Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sermon: Feast of St. Luke

18 October 2006
at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 10:1-9 (2 Tim 4:5-18)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today is the feast day of St. Luke. Most of us know him only as the author of the Gospel that bears his name. Some know that he was a medical doctor, and perhaps very few know that according to tradition, Luke was also the very first iconographer of our Lord. In other words, St. Luke drew the first portrait of our Lord that has become a model for artists right down to our own day. It’s also probably not widely known among Christians that St. Luke was martyred for preaching the Christian faith at the age of 84.

According to today’s Gospel text, written by the hand of Luke himself, the Lord commissioned 70 preachers to proclaim the Gospel in advance of the Lord’s coming. It is believed universally in the Church that Luke was one of these preachers.

And even though St. Luke was a highly educated man, a doctor, an artist, a researcher who could hold his own against any other ancient historian from the Greco-Roman world, and a magnificent writer, whose poetic pictures with words spellbind us to this day as his prose is read aloud, especially at Christmastime, note the humility with which he preaches.

He is sent as a lamb among wolves, carrying neither wallet nor shoes, walking along the road speaking to no-one, a man seemingly of no great importance treading along the filthy road like a beggar. He has no entourage, no celebrity status, no perks of being a member of the intelligentsia or of the medical profession. He is proclaiming the coming of one far greater than the greatest of the world’s wealthy and powerful men.

Some people greet these preachers in peace, in which case the Lord, speaking through the preacher, blesses that home with his peace. He is to heal the sick, and to make an announcement to those who welcome him, and those who welcome him not: “The kingdom of God has come near you.”

To those who receive the peace from the preacher, this announcement is good news, but to those who will be judged by the Word of God, the preacher’s words are ominous and frightful.

This is the ministry to which this doctor - this healer of the body, this historian, this artist, this writer of the Gospel narrative – has been called.

It is the same ministry to which St. Timothy is called by the same Apostle who takes Luke under his wing: St. Paul. Paul commissions Timothy to “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Part of Timothy’s work is to preach on the holy Gospel that St. Luke has written, to proclaim this good news to those who gladly hear and learn it, as well as to those who mock and scoff.

This is the same commission given to every preacher from the time of the apostles.

And just as Paul’s life is “being poured out as a drink offering,” so too would St. Luke be beaten to death in the future by a mob of those who would reject the good news. And yet, Luke’s simple, but eloquent and thorough proclamation of the Gospel continues to this day, as his words are read from lecterns and pulpits in every Christian church in the world, in every language, and on every continent. Luke’s words (which are really God’s Word) ring out, and have rung out, every day around the globe for nearly two thousand years without interruption – though tyrants and dictators have tried to snuff them out. Our father in Christ St. Luke continues to join with us even here at Salem as we gather around our blessed Lord in his Gospel and in his Supper with all the angels, archangels, and every saint in heaven.

St. Luke began his work as a medical doctor with the calling of easing pain, of stopping issues of blood, of grasping life itself from the jaws of death – but even in that noble vocation, death always eventually claims the patient. However, the Lord Jesus transforms Luke into a new kind of doctor, who eases the pain of guilty consciences, who gives out the life-giving blood of the Lord, who rescues from death and the grave to give life that never ends. He is called to do the work of the Great Physician himself.

In the course of this work, the sainted doctor would find himself, like our Lord, being tortured with agonizing pain, with his own lifeblood being spilled as a drink offering, and the seeping out of his life in this fallen world as he was made a martyr for the faith. But in this dying, he is given life. And once more the iconographer of our Lord becomes an image of Christ in his own suffering and death.

Dear friends, St. Luke continues to preach and proclaim today. Even though the devil has temporarily silenced his tongue, his hand and pen still cry out: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Even though Satan has, for the time being, stopped the hands of the artist, his life and proclamation of Christ continue to be an icon of Jesus and his saving work. Though Luke’s blood was spilled, it was blood mingled by the blood of Jesus in holy communion, blood that has watered the earth only to nourish and cause new seeds of faith to sprout, blood which courses through the body of Christ, the Church, bringing eternal life to every little cell and member in that body to this very day.

And as much affection we have for our dear sainted father Luke, our brother in the faith, the doctor of souls, the painter of icons, the writer of the very Word of God – he is but a humble instrument. He stands today before the throne of God, with shoes removed (for that is holy ground), with no wallet (for he shares in eternal riches), eating and drinking of the glories set before him. But there is one important difference: St. Luke is no longer in the company of sinners in need of repentance. His work there is done, in the church triumphant. But here, in the church militant, this intellectual giant who was to become a humble preacher, continues to ease suffering, to offer the blood of the Lamb to patients in need of a spiritual transfusion, to spread life around to any and all who receive the prescription.

There is a good reason why the Church has always celebrated October 18 as the feast of St. Luke. He is not only an inspiration and holy example to every preacher, but also to every Christian. For Luke’s entire life was a humble offering to the Lord. One need not be a preacher to be a witness. In fact, the vast majority of Christian martyrs, whose witness of Jesus cost them their very lives, have been men and women who serve the church and give testimony of our Lord as members of the laity.

St. Luke has not only left us portraits of Jesus and poetic accounts of the narrative of his life, St. Luke was and is a tool through which our blessed Lord has redeemed, is redeeming, and will redeem the universe.

And that redemption is yours, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. It is all yours. Every inspired word in St. Luke’s Gospel is there for your healing, for your life, and for your salvation.

And as another preacher, St. Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome, preached on this very day some fourteen centuries ago, “Pray indeed the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. And pray for us that we may be able to serve you as you deserve, that our tongue may never grow tired of exhorting you, lest having undertaken this office of preaching, our silence condemn us in the sight of our just judge.”

With St. Luke and St. Gregory and every Christian preacher of every time, I proclaim this truth to you, dear saints of Salem: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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