A Homily for the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist and Physician
Sunday, November 18th, 2009
Holy Trinity, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 4:14-21
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
This reading was followed by one of the shortest sermons in history, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This is how Jesus began his public ministry; the rest was commentary and action. The entire ministry of Jesus is the proclamation to a broken and hurting world that through the power of the Holy Spirit we are free. Bodily sickness, broken relationships, broken hearts, troubled souls, mental illness, will not imprison us and lock us away from God’s loving embrace.
This is not to say we will not know pain, or loss, or brokenness. This is not say that these forces will not exert considerable power over us. Nor is this to say that any of these things are unworthy of being felt or experienced. To know pain, loss and brokenness is part of being human. To face illness of any sort is to face the reality that we must all let go of the gift of this earthly life at some point. Yet, to face this reality is not to debase the value of life but rather to affirm life for what it is -- a glimpse of the divine glory yet to be revealed.
There will be moments when that glory seems obscured. There will be moments when it is hard to believe that we are free, that we are fully alive, and that we are loved by God. If we read further in today’s passage, we realize that those who heard Jesus’ words had a hard time believing his proclamation. And when we are faced with the reality of illness, brokenness and life’s troubles, we can have a hard time believing it. The captives are free? The blind receive sight? The poor are raised up? It can be hard to believe.
Yet, something stirs us and contrary to the belief of a certain retired Episcopal bishop, I don’t believe it is simply the fear of death (although the fear of death does exert a profound influence over us), rather, I believe it is because as Christian people we know deep within our hearts that we belong to Christ. This is the reality that centres our being and this is the reality that gives us the words “pray for me,” when all seems lost. This is the truth that we proclaim when stand before another beloved child of God and ask to be anointed for health and wholeness.
In the ministry of anointing we proclaim who we are, and whose we are. Never forget that Jesus himself is the anointed one, for what do the ancient words “Christ” and “Messiah” mean, but anointed one? In baptism we too are anointed. We are signed with holy oil with the sign of the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever. Thus, to be a Christian is literally to be an anointed one. In baptism, we “put on Christ,” and the signification with oil is a proclamation that we are clothed with the same Spirit and power that clothes our Lord and conforms us to his likeness.
What is it that we do, then, when we seek anointing for healing and wholeness? It is nothing less than a reenactment of that baptismal anointing when we first put on Christ. When we come forward to be anointed for healing and wholeness we are proclaiming again and again in the midst of a broken world, in spite of our broken bodies, from the depths of our broken hearts that we are Christ’s own forever. We belong to Christ ever and always, and we stand firm in the truth as the apostle so boldly proclaimed that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able so separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In whatever way we are imprisoned or oppressed, in an ageing or broken bodies, in the darkness of depression, or the prison of our foolish decisions, God will not allow our imprisonment to destroy our soul. In whatever way we are poor, be it poverty of wealth, poverty of the Spirit, or poverty of relationships, God will not leave us without the riches of his abiding presence. In whatever way our vision is obscured, the road ahead clouded by the fog of uncertainty, the anxiety of fear that blinds us, or even the dark veil of death that frightens us, God will not leave us without his sight in the illumination of our hearts by his Holy Spirit.
Thus, whether or we are sick or well, we are the Lord’s. To come for anointing it to proclaim this reality in the midst of pain, in the midst of poverty, in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of fear, and yes, even in the midst of death. It is to proclaim that the reign of God is here. It is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. And while we stand and receive that holy balm which is salve for our troubled souls, we claim not only that reality for ourselves but we proclaim that reality for the rest of the world and for the whole of wounded humanity. When you are anointed you proclaim that the Scripture is fulfilled in this very moment, in our hearing. Let the rest of the world take note, this is the year of the Lord’s favour. Though this illness may lay me low I am the Lord’s, though I may be spared I am the Lord’s. It matters not to me, for I am the Lord’s.
This, my friends, is the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what the healing ministry of Jesus was about, the unbreakable claim of the loving Christ no matter the brokenness of our lives. The Holy Spirit has come upon us and anointed each of us with power to proclaim this Good News to the world around us.
c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves