|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
December 10, 2006x
Preached by the Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Being as our Parish By-Laws require us to have our Annual Parish Meeting on the first
Sunday of December, and that the first Sunday of December, about half the time, is also the
first Sunday of Advent – when I like to deliver my Annual Report in place of the Sermon, we
are again a little late in doing what I really like to do one Advent One: which is to prepare
you and orient you to the themes and lessons of the coming year in our Liturgical
Calendar. So, that I will endeavor to do, this morning.
As you all know by now, our three-year lectionary concentrates on one gospel through the
course of each year in the cycle, with the Fourth Gospel, John, spread out over all three
years. Year “A” is the Year of the Gospel According to St. Matthew. Year “B”, is St. Mark’s
year, just finished. And Year “C,” the year we’re beginning, now, is the year we will be
hearing the Gospel According to St. Luke.
I’ve also spoken about the old lectionary from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer – a book
lamented by some, since our present Book was approved in 1979; bade farewell to with
great relief by others; and totally unknown by yet others too young in their age or in their
“Episcopaliancy”, or new to the Episcopal Church. In that Book, and in every Book of
Common Prayer before – all the way back to Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer Book of 1549 – each
Sunday’s lessons were printed right in the Prayer Book – repeating every year, year after
year – in a simple, one-year cycle of lessons; lessons that even remained, in large
measure, the same selections, edition after edition, right up until 1968! And though the
scripture translations changed from edition to edition – beginning, in 1549, which used the
“Great Bible” (the first, ever, authorized English translation) the selections hardly did!
So why, after 419 years, did the new book change it all? Why not stick with one year? After
all, all of the Gospels tell the same story, anyway, don’t they? Wouldn’t a one-year
lectionary give us the story every year just as well?
Well, the answer to the question is, yes and no. Sure, all four of the Gospels tell the story
of Jesus of Nazareth, who came out of the region of Galilee, to be baptized by John the
Baptist, and to begin a ministry proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom on Earth,
and who, running afoul of the authorities, was executed by crucifixion…, and then rose
from the dead on the third day.
Sounds good, I guess. But beyond the bare bones tale as I just recited it, the stories the
four Gospels tell, and the way they’re told, are very different! They’re different because
each of the writers is different – different personal histories, different interests, different
points of view, different understandings, different intentions.
Young Mark, who wrote our earliest Gospel, was a young Jew who had been raised in the
Greek-speaking Roman World who may have been a companion on some of Peter’s
missionary travels. Mark doesn’t know a lot about the Holy Land, customs there, or the
faith of the local Jews, but he has a simple, vital style, characterized by the sense of
urgency displayed by his constant use of the word, “immediately!” His Gospel was one of
the primary sources used by the other writers.
Matthew is also Jewish, but almost certainly from the Holy Land. He’s well educated and
writes in a much more sophisticated form of Greek than Mark. Matthew’s writing,
addressed to the Jewish people of Palestine, is characterized by his emphasis on Jesus as
the Messiah – the expected deliverer of the Jewish people.
John is the least understood of the writers, but it is certain that his Gospel is much less a
telling of Jesus’ story than it is a reflection on who Jesus IS, and what his Church is called
to be. The most theological and the most spiritual of the Gospel writers, John writes more
for the edification of Christians than to win converts, and differs enormously from all the
others – in the way he presents Jesus, and even in the stories he tells!
And then there is Luke.
Luke stands out among the Gospel writers in a lot of ways. He is not Jewish, to begin with,
it’s clear, but a gentile convert. He has never lived in the Holy Land, but is a citizen of the
Roman Empire. He was well educated, certainly, and quite possibly, though not certainly a
physician. He was a companion of St. Paul, on some of Paul’s journeys; and he wrote not
one, but two of the books of our Bible – the Gospel that bears his name, and the Book of
the Acts of the Apostles!
Luke writes not for Christians or for Jews, but for the pagans of the Empire. In fact, he
dedicates his book, addressing the opening verses to the “most excellent Theophilus,”
apparently a prominent member of the empire, probably an official of some sort, and
possibly someone on the edge of conversion.
Because he was neither a Jew, nor writing for Jewish converts, Luke is not concerned
with establishing that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. He concentrates, rather, on Jesus’
LORDSHIP – a concept much more meaningful to citizens of Rome – and, I think, to modern
Christians! Even more importantly, though, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ human understanding,
his kindness and compassion.
He is also by far the best writer. Luke is proficient and natural in his Greek. He writes a
highly educated type of Greek, but he also has the ability to vary his style. He can be
elegant, or he can write in the idiom; he can even duplicate the style of the Greek
translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint. And his book has long been
called by many the most beautiful book in the world.
Because we pick up Luke’s Narrative during the season of Advent, we don’t begin at the
beginning – that comes in two weeks. Rather with Advent the season of anticipation, we
begin with the forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptizer!
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” he tells us, “when Pontius Pilatus
was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee…,” beginning his story with the
kind of detail an official of the Empire would appreciate, “the Word of God came to John,
the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”
And, like the good forerunner John was, he proclaimed the coming of the one who had
been promised by Isaiah, the salvation of Israel. So Mark began his Gospel; and so
Matthew began the telling of Jesus adult life and ministry. But Luke does it with a twist,
and he introduces, right at the beginning, right from the outset, one of the key differences
between him and the other writers. Where Mark writes:
As it is written in Isaiah the Prophet,
“…The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”
And where Matthew quotes Mark, almost verbatim, Luke continues the quote:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill
shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Luke was not a Jew proclaiming to his people the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel.
Luke was a citizen of the Empire, and his proclamation was for the whole world. “All flesh”
shall see the salvation of God,” he said, and set himself apart from the other writers.
The proclamation was not new with Luke, of course; he was, after all, quoting Isaiah. There
had always been an element of universalism in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in Judaism, but
it was a universalism that often went forgotten! Jesus, himself, though, had made it clear
that he had been sent to more than to just the lost sheep of Israel. But that, too, had been
forgotten in the early Church, precipitating a battle over that very issue between St. Paul
and most of the rest of the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem – which Luke tells about in
But Luke comes proclaiming it, right from the beginning! Jesus Christ came to save you
and to save me; To save all mankind – and all womankind, too – because Luke has a
special place in his heart and in his Gospel for women, as well; and that also sets him apart.
To save all mankind and all womankind – all humanity; to save white, black, yellow, and red;
to save the outcast, the sinner, the criminal. To save all; all Humankind! As Desmond Tutu
likes to say, “all, all, all!”
As we begin this year-long journey with Luke, keep these things in mind. Listen for them;
think about them. Let them grow in you. For now, let me suggest something radical to you;
let me suggest that when you go home on this second Sunday of Advent, you dig out a
Bible, and read the Gospel according to Saint Luke. I don’t suggest you sit down and try to
read the whole thing in one sitting. It certainly can be done, and quite easily – the book is
only 24 chapters, across about 45 pages – but I don’t recommend it. Better to stretch it out,
a bit; better to take time to let it speak to you! But keep it within reason – set for yourself
four days to a week, to read the whole Gospel. Read it carefully, but don’t labor over it. It’s
a STORY – enjoy it! But pay attention, too, to Luke’s distinctive voice, Luke’s distinctive
concerns: to his interest in foreigners, outcasts, women, tax collectors, criminals, his
interest in all.
Then, as the year progresses, as we work our way through the Gospel during the course
of the coming year, follow the readings as they come; trace those characteristic concerns.
And see, through the year, if you can come to a new understanding of Luke and his writing,
and, more importantly, of his vision of the One he followed and wrote about: the Lord
Jesus Christ – the one who came to proclaim that all flesh shall see the salvation of God!
In his Name. Amen