This is a sermon that our vicar, Reverend Dr Melanie Harrington-Haynes, wrote for the feast of St Luke, our patron saint. It was published in the July 2023 Issue of The Preacher and offers a fresh perspective on Luke.
The Preacher is the quarterly magazine of The College of Preachers, aimed at developing preaching and offering sample sermons based on the lectionary.
Isaiah 35: 3-6, 2 Timothy 4:5-17, Luke 10:1-9
Fantasy Dinner Party
Have you ever asked yourself who you would invite to a fantasy dinner party and what would be on the menu? It’s a delicious question, and a popular one. Such is its popularity that national surveys have been conducted, with Dame Judi Dench, Princess Diana, Elvis Presley and Albert Einstein being some of our most favoured guests. As a Vicar of St Luke’s, I think Luke would be one of my top choices. There are so many questions I’d like to ask him. So much I think he could share with me and the other guests. He is a bit of a mystery. And all that we do know suggests he was remarkable.
Known Luke (Starters)
Saint Luke, or Luke the Evangelist, is widely regarded to be the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts – the only Gospel author to write a sequel, and the biggest contributor to the New Testament, even beating Paul! Luke is clear that he wasn’t an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, but he carefully, meticulously, and with an historian’s eye, puts together witness testimonies to create an account of Jesus’s life, followed by a sequel (in which he was involved) about the early church after Jesus ascended. Without his Book of Acts it would be hard to imagine that tiny fragile movement within Judaism that grew into worldwide Christianity today. Luke was a travelling companion to Paul and a doctor. Presumably his skills as a physician were much needed by Paul, who endured physical violence frequently during his missions. It has also been claimed that Luke was an artist who painted portraits of the apostles. Whilst there is much we will never know, the Bible provides our best source of information. In today’s reading from the letter to Timothy we hear of Luke’s steadfast faithfulness and loyalty during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment. The others had left him, “Only Luke is with me”, he writes. Our Gospel from Luke offers a good example of the evangelist’s attention to detail: itemising what the seventy did (or didn’t) carry, the etiquette with which they should treat those they visited, even the reservation of judgement – God would be their judge.
Unknown Luke (Main Course)
Inviting Luke to the dinner party would give a tantalising opportunity to find out more about Luke the person behind the meticulous, orderly, doctor-turned-historian we picture from his writing. Did he have a good sense of humour? Was he quiet or loud, silly or serious? Is it true that he painted Mary’s portrait? Was she one of the eyewitnesses who inspired Luke chapters 1-2? He probably got sick of being asked this question, but what was Paul really like? How was it to be a travelling companion on his missions? What did Paul whisper to his trusted doctor whilst Luke nursed him back to health? More than anything else, I’d want to know about his personal story of faith. What kept him going in the most difficult early days of Christianity? What could he share of his story to inspire our faith?
Reasoned Hope (dessert)
Imagining his answers (for sadly this is fantasy after all), I can only think that hope must have been crucial to his faith. In those early days, the shadow of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection still loomed sharp from the recent past. You could talk to people who knew Jesus, almost within touching distance of the original and definitive Hope. Luke was also a man of reason. He was a doctor after all, but we also get this from his writing - the careful, orderly presentation of available evidence. This was not a man given to flights of fancy. If we define reasoned hope as hope based on coherent, logical thought then surely Luke personified this. It must have taken formidable reasoned hope to get them through the darkest days of their missions. We know that Luke was familiar with Isaiah. Did the words of today’s reading strengthen their feeble hands, steady their knees that gave way, and speak to their fearful hearts “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come”.
Conclusion (coffee and mints)
Despite the millennia between us, the early church of Luke’s time and the modern church of today are perhaps not so dissimilar. We still face the pressing need to adapt to our context in order to survive. What advice based on reasoned hope would Luke give us for our church today? Be loyal and faithful? Do not fear change? I think it would be a long conversation. Judging from the Luke we know in Paul’s letters, he would be the last guest to leave. Only Luke remaining to help clear the plates and stack the dishwasher (in an orderly fashion).