Stay True to the True Story - Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist (October 16, 2022)
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 31:27–34 | Psalm 119:97–104 | 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5 | Luke 18:1–8
Today our parish remembers and celebrates the life and ministry of our patron Saint, St. Luke the Evangelist: who is most well known as the author of the Gospel account that bears his name, which carefully tells the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and how this message of hope began to spread… a story that continues to unfold in St. Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, which highlights how God’s Holy Spirit fills the first believers after the resurrection of Jesus, empowering them at Pentecost to share in God’s New Life in a whole new way… to experiencing it’s transforming grace for themselves, and striving to share it with the wider world.
In short, St. Luke tells the story of Jesus Christ and His Church. He tells us our story… inviting us to believe in the Good News and New Life the Living God is offering us, and to let this story guide and shape our lives.
That is, after all, what the best stories do: they invite us to see everything differently. To recognizes how our own lives fit into the narrative, and to let it guide our choices and actions in the light of its message.
Of course, we can choose not to let even the best stories effect us in these ways. We can let the words we hear go in one ear and out the other, without allowing them to take root in our hearts or our imaginations. We can read them, and leave them there on the page. We can memorize them, but still refuse to engage with their deeper meaning.
In other words, we need more than mere words. We need true inspiration.
Our Scripture readings today all help tell this story… and they invite us to engage with more than mere words, but with the One who has spoken through them, and who is still speaking to us today.
Our first reading this morning from the book of the prophet Jeremiah contains the promise of God to make a New Covenant with Israel and Judah. Their first Covenant confirmed at Mt. Sinai, had been the grounds for their unique relationship with Yahweh, the Living God; clarifying for everyone what it would mean for this nation to share in the New Life that God had prepared for them: being set apart to live in the light of God’s faithful love.
They all knew the story… how God had rescued them, and led them to a New Land, and a New Life… but time and again, they kept on refusing to let that story sink in… to take root in their hearts and minds, and guide their actions and choices. And so, time and again, they found themselves wandering away from their Lord. This led them into all sorts of trouble, including in Jeremiah’s day, to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, and exile out of the Promised Land.
But even as this bleak fate loomed large over God’s unfaithful people, the Lord remained faithful to them… longing to draw them back to Himself so they could find life again… offering hope that one day God Himself would repair their shattered relationship, and open a whole new way for them to take part in His saving story.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 - “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
God will write His own Law on their hearts… so they can truly be His people, and He their God… so they all will know Him… and know the power of His forgiveness and love.
This is moving far beyond what mere words can accomplish. God is promising here to pour out His grace on His stubborn and sinful people, and turn their hearts back to Him. To bring them His own life-giving power, able to work within His people to will and to do what is truly pleasing in His sight. To move beyond a written code and towards a living faith… a story to trust in, and live by, based on the rescuing love of God that they would all come to know intimately.
In short, God promised to share His own life with them. To draw them near to Himself, grounding their hope in His faithful love.
This beautiful promise began to be fulfilled at Pentecost, with the pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit on the first disciples, empowering them to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Risen Son of God, who through His life, death, and resurrection accomplished God’s ultimate act of saving love: atoning for, not only Israel’s sins, but for the sins of the whole world. In Jesus, not only was God drawing one nation near to Himself to share His New Life with them, God was at work opening wide the way for all nations to enter His Kingdom. What had once been a story known by one community, one family was now being proclaimed to all: in Jesus, the Living God has given His life to rescue Israel, and everyone else.
This is our story, which St. Luke longed for us to learn, and live by, and which the Living God is still at work in, speaking to us today.
Turning now to our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear the Apostle urging His fellow believer to delve deeply into this story: 2 Timothy 3:14-15 - “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The sacred writings, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, (at that time referring to the Old Testament, as many of the books of the New Testament were not yet written). Though Timothy had learned their words as a child, St. Paul knew they are essential for every stage of the life of faith, instructing us regarding the salvation of God Christ came to bring.
But St. Paul goes on to say that these stories and writings are not simply words on a page: “All scripture is inspired by God”, he writes in verse 16. “God-breathed” is another way to put it. The Living God who created the universe, from the smallest atom to the largest star, had His careful hand in the formation of these writings too… working through those who had come to know Him, and His story… taking up their human words and making them into true instruments of His grace… making them a means of receiving His grace… as God’s own word to us.
But being “God-breathed”, or “inspired” is not just about their origins and creation by God’s grace, it’s also about how God is still at work through them speaking to us today.
And it’s meant to do something! Or rather, God does something with it: He shapes us. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
All of Scripture is God’s tool, to teach, correct, and train us… to equip us to carry on the mission that Christ Jesus has called us into… the mission of God to reconcile the world.
Sometimes we can treat the Bible like it is our tool… pulling out the verses that suit our purpose, and trying to convince others, or ourselves, that we’re the ones who are on the right track. People use Scripture to justify all sorts of things, to build up their status, and tear down their rivals… most of us use it without ever wondering what it’s really all about. St. Paul faced this, even in his day, warning Timothy that "the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4). How true are these words today?
What better description of our so-called “post-truth” world?
The answer for St. Paul’s, back then and today, is the same: stay true to the true story! Stick to and share the message! Don’t get pulled off track by distractions, or dishonest desires. The Good News of Jesus proclaimed all throughout the Holy Scriptures is God’s gift to us, and as we learn to live by this sacred story, with lives shaped more and more by the Bible, God’s Spirit will be at work preparing us to faithfully share in His New Life here and now, and forever. Stay true to the true story, for that is where God is at work.
But just like every means of grace, it’s not always clear in the moment how God is at work… or what the final result of receiving this gift will be. Some of us have been reading the Bible for ages, but still struggle to make sense of it. Some of us have been wounded by someone else using the Scriptures against us like a weapon. Sometimes, even those of us who long to know God more deeply find time reading His word draining, confusing, or dry.
Sometimes it’s a real act of faith to flip through it’s pages.
An act of faith. So much of the Christian life comes down to this: choosing to believe. To persevere. To not give up, especially when it seems we’re not getting anywhere. Which brings us back to St. Luke, and the words of Jesus we heard from his Gospel today, where our Lord offers a parable to teach us “to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
In this parable, Jesus portrays an unjust judge: someone entrusted with maintaining justice and doing what’s right for all, but who really couldn’t care less about what God or anyone else might want. Whether led by corruption, self-centredness, or just plain apathy and laziness, this judge refuses to do anything when a poor widow brings her case before him. And yet, because of the sheer persistence of the widow, the unjust judge gives in and grants her justice.
But the point of the parable isn’t that God is like the unjust judge, and that we just need to pester Him to make Him care enough to hear our prayers. The point is that God is nothing like the unjust judge! The God we see in the Scriptures cares deeply for us all: for the oppressed, the lonely, the heartbroken and powerless… as well as for those who are strong, healthy, and whole. The God of the Bible cares deeply about justice being done for all: about the proud and wicked being disarmed, and the humble being lifted up.
Christ’s point is that if even an unjust judge will be moved by persistent petitions, how much more will the Living God respond to those who keep calling on Him in prayer?
This parable is a call to faith. To not give up praying, even when it seems that God does not answer, trusting in His faithful love to see us through to the end.
And as with prayer, so with reading Scripture. We are called to trust that God is at work in us as we read His word. To trust that God actually wants to speak to His people. That He longs for us to know Him better… to share in His New Life… to have a living faith, not mere words alone.
We are invited to keep reading the Bible as an act of faithful prayer and devotion… drawing near to the Lord as we seek to learn about who He has shown Himself to be, both in the story of Israel, and especially in the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ His Son.
We are invited to read, expecting Him to do something with this story… even when it might not seem that way… even when it may not feel like much is happening… trusting that He actually wants us to know Him… to come to know Him, and share in His eternal life… and that His Spirit will be at work in these words to bring His life within us.
Reading the Bible is a means of receiving God’s mysterious and life-changing grace, so don’t give up on it! And don’t just settle for Sundays. In Church, as we gather for worship, we catch glimpses bit by bit, passages from here and there, which is a good place to start, but this practice of worship is meant to support a life soaked in God’s story, not as a replacement for it. And there are all sorts of ways we can all delve more deeply into it’s beautiful truth.
We can read it with others… with a Bible Study group, with our family or friends.
We can read it alone… in times of prayer, slowly listening to each sentence.
We can read it quickly, in large portions all at once, like a novel… getting a broader picture of its scope.
We can read it with the help of guides, tools, studies, and commentaries, benefitting from the insights of those who have spent their lives exploring these words before us.
Above all, we can read it in faith, trusting that God will be at work within us, and through us… so that the Good News of Jesus Christ may take root in our hearts, and shape our lives, preparing us to take our part in telling the world what has been first told to us by people like St. Luke: that in the ultimate act of faithful love, the Living God has come to us in Jesus Christ to bring His New Life to all who will believe.
So, stay true to the true story. It’s how God’s going to change the world for good. Amen.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School