Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke: The Perfect Patron for a Small Orthodox Parish in West Texas!

Colossians 4:5-11, 14-18
St. Luke 10:16-21
Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, the patron saint of our parish.  Our small community is named in his honor and memory, and we ask him to pray for us in virtually every service.  In many ways, St. Luke is an especially appropriate saint for our parish.  He was a Gentile, a physician, an iconographer, and one of the 70 Apostles sent out by the Lord to proclaim the good news. (Our members include a physician, an iconographer, and a bunch of Gentiles!) Author of both a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke died a martyr’s death at the age of 84.
          He was the only Gentile to write one of the gospels of the New Testament.  Like St. Matthew, he includes the family tree or genealogy of Jesus Christ.  St. Luke traces the Lord’s lineage all the way back to Adam, the first human being who lived before the distinction between Jew and Gentile.  Thus he showed that Christ is the Savior of all, that He came to bring all peoples and nations into the glory of His Kingdom.  As a Gentile, St. Luke’s own family tree did not place him in the house of Israel, and his gospel especially emphasizes the mercy of Christ for those then thought of as strangers and outsiders to God’s blessings.     
           The Lord rejoiced in today’s gospel reading that the Father hid His truth from the wise and prudent, but revealed Himself to babes, to humble and simple people with little standing in the eyes of the world.   Gentiles, the poor, the sick, and women got little respect in that time, but St. Luke presents the ministry of our Lord in a way that makes clear that the blessings of the Kingdom extend to all, and that the lowly and despised are often the ones most ready to receive the good news of Christ, precisely due to their humility.
          For example, it is from Luke’s gospel that we know of the Virgin Mary’s obedient acceptance of the calling to become the Theotokos, the Mother of the incarnate Son of God.  She sings the Magnificat in response, praising Him for regarding the low estate of His handmaiden; for henceforth all generations will call her blessed.  She sings of a God who has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly, who has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.  A simple, unknown virgin girl miraculously became the living Temple of God; through her, the Savior came to the world; and in purity of heart, she accepted a shocking pregnancy that put her own life and reputation at risk. 
            The physician Luke even tells us of a meeting between the pregnant Theotokos and the pregnant St. Elizabeth in which St. John the Forerunner leaped in the womb in the presence of the not-yet-born Jesus Christ.  What an amazing detail that probably only a physician would have recorded in that time and place.
          It is also from St. Luke’s gospel that we learn of the astounding humility of Jesus Christ’s birth in a barn.  The Son of God used the feeding trough of a farm animal as His crib.  And the shepherds—poor, dirty, and generally looked down upon-- were the first group notified of this event.  They were blessed to be the first to know that the Messiah had been born.
          And when the Savior preached His first sermon in St. Luke’s gospel, He chose an Old Testament text that showed His love for the outcasts, the suffering, and those on the margins of society.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.“  Though the worshipers at the synagogue that day had liked the beginning of Jesus Christ’s sermon, they hated the ending.  For the Lord reminded them that God sometimes worked through the great Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha to help Gentiles instead of Jews.  When the people heard of God’s concern for the hated Gentiles, they literally tried to kill Christ by throwing Him off a cliff.  They wanted a Savior only for themselves on their own terms, not this surprising kind of Messiah Who came to save even their enemies.
          Do you see the common theme of these examples?  St. Luke demonstrated clearly that the Lord does not operate accordingly to conventional human standards of who is important, powerful, worthy, or holy.  In contrast with the ways of the world, our Savior taught that the last will often be first in the Kingdom of Heaven and the first will be last.  The “least of these,” the babes, will often respond to Christ with a pure heart while those who trust in themselves, their riches, their social status, their power, or their respectability will often refuse Him. 
          As a small parish in a part of the world with very few Orthodox Christians, we should be glad that St. Luke is our patron saint.  Like those common people in Luke’s gospel, our little community has no special prominence or power.  We are not wealthy or large or well-known.   We all have friends, neighbors, or family members who, until they met us, had never even heard of the Orthodox Church.  We certainly cannot rely on a common ethnicity or any other human characteristic to hold us together and build up our church.  In some ways, we are probably the most diverse congregation in Abilene; sociologically, our very existence probably makes no sense.  No, our very existence as a parish is a sign of God’s abundant grace and mercy.  We should all thank the Lord for creating and sustaining this blessed community through which we share in the life of Christ and have become members of one another in Him.  
          St. Luke also wrote of the original Christian community in similar ways in the Acts of the Apostles.  By the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, people of different nationalities who spoke different languages were united in a common faith in Jesus Christ.  They were persecuted by both Jews and Romans; there were tensions in the church between different ethnic and cultural groups; arguments raged over whether Gentiles had to be circumcised and obey the Jewish law before becoming Christians.  The early church as described by St. Luke was not wealthy or large or well-known.  To follow Jesus Christ under those conditions was a difficult struggle that literally made many saints and martyrs.  In their weakness, the first Christians found God’s strength.  In their humility, they were lifted up by His power.  In their obedience, they became victors over their enemies by sharing in Christ’s conquest over sin and death.
          The Book of Acts has many of the same themes as the Gospel of Luke.  St. Luke describes the early Church as a rare place of reconciliation for Jew and Gentile and a community in which financial resources were shared so that no one was in need.  The Church was born at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered Christ’s followers to proclaim the good news such that people from all over world could understand and call on the name of the Lord.  As in those days, it remains the case that it is often the babes, the least of these, the outsiders, those who know trouble and pain all too well, who call upon Him with the purest of hearts.
          On this feast day of St. Luke, our challenge is to remember that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are that Church that began on Pentecost.  And like the first generation of Christians, we will find our salvation in the obscure place in the world that God has given us.  We have learned from St. Luke that lowliness and humility are actually favorable characteristics in the Christian life.  And we grow in these Christ-like virtues by patiently serving one another and our neighbors as Christ has served us.  That is why—even though we have not yet repaired our hall from the fire and have limited resources-- we are sponsoring a reception this week in support of IOCC’s relief work for refugees from Syria and Iraq, even as our members have given generously over the years for several campaigns to help our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East. It is why we assist our own members and others who are in need and support Pregnancy Resources of Abilene.   Even as St. Luke described the Theotokos welcoming the unexpected birth of the Savior, we want to help women today welcome their own children, regardless of the difficulties that they face.  As Christ said, “In that you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  That includes those who leap in the womb today, as well as their mothers in the most challenging of circumstances.

          From a worldly perspective, all that we do in our parish is small scale and out of the cultural mainstream.  That is no problem at all, of course, because St. Luke has shown us a Savior Who works through weak and unlikely people to establish His Kingdom, which is surely not of this world.  As hard as it is to believe, that is precisely what the Lord is doing through us in this place by the prayers of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, our patron. 

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