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...Who Brings Good Tidings of Good,
Who Publishes Salvation

F. Earle Fox
Sermon at St. Luke's Reformed Episcopal Church, Santa Ana, California

St. Luke's Day - Trinity 18 - Sept. 18, 2009
Is. 52:7-10; Ps. 96; 2 Tim. 4:5-15; Lk 10;1-7

That passage from Isaiah makes a good title for a sermon on St. Luke.

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation."

I am going to quote from the author of the introduction to the Gospel of Luke in my Harper Study Bible. We read from the introduction to Luke...

The third Gospel bears the name of Luke, "beloved physician" (Col. 4:14), friend and companion of Paul. The earliest references to the third Gospel name Luke as its author, the only known Gentile author in the New Testament. It is clear that the same author wrote the third Gospel and Acts, and according to the accounts in Acts and in the Epistles, he joined Paul and his party at Troas, during the second missionary journey, going with them to Philippi.... He apparently remained in Philippi until Paul's return there on the third missionary journey, and went on with him to Jerusalem and Rome. He was with Paul when he wrote to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to Timothy.
.....

The nature and purpose of the book is explicitly stated [i.e., to write for a man named Theophilus, a history of the events of the first disciples of Jesus]. The identity of Theophilus, to whom the work is dedicated, is a matter of surmise. In his "orderly account" of the beginning, growth, and spread of the Christian movement, the author writes consciously as an historian, and his work is more nearly akin to history than any of the other Gospels. (Notice the precise dating of the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry in 3:1-2).

Called by one scholar, "the most beautiful book ever written," the Gospel of Luke records the birth of Christ, and tells with consummate artistry and grace such parables as that of the Good Samaritan, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Prodigal Son. The loveliest story of all is the narrative of the Emmaus appearance of the risen Lord.

Beautiful hymns adorn the book: the Magnificat of Mary, the Benedictus of Zechariah, the Gloria in Excelsis of the angels, and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon.

A strong note of joy runs through the whole narrative, from the angel's song in 2:14 to the end of the story as the disciples return to Jerusalem "with great joy and were continually in the Temple blessing God". Prominence is given to prayer, and to the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel sounds the note of universal relevance with its message of "a light for revelation to the Gentiles", and God's salvation proffered to all mankind. Women are accorded a prominent place: Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Joanna, and Susanna; the women who helped Jesus; the widow of Nain; the sinful woman; Mary and Martha; the woman with the spirit of infirmity; and the women who mourned for Jesus on the way to Golgotha. Jesus' parables included those of the woman who lost her coin, and the widow who insisted on her rights. His gracious call to salvation embraces society's outcasts also: the "sinners," tax-gatherers, and Samaritans.

The narrative reaches its climax in Christ's Passion: before the book is even half finished, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem where, at Mount Olivet, he will be received up into heaven, in fulfillment of his destiny. The Passion is the climax and culmination of the whole Gospel, casting its spell over the entire narrative.

And then, the introduction to the Book of Acts. We read:

As a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, Acts continues the story of the Christian movement from the ascension of Christ to Paul's arrival in Rome some thirty years later. The author... is a participant in some of the events recorded, as seen by the use of "we" and "us" in some passages.

....

The book traces the development and spread of the Christian church from the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to Paul's preaching the Gospel in Rome "openly and unhindered" for two whole years.

The title "Acts of the Apostles" is in some ways inadequate, for the book tells of the acts of only two of the twelve apostles: Peter, who dominates the early part of the book, and John. The only other apostle of whom anything specific is said is James, brother of John, who was put to death by Herod Agrippa. The other great names in the book are not of the Twelve: Stephen and Phillip, two of the seven helpers chosen by the Jerusalem church; in addition there are Barnabas, and James, brother of the Lord and leader in the Jerusalem church.

The dominant figure is Paul, born Saul of Tarsus, first seen at the martyrdom of Stephen. His conversion is narrated in 9:1-30 (with two other recitals of the event...), and early activities.... From chapter 13, the book becomes in fact "The Acts of Paul," as the author traces the activity of the great apostle to the Gentiles in preaching throughout the Roman Empire.

Many would call the book "The Acts of the Holy Spirit", since it is the Holy Spirit who empowers, directs, and confirms the work of the apostles and missionaries. Acts presents the thrilling account of the life of the early Church, the opposition faced and overcame, the problems met and solved; and above all, it is the story of divine grace in its redemptive power in the lives of early believers.

The development of the Christian movement is told in terms of people and places; the author was necessarily selective and did not trace all developments or describe how the gospel was first preached in all regions. For example, how or by whom the work was started in Damascus and Rome is not stated. With broad strokes of his pen, the author shows how the Christian message was originally proclaimed in Jerusalem, and then in all Judea and Samaria, and so through out the Empire to the capital city of Rome, in fulfillment of the Lord's command and promise. From this story the reader learns of early Christian worship and fellowship, of bold witness of plain and simple laymen, and of the opposition of the Jews and of the authorities. The author is careful to point out that the Christians were not enemies of the Empire: every time the missionaries were brought before Roman authorities, they were absolved of all charges of sedition or insurrection.

Through all problems and opposition, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these early witnesses, "the word of God grew and multiplied".

Well, that is one scholar's description of the Gospel according to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, and of the kind of man Luke was.

I imagine Luke to be one of those solid and stabile men who are the backbone of the success of any vital venture, yet he kept himself almost invisible to the reader of his account.  Apart from the few times Luke uses the first person, "we" and "us", you would be hardly aware that he was personally present in the events of St. Paul's life.

Luke was a physician, which testifies to the sacramental nature of the Kingdom, affirming the goodness of healing powers within nature as well as the appeal for divine intervention, prayer for God to heal directly. God works through His own created nature.

Luke was a man who paid attention to historical detail, knew how to put things in order, and at the same time had sense of the balanced and beautiful.

I imagine also that Luke would have been a person rather easy to get along with, whereas Paul's intensity and drive might have, at times, made him a bit more difficult companion, as perhaps in Paul's relationship with Mark.  Thank God for Barnabas, the reconciler.

Luke may have kept notes of his travels, or had a good memory, given his concern for history, and certainly had a concern for passing on the events of Christian beginnings to posterity. Biblical religion, uniquely in all the world, sees God as acting in history, investing Himself in history. As the title of Rabbi Abraham Heschel's book says, God Who Acts. The God of the Bible is a do-er, not just a be-er, as were the divinities of pagan philosophy.

Pagan philosophers struggled to make reasonable sense of God and life in the here and now, but in the end, they failed. God acting in history made no sense to the pagan philosophical mind. History, for them, is the realm of the impermanent, the changing, the unreliable, all things contrary to the nature of God.

But for Biblical religion, history is God's story line. God is Himself creating history by His very acts of creation and by the purposes He gives to His people. He is going somewhere with them, and that somewhere is defined by the notion of agape, love devoted to the welfare of other persons. Biblical love is an active thing, a way you behave and relate to other persons. The Kingdom of God is an active place, not static and abstract.

So, what does that say for us today?

It tells us right here in the midst of a disintegrating Western Civilization, at the very least that God is still in charge of history. Those who are working mightily to bend history to their own ends, who are in open rebellion today against the sovereignty of God, are creating their own destruction.

St. Augustine, who lived some four centuries after Luke, wrote his monumental, The City of God, which was the world's very first philosophy of history, the first writing to examine the meaning and purpose of the whole sweep of history itself.

Pagans had historians, persons who wrote the chronicles of their times, such as Thucidides. But their histories were "local", not universal. They were chronicles of their own times and places, not attempts to see the very meaning of everything, from the beginning of time to its end. Pagan writers did not think that history had any meaning or direction. It just went wherever the local power struggles happened to take it, so that is what they recorded -- power struggles, wars.. And in the end, it was all circular, following the eternal circular path of nature from birth to life, and then death and rebirth into infinity.

But St. Augustine, as also St. Luke and all the apostles, understood that history has a cosmic meaning. God's story line was what history is all about. We are being invited into His story line. So the whole cosmos is going somewhere. It is linear, not circular. Rome fell, said. St. Augustine, because Rome refused to line itself with the purposes of God.

That is a belief which makes sense only if Genesis 1:1 is true, that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..." If there is no Creator God, then there is no meaning to history, and Luke really had nothing much very important to write about. It is all headed for the Cosmic Shredder anyhow.. If there is no intelligent design to the cosmos, and thus no intelligent Designer, then whatever history there is goes in those eternal circles of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

And then, as Hindus and Buddhists tell us, the goal is to stop coming back after cycling into death, to stay there, to stop returning to this world of pain and suffering and destruction.

But Judeo-Christians say, No, there is a goal and a direction given by an eternal God who acts, not a goal only by our brief candle gleam weakly asserting itself in an infinite darkness. The substance of life is not darkness, it is the Light of God which does not die and get recirculated. Life is about personal relationships which endure into eternity. The Kingdom of heaven is full of persons who are, as St. Paul points out, always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful. Those three that endure. They endure in the midst of time and change, they give meaning and focus to the time and change.

And that means that those who are destroying our Churches, our Christian denominations, cannot win. It means that our stability by the power of the Holy Spirit, our ability to be ourselves as witnesses for the Living God, comes from a depth far deeper than that which the Pharaohs, the Caesars, and the other tyrants, other government-centralizing enemies of Christ can touch.

It means that their program of subverting the Sovereignty of God must fail, and that, as we do as St. Luke and St. Paul, and St. Augustine did, and all the many others before and since their time, God will use the likes of ourselves to once again topple the power pyramids of our present Pharaohs and Caesars. By their alienation from God, they have made themselves subject to the forces of decay and self-destruction and they cannot survive.

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation."

That is our challenge, to become that kind of church, that kind of personal witnesses. We celebrate and honor St. Luke today for his service to our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us consecrate ourselves yet one more time, as we come the altar of God to receive the presence of God into our lives, and to give ourselves to Him, that He, the Living God, can make of us a people -- of whom others will say, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation."

Doing the work of an apostle for Jesus Christ -- that is how to honor the memory of St. Luke.

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Date Posted -  10/18/2009   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012