Photos: The burning sand shall become a pool (Isa 35:3-8)
Icon: Contemporary icon of St. Luke
Painting: Andrea Mantegna, St. Luke Polyptych (central panel), 1453-55
Friends, over the past 7 months of this pandemic – and now during this second wave – we have all been worried about getting sick from the corona virus disease, or COVID for short. To limit the spread of this virus and to protect ourselves and others, we now routinely wear protective masks, sanitize our hands and surfaces, and screen ourselves for symptoms of sickness. These health and safety measures have become part of our everyday lives.
But the pandemic has also magnified some symptoms of another kind of sickness, one that is common to the human condition, and that is a sickness of our souls. I speak of symptoms such as:
Ask yourself, which of these or other symptoms have you shown recently? Which one is causing you discomfort today? None of these are new with the pandemic, but I think it has made them worse. So my question this morning is this: What would it mean for us to self-screen for symptoms like these? And how can we establish routine, everyday protocols to prevent the spread of this soul-sickness? That is our focus today on this Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist and Physician of our souls.
In our reading today from his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul the Apostle notes that at that time of writing, only Luke was with him. Paul was in prison, which was actually more like house arrest. So Paul was in isolation, if you will, with Luke. And it seems Paul appreciated having Luke in his bubble!
We know both from Paul’s letters and Luke’s own Book of the Acts of the Apostles, that Luke was a trusted companion of Paul on his missionary journeys. Paul speaks of him with affection as his ‘fellow-labourer’ (Philemon 24), and ‘the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches’ (2 Cor. 8:18). At one point, Paul describes Luke as the ‘beloved physician’ (Col. 4:14). We can tell that Luke was a doctor because of his keen interest in healing all throughout the Gospel he wrote. Luke records numerous stories of Jesus healing many who were sick with various diseases (Luke 4:40).
For this reason, Luke has long been regarded as the patron saint of doctors and nurses, and of both the medical profession and healing ministry of the Church more generally.
And we see this acknowledged in our Collect or prayer of the day, which we prayed together earlier. It calls Luke ‘an Evangelist and a Physician of the soul,’ who prescribes for us ‘the wholesome medicine of the Gospel.’
‘The wholesome medicine of the Gospel.’ Friends, the good news of Jesus is treatment for the sickness of our souls – and it is a holistic medicine. When we speak of the soul, we do not mean something merely ‘spiritual.’ Your soul is your entire self as a whole person, ‘a living organized whole with a personal stamp.’ Your soul is what makes you, you. It’s what integrates your will, your heart, your mind and body into a single life. Your soul is healthy when there is harmony between these and they are directed towards God in a life of continual praise and thanksgiving (Luke 24:53). Or, as Luke’s friend Paul might say, your soul is healthy when you live a life of faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13). That is what it means to be healed by the ‘wholesome medicine of the gospel.’
Today we heard the closing passage of Luke’s Gospel which records the last words Jesus spoke to His disciples before He ascended into heaven.
Thus it is written [in the Scriptures] that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name.
That, friends, right there is the active medicinal ingredient in the gospel: Jesus Christ has died, Christ is risen, and your sins are forgiven in His Name. That is the entire Bible in a single dose, if you will.
That little dosage has great potency. And friends, it is one you need to be sure to take everyday.
As I’ve said before, I encourage you to spend 10 minutes with God everyday in Bible reading and prayer. You can find some suggested instructions on this here.
And I would also encourage you to join our Anglican Rosary prayer group, where this week we will learn to pray the words of Scripture in a calming, soothing, therapeutic way. When Paul was in isolation with Luke he wanted asked to have the books and above all the parchments, the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:13). May we also find companionship in the Scriptures during these days.
‘The wholesome medicine of the gospel.’ Again the treatment and healing offered here is holistic.
When I liken the gospel to a dosage or daily spoonful, I hope you don’t think I’m saying it’s something like Buckley’s cough syrup: ‘It tastes awful … but it does work!’ No! In the words of the Psalmist: How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps. 119:103). It’s medicine, it’s delightful food – and even more, it’s a holistic, healthy lifestyle, and a new identity.
In his final words Jesus says, Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you which will clothe you with power from on high. Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit, which He likens to new clothing. I’m sure you’ve all experienced the confidence that comes when you wear nice, new clothes. You feel new. You walk with a little more bounce in your step. And friends, that is but a faint imitation of what happens when you are clothed with the Holy Spirit, when you put on your new and best self, the armour of light - when you put on Christ Himself.
The wholesome medicine of the gospel heals the sickness of our souls, treats us, feeds us, and empowers us to walk in newness of life. In the words of our wonderful reading from the Scriptures, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, this wholesome medicine, this treatment, this new life in Christ has the power:
Or, in the words of our Psalm, Christ the Great Physician holistically heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:1-6).
And with that, we can then channel that healing energy to heal others. In our collect of the day, we pray: Lord, ‘give your church the same power to love and heal.’ You see, if your soul is unhealthy, you cannot heal anybody. The condition of your soul will affect the people around you, just as if you have the virus it will infect others around you.
The most valuable thing that you can give your neighbour, your colleagues, your students, your friends and loved ones, is the person you become. You are responsible to take care of your soul, not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others.
When your soul is healed, when you live the new, healthy, holistic life in Christ, when you are clothed with the Holy Spirit, you put on a compassionate heart, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and above all, love.
Of the four gospel writers, Luke alone gives us the greatest examples of the love and compassion of Jesus: the story of the Good Samaritan in which we are commanded to go and do likewise (Luke 10:25-37). Luke alone also gives us the story of Jesus raising of the only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). In both Luke says, he had compassion, one of Luke’s favourite phrases. As a good doctor, Luke understands that the basis and motivation of all good medicine is love.
As our Gospel for today reminds us, Luke presents Christ the Great Physician most powerfully as the one who opens our minds that we might understand the Scriptures. And the emphasis of this understanding is on repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That’s how our souls are treated and healed – knowing that our sins are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus and living a life of continual repentance. And repentance does not have to be something that tastes awful, but works. Repentance is about continually turning back to God and placing each moment of our lives in the presence and care of our heavenly Father.
That’s what we see from the example of the life of St. Paul; and in closing I want to go back to our reading from his 2nd letter to Timothy.
Paul knows that he will soon die, and yet his soul is at ease, because His soul has been healed by the Great Physician.
The wholesome medicine of the gospel does not make us immune from suffering and death, but because it heals our souls, it allows us to face suffering and death with a steadfast faith, a joyful hope, and a compassionate love.
Paul writes: The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There’s his faith.
Here is his hope: Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness [...] together with all those who love God. And there is his love: the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord enjoyed in Christian community with fellow believers (like Luke) in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
So today may we all be healed by the wholesome medicine of the gospel received through the Word and in this Sacrament of Holy Communion; and thus may we be renewed in faith, hope and love. Amen.