The Feast of St Luke the Evangelist – Friday 18th October, Festal Eucharist
It is a great privilege to be able to offer you this short homily as we celebrate the life and works of the patron Saint of Doctors, St Luke the Evangelist. Luke was, of course a Doctor by profession, and is known as the “Physician of the Soul.” We, of course, are here to be educated, formed, and fitted for service as Physicians of the Soul after Luke’s example; we will all be given the cure of souls for some place or another at the end of this part of our journeys, thence to go out into the world like the seventy two in our reading, and once there, to heal the divisions which gape like machete wounds in the flesh of humanity, wounds opened up by Avarice, cruelty, bigotry, and ignorance, and wrenched further open by burning hatred, callous indifference, and hysterical populism.
In the fifth richest nation on this planet, why are there more and more children sinking below the poverty line every day, and why is street homelessness steadily increasing?
In a time when women have proven, beyond all doubt, their competence in every field from policing, to business, farming, to flying, from medicine to warfare, how on earth does sexism and misogyny still exist? And what an indictment on humanity that women ever had to prove anything in the first place!
If I may beg your indulgence, I feel compelled at this point to pay tribute to ten highly skilled and eminent ladies of the National Health Service. Without these ladies me, Chrissy, and Alfie would not be here. All three of us would be dead, and I can say that without laying myself open to charges of melodrama.
Two hundred and fifty years after the formation of the Abolitionist Movement on this soil, and many years since the Victorian pseudoscience of eugenics was debunked, how does racism exist? Especially since there is only one race, the human race.
In a time when sexuality is recognised as a sliding scale rather than binary, and where one’s bedroom activities are widely acknowledged as being nobody else’s business, how does homophobia still exist? And why are people still abused for non-binary gender expression in an age of individualism?
Why is there loneliness in an age where people are more connected than ever? How can there be such ignorance when more information is readily available to more people than at any period in human history? Since distance and language are no longer barriers to engagement, and freedom of expression allows room for continuous discourse, why oh why are internet forums choked with the illiterate furiously typing at each other in block capitals with opprobrious emoticons?
In a time of increased censorship, no-platforming, safe spaces, demonstration and counter demonstration, we see a society which would much rather keep these wounds open, thank you very much. Why? Because then they will never have to see the scars. Perhaps they fear the shame that they may feel if reconciled; they will never have to suffer the indignity of contrition. Maybe this is all that they have ever known. And for some, it simply gives them something to do after dinner.
But if wounds are left open, they go septic.
And so we are charged, like the seventy two, to go out as lambs in the midst of wolves, woefully ill equipped in worldly terms, but as Post New Testament Priests, we will have with us the medicine of Christ in Word and Sacrament, preparing the way, for His coming into broken and damaged lives. It is by every act of our priestly being that the collective flesh can be made whole again.
How do you even start?
Firstly there will be the painful part, debriding. In challenging injustice, and confronting hatred and violence of every sort; official, institutional, social, and cultural, we cut away the diseased and necrotised flesh which harbours infection and poisons the body.
Next we disinfect of the wound, flushing it through with the love from the bottomless bottle marked “Agape”, by teaching, by baptising, and by nurturing new disciples, creating clean flesh on which the former infection can no longer grow.
Then the wound must be drawn together and held in place, by our response to human need, and by enabling and facilitating the response of others, ordained and lay, in their calling to do the same, we bring people together by, in, and for that loving service.
Next we suture the wound closed with the Good News of the Kingdom; for as the Kingdom is built up it binds together; a sharp needle and strong thread; stitches which will last and finally become part of the flesh as they dissolve into that which is made new.
And in sustaining and renewing the life of the earth we dress the wounds, protecting them from any knocks or bumps or scrapes which may open them up, and from any dirt which may cause our work to fester. For it is the disadvantaged who are most vulnerable when creation is misused globally, and locally, pleasant public spaces and burgeoning wildlife brings people together, it generates those opportunities for relationships to form. And if I might risk stretching this metaphor yet further, it vaccinates against indifference.
But who am I that I should be trusted with this work? How, when my scars are all too obvious? Me with my fever that is only just subsiding, me who is still in desperate need of the medicine given me in this chapel several times a day? How can I, of all people, make the wounded whole again? How can I teach them to be unafraid of the scars that they will be left with?
I can only come to the conclusion that the answer is to always remember our scars; we can bring healing because we ourselves have been and are being healed. For we have been opened up, and sin cut out, disinfected, stitched back together, and loved in all our brokenness, loved with all our scars.
But the greatest truth of all, is the one which chokes me every time I think on it. That when I was being operated on, Christ did the bleeding in my place; naked, alone, on a cross.
It is no accident that Luke’s Gospel bears the seal of the Ox, for it is by his wounds that we are healed, by his blood that we are atoned for, by his shame that we find our peace. How can I be ashamed of my scars when they speak of love so deep, of healing so perfect, of Grace which is poured out time and time and time again on a broken, contrite, and yet remarkably persistent sinner such as me? His resurrected body still bares the marks of our healing, an act so profound that even the Angels cannot bare the sight.
May we hold His Truth ever before us as we set about His healing work, for His Name’s sake. Amen
Jack Greenhalf, Chichester Diocese.