A sermon preached by Canon Chris Strain, Vicar, Parkstone St Luke
As we receive your word written and spoken, may it accomplish in us that for which it was purposed; in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My wife and I recently enjoyed a holiday in Slovenia by Lake Bled. We met Sebastian, a young Slovenian pastor, who told us about a man called Primoz Trubar who was born in 1508 and lived through the 16th Century. Through my theological training I had become familiar with Martin Luther and John Calvin and Thomas Cranme, but I had not heard of Primoz Tubar. But I learnt from Sebastian that he was very important in shaping a written language for the people of Slovenia and for translating the Bible into their language. He is known as Slovenia’s Luther and is a national hero.
1,500 years earlier a gentile doctor gifted the people of God a precious two volume story of Jesus and the early church communities. His writings of 52 chapters are of almost equal length to that of St Paul his friend and partner in mission; together they travelled the Mediterranean sharing the Good News of Jesus and his Kingdom. We know he was there because in the Acts of the Apostles (volume 2) he often writes using the words “We” and “our.” He was no mere bystander.
As we approach Year C, the Luke Year, in the Anglican lectionary we need to rejoice in his wonderful writings. Today, research tells and experience shows that very few people know the story of the Gospel. In a society which is ignorant of the Good News and in which one of main cultural values is to discover our own selves and tell our own personal story, more than ever we need to read and tell afresh THE story of the Good News of Jesus and his compassionate kingdom.
Thankfully it is still being told in many places, and groups like the Bible Society and are using ”Open the Book” and are publishing a new Good News Bible. They along with others are communicating through modern technology, but generally the church needs to read and hear again the Gospel, and today and this year the Gospel of Luke!
As vicar of St Luke’s I am perhaps biased, but I love Luke. And of course there is only one Acts – the other Gospel writers stop soon after the Resurrection.
Luke was a careful historian and in his prologue (Luke 1:1-14) he writes, “Since I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” He listened to the disciples’ and others’ stories and investigated carefully. He then wrote down an orderly account for Theophilus, who is probably a general name for someone who loves God.
It is history but also FOR faith. He writes so that readers might know the certainty of the things taught – and so commit their lives to this story and its main character Jesus Christ. He writes that they might come, not to a religious understanding only or become Jewish, but through a change of mind and heart to a living faith and salvation by being a disciple of and follower of Jesus Christ. His own gospel and Acts are “faith histories”, consistent with but far from identical to the other gospels, but written for a purpose – He has Good News to deliver. He is St Luke the Evangelist.
How impoverished our faith would be without St Luke and Acts. Consider these brief bullet points -
- Only Luke contains the story of Elizabeth and Mary, Jesus’ birth, the shepherds and Christ’s early days.
- Luke has songs we know as the Magnifcat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis with the emphasis on Jesus as the liberator, saviour and rescuer of all.
- Luke tells of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem at 12 and includes his Nazareth manifesto.
- Only Luke has the glorious stories of God’s grace in the Parable of the Prodigal son(s). He alone has the Good Samaritan.
- As an outsider to Judaism he both affirms Jesus the Jew and the traditions of Judaism, but goes beyond its formalised wineskins.
- He has a special place for the children, for the sick and poor, the weak, the marginalised and needy. Women feature often and are highly esteemed.
- The Gospel is good news to the materially poor as well as the spiritually poor- it is the most social of Gospels, but attends to the healing of the soul. See Collect.
- Luke tells us about the Pharisee and Tax Collector, busy Martha and contemplative Mary, and the lovely incident of the rogue-dealer Zacchaeus to whom salvation came!
- He has much on prayer and the Holy Spirit.
- He has the three of the 7 words on the Cross
- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
“I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk 23:43
“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Luke 23:46
- Luke recounts the Emmaus Road story and of eyes and hearts are converted by the story of the empty tomb and risen Christ.
And that is just St Luke’s Gospel. Time prevents even summarising the 28 chapters of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles and Holy Spirit, save to say that it is story of mission and growth in the faith from 120 to thousands, and of a church which modelled worship, community, mission, generosity and joy. And through it we learn of St Luke the all-rounder, physican, historian, writer and evangelist friend alongside Paul.
What would Luke want us to know today in a very complex and changing world? Well there is no exact right and wrong answer. But I think he might say this
- Remember what the Good News is and is not. It is not the forms or the institution, it is not about power and success, it is not for the rich and inner group. It will not fit into our culture and its values and the way do things. No rather it is Good News of Jesus who gives us the knowledge /experience of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins 1:77 and the gift of the Holy Spirit into a new life. This the life of the Kingdom. Page 1 says that and so does the last page of volume 2 in which Luke recalls Paul and says of him, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached (two things) the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what we are about.
- And secondly he would encourage us to be be bold in evangelism. Luke did speak, but his real gift is what he wrote, like Luther and Calvin and Trubar. Through our lives and the words written and spoken the task of the church is to share this good news, not of just a better “same life”, but of a new life as a disciple of Jesus – like the Ethiopian official, for example, who discovered salvation reading of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
As we seek to “pray, serve, grow,” and to “pray, advocate for justice, and be God’s welcome” (all things Luke would have said “Amen” to), let us work to bring the Good News of Salvation and forgiveness of all through God’s grace.
- Jesus Christ does not treat as we deserve. He loves you and me inspite of our sin and holds out forgiveness, as he declared on the Cross. Our Eucharist too reminds us that Jesus died that we might be forgiven and saved through the new covenant in his blood shed on the Cross. This is the Good News of St Luke the Evangelist. May we hear it, live by it and proclaim it. Amen.