Sermon St Eustachius 9.45 Sunday 18 October 2020 Luke the Evangelist (19after Trinity)
Isaiah 35v3-6 Psalm 147v1-7 2 Timothy 4v5-17 Luke 10v1-9
May I speak in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
As this morning we celebrate the festival of Saint Luke the evangelist, I want to ask you, ‘what do you know about Luke’?
Perhaps your first answer is that he wrote the gospel that carries his name, and that he then went on to write the book of Acts. If that is so, and the early church fathers like Jerome and Eusebius thought it to be so, then Luke wrote over a quarter of the text of our New Testament. But what else comes to mind?
Perhaps that he travelled with Saint Paul on mission, and was described by Paul in Colossians (4v14) as a ‘physician’ and one of his faithful companions.
Many scholars believe Luke was indeed a Greek physician who lived in Antioch in what is now Turkey, and so was most likely a gentile Christian. Early church tradition says that Luke died at the age of 84 in Boeotia in the northeast of the gulf of Corinth in Greece, and that he may have been martyred by being hung from an olive tree. His tomb was then located at nearby Thebes, and his relics later transferred to Constantinople in AD 357.
Perhaps one surprising tradition is that Luke, besides being a physician and historian, was also a gifted artist, and the first icon writer. Especially in the Orthodox faith Luke is credited with icons of the virgin Mary and child, and the Saint Thomas Christians of India claim they still have one which Thomas took to India with him in the first century.
There is in the Armenian quarter of Old City of Jerusalem, the small and ancient Syrian Orthodox Church of Saint Mark, which claims to be the location of the last supper and the home of the evangelist Mark and his mother Mary. I have seen there, a painting on leather of Mary and the infant Jesus, supposedly done by Luke, but experts date it to much later Byzantine times.
We have read in our gospel that Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to go on ahead of him to ‘heal the sick, and to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near’. A very good message for our time as well. One of the early church fathers, Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, thought that Luke was one of those seventy apostles, but that to my mind is pure speculation. Our reading however, does contains a number of important lessons for us this morning.
Jesus could see that even in the religious society of his time there was little substance and that ‘the harvest was plentiful’, but that there were few labourers to reap that harvest. That sounds more than ever like the times in which we live. How necessary it is for us to pray to the Lord for labourers for the harvest.
To pray that God will raise up more labourers in our time, like the evangelist of old, labourers from our churches who are called and anointed for mission. Let us give thanks for Fiona, who has recently joined us to do just that in the fields of growing young families as our town grows and develops.
Labourers who like John the Baptist and Jesus, will call people to repent, and as Peter said to the crowd at Pentecost, ‘repent, be baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit’.
Clearly a call to that work in not easy. It needs the leading of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of a strong faith. Those seventy were called to go out and rely on God’s provision as they were to take no purse or bag. There are many missionaries who today still live such a life of faith, relying upon God to provide for their needs through the generosity of God’s people. Maybe you know someone like that, and can encourage them in their essential and sacrificial work through your prayers and support.
When writing to Timothy, Paul could see that his active time of mission may have been drawing to a close, “I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come”. Since his ‘Damascus Road’ experience, Paul had given himself tirelessly to the service of the gospel, much of it at his own expense, he still worked at his trade as a tent maker. And what an epitaph he wrote for himself, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. May that be said for each of us when our time comes.
Our Christian pilgrimage, our walk with Jesus our Lord, may have been, may still be, like ‘a fight’. A fight against the distractions and deceits of the materialism of this transient world, this physical world in which we now live, those attractions that do seem so attractive to us but must not be allowed to become our idols. But what may not be so obvious, is the fight that we as Christians also face in the spiritual realm. Peter in his first epistle (1Peter 5v8) reminds us that we must, “Be sober, be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.
So then, do we live out our lives taking care to watch out for, and to recognise those attacks that come from the evil one, and how do we then respond? That fight is another good reason for us to constantly bare one another up in prayer.
Paul could also see that the Christian life had been like a race for him, a race for which there was to be a prize at the end, ‘a crown of righteousness’. Are we running in that same race as Paul? Are we living out our lives as ambassadors for our God, and trusting to hear those beautiful words from Jesus our master (Mtt 25v21), “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”
I for one, and I trust you also, do hope to hear those words, and to indeed enter into the inexpressible joy of our Lord. So how do we ensure that we run the particular race set before each one of us successfully?
Some words from the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews may help us to run a successful race (12v1-2).
“Therefore, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race set before us”. Fortunately the verse does not end there, leaving it just up to us alone to find strength to run in the race. We are told to, “Look unto Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.
How essential it is for us as Christians to walk our daily lives aware of the presence of our Lord with us. Let us remember the words of psalm 73 (v23) “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand”.
And I wonder if we feel like Paul that “we have kept the faith”? Maybe we have had some ‘wobbles’ along the way; maybe we have had times of great faith when we could say to the mountain, ‘be removed’ and it would have removed, but maybe we have also experienced some times of doubt.
Those may have been such times when we were driven to the Lord (Mark 9v24), like the man who came to Jesus with a son having a dumb spirit, and said to Jesus, “Lord help my unbelief”. And what was the Lord’s encouraging reply? “All things are possible to him who believes”. So let us hold firm our faith and trust in the Lord, He is always with us even when we doubt.
Paul experienced God’s constant presence as he walked his pilgrimage life, because he maintained his trust in the one true God, creator of the universe. The God whom we too have come to believe in and to trust, a God who knows each of the million, million, million stars by name, and yet knows you and me.
I trust that we all hope, and look forward with confidence to the promised coming time, the day when our God will come to judge this forlorn, cruel and unjust world in righteousness. Not to judge as we so often do with only half the truth before us, but as Isaiah says (Is 11v3-4), “He-Jesus- shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”. As Abraham said, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right” (Gen 18v25).
It will be a time when God will heal the brokenhearted, and bind up all their wounds. A time when God will lift up the poor, open the eyes of the blind, and the lame shall certainly leap for joy, as the salvation of God is fully realised. I hope the thought of that time sets your pulse racing, it certainly does mine.
Let us then make sure this morning, that as we come together around the table of our Lord, to remember him in the breaking of the bread, we also allow Jesus, as he did with those two disciples at Emmaus on the first Easter day, to ‘make Himself known’, to reveal himself afresh, when we break the bread together. Let us look to be strengthened with this spiritual food, the bread of life, and may we also join with Paul, the Holy Spirit and the bride in crying ‘come’, for like them we ‘long for his appearing’.
So to return to Luke, like all the four evangelists, they each have a special symbol, and in Luke’s case what is it? Yes, it is that of a winged Ox or bull. Remembering the agrarian culture of New Testament times, that symbol would have been associated with sacrifice, service and strength. So for us as Christians it reminds us that the call to follow Jesus, our Lord and master, is a call that leads us into a life of sacrifice and service, only made possible through the strength of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.
Let us pray; the shorter collect for this 19th Sunday after Trinity:-
Faithful Lord, whose steadfast love never ceases
and whose mercies never come to an end:
grant us the grace to trust you
and to receive the gifts of your love,
new every morning, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen