The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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11am Holy Communion      18th October 2020
Feast of St Luke
Handley Stevens

Cure the sick … and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10.9)

 

To-day is St Luke’s Day, which explains why we had that reading from 2 Timothy, which mentions him by name - ‘only Luke is with me’ (2 Tim 4.11).  As Paul faces the probability of death, Luke is at his side.  Moreover, in our gospel reading Luke, who includes many miracles of healing in his account, may possibly have been one of those seventy disciples Jesus sent ahead to carry the good news of peace and healing which he himself would bring.        I will come to that good news presently, but first a few words about Saint Luke.

 

Wikipedia tells me that Luke is the patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers.  Born in Antioch, probably a Gentile by birth but possibly a Hellenised Jew, Luke writes his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in the style of a Gentile historian writing for Gentiles.  However, he has learned to see history through Hebrew eyes, not as a mere chain of events but as the mighty acts of God, which reveal God’s nature and purpose as history’s Lord.  The birth narrative, which we love to read at Christmas, is not just a pretty piece of wrapping paper.  It is Luke’s way of expressing his conviction that the divine origin of Jesus’ birth is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel – the good news about God and our salvation.

 

 

                            

Luke accompanied Paul on several parts of his missionary journeys, including his final journey to Rome, and it was understood from very early on that Luke remained with him there.  He is mentioned in the greetings at the end of Paul’s letters to Philemon and to the Colossians, where he is identified as the beloved physician (Col. 4.14).  And that’s really all we know about him. 

 

Most scholars have concluded, on the basis of the concerns expressed in Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus in relation to matters of church order and doctrine, that these letters were composed in the early years of the second century, some 40 years after Paul’s death. The author attributed them to St Paul in order to borrow for them the weight of Paul’s authority, and they are sprinkled with circumstantial detail in support of such an attribution.  Nowadays we might be tempted to dismiss as fake news a letter which relied on such inventions as ‘the cloak I left with Carpus at Troas’ (v 13), but if we did that, we should be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  At the time of writing, adopting the name of a revered predecessor was considered a perfectly legitimate practice, and in the end it was the substance of the letter rather than its authorship which justified inclusion in the canon of scripture.  The unknown author writes in Paul’s name to urge Timothy – or rather the reader - to follow Paul’s example in remaining faithful to the gospel to the very end of his life, even in the face of much suffering.

 

Today the Feast of St Luke the beloved physician offers us a particularly welcome and timely opportunity to thank God for the devoted work of doctors, and of all those delivering healthcare in this painful year.  Additionally, in Black History Month, it is good to recognise with humility and profound gratitude the disproportionate representation of black and minority ethnic persons working on the front line in our hospitals, and paying the price of their devotion, sometimes with their lives.  According to the Office for National Statistics, some 63% of NHS healthcare workers who died of COVID in the Spring were of black and minority ethnic origin.  In the United States the proportion of black Americans who have died is roughly double the proportion of white citizens, or three times as many when the statistics are adjusted to take account of the younger average age of the black community.  Their devotion to the service of us all is a glorious page in their history and a sobering page in ours.

 

Turning back to the gospel, there were three parts to the mission which Jesus entrusted to the seventy disciples he sent out:  they were to bring peace to every house they entered, they were to heal the sick, and they were to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come near.  Peace, Healing and the drawing near of the Kingdom. 

 

Peace comes when we accept the Lordship of Christ in our hearts, seek his guidance, and allow his Spirit to direct our lives.  It is not the peace which comes from the absence of conflict, but rather that inner peace which reaches beyond conflict to overcome it.

 

Healing comes when we allow Christ’s hands to rest in blessing on our souls and bodies so that we are made whole.  Our mental and physical ailments won’t necessarily go away, but we live with ourselves more patiently, more lovingly, more confidently, when we accept the Spirit’s assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And the Kingdom of God comes near when we allow Him to take down those barriers we ourselves erect to that experience of healing and peace, which is the hallmark of his gracious presence in our lives and in the life of our community. 

 

In this month when we have been celebrating the dedication of this house of prayer and worship, we are privileged to say together: Peace be to this house.  In a few moments, when we share that peace with one another, we can rejoice together in the knowledge that the kingdom of God has come near to us in this place, both individually as beloved children of God, and collectively as a community of God’s people.  For that we give thanks.

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