Which is your favourite Gospel? Which of the four great depictions of the telling of the Good News of God in Jesus is the one to which you most warm, and which most speaks to your heart and mind? The way that we read the Gospels when we gather together as the Church for worship, in small snippets within a liturgy in which we hear from a number of others texts, doesn’t help us to appreciate the very different character of each of the four Gospels that we give prominence to in the life of the Church, within the Canon of the Scriptures.
This year, in 2016, the Gospel that we have heard most in our worship is the Gospel of Luke, next year, beginning on Advent Sunday in a few weeks time, it will be the Gospel of Matthew. But because we hear only short sections of the Gospel at our weekend worship, and at the daily Masses during the week, it can be easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that all of the stories that we hear from the life of Jesus come from one big Gospel, and nothing could be further from the truth. Because each of the Gospels has a particular character, a particular emphasis, and we might say that each of the Gospel writers, or communities that developed each of the Gospels has a particular interest in the life of Jesus in their minds as they write.
For a number of years before I came here to be your Parish Priest, I had the practice of spending a week during the Season of Lent on retreat reading each of the four Gospels from beginning to end, one each day, not in small sections as we do at the Eucharist but in its entirety, just as you or I would read a novel, and if you ever have the opportunity to do that the differences between the styles and focuses of each of the Gospels becomes quickly very clear. It was because I no longer had the opportunity to do that, given that Lent is rather busy in this Parish, that in my first Lent here I invited you to join me (and many of you did) as we read through each of the Gospels on one evening each week.
I know that at the time that was a powerful experience for some of us, and it might be appropriate for us to think about doing that again. The point is that each of the Gospels is very different, and that is not easily grasped if we only hear snippets of those Gospels when we gather together for worship.
The tradition of the Church tells us that Saint Luke was a physician, a doctor, this is sparked by two things: firstly, the reference to Saint Luke by Saint Paul in one of his Epistles as the ‘beloved physician’; and secondly, the fact that there are more healing stories in Saint Luke’s telling of the Good News of God in Jesus than in any of the other Gospels.
That is why, in the Church, Saint Luke has become most associated with the ministries of healing, and the work of all who care for others. But in addition to the Gospel of Luke’s focus on Jesus as a healer, and the idea that the Gospel as a whole is a medicine for our deeper sickness of being separated from God, there are four other things that define the presentation and reflection on the life of Jesus that we find in the Gospel of Luke, four focuses that make it distinct from the other three Gospels in our Scriptures. I am re-introducing these themes to you today to encourage you, as I encourage myself, to re-discover this Gospel of Luke, and the hope that it presents for you and for me, and for the whole world.
Firstly, the writer of the Gospel of Luke is one of the great story tellers of the world. I am not exaggerating when I say that. Think of some of the stories from the life of Jesus that are distinctive to the Gospel of Luke, and that we would not know if we did not have his Gospel. It is in the Gospel of Luke that we find the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, the story of the Annunciation, the visit of the shepherds to the baby Jesus, and that wonderful story of Jesus meeting two of his disciples on the Road to Emmaus before they are aware that he has risen from the Dead.
Each of these stories, encapsulate within themselves the Gospel in which we place our hope. In fact people have said in the past, that if we had only one of those stories that is found in the Gospel of Luke, then we would know the love of God. If we didn’t have any other parts of the Bible but we just had the story of the Prodigal Son it would be enough for us. This is one of the great gifts to us of the Gospel of Saint Luke. He gives us, in his Gospel, stories by which we can live our lives, and through which we find the hope of God’s unending love for us.
Secondly, the Gospel of Luke is all about meals. The parables that he recounts have as their stage a banquet or a dinner. The encounters that Jesus has with people take place around sharing food. There are nineteen different meal encounters in his Gospel, and in a number of them Jesus is criticised for eating with the wrong kinds of people. In the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus the disciples recognise Jesus when he accepts their invitation to a meal and makes himself known “in the breaking of the bread”. We are reminded that our principal meal together with him is at God’s altar, at the Eucharist, but that we should live lives in which we break bread together in fellowship with each other and with those in need as a sign of his Kingdom.
Thirdly, more than in any of the other Gospel narratives, Saint Luke gives a prominence and importance to the place of women within the life of faith. He places Mary at the centre of his infancy narrative (unlike Saint Matthew who focuses on her soon to be husband Joseph). It is not just Zechariah in the story of the birth of John the Baptist, Elizabeth is there too; Simeon isn’t the only one who recognises who Jesus is in the Temple, as we heard a couple of weekends ago, the Prophet Anna is also a major character.
In the story of Martha and Mary, Mary does what would have been unacceptable in the time of Jesus, and simply sits at his feet rather than getting on with the housework, and Jesus thinks that that is okay. So for the women here today, this is a Gospel of encouragement for you. In a time when women were largely hidden from the story, and thought to be irrelevant, Saint Luke ensures that they have a major role in his Gospel, because he knows the love and the respect that Jesus gave to them.
Fourthly, Jesus’ ministry to those on the fringes of society, to those who are undesirable – the least, the lost and the left out – is given prominence in Saint Luke’s presentation of the Good News of God in Jesus. Because Saint Luke knows that the Kingdom of God that Jesus has inaugurated is not just for the rich and the powerful, it is for everyone – indeed it is even more for those who are disadvantaged by the current systems of the world, than it is for the rest of us. Saint Luke would be championing the Emergency Relief Christmas Appeal with Judy Cordwell and her team, if he were with us at this Eucharist, and he would be challenging us to change those things in our society that lead to things being the way that they currently are.
Today we celebrate the Patronal Festival of Saint Luke as we give thanks for his apostolic ministry of sharing the story of Jesus with us through his Gospel. If you don’t have a favourite Gospel because you love them all, then that is okay, but if you don’t have a favourite Gospel because you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the difference between each of them, then I encourage you to take some time to explore them more fully. Perhaps something that I have said today might be a launch pad for your reading of the Gospel of Saint Luke in the coming days.
Today we also celebrate the Patronal Festival of Saint Luke as we give thanks for the ministry of the Church that ministered under his patronage in this Parish in Buchanan. Unlike a number of the other churches that were once part of this Parish, but have now been de-consecrated after years of faithful ministry,
I can say with absolute certainty that there is no one here at this Eucharist that ever worshipped at the Church of Saint Luke in Buchanan whilst it was part of the Parish of East Maitland. The original congregation of Buchanan met in a church school building and was part of the Parish of Hexham. It was considered to be a poor and remote outpost, and yet its major ministry was to run a school with over 100 students.
When the Parish of Hexham was re-organised in 1862 the Church community at Buchanan, together with the congregation at Mount Vincent became part of this Parish of East Maitland, and twenty three years later, in 1885 a weatherboard Church was erected and consecrated at Buchanan under the patronage of Saint Luke so that the congregation could worship in a church building rather than in the school. What is particularly notable about the building of the church at Buchanan is that it was an exceptionally poor community, and yet the cost of the building was funded entirely from their own gifts.
Services in this Parish at that time were held in East Maitland, Largs, Buchanan, Four Mile Creek and Mount Vincent. The new building at Buchanan remained within this Parish for less than a year, because in 1886 Bishop Pearson re-organised the region in order to assist the Parish Priests of East Maitland and West Maitland, by creating a new Pastoral District, distinct from both of those Parishes, comprising the communities of Mount Vincent and Buchanan from our Parish, and Cessnock and Pokolbin from the Parish of West Maitland.
Some time later after further re-organisation the Parish of Mount Vincent closed the church at Buchanan and the property has since been sold with the proceeds going to that Parish. You can see the artist’s impression of the new group of windows that will be installed in this Church in memory of that church and its Patron Saint Luke.
Jeff Hamilton is working busily and skilfully in his studio in Sydney, and we hope that the windows will be finished in the next few weeks, ready for installation here in our church.
Today we remember that community at Buchanan, that was poor in finances but rich in their faithfulness to God, and we give thanks for them and for all of the forebears who have witnessed to the life of Christ in this region, and we give thanks too for the witness of Saint Luke, and the Gospel of Jesus that bears his name.