Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon; Commemoration of the Feast of St. Luke

Today we celebrate St. Luke.  His official feast day was yesterday, but we are celebrating it today because, according to the BCP, “The feast of the Dedication of a Church, and the feast of its patron or title, may be observed on, or be transferred to, a Sunday, except in the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter.”  So there.

What do we know about St. Luke?  First and foremost, he wrote both the gospel that bears his name and The Acts of the Apostles.  We get most of our information about him from Acts, Colossians, 2 Timothy and Philemon.  He was thought to be a Gentile and possibly a member of the church in Antioch.  Tradition has it that he wrote his gospel while in Greece, never married and died at 84.  And in about 356, his relics were transferred from Thebes to the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople.  Eventually the body was moved to Padua where it remains today.

That's the body.  The head, however, is another matter.  In 1354, Emperor Charles IV removed the head and took it from Padua to Prague, where it rests today in the cathedral of St. Vitus (which I saw, but didn't take the tour to try and find St. Luke's head).  And, for a time, there were two heads of St. Luke, one in Rome and one in Prague.  The head in Prague was sent to Padua for study, and it was found to be a perfect match to the body.

However, this parish is not named for St. Luke because someone paid a visit to Prague, saw the head of St. Luke and said, “We need to name a church after this guy.”

How can we, as members of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Grants Pass, best honor and represent the saint for whom we are named?  First, we can start by taking our cues from today's gospel reading.

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.  He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.

All of the gospels record Jesus paying visits to synagogues, but it is only in Luke where we are told that it was his custom.  We might understand that Jesus attended synagogues, but I think most of us have this idea that he was wandering the highways and byways, teaching on land and sea, and generally leading the life of an itinerant.  But Luke tells us that it was Jesus' custom to attend synagogues.

Of course, there are people whose custom is to attend church on Christmas and Easter, but I get the feeling that Jesus attended synagogue more than just on Christmas and Easter (so to speak).  Reading through the gospels, and understanding Luke's claim that Jesus customarily attended worship, can give us insight as to how important worship was to Jesus.  Not only was attending worship important, but participating in worship was important.  In several places in the gospel Jesus teaches at synagogue.  And in Luke, Jesus is portrayed as a lector when he reads from the scroll.

I realize I’m preaching to those who don't need to hear this, but it's important to make attending worship on a regular basis your custom, if not your priority.  It's through our worship that we participate in these holy mysteries and it is in our worship that we join our voices with Angels, Archangels and all the company of heaven in joyful praise to God.

The primary focus of today's gospel is Jesus' reading from Isaiah:  He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.  Luke is the only gospel to record this particular incident.

As a parish of St. Luke, what would it look like if we lived into this prophecy?  First we need to ask ourselves who are the poor, captive, blind and oppressed?  The answers might be obvious, but they also might not be who you think they are.  And second, would we be willing to step out in faith, living like all this is possible?  If we did take that step, then we could confidently say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And second, as members of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Grants Pass, we can honor and represent the saint for whom we are named by looking to Luke himself.

As I said earlier, first and foremost he was an evangelist, writing both the gospel and Acts.  A later church tradition holds that he was one of the 70 sent out by Jesus, as well as the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus.  As members of St. Luke's, we could, and should, be better evangelists.  How many times have you shared the Good News in the last week, month or year?  How many people have you invited to church?  When meeting a visitor/newcomer, have you made an effort to reach out to them.  We are named for St. Luke the Evangelist.  We need to get better at that Evangelist part.

Luke was a physician, and is therefore the patron saint of doctors.  Can we here at St. Luke's bring a spirit of healing to those in our midst?  If we work to proclaim the good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and free the oppressed, then I believe we can.

Luke is also the patron saint of artists.  There is an ancient Christian tradition that Luke painted the first icon of the Virgin Mary, although that is not verifiable.  Even so, how could we, as members of St. Luke's, honor that aspect of our patron saint?  Grants Pass has a good-sized arts community.  We have several parishioners involved in a variety of choirs and theater.  I had a conversation recently with a parishioner about this very thing – how might we evangelize the good news of the gospel to the arts community in Grants Pass in a way that offers a spiritual home to people who need one as well as allowing the kingdom of God to grow?

Some of these are difficult questions.  Some of them are vague.  Some of them don't have immediate answers.  However, if we are to move forward, if we are to grow, if we are to help fulfill the mission of God, then it might not be a bad idea to have a role model.

Evangelist, healer, artist – how will St. Luke inspire you?



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