Thought for the week - 18 October
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed."
Every now and again we are fortunate in that a saint’s day falls on a Sunday, and we are able to celebrate it properly and be a real fellowship in the communion of saints. Today we rejoice in the fellowship of St. Luke, the Physician and Evangelist.
Who was St. Luke? St. Luke, the physician was one of the companions of St. Paul who describes him as "our beloved Luke, the physician." In his letters Paul refers three times to his presence with him in Rome. Tradition has it that it was St. Luke, the physician and companion of St. Paul, who wrote the gospel that bears his name and also the Acts of the Apostles, since both books were written by the same person.
Physician though he may have been, it is largely as an evangelist that we remember St. Luke. What then is an evangelist? I suppose the word conjures up pictures of people like Billy Graham and other such mass evangelists. But it needn't do so, as we shall see.
An evangelist is anyone who makes known the evangel - and evangel is simply the Greek word for gospel, or good news. An evangelist, then, is someone who makes known to others the good news about Jesus Christ. The work of evangelism, of communicating the gospel may be by word or by deed, or by both. St. Luke is a good example of what it is to be an evangelist. First and foremost he was Luke the Evangelist, Luke the writer of the gospel which bears his name. When he himself became a follower of Jesus Christ he resolved to write an account of the gospel, primarily for Theophilus, but also for anyone else who cared to read it. And of course people have been reading it ever since it was first written. The first gospel I ever studied in any depth was St. Luke's Gospel, and it is as good a place as any to begin, since the portrait of Jesus which this gospel portrays is a singularly attractive one. His warmth and humanity, his compassion and concern, shine out from this gospel. We are indebted to Luke for recording those two parables of our Lord which seem to sum up in themselves the good news - parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. If we only had St. Luke's gospel from the whole of the New Testament then we would have a great treasure indeed. In fact an early Christian heretic by the name of Marcion sought to confine the NT to Luke's Gospel and the epistles of St. Paul. But Luke did not just write his gospel. He also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, chronicling the growth of the early Church and the spread of the Gospel beginning in Jerusalem and reaching out to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Together these two books make up a quarter of the New Testament.
Jesus, before his Ascension into heaven, said to his apostles: "and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
St. Luke was not in the company of those apostles, but he, more than most, has obeyed that command and his Gospel and his Acts of the Apostles have indeed reached to the ends of the earth, to countries and places that he never knew existed. How it must now rejoice his heart to know that words have been translated into and read in thousands upon thousands of languages.
If I now go on to say that we are all called to the work of evangelism you may, perhaps, throw up you hands in horror. We can't write gospels: they have already been written. We can't chart the history of the Christian Church: too much water has flowed under the bridge. We are not ready writers, let alone trained theologians,how can we aspire to be evangelists in the same league as St.Luke or St. Matthew, St. Mark, or St. John. I said early on that when we think of evangelists we tend to think of people like Billy Graham who stand up and preach to thousands of people.
Well we can't do that either. Well, I certainly can't: it's enough just to stand up and preach to the congregation here.
But then we do not have to be a St. Luke or a Billy Graham to be an evangelist. We do not have to be great writers or great orators to be evangelists. Studies and surveys have found that the most effective form of evangelism is not the mass rally, such as Billy Graham conducts; nor religious broadcasting; nor even the written word; important though all these undoubtedly are. The most effective form of evangelism, has one report has shown, is personal contact and example. People are brought into the Christian faith and into the fellowship of the Christian Church through the influence and example another person. Most people were brought into the fellowship of the Church by the influence of another person. I suppose this is obvious really. As a small child I started going to Sunday School because my friends went; I joined the choir because my best friend was in the choir; I felt called to ordination because of the example of the vicar. You could all tell similar stories.
This is encouraging. The Church has always got larger, never smaller, because down the ages ordinary men and women have gone about the work of evangelism, communicating the good news of the gospel by their words, yes, but more importantly, perhaps, by their lives and by their example.
Let us pray, therefore, that we too rejoicing in the fellowship of St. Luke and all the evangelists and saints, may be empowered to share with others the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ that gives strength and comfort to us. The Good News that through Jesus Christ we have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life.