Dr. Luke’s Prescription for the Ages

a sermon for St. Luke, Evangelist

Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53

We don’t know a whole lot about the people who first followed Jesus and the companions of the apostle Paul. They had stories, of course, very interesting lives, but in most cases we only have their names—names like Thaddeus, Judas son of James, Euodia, Clement—and that is all. But every once in a while Scripture gives us a little extra bit of information. We know, for example, that Jesus calls some disciples who used to be fishermen to follow him. He also calls a tax collector named Levi or Matthew, depending on which gospel you are reading. Lydia, one of the early Christians in the book of Acts, is a dealer in purple cloth. She is affluent and has some influence in her community.

When we add all of these little precious nuggets of information together, we soon get the picture that Jesus and the first Christians were a remarkably diverse group of people. They don’t all come from one class of people or from within one profession. Jesus appeals to all. Throughout the wide and fractured ancient world, the Holy Spirit was bringing together all kinds of different people and in that gathering God saw to include at least one physician, Luke. We know that Luke wasn’t one of the original twelve disciples, and he wasn’t even in the larger group of followers. He claims that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, But Luke did travel with Paul, and he felt compelled to leave us with a powerful and detailed version of the events of Jesus’ life, which he follows up with a wonderful and exciting version of the early church’s life, named Acts of the Apostles.

the traditional symbol for Luke’s gospel is an ox (from references in Ezekiel and Revelation), an animal that represents sacrifice, service, and strength, themes present in Luke’s gospel.

We don’t know very much about what physicians were like in the time of Paul and Jesus. We know they didn’t carry around stethoscopes because those weren’t invented until 1816. They probably didn’t live soap opera Grey’s Anatomy lives. Hospitals, in fact, weren’t really even invented until around the fourth century by Basil of Caesarea when Christianity became mainstream. And although doctors may not have been quoted daily in the news like Anthony Fauci, we can assume that people came to physicians when they felt ill and needed healing. These were people with the knowledge and education to make careful observations about people’s health and diet and mostly likely give out medicines. We can see some evidence of that in the introduction to the gospel that bears Luke’s name. Like others he wants to give an orderly account of what he’s heard and learned about Jesus, but Luke adds that he has investigated everything carefully from the very first.

Don’t we still want doctors and therapists and nurses like that? Don’t we still expect pharmacists and other medical professionals to investigate things carefully, starting at the beginning? This is how Luke approaches his evangelism, his telling of Jesus’ story. He has been moved by Jesus’ death and resurrection and now wants to put it down for his readers. As it happens, Luke’s gospel is written with some of the most sophisticated Greek in the Bible, pointing to the fact that he was probably fairly educated. This is serious, life-changing stuff. It demands to be communicated with precision and taken seriously.

And thank God Luke did, because Luke’s gospel includes some of the stories and sayings of Jesus we probably can’t imagine Christian faith without. The Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Rich Man and Lazarus. Could you imagine our faith without those characters and those parables? They are only recorded in Luke’s gospel. Without Luke’s orderly account neither would we have the story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus, or know about the time Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus and wound up having Jesus for dinner in his home.

And because Luke clearly investigates everything careful from the very first, we have the stories of Jesus in the manger, and Bethlehem, and the shepherds’ visit, and the angels praising “Glory to God in the highest!” Luke also contains the forceful song Mary sings when she finds out she will be giving birth to the Son of God—a song that declares that God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly. And Luke is the one gospel writer who remembers that, as he hangs dying, Jesus looks on the people crucifying him and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke highlights the ministry and voices of women more than any other gospel and has a definite emphasis on social justice and the needs of those on the margins.

To a person whose vocation would have been related to healing and wholeness, maybe the story of Jesus feels like a diagnosis and a prescription. Maybe Luke is drawn to tell us this story because he hears in it an honest assessment of human nature. We are lost.  We are lonely. The world often treats us as lowly. We are like the child who has wandered far from their father’s home and can’t imagine how they’ll be able to return. We are like the tax collector who is despised and misunderstood by society who just wants a glimpse of a man who receives all kinds. We are like the lawyer who rises to ask “who exactly is my neighbor?” so that we can figure out who deserves our kindness and charity and forget about the others. We are like the young pregnant woman who is in danger of being labelled forever but who still carries within her very being the promise of God. In carefully investigating Jesus Luke has also carefully investigated us.

And Luke also sees a prescription, for God seeks out the lost, God cares for the least, and God lifts up the lowly. Time and time again, Jesus crosses boundaries of human making, Jesus disrupts traditional religious codes, Jesus reclarifies how God comes among us in love.

There are so many ways to experience healing. So often we focus on just the physical side of it—that which can be addressed with a First Aid kit or MRI—but the gospel of Jesus shows us that healing comes in so many ways: Being included in a group after years of being ostracized or overlooked. Learning the truth about something that confused us. Achieving equality and having a playing field leveled. Being heard. Persevering through suffering. Allowing the stages of grief to unfold as they come. Experiencing empathy from someone. Jesus brings all of these to you and to me and to each person of the earth, and through each way God makes his creation whole again.

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” (Pompeo Batoni, 1773)

They are all in some way a part of the greatest healing force Jesus brings, which is the forgiveness of sins through his name. The power of forgiveness and reconciliation to transform human community and open up new paths of life has no equal. Jesus is killed in an unspeakable act of cruelty. He becomes lost, least, and lowly himself on the cross. But his resurrection assures that even that kind of brokenness can be healed by God. Even that kind of brutality and violence can be overturned by love and grace. “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke is a physician of the Great Physician, and he’s still writing a prescription the world desperately needs. When I see our church parking lot, as I did this Thursday, lined up with cars of people waiting to be tested for COVID, I know our world is feeling anxiety. When I speak with a son of a member in our congregation who is concerned about his parent’s isolation and loneliness in the nursing home, I know there is a longing for community and personal purpose. When we hear that teenage suicides are at an all-time high, even before the pandemic outbreak, we sense a culture among our youth that is abused and confused. When discussions about politics are more divided than they ever have been, we know that common ground and compromise would bring relief and growth. The story that Luke tells, the life that Jesus lives for us, has some good news to say about each of these situations.

A recent article in The Christian Century talks about how we are living now in an “environment of widespread and collective trauma…Whether it is due to the pandemic, the social unrest, or the election tension, or all of the above, people are experiencing a disruption in their fundamental sense of safety and questioning assumptions they previously held,” with no seeming end in sight.[1] The author suggests several ways to address it. Her last point is the most compelling to me. “Christians,” she says, “have some practice in waiting for a far-off resolution].” Because we have heard the news that the end of all things is ultimately in the hands of a loving and healing God who has already raised Jesus from the dead, we have learned wait in hope with one another, to know things take time. We can tell our story, persist through the grief, reach out to the person left for dead by the side of the road. As it happens, it is Dr. Luke’s prescription for a world lost in its own brokenness. Stay the course. Be clothed with power from on high.

I don’t know about you, but I often don’t get my prescriptions filled. I feel a bit ashamed admitting that in front of all these doctors and nurses on here today, but sometimes I come home and start feeling, I can do this on my own. I don’t need the medicine. The drawer in my bathroom vanity has more than one old doctors note that has gone unheeded. This is one prescription we fill and we take and we share with others. When Jesus gathers his disciples together at the end of his ministry, just before he ascends to his Father in heaven, he says: proclaim repentance and forgiveness in Jesus name to all peoples. “You,” he says, “are witnesses of these things.” So, go and heal. Go and forgive. Go and tell. Go and be a blessing.

Sounds like we’ve all been made doctors of the gospel, too.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] “We’re All Traumatized Now,” in The Christian Century. Danielle Tumminio Hansen. October 7, 2020.

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