St Luke’s Day, St James Colwall, 17 October 2021
Isaiah 35: 3-6; Luke 10: 1-9
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
I was a voracious reader in my teens, but rather limited by the inadequacies of a rural bus service in my access to libraries to satisfy it. So I used to turn to my parents’ book shelf for entertainment and it was there when I was about 14 that I discovered Taylor Caldwell’s book: Dear and Glorious Physician – a somewhat fanciful novel about Luke. The title originates from Paul’s letter to the Colossians in which he refers to Luke as his dear and beloved physician.
I was hooked as the story moved from Luke’s denial of the God he once believed in, as he dealt with seemingly random suffering and death in his medical practice, to his encounter with Jesus through the lives of the Christians he met. His subsequent conversion produced in him a passion to find out all he could about Jesus and share it with the next generation through his gospel.
I wonder now how much influence that book had over the course my life has taken, having been privileged to have had a working life which has involved the care of both the body and the soul.
So who was Luke? Patron saint of doctors, but what do we really know about him which is not part of the novelist’s fancy? The answer I’m afraid is not a great deal.
He is, of course, attributed to be both the author of the third gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, so has been effectively responsible for about a quarter of the material in the New Testament. He is generally held to be a co-worker with Paul and his companion on his missionary journeys. In places in Acts, he writes in the first person.
As far as we know he came from the Greek town of Antioch in Syria and is presumed to have been a Gentile Christian, though this is by no means certain. All in all, he is a rather shadowy figure, but one who has drawn on the traditions handed to him about Jesus and shaped them into the stories of the Gospel.
Each of the gospels has its own particular take and emphasis on the life of Jesus, and there are several distinctive themes in Luke’s gospel:
- More than the other gospels, Luke particularly mentions the outsiders and the marginalised, with an emphasis on the duties of the rich towards the poor.
- women play a prominent role in both their encounters with Jesus and in the stories he tells.
- and Luke pays particular attention both in his gospel and in Acts to encounters with gentiles.
Above all, Luke highlights the theme of salvation – salvation as something which happens in the here and now through the person of Jesus.
I’m not a Greek scholar but I was excited to learn early on in theological training that the Greek word used in the New Testament for salvation – ΣΩΖΩ sozo - is the same as the word for healing and wholeness – the two are interchangeable. And that is hugely significant for the ministry of Jesus and in the ministry of the early church which Luke records, and for the life of the church today.
It was Jesus’ power to heal, along with the authority with which he taught, that attracted so many people to him. Hand in hand with his healing ministry, went proclamation of the kingdom of God. He mandated his followers to do the same and in today’s reading we witness Jesus sending the disciples out on such a mission for the second time.
The first time (in Luke chapter 9) we read that he calls the twelve together, gives them authority to heal, and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. Now, in today’s reading, we heard that he appoints and commissions seventy others.
Seventy others who must have encountered Jesus and been so changed by that encounter that, empowered by him, they could travel the countryside with the confidence to offer peace to those they met, cure the sick and say to them that the kingdom of God has come near. They were living out the salvation they themselves had found in Jesus.
For Luke, then, as author of the gospel and of Acts, the account of Jesus and his life and ministry is Part One of the story of salvation and it continues when the young church picks up the baton. As the collect implies, that story is not yet ended. It continues into the present day.
Earlier we prayed:
Almighty God, you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: by the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal.
Healing, you might say, is what the Church’s mission is all about. Healing, wholeness, salvation – this is the substance of the Gospel embodied in his life, death and resurrection of Jesus which we have to share.
So how is the church involved in the healing ministry today? As you might expect in the Anglican Church, there is a broad spectrum of answers to that question. At one end there are churches where there is regular prayer with laying on of hands for healing and the expectation of miracles such as we read of in the New Testament. At the other is profound scepticism that such things might occur at all nowadays. They take the view that modern medicine has done away with the need for miracles.
One reason for the latter view I think is down to a narrowness of understanding of what healing might mean.
When Jesus healed, certainly people were cured of their physical ailments. But remember also the times when Jesus perceived that a person’s deepest need was for forgiveness – as in the paralysed man who was brought before Jesus by his friends - and when his compassion was for those shunned by society because of their illness, as in the women with haemorrhage and the many people with leprosy that he healed. Healing restored these people to their place in society and gave them mental and spiritual peace.
When we pray for healing, we are praying not only for restoration of wholeness to the body, but to the mind and spirit too. And so our prayer may be for:
- healing for our relationships with one another so that there is respect, equality, justice, reconciliation.
- healing of our relationship with creation and the natural world – never more urgent.
- healing of our inner selves – how we order our inner lives and deal with guilt and shame
- and above all prayer for healing which will bring us into a right relationship with God.
God’s purpose and desire in salvation is to restore creation and all God’s creatures to wholeness of body, mind and spirit; to be reconciled with him and with each other. This is how we understand salvation as Luke has presented it to us. This then is the mission of healing and salvation to which the church has been and continues to be called and for which God empowers us: to pray and work for healing in every aspect of our individual and communal lives, to extend the reach of God’s kingdom.
St Theresa of Avila put it like this: Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on this world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
Let us pray that as a church we may be those hands, feet and eyes which seek to bring Christ’s healing touch to our hurting world.