Before all that however, I want to ask Penny about our relationship to St Luke. For we’ve had a bit of history with St Luke, haven’t we?...
Yes. Of course, there are other themes which might be drawn from St Luke. Healing is certainly an obvious element however. After all, Colossians chapter 4 speaks of Luke as a ‘physician’. Luke is also interestingly identified in later traditions as the patron saint of artists and students, as well as physicians. So that sits pretty well with our own community here, doesn’t it? Luke also writes about healing – in both the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles, a book which clearly reflects the same language style and theological themes as the Gospel of Luke. For Luke is concerned with what scholars call ‘salvation history’. The word ‘salvation’ is interesting in this, for it is closely related to other English words like ‘salve’, connected to healing. It may be helpful for us therefore to think about ‘salvation’ as ‘salving’, rather than necessraily ‘saving’, which, sadly, has become bound up with many other less helpful assumptions about God. Thinking about ‘salvation’ as ‘salving’ certainly reconnects Luke’s own gospel, or ‘good news’ with the much broader and deeper trajectories of healing and shalom in the Bible as a whole. Healing is, as we see in Jesus’ life, a sign of the making whole of our lives and world in every sense. Our first question today then is: ‘what do we see in and around us which needs healing, ‘salving’, in this sense, and how might we, together, by God’s grace, play a part in enabling it?
What is healing to you, and how can we contribute to it? What do you think? A second question is linked to it, and takes us to the heart of Luke’s own answer to the question of Jesus who do you say that I am? For Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are suffused with a spirit of generous hospitality, a theme our diocese took as its annual focus recently. Read Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles and this startling generous hospitality stands out on almost every page. Without Luke’s Gospel, we would not have some of the most important stories of the New Testament. The parables of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Prodigal, and the Magnificat are, for example, three powerfully influential Scripture passages which are only found in Luke. Luke’s Gospel is also particularly full of stories including wome, the poor and the outcast. This is directly connected to the big healing understanding of God. The God in Jesus which Luke tells us about is a God of unexhaustible generous hospitality.
Indeed. If we look at the Acts of the Apostles, this is even clearer. Was Luke a Greek and a Gentile? Perhaps. What is certainly clear is that Luke tells us about a God who busts open all the old boundaries of Jew and Greek, chosen people and others, pure and impure. Luke is particularly strong on the importance and work of God’s Spirit – a power of transforming love which brings about a new Creation, in which it matters not what place or race you come from, or what human characteristic you have. Luke, in Acts of the Apostles, again and again tells the story of so many outsiders who come to know God’s love, without having to live by old religious laws or what moderns sometimes call lifestyles. Luke tells us how Paul and Peter, and other Jewish Christian leaders, had to come to embrace this inexhaustible generous hospitality of God. For me, as some of you may have heard me say before, this generous hospitality is perhaps most strikingly shown in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. Significantly, this story comes before Paul’s conversion but is sadly often ignored. Yet the Eunuch’s baptism is a powerful breaking down of all kinds of boundaries. Not only are they of another race and, as a an eunuch, of sexual and/or gender diverse identity, but they are also rich and powerful, and a servant of a foreign female ruler no less. God has no limits. Rather our gospel, our ‘good news’, like that of Luke’s is an invitation to share in. such generous hospitality, celebrating the gifts of the Spirit available, equally, to us all.
So, alongside ‘what is healing to you, and how can we contribute to it?’, our second question to us all today is ‘what does true hospitality look and feel like to you, and how do we nurture it together?
Thirdly, let us, prompted by St Luke today, consider how we share our faith. For this is at the heart of Luke’s own mission. Luke wants us to know about God’s healing and generous hospitality because Luke wants us to carry on handing this over to others, bringing hope to all of our world. I say ‘all of our world’ because the Acts of the Apostles in particular tells a powerful story of how ‘salvation history’ of God’s love in Jesus Christ came about. Jesus’ followers handed it on. To put it another way, they traded it on. For the English word ‘tradition’ comes from the Latin ‘tradere’, which, literally, means ‘to hand over’. That is very important. For many people think that tradition, not least Christian tradition, is something we either have to keep the same, or we have to change it. They view tradition as a static thing. Actually,as Luke shows us, it is dynamic. How can you keep handing something on without it changing? If you want it to be understood and used by people of another race, language, generation, or other background, it has to change, and will change, whether you like it or not. That’s the Acts of the Apostles’ story. It begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, which symbolises the whole known world. Along the way the love of God doesn’t change, but it is received by new people and expressed in new ways. So it has been, and must always be, in Christian history, if it is to be ‘salvation history’, bringing healing and nurturing hospitality. So our third question is: ‘how do we hand over hope to others, in the contexts of our times?
Three questions then for us all to ponder: ‘what is healing to you, and how can we contribute to it?’; ‘what is true hospitality to you, and how do we nurture it?; and ‘how do we hand over hope to others?’ What do you think?
As we said at the beginning, we’ve made this a dialogue reflection because that is the nature of Luke’s proclamation of faith. It is full of God’s love in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is an invitation not a command. It is an invitation to a conversation and fresh encounter on our own journeys - like the conversation and encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus. It is an invitation to explore. How then will we too share healing, hospitality, and hand over pathways of hope today?
In the name of Jesus Christ, who meets us on the Way and always surprises us with love and truth anew. Amen.
Josephine Inkpin, for St Luke festival, Sunday 18 October 2016 (Milton Anglicans)
(image: St Luke, by Giorgio Vasari, 1570-1571, NGA Washington DC, under Open Access)