18 October 2020. Saint Luke. Looking towards the edge.
What does it matter which way you are looking?
Each of the four Gospels is very different. They each come from different hands, though the content of Mark contributed significantly to the words shaped by Matthew and Luke, who also both added material which they had in common and material not used by others. John’s Gospel is later and more mystical and approaches the story of Jesus in some distinctly different ways.
Does that matter? Does it matter that each of the Gospel writers approached and arranged the material about Jesus’ life differently? No. Together they actually draw for us a richer and more glorious picture because they are different. Mark is telling the story in a concise way. Matthew is emphasising Jesus’ teaching and arranges the story in five teaching blocks which echo the five book of Moses. John is weaving a complex painting, wrapped in love, revealing the eternal divinity of Jesus.
So what is Luke doing? Today we remember Luke and we celebrate the day set aside in the calendar of the Church year for his celebration. A few words which summarise Luke’s approach to the story of Jesus are that Luke is ‘looking towards the edge’.
Matthew, it is often argued, wrote for those many people who were deeply immersed in Judaism and who were being invited to consider Jesus as the Messiah or who had already begun the journey towards accepting him in this way. Luke looks further. Luke sees the world beyond, the world beyond the Holy Land, the people beyond the Jews, the chosen people of God. Luke sees a wider audience for the good news.
If you drew a map of the journeys of Jesus as described in the Gospels, in Luke’s account Jesus goes more often to the edges and beyond! He steps outside and speaks to people from outside. In Luke’s Gospel many of Jesus’ interactions are with people who would have been considered unclean and unacceptable for pious orthodox Jews. Read through Luke’s account and notice how often Jesus directs his followers to pay attention to people who are not Jewish.
Not only are Jesus’ followers directed to pay attention to those people who are ‘out there’ but those ‘outside people’ are also recognised as people in whose lives God is already active. The story of the Good Samaritan, for example, which only appears in Luke’s account.
Luke wrote at a time and probably for an audience which was mostly not Jewish, people living across the world where the good news about Jesus was gradually being spread. What we need to consider is whether that was where the focus ended. Was Luke just looking at the spread of the message into those other parts of the Mediterranean? Or was there a principle and an important lesson to take from where Luke was looking, from where Jesus, as Luke described him, was looking?
We are here and we are members of the Church because people did what Luke did, what Jesus did in Luke’s Gospel. They looked towards the edge. It was not enough to look inwards to the needs and situation and security of an established society, an easy place to develop the life of the Church.
Looking towards the edge means considering the needs and situation and opportunities of people who are very different from the space and community and comfort zone in which we stand. Looking towards the edge is an encouragement to allow our minds and perspective to be opened to value not only the people who stand in different places and see in different ways but also to value what they have to teach us about God who is already there in their lives before whatever we do to connect with them.
Can you see that this is a challenging way to think and be? It is so easy and cosy to be part of an organisation and in a place where we feel self-sufficient and ‘right’. It is easy to treat being part of an organisation like the church as if what we are to do is to keep doing what we think is right and keep holding onto a perspective handed on to us and if people want to join us then when they step over the threshold then THEY need to change, conform, be assimilated into ‘us’. That sort of approach is not really looking outwards but is looking inwards.
Looking towards the edge is an approach to the call God places on our lives which sees the value in people who are different from the existing group and seeks connection with them. It is an approach which seeks depth, seeks to learn rather than seeking conformity. The point of having open doors is then to be able to welcome people who are invited into connection, to welcome them with all that they are and bring, and to be open to change.
Newcomers are a gift with fresh perspective to offer. Strangers are friends who we have not yet come to know deeply enough, with whom we can begin to share life on a deep level. Difference is an opportunity to find delight in diversity and freshness in what has not been experienced before.
This is the invitation of Jesus in Luke’s account of the good news.
Luke 5:36-38 shines light on that approach. “36 Jesus told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” Mark and Matthew also told that parable but it is at the heart of Luke’s approach to the message of Jesus.
As the people of St Luke here, what difference does his patronage of our main church building make to how we express being the Church in this place? What will it look like for us to be people who are looking to the edge, embracing the stranger, open to difference, valuing the unfamiliar, recognising the gift of those who are ‘out there’ beyond the safe place of a cosy comfort zone?
That is not only a first century challenge, looking out from the cosy borders of the holy land. It is a twenty-first century challenge looking out from the cosy buildings of a settled church community into a wider and diverse community around.
The church grew because people stepped outside of their comfort zones and met and engaged with people where they were, embracing them, engaging and sharing an onward journey. As the people of St Luke, we are invited to do the same.