Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon: St. Luke

18 Oct 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:1-9 (Isa 35:5-8, 2 Tim 4:5-18)


In the name of + Jesus. Amen.


St. Luke, whose feast we observe today, recounts our Lord’s sending out of preachers.

In fact, the Lord Himself “appointed” these 72 men, and sent them out as heralds to prepare “every town and place” where the Word of the Lord was to come and preach Himself. “The harvest is plentiful” our Blessed Lord informs us, and He laments: “but the laborers are few.”

There are few men called into this service, and very few who don’t die or retire from this service with deep scars: “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” says our Lord.

The Lord’s preachers are not to be too comfortable. They are to lead a transient life. They are not to be too wealthy – though they are neither to be impoverished, for “the laborer deserves his wages.” They are not to be distracted from their mission – though both world and church provide many such temptations to wander away from their calls. And like our Lord, they are to proclaim “Peace” – the same sermon of the resurrected Christ.

One would think the proclamation of “peace” and the good news that the “kingdom of God has come near to you” would be universally welcomed with great joy. But it isn’t. John the Baptist was beheaded for preaching the kingdom at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry. Our Lord Himself was crucified for preaching this Gospel. And St. Luke, the Evangelist and writer of the Gospel, was himself persecuted for the faith after our Lord’s earthly ministry. Some traditions indicate that he was beheaded, though there is not complete agreement that this is true. Tradition is strong, however, that St. Luke was one of the Lord’s 72 preachers, and that he repeatedly suffered for the faith with St. Paul. Indeed, Paul Himself says: “Luke alone is with me” – even as many abandoned Paul in his own suffering for Christ and the Gospel.

In spite of the Good News that the Church has been placing before the world for two millennia, this Gospel is often not received well. It is resented. It divides people. It instills hatred and violence. It brings out the true colors of people – both those who repent and those who reject the preaching of the Gospel.

St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy is practical advice to a young preacher from a war-weary older preacher. He tells Timothy that in spite of all his heartache, opposition, and invective – from both within and without the church – the preacher must keep his head down and “do the work of an evangelist.” He is to be “always sober-minded,” and he is to “endure suffering.” This is how St. Timothy is to “fulfill” his ministry.

St. Paul has been worn out and beaten down in the service of the kingdom and to the King. He sees his own martyrdom coming, being “poured out as a drink offering” as his “time of departure has come.” And as the 72 were instructed, Paul was not one to carry extra clothes and money. He did not become comfortable in this fallen world. He remained ever ready to be sent where and when the Lord wanted him to go. He endured sorrowful desertions from both the lay people under his care, as well as his fellow servants of the Word. St. Paul warns Timothy to be wary about troublemakers who oppose the preaching of the Good News. And he bluntly confesses to St. Timothy what kinds of heartache the “work of an evangelist” can be expected to bring.

And yet, in spite of all the opposition and strife, the Good News is that the Good News is still the Good News! It is still being proclaimed. People are still coming to faith. Sinners are still being saved. Preachers are still being sent. The world is still having the proclamation of peace preached to them “in season and out.” We continue to “preach Christ crucified!”

Paul has many reasons to be thankful: St. Luke remains with Paul, and Luke was even to write, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the third Gospel of our Lord! St. Mark is a joy to Paul and of great use in the holy ministry. The books and parchments continue to be read and propagated. And St. Paul rejoices that “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” all so that the Gospel would be preached. St. Paul confesses: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.”

For the Gospel – even when it is opposed – is the means the Lord Himself has chosen to usher in eternity, the kingdom of God, the restoration of paradise and the overturning of sin, death, and the devil.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped,” says the prophet Isaiah, “then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

The Lord is promising a return to Eden, an eternal paradise in which we who believe and are baptized, we the unworthy who have been credited with righteousness, we who are “by nature sinful and unclean,” we the redeemed of our Redeemer, will live forever – as we were always intended to do. And this, dear Christians, is the Gospel! This is the Good News! It is our proclamation, St. Luke’s proclamation, Sts. Paul and Timothy’s proclamation, the proclamation of the 72, the proclamation of Holy Isaiah and St. John the Baptist – and above all – it is our Blessed Lord’s proclamation.

Armed with St. Luke’s Gospel, we continue to preach, to proclaim, to herald the kingdom. And with St. Luke, we continue to pray, to intercede, to sing the praises of our Lord and God around His altar and throne. United with preachers of every time and place, preachers today proclaim this Good News: from pulpits, in confessionals, from rooftops, in family devotions, in grand cathedrals and in tiny underground cells – the Gospel is proclaimed far and wide, to the ends of the earth – even as each passing day brings us one day closer to the Gospel’s fulfillment and completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!

And with St. Paul, we preach, confess, pray, praise, and give thanks: “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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

2 comments:

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I found your sermon of October 18 quite meaningful. Yes, Jesus and his apostles proclaim "peace." Is not "peace" Jesus' covenant-gospel message in a nutshell? I think so.
One thing, though, It would have been helpful to me as a hearer if you would have opened up that word, "peace," a bit so that I could hear the CONTENT of Jesus' gospel that brings "peace." It cannot be assumed that all of your readers know that content. Otherwise, keep up the good work.

The following appeared in a church bulletin. I considered it to be true wisdom.

Q HOW IS A PARISH PASTOR LIKE A PENGUIN?

A 1. Penguins have a way of looking dignified and ridiculous simultaneously.
2. Penguins are sensitive to heat.
3. Penguins have treacherous enemies.
4. Penguins are relatively defenseless.
5. Penguins have a homing instinct.
6. No matter what happens to penguins, they keep their heads high.

And now, my third and final challenge to Christianity's dogma-tradition:

SUBSTITUTION ATONEMENT


In Exodus 34:6-7, we are told: “And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘Jehovah, Jehovah, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining steadfast love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.’” God thereby revealed his name and the meaning of his name. God is by name and character merciful and forgiving. As the Psalmist says repeatedly, God forgives sins for his name’s sake. (Psalm 25:11; 79:9) God’s alternate name is “Father,” which has the same meaning. (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 31:9) Notice how Jesus begins his prayer: “Our Father in heaven, HOLY BE YOUR NAME.”

The temple priests rejected God’s self-definition and concocted their own definition of God, patterned after the gods of their neighbors. They depicted God as a wrathful judge whose anger had to be appeased by many sacrifices. So they created an elaborate system of daily sacrifices as the way of obtaining God’s forgiveness. All the prophets, including Jesus, cried out against this terrible distortion of God’s name. The Israelites thereby committed idolatry, worshipping a God made in their own image and imagination.

This same idea was carried over into the church. Very late, in the 12th century, St. Anselm formulated his doctrine of substitution atonement. He too depicted God as a wrathful judge who had to punish someone, namely Jesus, before he could forgive sins. This false doctrine has become the chief doctrine within Christianity. Often, as I make my way from church to church on Sunday mornings, I hear a lot of religious talk from the pulpits. But, invariably, the preacher will end his sermon with a brief reminder of the doctrine of substitution atonement, thinking that he has thereby given his people the gospel in a nut shell. I do not think so. Often, over the years, I have heard Christians say, “I can sin all I want to, for all my future sins have already been punished on the cross of Christ.” What a terrible distortion! It is time to reject that doctrine and to return to God’s own self-definition. He is merciful and gracious, faithful and forgiving by name and character. He forgives sins FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE. This truly is good news.

Blessings!
Theophilus Ben Raska
"Follower of the Way"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. It deserves much more than a mere comment, so I replied in a separate post here. Peace and blessings!