Summer Lessons from Luke

June 5, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Third Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 5
1 Kings 17:8-24; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

(Gospel Text provided below)

As you may know, I am one of five kids in my family. Before we came along, my mom was a 3rd grade elementary school teacher while Dad was in law school. By the time Dad finished, they had had their first child and the rest, including me, weren’t far behind! So, when my parents moved back to Houston, my mom stopped teaching… in the classroom at least – she had plenty of her own pupils underfoot!

IMG-20130731-00346When we reached elementary school-age, Mom knew from her time as a teacher that it’s hard for kids to retain over the summer what they learned the previous school year. So at the beginning of each summer, she’d load us into the wood-paneled station wagon and we’d head to the Teacher’s Supply Store. Each of us would get two workbooks – one English and one Math – and we’d be expected to spend time each day doing workbook exercises. So, although it was summer break from school, it wasn’t a total break from learning. 

In much the same way, although we were a family that went to church every Sunday during the school year, during the summer we took a little bit of a break. And while we didn’t go to church every Sunday, we went often enough to stay connected and engaged in worship and the community. (hint, hint)

One reason I think it’s easy to take a break from church during the summer is that there aren’t any major feast days. The big ones fall during the school year. This time in our liturgical calendar – between Pentecost and Advent – is even called: “Ordinary Time” – not too exciting. While it may seem like it’s called that because, as I mentioned, there are no distinctive features; no major feast days, that isn’t the reason.

At the risk of giving you a summer-workbook lesson the word “Ordinary” in Ordinary Time is actually rooted in the concept of Ordinal Numbers, as opposed to Cardinal or Nominal numbers. To refresh our collective memory:


  • Cardinal numbers tell us “how many” – there are two candles on the altar.
  • Nominal numbers “name” something – like the #30 on Steph Curry’s basketball jersey.
  • And Ordinal numbers tell us the order of things —first, second, third, etc.

During Ordinary time we count the number of Sundays after Pentecost – this week is the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost – and we’ll keep counting until we get to Advent. LESSON OVER!

Last summer we spent time journeying through Mark’s Gospel, and this summer we’ll turn our attention to Luke’s gospel, and you’ll see that it’s anything but ordinary!

Shadow-Shapeshifter-in-Out-Of-Focus-MovieYou may remember that I called Mark’s gospel the Action/Adventure movie of the New Testament, because of its pace and the amazing feats of Jesus. The movie genre I’d pick for Luke’s gospel would have to be Supernatural, since it has many mystical intersections between the otherworldly and the worldly.

From the outset we see signs of the supernatural. Visitations by angels to Zechariah, to Mary, and to the shepherds in the field. And, at the presentation of Jesus in the temple, both Simeon and Anna, mysteriously grasp the holy nature of Jesus, when Jesus was still only eight days old!

And, in Luke’s gospel, acts of healing take a prominent role – healings beyond anything seen before! Today’s reading, for example, talks of the raising of a dead man, and it’s told in very matter-of-fact way. So matter-of-fact, that you may not have remembered it was in Luke’s gospel.

raising-of-lazarusWe seem to know much more about the raising of Lazarus in John’s gospel. John takes a whole chapter to tell the story. It begins with Jesus being told that his friend Lazarus is deathly ill, but Jesus intentionally waits several days before going to help – suspense builds! When he arrives he’s confronted by Martha, and then by Mary, both grieving the death of their brother. Jesus tells them to roll the stone away from the tomb. They warn him about the stench from death, but Jesus insists. Then he calls out, “Lazarus, come out!” and the mummified dead man comes out, still bound in strands of cloth. Now, that’s how you tell the story!

By contrast, Luke tells the story of bringing a young man back to life, but with very little fanfare. Five verses is all it takes. After healing the Centurion’s slave Jesus is going to the town of Nain and was followed by a large crowd. He notices a funeral procession at the gate of the town. We’re told that the person who has died is the only son of the mother, and that she is a widow. So, with the son’s death, the woman would have no one to take care of her – no man designated to be her provider. This was a big deal in those days. Jesus has compassion for her and says, “Do not weep.” Then he steps forward, touches the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” and the dead man sat up and began talking. Then it says simply, “and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

An amazing story, but why so low-key? This kind of story should surely get more attention. We don’t even know these people’s names.

Well, it might help if we go back and look at the author’s intention for the gospel. While John’s gospel makes it clear that he is writing it to provide evidence that would bring people to believe in Jesus as Messiah, that isn’t what Luke’s gospel is about. The opening verses of this gospel reveal that the author is retelling the story of Jesus in order to clarify some things. He acknowledges that things have already been written based on eyewitness accounts, but then says:

Gospel of Luke Image 2013… I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

The author names the intended audience as “Theophilus.” Interestingly, the word theophilus, in Greek means “God lover.” So, while it could be an individual with that name for whom he’s writing, it might also be a general label for those who are already part of the early faith community.[i]

What’s more, the author is not writing to convert people, but instead, writing to emphasize elements of Jesus’ life to those who already believe. One aspect of that is the emphasis on inclusivity for all people. I’ll give you a few examples:

  • Women aren’t only identified by name in Luke’s gospel (which is very unusual in scripture), they are major players – Elizabeth, the mother of John, Mary (of course), and Anna the prophet, just to name a few.
  • While Matthew’s gospel contains a genealogy that begins with Abraham, emphasizing Jesus’ connection with the people of Israel, Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus all the way back to Adam – the beginning of all creation – so Jesus is connected to all people.
  • And we see Jesus’ message and healing is available for everyone, evidenced in last week’s story of Jesus’ healing of the Roman centurion’s slave.

And, most prominent in his retelling of the story, Luke provides an intentional message of salvation – yet one that defies the worldly construct of his time. Jesus rejects the worldly approach to gaining power and declares a ministry oriented to those without power.[ii] Mary’s Magnificat serves as the manifesto, which says in part:

[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Lk 1:52-53)

We see in this that, for Luke, salvation is the reversal of the status quo.[iii] It’s all about overturning the situation for the poor, the ill, the marginalized and the oppressed. But here’s the rub… in order to accomplish this, those with power must be willing to forfeit their power in order to allow others to be lifted up.

So, the question for us, and for all Christians is: Can we live into the challenge of this salvation proclaimed in Luke’s gospel? In the weeks ahead we will see lessons from Jesus of what this might look like.

  • Summer 2015 Homepage Banners4 (2)What does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves, and who is our neighbor?
  • What is expected of us when we take on the apostolic work we are called to do: to be sent out to proclaim the good news of God’s love to unfamiliar people – people that are different than we are?
  • When we hear the message to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, does that mean we are obligated to give of our time, talent and treasure to make that happen?

i-willAnd this is where the Supernatural element comes in for us!

  • It takes God in our midst to empower us to do this work.
  • It takes God at our side to guide us to selfless love.
  • It takes trust in God to let go of what’s familiar and embrace the unknown.

So, in the weeks and months between now and Advent, we will delve more fully into these experiences of Jesus’ work of salvation. As we gather on Sundays with our summer-workbook of Luke in hand, I hope that together we can learn from these examples of what it looks like to open boundaries to others. And then we can take what we learn and, with God’s help, explore new ways of sharing God’s unbounded love beyond ourselves, defying the status quo, and sharing God’s salvation with all people.

Yes, during this Ordinary Time in our Church year, let us embark here at Christ Church, on the extra-ordinary work of Jesus in our life, in our parish, in our community and beyond!

Day7 - 02

Gospel Text:

Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17)


[i]  O. Wesley Allen, Jr., “Luke,” in Theological Bible Commentary, ed. Gail R. O’Day and David Peterson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 325.

[ii] Ibid., 326.

[iii] Ibid., 332.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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