This morning we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, our patronal saint. Every year, when I have preached on this Sunday, I have tended to focus on St. Luke the physician. This year, in light of the most recent Pew research, it seems most fitting to focus on the second reason we celebrate St. Luke, as evangelist.
It is no secret; St. Luke is the writer of both the Gospel that bares his name and the Book of Acts. And, as I have said before, the Gospels are both biographies and testimonies of faith. St. Luke’s gospel is truly a testimony of whom he believed Jesus of Nazareth was and is, as well as a sharing of Christ’s vision or understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be on Earth.
Right from the first chapter, Luke’s Gospel separates itself from the other three. No, he does not begin his story at adulthood, or at birth. . . Instead, Luke literally begins his Gospel at conception, not of Jesus, but of John the Baptist and then ties the tradition of Israel with the story of Jesus. And right from the start, Luke tells us great social and spiritual upheaval is about to take place. Then Luke breaks with tradition by naming Mary and Elizabeth and giving them voices. It is the voice of Mary who is first to provide a glimpse of the Kingdom. In the Magnificat, Mary sings, “He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Yes, St. Luke tells us, God has begun moving the world forward. . . forward toward the kingdom Isaiah proclaimed centuries ago. For, this child of Mary, Luke tells us, is the one whom Isaiah foretold of as the,“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, whose authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.”
If we have not figured out something great is happening in chapter one, St. Luke drives home his point in chapter three as he tells the birth story like no other. Who would ever expect a child born to parents so poor, so humbled, and considered so insignificant they are forced to give birth in a barn would be greeted with such fanfare. But this is where, Luke tells us the Incarnation has chosen to enter the world. According to Luke,we do not believe in a God who seeks lavish comforts, or upholds the status quo. Instead, Luke tells us, God has chosen to transform the world by entering its darkest and nastiest of places.
In just the first three chapters, Luke tells his story, his understanding, and experience of the risen Christ. As his Gospel unfolds, he shares the healing acts of Jesus as Christ opens the eyes of the blind, unbinds the feet of the lame and unclogs the ears of the deaf, all as a way of telling us the world is being healed, and it has begun among those long considered insignificant by others.
But Luke’s story does not end here, he carries us through the crucifixion, and offers us a story of human suffering, divine forgiveness. As his Gospel climaxes, creation groans with labor pains . . as the holiest site of the Temple is is exposed by the curtain being torn in two. God, he tells us, has been made vulnerable. God, he tells us, has been revealed for all.
But his testimony does not stop here, life, Luke tells us, did not end on the cross. . .instead new life, a new creation begins as encounters with the resurrected Christ are shared.
And still his story does not end. Unlike his counter parts, Luke continues his story in what I believe is the first sequel ever written, the Book of Acts. Here he bares testimony to the ongoing work of the Risen Christ through the movement of the Holy Spirit. Here, he shares the story of the nascent Christian community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and making its story known throughout the Mediterranean world.
One cannot help but be awed by how rapidly this back-water movement spread throughout a vast empire during a time when there was no motorized transportation, no mass communication and no social networking. Yet it did, because as Luke tells us today, the world, HUMANITY hungers for the love of God. And like his story, our stories of the risen Christ are what humanity is hungry for, because our stories are also about forgiveness, love and most of all of hope.
Our stories are stories of hope because as Luke and all other evangelists tell us, this world and this life can be so much better than we realize and that is what God wants for us.
According to the most recent Pew research, for the first time in history less than 50% of the American population identify themselves as protestants, of the remaining majority, 20% state they have no religious affiliation. According Diana Butler-Bass, this does not mean the United States is becoming a nation of atheists. Instead, she argues, more and more people are seeking spiritual fulfillment outside institutional religion. Most, she says, will tell you they are spiritual but not religious. The reason for this her research indicates is because of the negative connotations associated with institutional practice. People who describe themselves this way are not seeking a spiritual diet of dogma, or articles of faith. Instead, they are seeking a relationship with God that is consistent with the story St. Luke has shared for generations. They are seeking those with whom they can be in genuine, deep, and abiding spiritual relationship. They are seeking the God who will love them, forgive them, and inspire them towards believing this world can be so much better.
I believe we are becoming the community many seek. But just because we have built it, it does not mean they will come. As anyone in advertising will tell you, word of mouth is the most effective advertising in the world. St. Luke understood this, his story is filled with examples of direct word of mouth evangelism. In Acts, there is the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. A simple sharing of the story was all it took to lead this man to Baptism. And let’s face it, even in Luke’s day; Christianity had an up hill battle to over come. If persecution did not keep people away, misconceptions of the Eucharist did as many in ancient times believed Christians were cannibals due to stories about Christians eating flesh and blood blood circulated.
While the issue we face today may not be as dramatic as what the early church faced, we still are called to overcome the issues of our recent past, to assure the world that the love of God is not only alive and well within our community, but it is easily shared and accessible to all who desire to receive it. And I know, we too, can be successful in our endeavors, because as St. Luke’s story ultimately tells us, no matter what the challenge, divine forgiveness, love and hope will overcome anything the most resistant of human heart.