A. Background on Luke. St. Luke was a doctor and traveling companion of St. Paul. He is the second most prolific New Testament writer. St. Luke’s Gospel and its sequel, The Acts of the Apostles, are second only in length to the writings of St. Paul. It is traditionally believed that St. Luke was a Gentile, which would make him the only Gentile New Testament author, but this is not certain. It is possible that he was a “hellenized” or Greek speaking Jew. There is an early tradition that St. Luke was one of the seventy others sent out by Jesus, which is why this is the gospel for St. Luke’s Day.
B. Demas and Luke
1. The only mention of Luke in our lessons is when St. Paul says, “Only Luke is with me.” St. Luke’s presence is in contrast with Demas, who “has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The other two people mentioned, Crescens and Titus, have also departed. However, they seem to have left for the purposes of mission. In any event, others have left and “Only Luke is with me.”
2. Demas is mentioned in a couple of other New Testament passages. His name is always next to Luke’s. In Colossians, St. Paul writes, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you” (Col. 4:14). In Philemon St. Paul passes along greetings from Luke and Demas, whom he calls “my fellow laborers” (24). Demas had worked for a long time with St. Paul, but chose to abandon his post.
3. It would be pastorally instructive to have more details. What led Demas to forsake Paul? Had the apostolic work become too arduous? Did Demas and Paul have an argument that led Demas to storm off in anger? Had Demas developed doubts about the faith? In any event, this longtime co-worker had left, and St. Paul felt the sting of abandonment. However, Luke had remained faithful.
C. The challenges of ministry and comfort of faithful co-workers
1. It is easy to romanticize mission work. We know about St. Paul’s ministry from Acts and his own letters. These focus on significant moments and themes of his ministry, and tend to obscure just how much of his ministry involved tedious travel, rejection and discomfort. Even when St. Paul describes his hardships, they sound more glorious in writing than they were in experience (c.f. 2 Corinthian 11:23-29).
2. All genuine Christian ministry has two characteristics. First it leads to lives that are changed by God’s grace. Two, it proves itself through suffering and perseverance. These two characteristics are related. Lives are changed by God’s grace only as we persevere faithfully through trial. It is our sharing in the cross itself that forms us in the image of Christ. Our attempts to avoid the cross stunt our growth and handicap our ministry.
3. As we persevere in the faith there is an irreplaceable value to those who endure with us. In Philippians, St. Paul speaks of “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (3:10). This fellowship is both our union with Christ in his cross, and also our union with each other in the Christian vocation. Our koinonia, our communion, is rooted in an understanding that we are fighting a common battle together against the world, the flesh and the devil.
4. The Body of Christ is weakened when any member gives up the fight. The church is counting on you to persevere in the life of prayer, to be obedient to Christ through difficult times, and to get up if you fall down. “We are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25) and we will feel a sting every time a member of the body decides to quit. The sting is greater the closer the person is to us.
C. Our experience at St. Matthew’s.
1. This month marks my twenty-nine year anniversary at St. Matthew’s. Time makes one acutely aware of the priceless value of those who are faithful over long periods of time. People ask, “What can I do for the church?” This question aims at some project that will make an impact now. This impulse is heightened in a culture that focuses on excitement and buzz. What the church really needs is ordinary faithfulness. What can you do for the church? “Follow Christ, worship God every Sunday in his church; work and pray and give for spread of his kingdom” (BCP 292). Man your post, discover your gifts and use them in some consistent way for a decade—for starters. Then we can begin to build something.
2. We can see this in the examples of Luke and Demas. Luke is “St. Luke, the beloved physician,” whose faithfulness helped build churches produced two glorious writings. If Demas has not given in to, anger, discouragement, or disappointment, it is possible that we might celebrate “St” Demas and his contributions to the church as well—but his short term impact had disappeared when he quit.
On the virtues of stability and faithfulness
1. We are talking here about two related virtues; stability and faithfulness. The virtue of stability means to stay in the same place. In Luke’s case it was to stay with the same mobile mission. The virtue can be understood in terms of agricultural. Plants don’t grow very well when they are continually uprooted and replanted in new places. The fruit and foliage visible above the ground mirrors the depth and strength of the root system below. Instability and rootlessness lead to a lack of fruit.
2. Stability is related to faithfulness. One can be stable but unfaithful. Like the bad tooth that causes pain, or the weed in the garden that keeps coming back no matter how many times you pull it up, there is the person who is stable, but toxic. We are called to be stable and faithful. Jesus said, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). This is not merely an individual, spiritual abiding. To abide in Christ is to abide faithfully in his Body the Church in a given place over time.
3. Instability and unfaithfulness are characteristics of our time. People move quickly from one job to another, from one product to another, from one relationship to another, and from one church to another. These are not all equivalent. The current job environment often requires a certain mobility. But the tendency creates an overall restlessness; people are continually looking for some new and better place or thing. If this restlessness governs our faith, it make us unreliable, unhelpful and unfruitful.
4. “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…Luke, alone, is with me.” The faithfulness of Luke calls to mind the words of Jesus that Luke himself records, “You are those who have continued with me in my trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:28-30). Let us follow the example of St. Luke, the beloved physician and faithful co-worker. Let us continue with Jesus and with each other in our trials, in stability and faithfulness, so that we that we may produce much fruit in our life together, and so that we may eat and drink together with Jesus in his kingdom.