Sermon at St James, Luke the Evangelist, 16 October 2022
2 Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
“Luke alone is with me” 2 Timothy 4: v 11 [ESV]
I wonder how many of us heard the cry of help in our second reading this morning. It could have come from Terry Waite in the 1980s or more recently from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It was a cry of loneliness from a prisoner hoping for the best but fearing the worst. It is from Paul in prison in Rome and he is writing to his trusted friend Timothy. “I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight… and I have kept the faith”. Then he says, “Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me”
Luke alone is with me. Luke, Paul’s beloved physician, a Greek who had become convinced that Jesus was the Christ when Paul was in Greece on his second missionary journey. He is now in Rome comforting Paul. Luke alone is with me.
The church celebrates St Luke on Tuesday and there is a lot to celebrate. He seems to have been a humble, caring man, well-educated, thoughtful with a gift for writing clearly.
Quite independently Luke decided that the events surrounding the life of Jesus should be recorded for future generations. This is what he wrote at the beginning of his Gospel writing to his friend Theophilus, “I have decided after investigating everything carefully from the very first to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
Luke then launches into the details of the cousins Elizabeth and Mary, the birth of John the Baptist followed by the birth of Jesus, with much more detail than in Matthew’s account. Do remember that neither Mark nor John covers the early life of Jesus at all in their gospels. So Luke’s details are very precious indeed. The Annunciation to Mary, the adoration of the shepherds, the words of Simeon in the Temple, the visit of Jesus as a boy of twelve with his parents to Jerusalem. All unique to Luke.
But there is so much which is unique to Luke. For example, without Luke we would not have the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee and the tax-collector or the Rich man and Lazarus. When it comes to Jesus’ miracles some are unique but all of them have a strong sense of compassion on the part of our Lord, an empathy with the lepers and the woman with haemorrhages and the widow who has lost her son at Nain. The compassion of a doctor is there and it all points to the greater work of God through his anointed son, Jesus. This is fundamental to Luke.
We are all very fortunate to have Luke’s Gospel, but we are even more fortunate to have his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us how Jesus’ apostles and disciples coped with his death and resurrection, how they feared for their lives, how they were lifted out of their mourning and spread the good news confidently, first in Jerusalem and then out into the rest of the Roman empire. Those early Christians are a great inspiration to all of us and the ministry of Paul was an astounding achievement of which Luke himself was part.
When he is half-way through describing the missionary journeys of Paul, Luke moves from ‘they’ to ‘we’ without any fanfare or note. In other words, Luke was there with Paul and Timothy and the rest of Paul’s helpers in their missionary work in Syria, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and finally Rome. That missionary work was a phenomenal achievement in itself, but so also was the record which Luke gave us in the Acts of the Apostles.
Paul was feeling lonely in prison in Rome when he wrote, “Luke alone is with me”, but if we were in prison today with only Luke we would feel differently because we would have his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles to comfort us. Those two books make up 24% of the New Testament and the church owes a huge debt to St Luke. A true man of God and a wonderfully caring evangelist.