Sunday 18 October 2020: Saint Luke
Saint Luke: Gospeller of God’s Kingdom
Isaiah 35:3-6; 2 Timothy 4:5-17; Luke 10:1-9
Context: festival morning Eucharist
Aim: to explore Luke the Evangelist and his message of the Kingdom of God
Today we’re remembering St Luke - over 2000 years and 2000 miles away from where it all began. From where the fire lit in Bethlehem threw out sparks, becoming a worldwide conflagration. The local movement that leapt its bounds and spread through the known world is one of the great stories of the Christian tradition. Today we remember the person responsible for starting to tell it. It’s Luke who tells us how this new faith spread and challenged power structures, bringing new values which remain with us today. It’s Luke who tells how the known world came to understand God-with-us in a new way.
WHO WAS LUKE?
We have few references to him - only three in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy he’s referred to as one of the disciples who travelled beyond the Holy Land, sharing the story of Jesus. He’s thought to have been a companion of Paul and to have hailed from Antioch - in present day Syria. In Colossians he’s called, ‘Luke the beloved physician.’ This Luke may or may not have been the author of Luke’s Gospel, we can’t be certain. Luke’s text tells us he aimed to leave a record of events - so he was something of an historian, in the ancient tradition. He wrote with flare, imagination and creativity, building on sources and treating them artistically. His work is full of drama: trials, speeches, miracles, courtroom scenes, travelogues.
The author of Luke’s Gospel almost certainly also wrote the Book of Acts - which picks up what happened after Jesus’ death and resurrection and tells us how his story spread through the Mediterranean. Today we are remembering a profoundly significant figure: the writer of Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts, who is responsible for over a quarter of the New Testament; a writer who introduces a whole new world to us, and a writer who has shaped our understanding of the spread of Christianity.
LUKE’S PREOCCUPATIONS: THE KINGDOM
Luke’s particular preoccupations have dramatically shaped Christian tradition. He presents a very particular vision of Christ. He emphasises parables which demonstrate Christ’s interest in the poor and marginalised. We find stories of women, children, the outcast, and the disabled. Luke warns us about the dangers of wealth and consistently demands courage and generosity.
Luke turns our ideas of blessedness on their head - the tax collector is closer to God than the man of religion. The prodigal son captures his father’s heart to the chagrin of his ‘proper’ elder brother. In Luke’s upside-down world the broken, isolated, poor and lost are welcomed and find a home. There is change, shifting movement and ceaseless journeying as the story of Jesus crosses boundaries, taking root in new places and disturbing the status quo.
LUKE’S WORLD: ON THE MOVE
Shimmering with the sense of a world on the move, our readings today offer a glimpse of what lies at the heart of Luke’s writing. They speak of the Kingdom of God. In Isaiah we’re pointed to a vision of radical transformation: ‘the eyes of the blind shall be opened,’ ‘the ears of the deaf unstopped.’ In the passage from 2 Timothy disciples of Jesus including Luke, need courage, daring and willingness to embrace new values. In the Gospel Luke points us to a pivotal and unique moment when Jesus begins his journey towards Jerusalem and sends disciples ahead of him. Describing the sending out of 70 rather than 12 disciples, Luke points to the memories, history, culture and key aspects of the Jewish tradition in which Christianity has its roots, such as Moses’ choice of 70 elders to be helpers in the wilderness (Numbers 11:16-25).
LUKE’S CHALLENGE - THEN AND NOW
The Gospel offers an echo of the past, but also anticipates the spread from the Jewish to Gentile world. This is the crucial move which is responsible, ultimately, for the leap from first century Jerusalem to 21st century Britain. From then to now. Did you notice – twice in this passage Jesus tells those he sends out to: ‘eat whatever is set before you.’ Here is a profound challenge. Disciples of Jesus will be called to go to new and unfamiliar places: dietary laws may be challenged; identity will be challenged. Witnessing to Jesus is a risky business. Luke’s Jesus challenges his disciples, including us, to allow our values to be overturned and to let the kingdom come close in new and startling ways.
Luke tells us the kingdom is close for those who have little. Luke tells us the kingdom is close for those who are different. Luke tells us embracing a vision of God-with-us demands open-heartedness and courage. Luke tells us there are no boundaries that cannot be crossed in the Kingdom of God, and no laws which can govern the limits of Christ’s presence with us. Time and again he challenges our assumptions: we’re called to rethink and rework our values.
No wonder we still remember Luke, this teller of an ancient and modern tale, who shows us courage, generosity, radical inclusion, and acceptance of the ‘other.’ Who shows us humanity lighting a beacon and daring to be different in the name of Christ, and who shows us that even here, now, in our lives today, with all their unprecedented challenges, the Kingdom of God is with us.
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