On the Feast of Saint Luke’s October 17th, 2021
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
Our psalm begins with perfect words for us on this feast day
when we celebrate our Patron, Saint Luke
Today we feast, first here at our Lord’s table and then share a potluck
but first we look back at the life and labor of saint Luke,
who, tradition tells us, was a physician and an artist,
but whose true legacy to us was his evangelism.
Fancy that, evangelism:
a word we Episcopalians usually shy away from,
if not shudder when we hear it.
This was the trade of the man we Episcopalians here in Scottsboro hold up,
the man after whom we named our parish.
Saint Luke was first and foremost, an evangelist.
I am an evangelist too, by the way,
and not just because my sermons
are now broadcast over the internet onto people’s homes—
Which makes me a televangelist.
You laugh, but here is the rest of the truth: you also are evangelists.
All of us, in our baptismal vows,
took the vow to proclaim by word and example
the Good News of God in Christ?
All of us answered, “We will, with God’s help.”
Of all our baptismal vows, I wonder how well we do on this one.
I think the reason I’ve so often cringed at the word evangelism
is because I’ve heard too many evangelists, on TV or on the street corner,
take Jesus’ words (or Paul’s or John’s or the words in Leviticus for that matter) and use them as scare tactics.
Last month a pastor from Louisiana church
had the gall to tell his congregation,
that Jesus hasn’t returned yet because they haven’t given enough money.
This is the same man who asked his congregants for new Falcon 7x Jet plane, or else they weren’t going to receive God’s blessings.
Evangelism for some is the practice of petrifying people into loving God.
It’s nuts! The word “Evangelism” for crying out loud—
literally means Good news!
But I’m also angered by those other evangelists who corrupt even this…
they spread the good news by promising great health and wealth to people
if they’ll just send in more of their money.
We talked about this last week—this is wholly against what scripture teaches.
So, you might understand why even just the word evangelism
doesn’t get talked about much here in our church.
I don’t want to be counted as one of those kinds of evangelists!
I must confess though,
that part of my flinching at the word evangelism,
is plainly because I, and the church that I love,
the church that is so good in so many ways, is just not great at evangelism.
In the early ‘80’s I was just entering my adulthood,
I was a regular summer camp counselor at our diocesan camp, McDowell
and active I was at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church
my campus at Auburn University.
Then after graduation I got married and started a family,
joining an amazing group of people at St. Thomas Church in Huntsville.
I was so convinced that the Episcopal Church was the be all and end all,
that if you’d suggested differently,
you’d have received some choice words from me.
My pride in TEC was wrapped up in the intelligent way we explained our faith: beginning with the 3 legged stool—scripture, tradition, and reason,
and going on to recite our baptismal vows will you strive for justice,
care for the dignity of all people…
and I’ll say that I enjoyed
what I thought was our denomination’s clever approach to evangelism.
The national church at that time
had designed slogans to catch the eye of those
who’d turned away from church for various reasons.
One slogan was, “Christ died to take away your sins, not your mind.”
And then there was:
“There is a difference between being baptized and brainwashed.”
Now, frankly, I squirm as I hear the elitism in those slogans.
In the ‘90’s the TEC tried another tactic…whose aim is still a mystery to me.
I’ll let you decide what we were thinking when we put out slogans such as, “Summer sermons will be shorter. Priests play golf too”
and “Why not surprise us and show up this Sunday?”
Just a desperate attempt to connect with secular culture…but also an ill-considered willingness to use shame as an incentive.
The 90’s was supposed to be the Decade of Evangelism—
across all the mainline ecumenical churches.
Methodists committed to add millions of members,
Lutherans and Presbyterians increased their efforts
to spread their missions,
and the TEC resolved to meet the closing years of the millennium
with a renewed and united emphasis
on making Christ known to the people of His world.
You will not be surprised, I’m pretty sure,
to find out that by most all measures,
particularly in counting membership in the western world,
the DOE for each denomination was pretty much a failed venture.
Why? You know that old joke how many Episcopalians
it takes to change a light bulb? Three:
One to call an electrician, one to mix the drinks,
and one to talk about how much they liked the old one.
It holds a lot of truth.
The TEC’s effort got off to a sluggish start,
deliberating for a long time,
just what our understanding of evangelism actually is and has been in the past, and then debating what our future may look like.
Sometimes we can just get stuck.
Not just us….all faith communities can be so consumed
with memories of the past and hopes for the future,
that they are led in one direction to nostalgia and in the other toward anxiety, neither of which contribute to the work before us—
to proclaim by word and example the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Today is the key word—
the shocking word Jesus offered at the very beginning of his ministry.
Today, Jesus tells those gathered in the synagogue to hear him for the first time,
today scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
This is his first public sermon.
Look here folks, Jesus says, as he rolls up the scroll at the synagogue,
the Spirit of God is at work, right here.
Right now. God is with us.
God is calling us into this ever-loving work alongside God’s own spirit.
Then Luke, the evangelist proceeds to tell all the stories
of Jesus healing, inviting, teaching, sharing.
Luke includes in his gospel the stories of the women who supported Jesus, Joanna, Susanna, Mary Magdalene.
He retells the stories Jesus used to teach, the parables.
Luke makes sure we hear even the walk to Emmaus, after Jesus died,
where two disciples repeat the story of Jesus,
not knowing they are talking to the risen Lord.
And in his masterful storytelling,
Luke models the spiritual practice of evangelism.
Which, is telling our stories—
Frankly, it is the primary way businesses grow, good news is spread.
Luke models the evangelistic too we all have—story telling,
to draw people to the love of Christ.
This a spiritual practice
because of what it effects in us and the world around us.
When we proclaim by word and example the good news,
by retelling our own sacred stories,
our experiences with God and in the world around us,
we reconnect ourselves with the divine that is part of us,
and connect again those who feel adrift.
We do better knowing that the world isn’t asking for religion,
it needs and wants spirituality—a connection to the divine.
The psalmists did this so beautifully—
describing to others the wonders of God…
Hallelujah, how pleasant it is to honor God with praise!
2 The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
4 He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;
12 But the Lord has pleasure
in those who await his gracious favor.
Luke did this ingeniously, too.
His purpose was to spread the message around the world…
Luke concludes his work in the book of Acts, by saying,
“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
Thanks be to God they did.
Thanks be to God they also continued to tell the stories
of God’s saving grace in their lives.
They will listen, Luke says.
We have done that.
Now the question is, will we be Christ’s evangelists,
telling the stories of God’s support, peace, purposefulness in our lives…
will we welcome others’ stories too, as Luke did,
and link them all to the Great Story of God.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
the honor of your Name. Amen.