stand up and walk – and he does . . . as St Luke reminds us . . .
Of course, God has not left himself without witnesses . . . amongst the poor churches, you still here of these things – or the Church in Africa and what I’m trained to call ‘The Far East’ The Bishop of Singapore I’m given to understand won’t ordain anyone who doesn’t have a ministry in raising the dead . . . but such messages from the edge, from marginal people, like the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus by women . . these messages are easily dismissed . . . and we look for other understandings of The Kingdom of God, locating it in human ‘progress’, or ‘scientific breakthroughs’, or the like.
Luke is an Evangelist – he is one who announces Good News – and he is a doctor, so associated with healing, and the two, Evangelism and Healing go together.
The arrival of Jesus is the end of business as we know it. God has come to judge and to save his people – the harvest is being gathered. Some will hear and respond – others will dismiss it. Some will welcome the evangelists, take them into their homes, others will drive them out. They will all be judged by their response to Jesus – which is one with their response to his body in whom his spirit dwells. ‘Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me and the one who sent me’ Jesus totally identified himself with the Church. The arrival of the disciples in the villages and towns is the arrival of Jesus himself . . . and once again dare we begin to say that in these days?? No. Instead we are commanded to go out and find out what God is up to – ignoring the fact that were we Jesus people, the Spirit of God would dwell amongst us – the Kingdom of God would be completely revealed in our life together.
Jesus send out his disciples in twos – for when two or three are gathered he is there – he sends them out in utter vulnerability. Not from positions of wealth and comfort, not with great learning or any of the other things we arm ourselves with and defend ourselves against the very life of the One whose name we bear. ‘Go on your way. Behold!! PAy attention – LOOK – This is important!! I am sending you out – like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. (Don’t dilly dally on the way, you have urgent business to be about!) Whatever house you enter, first say ‘Peace to this house!’ As the angels pronounced, Peace on Earth – Good Will to all men – so your message is delivered in the Peace of God – soft and gentle like a dove – and if the message is not received in peace, then you will not lose your peace. It will be returned to you. Just leave.
Eat whatever your hosts provide, for they are blessing your work. The worker deserves his wages – and Heal the sick who are there and say to them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you
We struggle with evangelism because we think it aggressive – but in truth we have more reason to fear because it calls us to go in total vulnerablity dependence and trust. In such vulnerablity, simple rejection and indeed worse are part and parcel of our existence. As St Paul tells Timothy ‘As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully’ The evangelist is one who is daily open to suffering and rejection for he carries the Life of Jesus who is crucifed by the World – In that childlike vulnerability – with all defenses down, The Spirit of God can rest upon us, and be released for healing.
But we cannot become vehicles for this life, unless we have first heard the Good News and put down our defenses so that the life of God can flow in and out unhindered, and the Kingdom revealed in word and Healing.
Why do we see no healing? Because perhaps we don’t understand what it is to be an evangelist. St Luke stands by to remind us