The Rev. Dianne O’Connell

First Congregational Church

December 5, 2010

Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19

Isaiah 11:1-10

Luke 4:13-21;

 6:20-26; 17:20-21

 

My Dear Theophilus

            The Gospel of Luke begins with words similar to these:     My dear Theophilus, there have been several books written about the faith, some even handed down from eye-witnesses, but since I have carefully investigated everything myself, I wish to set down an orderly and accurate account of the matter, from my perspective.

            You and I are Greeks, Theophilus, and definitely upper middle class, I being a physician and you, my most excellent friend, being my social equal. From whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48)

(pause)

            So it is in this way, with a few embellishments of my own, Luke begins his account of the life and teachings of Jesus.

            Last week, I suggested that each of the Gospel writers had a different focus or purpose for writing his or her account of the life of Jesus – noting that the books were written at different times and for different audiences. Mark, the first gospel written, is pretty straight forward and starts with the ministry of Jesus, not with his birth. Matthew was written for the Jewish community and emphasized the Hebrew prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah.  Luke was written by a Gentile, for the Gentiles. And John, well, John went even further back to the beginning, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”  

            It is the second Sunday of Advent. Christmas is coming yet again. May our understanding of what that might mean for us personally deepen as we prepare for this annual celebration.  I think Luke can help us in this preparation; he was writing for people very much like us. Theophilus is you.  Theophilus is me. My purpose this morning is to encourage us to look for messages in Luke that seem especially meant for us personally.  Christmas messages from God, if you will, as we get ready for this holiday season.

            The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels.  It is Part I of a two part series, the second in the series being the Book of Acts, also written by Luke. The two books represent more than one-quarter of the New Testament.  So Luke’s reason for writing yet another Gospel of the Life of Jesus should be of some interest to us relatively comfortable, well-read, well-traveled Gentiles and lovers-of-God.  Theophilus, as you probably know, means lover-of-God.     

            Traditionally, it is thought that Luke was Paul’s personal physician who traveled with him and had access to his thoughts and religious insights on a regular basis.  But Luke was not just a reporter; he was his own person, with his own interpretations and/or emphases on the Christian story.  That’s why he wrote the book. And it really is quite different.

            For me, the Gospel of Luke has been the most instructive and the most inspirational of the Gospels in my quest to understand Jesus and me.  Maybe my thoughts, augmented by those of others, will be helpful to you.

            The Gospel of Luke has fueled my personal commitment to social action, my feminist tendencies, and my quest for a personal, internal spirituality.  Let me see if I can explain all that.

            I mentioned last week that in Matthew, the Angel of God visits Joseph; but in Luke, the Angel comes to Mary. When Mary learns how her life is about to develop, she can’t help but be a little shaken. She lives in a patriarchal society where they might still stone women in her predicament.  Trusting in God and the goodness of Joseph, Mary takes a deep breath and bursts into a song of social justice, sometimes called the Magnificat, extolling the Lord who has brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty,” she sings. Now I don't know if Mary actually sang or recited this magnificent poem, but Luke says she did, so let's assume she did.

            I look at Mary as a gutsy girl with a new purpose in life.  She is going to be a part of a new world, a part of this breaking in of the Kingdom of God and she’ll raise this son of hers with these radical values, as well. Jesus does learn from his mother – the hungry will be fed, the rich will find that they have already been rewarded and it is their turn to share.

            As an adult, Jesus is lead into the desert where he is tempted by Satan himself.  When he returns to Nazareth, it is with a new spiritual power. He enters the synagogue and opens a scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

            “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  He sits down. His neighbors are stunned.

            It’s not but a couple chapters later that he’s at it again.  This time he stands before a large crowd from all over Judea, and proclaims:

            “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…” and he goes on.

            Mary says it, Jesus says it again and again, and as Mahatma Gandhi said after studying the life and teachings of Jesus, “I think he really means it!”

            Today’s liberation theologians would say, “Of course, God sent Jesus especially and particularly for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and those who weep.”

            And there is a special message for us, too.  Stand on the side of the needy and the oppressed.

            So my first point is that Luke’s view of the Kingdom of God involves an even more radical reversal of society than Paul seems to have had. Let's look at women as a primary example.

            Luke’s inclusion of women in his narrative is remarkable, especially compared to Paul. Virtually every parable with a male as main character is paired up with a similar parable with a woman as main character.  The prodigal son is followed by the woman who sweeps and sweeps until she finds her lost coin.  The story where Jesus cures the Centurion’s servant is followed by the story where Jesus brings the widow’s son back to life.           

            It is in Luke that we learn that a group of well-to-do women travel with Jesus and his disciples.  It is the women who pay the expenses along the way from their own means.  Then we have the story of Mary and Martha where Mary is praised for taking the time away from traditional women’s work to study at the feet of Jesus. And Luke reports that it is the women who stay at the tomb and it is to these women that Jesus first appears. But again, we get ahead of ourselves.  Suffice it to say there are more women named in the Gospel of Luke and the companion Book of Acts than are named in other Gospels. (http://www.wcg.org/lit/bible/gospels/lukebox.htm for a longer list.)

            Why is this important?  Ask the woman sitting next to you. Ask a woman who has been raised with the story that all the woes of the world, all the sin, all the pain of the world came as a result of her, her and her mother Eve.  Luke seems to know that it was time to write the women back into the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.  He shows so much interest in, and familiarity with, women’s issues and in children that some have openly wondered if Luke could possibly have been a woman. Probably not, but maybe...

            In all fairness, Luke was not the only writer who includes good stories about women. The Samaritan woman at the well is actually found in John 4:7-30. The Samaritan woman and the women at the tomb on Easter morning were directed by Jesus to “Go tell!” of their encounters with the Lord.  These women were the first commissioned preachers.  That’s important to a woman seeking ordination. We like the Gospel of Luke, but we appreciate John and the other Gospels, as well.  

            For me, there is a third important feature of the Gospel of Luke. Luke's message is internal, as well as external.  He emphasizes such things as joy, the Holy Spirit, and prayer more than any of the other gospel writers. In Luke's writings Jesus prays more, and Christians pray more. Luke also says more about the Spirit, God's intimate, highly effective work moving in and among people. Plainly Luke has enormous confidence in the Spirit or effectiveness of God.

            So, Luke, more than the other Gospel writers, sees the Holy Spirit at work bringing in the Kingdom, not some time in the heavenly future, but right now.

            But there is more.  The Kingdom of God in the bye and bye; the Kingdom of God right here on earth, but also as Jesus tells the Pharisees: “The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, Here it is, or there it is, because the kingdom of God is within you.”

            For me, that’s the third message of Luke. Jesus Christ was born to show how the divine and the human and the Spirit can reside in one body, inspiring us and cajoling us and transforming us into becoming the people we were meant to be, living in a society as it was meant to be, in relationship with God and each other as it was meant to be.

            So, Luke’s Christmas message for me has been:

            1. You’ve been blessed with a good life, Dianne; your responsibility is to share your resources abundantly with the children, other women, the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the suffering. In other words, work for the Kingdom of God in the here and now;

            2. Don’t let “but I’m only an old woman” be an excuse for doing or becoming less than you can be; and Dianne,

            3. Take time to nurture your internal, personal relationship with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, however any one or all three of them speak to your soul.

            As today’s silent meditation reminds us, “Peace is a condition of the mind brought about by a serenity of the soul.”

            There are many messages contained in the pages of Luke and Acts – many of which are echoed throughout the Bible.  As you read and reflect, pray and ponder this Advent Season, may Luke’s messages for you become as clear and as numerous as the stars in the midnight sky.  Because it is happening.  The Kingdom is coming. The angels are singing and a baby will soon be born. He comes for you.  And he comes for me. Amen.

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”                B. 104

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