We rejoice on saints’ days never for who saints are, but for who Christ is in them, for what Christ does, or has done through them. It is Christ we worship, not people.
This gets to what Luther means when he calls himself stinking maggot fodder, and says to cling to Christ, that we are not to be called by party names, but instead, are to be called Christians.
Colossians indicates St. Luke, whose festival we celebrate, to be a physician. Beyond that—we know little more. Strong evidence indicates that Luke might have been a Greek convert. Both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, volumes I and II of the same work, are attributed to Luke—both are written in highly polished Greek—far more elegant and cultured than Mark, Matthew or John. This seems to support the notion that Luke is a physician who has a fine education—probably not a Jew.
Luke is not one of the 12 disciples. Some think Luke is one of the disciples from the Emmaus Road, those to whom Jesus was revealed in the breaking of bread. Luke’s gospel is the only one giving precise details of the encounter. Based on the opening of Luke’s Gospel, it seems that Luke is not a follower of Jesus, at least not at first.
Luke tells readers that research and investigation is priority one. Luke begins the investigation of, “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” This may be why Luke’s Gospel tells more of Mary than any other Gospel, may be why there is strong focus on women as followers of Jesus and objects of Jesus’ healing ministry. It is possible that Luke interviewed Mary, Mother of our Lord, and even some of the disciples.
After the Ascension of Jesus, Luke travels with St. Paul, at least until Paul is killed under Roman Emperor Nero.
Luke is helper to Paul and helper to us, for without Luke’s Gospel, we’d have no knowledge of the Good Samaritan, no Prodigal Son story, no raising of the widow of Nain’s son, no chance to see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Luke freely gives us a tender, gently loving perspective on Jesus’ life, compassionate ministry, faithful atoning passion, then ends volume I with the Ascension of Jesus, whereupon Luke begins volume II with the Ascension, showing the faithful work of the apostles, and the birthing of God’s Church by the Holy Spirit’s power. Without Luke’s reporting, we’d never know of Pentecost, never know if the “promised comforter,” ever actually arrived.
So, whether Theophilus is a person of authority to whom Luke writes, or whether Theophilus, which means, “God’s Friend,” is meant to be any reader seeking to learn of Jesus, perhaps even both, Luke’s purpose is the same, “to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us…handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word…that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
Surely Luke never thought this research project would be circling the globe some 2000-ish years after its completion. Suppose that’s what happens when the Holy Spirit has come and inspires God’s Word to be written, passed on for generations, changing minds, changing hearts, shaping people into the image of Jesus? Our assurance that Luke’s gospel is truth, isn’t grounded in Luke’s polished Greek, or Luke’s mastery of Turabian, APA, or MLA writing style—it’s grounded in the Holy Spirit’s act of freely birthing the story of Jesus through a person whose own story we barely know, for their own story is rubbish when compared to the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ. Luke’s research is the Holy Spirit’s work, truly God’s work, Luke’s hands.
To this end, why do you believe in God? Trust in God?
Is it because you have been instructed by the finest 21st century post-modern theologians?
Is it because every pastor in Zion’s history won the Nobel Preaching Prize while we were with you?
Remember what we discussed last week about confidence in the flesh?
Remember that confidence in human flesh is trusting in poo.
What’s the result when a church leader is found to be oh-so-very-human? What’s the result when a church leader loses their cool and suddenly appears just as flawed as the rest of us? What’s the result when church leaders are wanted in 100 places at once, yet only prove able to be in one? Or, what results if an ELCA bishop drives drunk and kills a jogger in Wisconsin, which happened in Summer 2014?
Well, what happens is we get stunned, disappointed, hurt, blame others, sometimes the person, sometimes the victim, sometimes God, right?
And isn’t our disappointment grounded in our confidence being in human flesh?
And this is the point of Luke’s research project, that we rest our confidence in the Flesh of Jesus Christ, rather than any person. And by the Holy Spirit freely gifting faith, that’s what the Word of God creates, confidence in the Flesh of Jesus Christ. God’s strong Word does cleave the darkness, splits the darkness with the light of God’s salvation, and God’s strong Word breathes its own life-giving breath. There is no faith apart from God’s Word, no resurrection apart from God’s Word. Apart from God’s Word being crafted by the Holy Spirit into a living faith, we’ve nowhere else to turn but to people. And people will let us down time and time again. So, our confidence must rest in the freely given Flesh of Jesus and not in people; what Jesus, the Word of God, promises, Jesus, the Word of God, delivers, not so with people. People leave us anxious—God’s Word leaves us comforted. This is what God’s Word did for Luke, and through some friend of God, God’s Word does for you and me.
God’s Word comes to us, by coming through us, which is why we should frequently hear God’s Word preached—it’s for our health. We need to consume it daily. We need to discuss God’s Word and share what we experience God’s Word doing in, with, and through one another.
This is what creates a trusting faith, a faith of which Luther says, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Crafting faith, Jesus is with us, meeting us through others, saying things like, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
And Jesus opens our minds so we understand the purpose and ends of what Jesus is doing.
Jesus, God’s Word, freely works through our hearts, and we realize the depths of our “lostness,” and the reality of our “foundness,” in, with, and through Jesus. We receive the truth that Jesus accomplishes all that is needed for forgiveness of sins for all people, for all time, even the forgiveness of our own sins.
And this is hope for all of us prodigal beggars, that even when we avoid Jesus, resist Jesus, deny Jesus, doubt Jesus, we’re forgiven. For truly all that is needed God’s hands are providing, even eternal life for you, right now. You are God’s own, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Friends of God, that’s Luke’s gospel truth for you—written so, that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Jesus is the freely given source of our hope—not apostles, not saints, not even evangelists, just Jesus, only Jesus. This is the message for God’s friends, that by God’s grace sins have no power over us; Jesus has ‘em handled by God’s freely given grace.
No wonder we worship God with great joy, stay continually at the temple, blessing God. Joy takes hold of us and fills us— keeps us blessing God and pointing to Jesus in and out of the Temple. No wonder to rejoice means—to return to the source of our joy—to keep coming back to Jesus again and again.
God’s Word creates faith in us, causes us to rest in Jesus, comes through us, creating faith in others. What else is there but joy? Joy that God has it all in hand, all freely given through Jesus, freely given for you.
Our rejoicing is why we risk trying new things, why we risk giving a greater tithe, why we celebrate our heritage while not being confined to it, why we have differing worship services, why the Eagles program is such a powerful witness to grace, why WELCA digs wells, and why we’re inspired to be about God’s work with very our own hands. When our foundation is confidently resting in the Flesh of Jesus rather than the flesh of people, our foundation is sure—a proper, due, and fitting place for the Holy Spirit to construct God’s works. When we look at budgets, we see ministry spending plans. When we look at areas where funding seems scant, we answer God’s call to freely give as it is freely given to us in Jesus Christ. To do any less is to dishonor God and to devalue the mission and ministry of Jesus. To do more is to lean into the everlasting arms that have carried us this far, and which will surely carry us all the way. We are confident in Jesus who carries us. Friends of God, we are confident in the One in whom Luke placed Luke’s confidence, in whom the Church places her confidence.
In this confident way, we “weep where we’ve caused weeping, mourn where we’ve caused mourning, and lift up what we’ve brought low.” We do this counting our own story as loss, trusting in the better story of the One who brought us through the watery grave of Baptism, and who raises us to new life. We, saints, rejoice, for it is never about who we are, but about who Christ is in us, about what Christ does, or will do through us. After all, it is Christ we worship, not people, just ask Luke.