Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sermon; Feast of St. Luke (tr.)

On this Feast of St. Luke, what does it mean to be a part of the parish of St. Luke's?

Back in early 2010 I happened across an article about church names and whether or not the name of the church had any bearing on the life of the congregation. For instance, were members of St. Francis more inclined to care for and work with those in poverty? Did members of St. Michael & All Angels have a tendency to fight for issues they felt important? Did St. Augustine's offer more educational opportunities than other parishes? Unfortunately I don't remember what the article concluded, but it's an interesting thought.

It's an interesting question, I think, for us to ponder. Does the name of the parish have any bearing on the life or ethos of the congregation? Or, asked another way, can a congregation live out a life or exhibit characteristics that reflect the life of their patron saint? If the answer to those questions is, “Yes,” then what might that look like for us here at st. Luke's?

For us to examine that question, we should probably spend some time getting to know St. Luke.

If tradition is factually correct, and in this case it probably is, we know from Colossians that he was a Gentile physician. He traveled with Paul to Philippi, Jerusalem and Rome. It is also possible that he was an early member of the Church in Antioch.

Other traditions, some more plausible than others, say that he wasn't married and wrote his two-volume work (the gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles) while in Greece. Later traditions count him among the 70 sent out by Christ, as well as being the unnamed disciple of Emmaus. He has at least one painting ascribed to him, so he is the patron saint of both physicians and painters. He died in Thebes at the age of 84; or he was crucified in Pelonnesus; or he was beheaded by Nero after an odd scene in which his right hand was cut off and then reattached. His relics originally resided in Constantinople but, through a variety of circumstances, the rib closest to his heart now resides in Thebes, his body in Padua at the Abbey of Santa Giustina, and his head rests at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (which is now certainly on my list of “must sees” when we go there this spring).

In this long and sometimes convoluted tradition of St. Luke, I think there are two things we, as a parish who bear his name, could focus on. The first is that, as the beloved physician, he was a healer. Can this parish be a place of healing? Almost every day of the week some group meets here for recovery meetings. There is some healing happening there.

Can there be healing in here as well? Would we be willing to welcome and include those people who have been rejected or abused by other churches? Would we be willing to welcome and include members of those weekly AA & NA meetings? Can we be a place of healing for those of this parish who have been hurt?

That last one falls on me. There are people whom I have hurt through thought, word or deed, and for that I apologize. St. Luke's can't be a place of healing if I am not living up to, or living into, that role. St. Luke's as a healing place may start with me, but we as a body must also buy into that idea. And if you think I am not doing a good job of living out this example, then it's your job to let me know where I’ve fallen short and how I might do better.
Second, we are Evangelists. Luke wrote to the most excellent Theophilus in his two volumes. The name Theophilus means “lover of God.” It is quite probable that Luke wrote to many people in general who loved God, not just to a single person. If we are to follow his example, we are to reach out to all people who love God, in all shapes, sizes and varieties, and tell our story.

Evangelism is more than standing on the street corner shouting at people, or putting notches in our Bible for how many people we have saved or converted. Evangelism is learning to share our story and listen to the stories of other people.

An evangelist is also one who is sent. If it is true that Luke was one of the 70, then he was sent by Jesus to every place he intended to go.

What do you remember about that story of the sending of the 70? Probably the most important and overlooked part is that the disciples were sent with no purse, bag or sandals, and they were to greet no one on the road.

They were on a mission, yes, but they were also reliant upon the hospitality of others. Rather than saying, “Come follow us,” or, “Come with us,” they were forced to ask, “May I come in?” They needed to be invited into the other person's house. They needed to get to know the other person on their terms and on their turf. They needed to listen to what the other person had to say, to get to know the person, and then be able to tell them about Jesus.

That's a different view of evangelism. How many of us would be willing to follow that example, walk through the surrounding neighborhood and say, “Would you be willing to tell me about yourself and then tell me how you think St. Luke's might be able to be part of your life?”

This is totally different from trying to tell people why they need to be part of our life and what they can do to fit in here.

These two things – healing and evangelism by relying on the hospitality of others – could be the hallmarks of what this parish is all about. For that to happen, though, we must make an effort to find paths that heal and take those first steps that bring us into the homes of others.

My hope is that this can be a place of healing, despite our frailties and foibles, and despite my missteps and inability to be everything to everybody. And I hope we can move from seeing evangelism as getting people in our doors to meeting people where they are.

If we do that, then the name on our sign will certainly reflect who we are.



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