Sunday October 17, 2010
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Daniels
A Sermon for Saint Luke
It might be the case that remembering Saint Luke the Evangelist at an Evensong service, as we do this evening, is the most appropriate setting for the eve of his commemoration. Luke is the gospel writer who recorded in his book those two canticles that we hear at every service of Evensong – indeed, every evening office. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, comes from Luke’s gospel, as does Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, both of which we just heard. Without Saint Luke we’d have neither of those. His is a gospel marked by magnificent story-telling, brilliant uses of words and images that tell the stories that make up what many of us think about, when we think about the stories of the Gospel.
Without Luke we wouldn’t know about the shepherds who watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground. The wayward prodigal son would be lost to us, as would the Good Samaritan. It’s quite likely that that letter addressed to Theophilus, the Acts of the Apostles, wouldn’t be around either, so we’d have lost the dramatic account of Paul’s conversion – the voice saying “why persecutest thou me?” – the outpouring of the spirit at Pentecost, and so much more.
But it would be the Magnificat, in all of its settings, that I would miss the most, so it’s fitting to find myself thinking about Saint Luke this afternoon.
To be sure, he wasn’t only a literary stylist. We read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that St. Luke the Evangelist was also St. Luke the physician. There is no doubt that sickness and health, afflictions and healings, are primary themes of his gospel. In Luke, foremost among the gospels, the reader sees Jesus as the cure of souls, the healer, the comforter; the one who makes well from every affliction, every disease, every sin. As the patron saint of doctors, and nearby hospitals, Luke presents Jesus as the one who makes people well, who makes them whole.
And so as we prepare to celebrate his Feast tomorrow, it’s worth thinking about what that ministry of healing looks like for Christians all these years after the Great Physician himself. And not only in general, what it looks like, but what it looks like at one place in particular: Saint Thomas Church, circa Two Thousand-Ten. Specifically, what it looks like right here, in the arched nave in which we now sit (or, in my case, stand).
One of the great benefits of being a priest, or a member of one of the liturgical guilds, at Saint Thomas is the opportunity to serve at celebrations of the Eucharist that are held in the Chantry Chapel, services that are held a dozen or so times a week depending on the season. They are blessings in many ways, and one is the way it affords the opportunity to simply be in this church at what we might call “off-hours.”
I wish everyone could have the opportunity to sit here for a half an hour some weekday. It can change the way you think about what happens here. One realizes just how much of a healing ministry St. Thomas engages in simply by being present to this great city, welcoming in both its residents, and its visitors.
A few times this summer I came into the nave on a weekday afternoon. I sat off to the side, and observed this fluid congregation of occasional visitors. It’s remarkable. To say that it’s a diverse crowd that comes through is a grand understatement. People from every conceivable walk of life come into St. Thomas; some to gaze at the reredos, or the windows; to meditate on the statues of the Virgin; to pray, at the Chapel altar rail, or in the pews. Some are tourists, they come from all over the world; some are midtown office workers on their lunch hour or coffee break; most have made a special trip because they need to be here, for their own reasons.
Some of them have questions: questions like, When was the church founded? When are services? More often, though, they are questions like, Will you pray for me? Could we say a prayer together?
The most frequent words, however, are silent. People come in and they sit. There are few places in this city where one can do that in any kind of meditative way. A man who lives in this neighborhood told me the other day that, though he doesn’t go to a church on Sundays, he has long come here on the occasional afternoon when he needs to be alone with God for a little while. And he is one of many thousands who do the same. They come here at different times than the traditional Sunday parishioner, but they definitely come, by the hundreds every day.
And in all of their particularities, what they have in common is that in one way or another, they are here for God’s healing, for the healing that can come from him alone. It is here that many find relief.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen simply by chance. When Dr. Stires became Rector of Saint Thomas in 1901 (at 34 years of age, no less), he asked, and the vestry agreed, that the parish should be kept open to the public during daylight hours, seven days a week. And when rebuilding after the fire of 1905, the parish maintained its policies of open doors whenever possible, and hundreds gave sacrificially in order to make this space beautiful, and sturdy, so that we – and so many thousands more – can still worship in it today.
I can’t help but think that if everyone who supports St. Thomas could experience what goes on here seven days a week, 12 hours a day, if they could see first-hand the ministry of healing that it engages in by its being itself, quietly, serving everyone who walks in from the very wealthy to the very poor – if everyone could see that, I can’t help but think that our annual stewardship campaign would last at most a week, that the coffers would be overflowing – because who would not want to be part of this ministry of bringing God’s health to those of this city who come in, over and over again, to find peace with their God? Who would not want to make sure that the parish continues to provide the venue for Christ’s cure of souls for another couple hundred years?
I think that each evening, when the doors are closed, the crowds have gone, and the lights are finally turned out, that the stony visage of the statue of Saint Luke, there on the reredos, breaks into a smile. He knows that the Great Physician carries on his work.