20 October 2012

Chapel Homily for St. Luke's Day by Dr. Stephenson

St Luke 2012
Lk 10:1-9

Lots of people regard the quarter of the New Testament that comes from Luke’s pen as much more the work of a novelist than of a historian. Oh, yes, as fiction they’ll rate the Gospel and Acts up there with Tolstoy and Tolkien, but any suggestion, however diffident, that Luke is recording hard fact will produce temper tantrums, to say the least.

On these premises and in this company, confession that Luke was a diligent researcher who told it how it is and even personally witnessed some segments of his narrative will produce cheers, not jeers; so, unless I repeat this claim on public television or a university campus, it’s a rather cheap statement to make.

But is the issue of Luke’s accuracy as a reporter such a big deal anyway? Didn’t a famous industrialist once dismiss history as “bunk”? …Okay, mindboggling stuff might have happened long centuries ago, but isn’t it, by definition, passé, boring, one big yawn?

Well, the philosopher Lessing was less than honest when he said that, even if Jesus did rise from His grave on the third day, this fact would have no relevance for our view of the world. You don’t need much of an IQ to see through the holes of what isn’t even an argument. Lessing here belongs in the same ballpark as a politician who crosses his heart and assures us that he accepts, de fide (as a matter of faith, no less!), that human life in the image of God begins at conception, but nevertheless adamantly refuses to persuade anyone of this fact and aggressively insists that he will do all he can to keep the abortion industry going at full blast.

In fact, Luke put his personal integrity and even his life on the line when he released his two books under the heading of history plain and simple. Just as fury, violence, and even death met Christ and His apostles when they claimed to speak truth, so the tradition makes sense that Luke sealed his witness with his blood, dying as a martyr at the ripe old age of 84.

What Luke writes about the past surges up with tremendous force to impact the present. Is it an accident that many pious Christians know by heart the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon from the infancy narratives, so that we should blush if we can’t sing these canticles without a hymnal? Do not the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis rejoice in an abiding gift that will endure forever?

Why has the Church, since time immemorial, read a little snippet from the mission of the Seventy as the Gospel for this day? Weren’t the labours of the Seventy a mere flash in the pan, the doings of a few weeks at most? After all, those sent out in the mission that began at Pentecost are allowed to carry luggage and extra clothing?

Well, even though the mission we just heard of lasted only a short time, the Seventy themselves most likely continued in active ministry throughout the first generation of the Church. According to Eusebius, Matthias, who replaced Judas, began his public service of our Lord in this group. And as the very number Seventy kindles memories of the nations dispersed from Babel and thus gets us attuned to the worldwide mission commissioned by the risen Christ, it somehow goes with the flow when Eusebius reports that the apostle Thomas dispatched another member of the Seventy to the kingdom of Edessa.

And today’s focus on the Seventy beautifully fits into Luke’s overall picture of the Exalted Lord’s only having begun, during the brief years of His earthly lifetime, to do and to teach (Ac 1:1)! Jesus still sends out authorised labourers into His harvest, He still gives evidence through the spoken and sacramental Gospel that the Kingdom of God has arrived in such a way that it can’t be turned back. In our small way, ACNA and the Missouri Synod are instruments in this ongoing speaking and acting of Christ Jesus; our communities are part of the church history past of which Luke wrote the first chapters and also active players in church history in the making.

As we give thanks for Luke this day, we would do well to plunge ourselves with vigour into the true tale he tells, acknowledging that his two volumes of history make all the difference in the world for our present; rejoicing that, as we permit the Lord to keep the narrative going through our feeble efforts, we enjoy blessed communion with Luke and all the characters he depicts; and realising that, as we look forward to someday enjoying his company and sharing in his reward, we may also share his fate here below.

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