Address for Sunday 18th October
LUKE THE EVANGELIST
Readings: 2 Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9
Today is the feast of St Luke the Evangelist. St Luke being what we term a ‘red-letter’ saint takes precedence over the 19th Sunday after Trinity.
We owe St Luke him an enormous debt for what we learn of the life of Jesus through his gospel, and for what we learn of the development of the early Church through the Acts of the Apostles. He begins both books by addressing ‘most excellent Theophilus’, and starts Acts noting that in his first book he wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven. Acts continues the story. We don’t know exactly who ‘most excellent Theophilus’ was, but seemingly a person of some standing in the Roman world.
Luke’s gospel has many distinct characteristics. It centers on ‘redemption’ – the redemption won by Jesus on the Cross. We thank St Luke for the words of the Benedictus at Matins, and for the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis at Evensong. He gives us a detailed account of the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; the birth of John the Baptist and then of Jesus, and he gives us the only story we have of Jesus’ childhood. He gives us most of the parables of Jesus, and the great stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. He shows a positive bias to the poor, the marginalised, and the distressed, with Jesus ministering to these, often in the face of opposition. People are always changed in these encounters. Another feature of Luke’s gospel is that of Jesus the pray-er; many times Jesus is found in prayer to his Father; often alone, and most notably in the agony of his distress in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Of the man himself we know relatively little. His is believed to have been born in Antioch of Syria. But he is obviously a cultured man of learning, and Antioch was known as a seat of literature. We don’t know that he ever met Jesus. He may have been converted by St Paul after Our Lord’s life. Some think that Luke was one of the seventy disciples whom Jesus sent forth to publish the gospel. We know that he accompanied Paul in many of his labours and journeyings, and was with Paul during his two years’ imprisonment in Rome. We know nothing certain of his death.
His reputation as a physician comes only from one reference to ‘doctor Luke’ by St. Paul, so we cannot be sure of the extent of his work as a physician. But St Luke’s day has become an appropriate occasion to consider the healing ministry of the Church. The Collect for today puts it together neatly “Almighty God, you called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: by the grace of the Spirit and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal…”
I believe it is true to say that the Church has lost some confidence in its healing ministry. But Jesus was quite clear in his instructions to the seventy that healing should be part of their ministry, “Whenever you enter a town…cure the sick who are there are say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” There are several instances, recorded by Luke in Acts, of the first apostles carrying out healing miracles, thus continuing the ministry that was such an integral part of Jesus’ own.
Dramatic instances of healing have been recorded through Christian history, and these still happen today. Much of my ministry has taken place in Kent, where Dorothy Kerin established a Christian healing centre at Burrswood in 1948. Dorothy experienced an overnight, miraculous healing in 1912. She believed that she had been healed by Christ and had been called to set up a place where others could come to receive the same healing. It continued as such for 70 years.
Formal prayers for healing have become increasingly common in many parishes over the last 30/40 years, and these are an expression of the belief that the Church has Jesus’ power and authority to make lives whole. There’s much distrust, misunderstanding and ignorance ‘out there’ about the nature of the Gospel; what we believe and how we allow our faith to enrich and fulfil our lives. Just a small anecdote to illustrate the point. Some years ago, I remember a sermon in which a vicar related how he was visiting a house he’d not been to before, I guess in those days when parish priests did ‘cold calling’ on their patches. The lady of the house invited him in, and they sat in the sitting room. As they talked, he noted how the lady gently guided an ashtray, which was on the floor, with her foot, under the settee, in the hope that he wouldn’t see it. He took it that she felt guilty about her smoking, or that the vicar would see this as some sort of sin. This was long before smoking was banned in public places. I’m sure you can think of many misconceptions people have about the nature of Christianity, and Christian belief.
So perhaps the time has come to reclaim the Gospel and the healing power it offers. I recall being called to a house in south-east London where there had been some poltergeist activity, and ordering that spirit out in the name of Jesus Christ. I have rarely felt so empowered in my ministry, or so assured that I was speaking with the authority of God.
I don’t need to tell you that there is such a lot of bad news around. If the C of E didn’t have enough difficulties with all the Covid restrictions, and the bad press earlier this year about the complete closure of churches, now we’ve just had a damning report on the Church’s failure to investigate safeguarding issues thoroughly. But don’t let all this diminish the fullness of ‘the wholesome medicine of the gospel’ either in your own thinking or in your presentation of the faith to others. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life; and have it abundantly.” May we ever be thankful for the faith we received and have been taught, and be confident in showing the goodness of the gospel whenever we have opportunity, so that others may have life abundantly.
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