2 Timothy 4:5-17; Luke 10:1-9
May I speak now in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
The kingdom of God has come near. This week I was privileged to meet a beautiful lady, perhaps metaphorically ‘seeing her’ for the very first time. She is in hospital and is not very well; the circumstances are difficult for her, her friends and the family – they never are when the prognosis, the medical prediction of what is likely to happen, is not good. She is unlikely to recover and she knows so. And yet, whilst we might naturally think that the circumstances are difficult, which they definitely are in one way, in another there was a strength, a peace, an acceptance which spoke volumes of there not being a difficulty; all was calm and peaceful in the fact that she knew and accepted and it was alright to do so. We spoke for a while about all sorts of things, all the time her wonderful faith shining through in her beautiful smile, in the way we held hands, in the way we just chatted – I think I recounted more of my life and past than she did, but that was ok.
Lives were touched; all the while we talked, tears streamed down my face as the beauty of the Lords love shone clearly in whom she was, whom she is, whom she will be. At the end of the visit, I came away thinking who helped whom there – it was meant to be a pastoral visit of me to her, and I am certain that she appreciated it, very very deeply. But the kingdom of God had come near – more so perhaps for me in the presence of such love and faith.
Encounters like that, one never forgets.
So, is that what it is like, when the kingdom of God comes near? When we, through our actions as Christians, come before others with Christian love and show by what we do and say, the power of God’s saving grace, through his love? It certainly was for me, when the kingdom of God was brought closer to me at that time; it might have been me who was visiting, but it was the faith of the lady who brought the kingdom of God closer that time – I was the greater receiver of God’s love. I was changed by the encounter – just as we have heard in the gospel today how people’s lives can be changed when we go out and about in our daily lives, simply being Christian – in a world which often rejects the principles of Christianity for the trappings of wealth and power and materialism; rejects faith for the latent, the temporary, the quick-fix, the transient of the here and now. It is indeed going out into a place which can be unfriendly – and yet…there are many people who yearn to know more, for whom something is missing in their lives, the meaning does not seem to be there.
The mission of the 70 in Luke’s gospel today, describes a sending out into the world, before the world, to proclaim the good news, to bring faith in the face of none or even rejection, to enable people to feel the goodness of that faith and to actually come closer to the kingdom of God by those encounters.
Legend has it that Luke might have been one of the 70 himself, we don’t know for certain. But we do know that there were many out there at that time in need; in the same way that there are many today equally in need of hearing the good news, of feeling the kingdom through God’s love, of healing within their lives in so many different ways – the harvest is still plentiful. The 70 are sent into all the towns and villages that Jesus intended to go to; some scholars anticipate that this symbolises the world-wide church going into all the corners of our world, before the return of the risen Christ. At the very least, it relates to the mission to Israel and the varied responses that would be received, when the news of the gospel, the good news is a challenge to the lives of Jews and gentiles alike.
Today we celebrate the feast of St Luke, the evangelist – patron saint of artists and physicians; a man likely to have been a gentile Christian writing for his fellow gentiles through the gospel that bears his name and through the Acts of the apostles, whose authorship is also attributed to him. His writings have a pictorial quality, often orderly and sequential in their descriptions; orderly accounts written for all people, Jews and gentiles alike. The early patristic writers of the 3rd and 4th centuries, Eusebius and Jerome, recount an unknown origin, but that Luke was probably Greek, probably from Antioch, writing the gospel possibly in the last quarter of the 1st century. Paul describes him, in his letter to the Colossians, as the beloved Physician and he is mentioned two others times in his epistles; one of which we have just heard in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Luke is the only one with him at this time in prison.
At the same time today, we hold gently again our quarterly offering of the ministry of healing – moved to this Sunday so that we might honour the feast of St Luke the physician simultaneously. In the same way that those 70 were sent out to proclaim the good news, to proclaim that the kingdom God has come near, so too do we open an opportunity for all freely, with no pressure, in a safe space, to bring our thoughts, prayers and needs to God – that we might come to God for Christ’s healing for whatever concerns ourselves or those of our loved ones. It is only an enabling that we bring forth, for the power of healing comes through the risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit – when we come in faith before God. It is of our doing, but in the actions that one might make, to come for the laying on of hands or anointing, we draw ourselves closer to the very kingdom of God; it is nothing to be afraid of – the Lord is near and we draw closer to that loving Lord in asking for healing. It is an integral part of the faith, of the work of God’s hands, whatever our needs might be…….it is something for all of us to consider prayerfully, especially in bringing forward the needs of others.
And so, returning to our readings and especially to Pauls letter to Timothy, who is meant to do the evangelising, the fighting of the good fight, the running the race, the keeping of the faith? In the particular personal encounter, I recounted at the start of this sermon, it was more so the lovely lady I met; her strength of faith was the thing which brought her to such a place of peace and understanding and that definitely shone through in her persona. The Lord gave and gives great strength, but in that instance in time, it was her faith which shone the brighter, her race and her fight which were the stronger.
When that happens, our faith too is strengthened, our faith built up and renewed – the kingdom of God comes near to us, spatially in that hospital room, as well as bringing us closer to the fullness of time and the return of the risen Christ; when we shall share in the beauty of the eternal kingdom.
Salvation, healing in its ultimate form. The kingdom of God comes near to us, physically, in all these encounters – in the hospital room, in the Eucharist with the healing of Christ’s body and blood shared among us, in the healing ministry when we bring ourselves, our prayers for self and others closer to God for Christ’s healing ministry. In all these things, God wants us to come close, to not be afraid and come closer to that heavenly kingdom – a healing that in the fullness of time, will be everyone’s ultimate joy through the salvation of Jesus Christ our Lord.