Feast of St. Luke October 2017

IMG_7276 Statue

This year we celebrated St. Luke’s Day with a beautiful Sung Mass and some refreshments afterwards. St. Luke is important for Holy Trinity because the parish incorporates the old church of St. Luke, Hornsey on Mayfield Road. We were delighted to welcomeFr. Ben Kerridge as the preacher. His sermon is reproduced below.


The photo is of the statue of St. Luke in Holy Trinity Church.


I want to start, perhaps uncharacteristically for a sermon on St Luke, with a passage from the Gospel according to St John, who says at the very end of his Gospel “25But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” When we tell a story, we cannot tell everything that happened, we have to select what we think is most important and leave other things out. If you asked somebody to tell you about their day and they gave you a long and detailed explanation of everything they did and every thought that passed through their mind and every conversation they had, well it would take them about a day to tell you. We have no choice but to choose. But the stories people tell, and crucially the stories people do not tell, tell us something about that person, they reveal. If somebody only talks about the important people we tend to notice; if somebody only talks about themselves, equally we tend to notice; if one person’s name is constantly being dropped into conversation our minds start to make assumptions; and if somebody is never mentioned, equally we start to draw our own conclusions. We have to make a selection when we tell a story, we have no choice, but the selections we make are deeply meaningful, and reveal more about ourselves than we would like to think.

And so what of Luke, what does he tell us in the story he tells, in the things he chooses to include and the things he doesn’t? For St Luke is above all a marvellous storyteller – so many of the stories we love the most are found in Luke – the annunciation, the shepherds, the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the rich man and the beggar. I remember reading through Acts, Luke’s other book, in Athens of all places, and being utterly captivated by it, reading long into the night. And what do these stories tell us? The first thing we notice is Luke says very little about himself. At the beginning of the gospel he gives a brief description of his methodology, he says,

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,* to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

There is a characteristic modesty in putting himself as one of many, as things turned out he is one of only 4 evangelists and the only person to write a history of the works of the apostles after Jesus. Although Luke and Acts are separated by the Gospel of John in our bibles, most contemporary scholars think they were written as one composition. Luke is responsible for 27.5% of the New Testament, the biggest single contributor. He was not, people think, an eyewitness to Jesus, but in Acts, we get these tantalising glimpses that the author was present at some of the events he describes. While usually written in the third person there are three passages when acts is written using “we”, always during travels with Paul and his companions -suggesting the author travelled with Paul and saw these ‘we’ passages he describes. Crucially, this would suggest that author arrived with Paul in Rome, where Paul was martyred. In Paul’s letters we get the odd glimpse of who this person was: a fellow worker with Paul in Philemon, A beloved Physician in Colossians, in both cases sending his greetings along with Paul and Demas. In 2 Timothy we learn that poor old Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted Paul, leaving only faithful old Luke, faithful old Luke about whom we know very little.

So, from Luke we learn that the story is not fundamentally about us. There are some churches I’ve been to where people go on and on about the wonderful things Jesus has done in their lives. That’s all very well and good, but if Jesus is truly at work, surely we would notice him in others as well, not just in ourselves. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for testimony, or a place for the personal, but there is something utterly beautiful about the way that Luke loses himself in the narrative, a narrative some of which he was a witness to, and yet we only notice this if we look very carefully. As the Body of Christ, we have a lot to learn from the way that Luke uses the word “we” to describe actions he participated in. We are one body, not a collection of individuals, a we, not a group of I’s.

And so, who are the people that Luke notices? It is very striking the attention he gives, right at the beginning of his Gospel to Mary. We’re so used to Mary in our tradition, that it would be easy to forget, but for Luke, what a marginal character she would be in the New Testament: There are a few fleeting references in Mark, the focus of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is all on Joseph, Mary is given no voice. In John she has a somewhat ambiguous position, until that last wonderful scene when she together with the Beloved disciple remain at the cross and Jesus says mother, here is your son. But in Luke we get this touching psychological insight which gets to the heart of what it means for Jesus to be human, for to be human we need a mother. When Jesus is presented at the temple and Simeon says to Mary, a sword will pierce your own heart too, we understand the human cost of that wonderful yet awful yes to God that Mary gave at the annunciation. And we too, like Luke, should notice Mary. Discovering that she is there alongside me, and us all, praying with us and for us, has been one of the most beautiful and comforting deepenings of my Christian journey.

Luke also notices the poor and the forgotten, and what is more, he notices those who fail to notice what is going on around them. In the wonderful account of St Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts he accuses the religious authorities of being stiff-necked, of being so fixated that they fail to notice what is going on around them. And it is this sense of being stiff-necked which means the rich man fails to notice Lazarus at his gate, and fails to help him, this sense of being stiff-necked which prevents the priest and the Levi from overcoming custom and helping the man who has been robbed. And it is part of Luke’s attention and concern for the outsider that he alone chooses to recount the story of how the Samaritan, the classic outsider, was the true neighbour. And we too, like Luke, should not be stiff-necked but look around to notice those who have otherwise been forgotten – the poor, the lonely, those in need. And remember not just to look in the obvious places, the can be great need sitting beside you on the pew.

Luke notices the work of the Holy Spirit, the action of the Holy Spirit is key to the narrative, especially in Acts when he we hear that wonderful story of Pentecost. And “filled with the holy Spirit” is a distinctly Lukan phrase. We hear of Jesus, Elizabeth, Zacharius, Paul, Peter, Stephen and the disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and doing wonderful things. And we too, like Luke, should be attentive to the promptings and the movings of the Holy Spirit, allowing ourselves to be filled up, so we can go out and do the work of God.

So, on this St Luke’s day, as we celebrate your patron, I invite you as a church dedicated to his witness and teaching, to think about what story you are telling as a church and as individual Christians. What do you include and what do you leave out, who do you include and who do you leave out? St Luke’s genius is to put many small, quirky, engaging stories in the context of the wider arc of salvation history, of the one great story of God’s work of creation and reconciliation. As a working definition of a church, that’s not bad, a collection of small quirky engaging stories set in the context of salvation history. And it is our job, like Luke, to tell these stories, to be evangelists, to go out into the forgotten places of Stroud Green and to the forgotten people and tell the good news of Jesus Christ and the story of how this wonderful church fits into the larger story of God’s action in creation. And I hope and pray that in telling these stories you will be attentive to your patron, by making them not about ourselves and our own egos, but about Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and that we will notice this work in others as much as ourselves. I pray that, attentive to Luke, you will not be stiff necked, but constantly looking around to see the places and people that need your love. And that you will be attentive to Luke by remembering the human warmth of Mary, our mother and our sister, who teaches us to say yes to God, and who prays for us on the journey. And finally I pray that in telling these stories you will be filled with the Holy Spirit. And I pray that like St Luke you will be faithful to this calling and to each other until the end. Blessed St Luke, beloved physician, faithful friend, storyteller of the good news, pray for us.