The Lord Called Us
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 2020
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”
A BODY AND A SOUL make a human being. A spirit and discipline make a Christian. Luke was a Christian. That fact would have been resisted by the first Christians, all Jewish, and that was only a few years earlier. It did him great good to record the events that led from a Jewish-only Church to a Church for all people. He was helping that worldwide Church to be born.
Luke was a Greek born in Gentile Antioch in Syria. Of two things are we sure regarding his past: he was educated and could write Greek artistically, intelligently and abundantly. And he was a trained doctor. It’s how Canon Reed used to love introducing a reading from St. Luke: The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, physician and evangelist. The only Gentile author in the entire Bible, Luke wrote more of the New Testament than anybody.
What Luke was doing before he joined Paul’s missionary expedition, or how he came to faith is a story untold. You almost miss the point where he personally enters the storyline. Paul had been traveling through Asia Minor, today’s peninsula of Turkey, and he visited a half-Jew named Timothy, in Lystra. Paul came with news that the Apostles at Jerusalem welcomed Gentile Christians and did not require they become Jewish at all. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul roamed through Phrygia and Galatia, planting churches and teaching the faith, but feeling God’s opposition against traveling east or north. Led to the coastal city of Troas, on the ruins of ancient Troy, Paul had a vision in the night of a man across the Bosporus in Macedonia. The man said “Come to Macedonia to help us!” At this point in the record of Luke, that we call The Acts of the Apostles, the words he and they become we: We immediately looked for a way to go across to Macedonia. The Lord called us to tell them the Gospel.
Paul’s entourage, including Luke now, bought passage on a ship in Troas to cross the narrow waters that separate Asia from Europe and the western continent was first invaded with the word of God. From Samothrace to Neapolis, and on to Philippi, a Roman colony, they went. While there, the evangelists shared the story of Jesus, the Son of God, with the people and caused quite a stir. A Gentile convert to Judaism named Lydia heard and believed. All her family was baptized and the travelers lodged with them and began planting a church in Philippi. But the work was cut short as Paul commanded the demon to leave a slave girl and those who used her ‘gift’ for divination demanded his arrest. Paul and another disciple named Silas were jailed. That night an earthquake broke open the jail and they were set free, but waited to witness to the jailer. He too became a Christian and his family was all baptized. Facing still more opposition, Paul claimed he was a Roman citizen, and they allowed him to move on without further molestation. Here Luke appears to leave the story, as Paul went to Thessalonica and Luke stayed with the Philippians. We became he.
Luke apparently stayed there quite a while, as Paul went on to Corinth, where he spent a great time working that new Church, then crossed again to Ephesus, to disciple a major Church. Paul crossed to Philippi and Luke rejoined him as they encouraged the Church and returned to Troas. The story goes on. Luke seems to never leave Paul’s side from that point on. Paul would eventually face violence from his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, arrest and prosecution, an appeal to Rome, fateful voyages to Italy, and finally years under lock and key awaiting the vicious beheading under the Emperor Nero. All along the way, Paul was injured, near drowned, stoned, whipped, pierced and left to die. Luke, the physician, patched him up and kept him going while there was still someone to hear the good news of the Son of God.
Somewhere along here, Luke spent some time with Jesus’ mother Mary. Legend finds her at Ephesus, under the care of the Apostle John, who had received that appointment from Jesus on the cross. At least, how else did Luke come by the special family stories that only his Gospel account portrays? At the close of each of these, his book says, “And Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The full story of John the Baptist’s conception and birth to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth; the Annunciation to Mary by the archangel Gabriel; the birth in a place with an animal feed trough outside the inn without room; visions in the night to shepherds and rejoicing at finding the newborn Jesus; His circumcision at eight days and naming Him Jesus; the Presentation in the Temple and prophecies of Simeon and Anna; and finally the youthful Jesus staying behind in the Temple to discuss theology with the elders and scaring His parents half to death. All these are found only in Luke’s account. He’d met Mary and listened to her remarkable experiences.
A body and soul make a human being, and anyone may claim those features. Our spirits, however, are born from above by the presence of the Holy Spirit and by submitting to holy washing in the waters of baptism. And to that we must add discipline. The sacraments are not magic. God doesn’t wave a wand to transform us. We take upon us the nature and character of God’s Son on earth by choice. It’s a hard thing to do. It requires God’s constant help. We fall a thousand times a day. But every time we pick ourselves up and start walking again.
You see such determination in Paul, a man driven to right the wrongs of his past, to heal the Church and plant it wherever he went and make his life count for eternity. It takes the Spirit of God and our own reborn spiritual lives, and the determination to live the life we’re given in the pattern and reflection of Jesus’ own life in us, in order to make us Christians. Luke was a Christian. He made his life count.
Beyond his skills as a physician, Luke is believed to have an artistic side, portraying Christ’s mother and the baby Jesus in what may be the earliest of iconography. It would be wonderful to possess one of his paintings, having seen Mary. But past his excellency as a minister of the early Church—and we don’t have direct evidence he was added to the Apostles by ordination—his place of honor as the prolific writer of two volumes that are read and cherished today cannot be equaled.
Luke addresses his Gospel account and Acts to a person he calls Theophilus. Is it an actual name, or does it describe the reader as The Friend of God? There may have been a single person Luke spent this much time writing to by that name, a Greek speaking Jew in Alexandria perhaps, or a code name that hid a real identity, but I am impressed that every eye that reads the words in these accounts is made privy to truth that could turn any soul into a disciple in the spirit of Christ, a friend of God. If Luke had the lower intention of writing a man with that name, I believe he also had the intent of making friends of God out of everyone who reads those books down the long centuries from then to now.
Luke’s urgent message is that the Gospel is meant for the entire world. Certainly, St. Matthew, whose Gospel seems directed to his fellow Jews, also records the great commission by Jesus to go into all the world making disciples of all nation, lands, people groups, races, and ethnicities. But it took several lessons even after the commission for the Apostles to realize it. Luke records Peter’s surprise at the Holy Spirit given to a band of Italian soldiers, hurriedly baptizing them after the fact. Peter’s vision on the rooftop aided his perception. Philip the deacon’s conversion of the Samaritans and the baptism of the Ethiopian treasurer in Gaza blaze this truth to a Church in the process of turning from a Jewish sect to a world religion, a faith for all humankind.
For Luke more than all the New Testament authors, this was the key to the truth of his message. If there truly is a God, and if He sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world, and if He made all that we see and beyond, this is not for one family, tribe or national identity alone. If this is really God’s answer to mankind’s dilemma, it is for everyone. It can’t stay in the bottle. It can’t remain hidden in Israel. It’s too important. And God would never show Himself only to a small wedge of the human family. He’s not the God of the Jews alone, but the God of Abraham, whose seed would bless and transform everyone on earth. It’s true for all people or it’s not true for anyone. Plain and simple. And then if they deny it, if they scorn the message, if they laugh at the fellow up on that cross, it’s not because God did nothing to save them. This is as serious as death. Luke knew it. He shared it so that everyone might know this was the Savior of all.
One favorite moment he recounted was Paul’s speech to the philosophers on Mars Hill. “Men of Athens,” he addressed the crowds, “I see you are very religious,” looking at all the shrines and altars to all the gods of the Greeks. “Here is an altar dedicated to An Unknown God. You’ve been careful not to forget even Him. Let me tell you who He is…” Paul went on to say “God who made all things can’t hide in a temple or shrine, for He is not far from anyone. In Him we live and move and have existence. The time for your ignorance is over. Turn your life over, for a day of judgment will come, and a man He sent to us has proven it by rising from death to life again.”
We appreciate the life and record of Saint Luke today. And we pray our thanks to God again.
ALMIGHTY God, who didst inspire thy servant Saint Luke the Physician, to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son; Manifest in thy Church the like power and love, to the healing of our bodies and our souls; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.