Pastor and author Eugene Peterson wrote, “The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money…. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.” (Working the Angles, p. 2)
NOT exactly a glowing performance review! Peterson then sets the record straight: “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.” (p. 2)
What is that work that the Holy Spirit does week after week? St. Luke, the Evangelist, reminds us by both his words and his vocation. Luke, of course, wrote the Gospel bearing his name as well as the Acts of the Apostles. He gives us the beloved Christmas story, many powerful parables, and the encouraging accounts of early Christians. He traveled with St. Paul on his missionary journeys, and the Bible calls him “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). As we see in our Gospel reading, St. Luke fixes our eyes on Jesus and His healing for our souls. As we prayed in the Collect, Jesus called “Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul.” The Church and her pastors have a singular task—to bring us “the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments” so that Jesus Himself “may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve [Him].”
Early Christian tradition says St. Luke was probably one of the seventy-two whom Jesus sent out. These men were in addition to the Twelve Apostles. Jesus sent them out “two by two” to establish the evidence of their witness. He told them not to take moneybag, knapsack or sandals, because they were not going on a vacation. He said not to greet folks on the road because their mission was urgent.
Jesus sent them out to do what He—Jesus—would do. They were to proclaim, “Peace be to this house!” They were to stay in the house that received them, not going on progressive dinners searching for the best cook in town, because “the laborer deserves his wages.” They were to “heal the sick” and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” A far cry from shop-keeping pastors who have sugar-plum dreams of market-style success! In fact, Jesus also told these pastors-in-training that they would be sacrificial “lambs in the midst of wolves.” When we read on in Luke 10, Jesus even prepares His evangelists and ministers that some stubborn souls just will not receive them or their message of peace and healing. When that happens, He says, just wipe the dust off your feet and move on. No marks of “success” in that!
But Jesus does tie Himself to the work of these pastors and evangelists. “The one who hears you,” He tells them, “hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
You see, Jesus knows what you need most. You don’t need one more salesman luring you into his “store” to sell you his swag, even if that “store” plasters the word “church” on the front door. You don’t need one more marketer trying to fit you into his niche, even if it seems to be a religious one. No, what you need is healing—in your soul. You need peace—in your soul. You need to hear, believe, and know that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” And when Jesus says, “kingdom of God,” He’s referring to Himself.
You and I need Someone—the only One—who can come and put to flight the diseases of the soul. Remember, Jesus called Himself a physician: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Lk. 5:31).
So what diseases of the soul do you have? Consider the times you doubt God and are not sure that He loves you and does everything for you in mercy. Consider the times you neglect to call upon Him in trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Consider the times you grow cold or indifferent to holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Consider the times when your neighbor—at home, at church, or at work—taxes your patience and stretches your ability to love to the point of snapping. Consider the times when you truly are sinned against and end up either wallowing in victimhood or stewing in the juices of anger. As Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Mt. 15:19-20). Such are the diseases of the soul.
All of this is what the Augsburg Confession calls “concupiscence”—“a disease and original vice that is truly sin” (AC II, 2). On the one hand, we are inclined to live our lives “without the fear of God, without trust in God.” On the other hand, we feverishly try to live our lives “with the inclination to sin” (AC II, 1).
So St. Luke, the evangelist, the beloved physician, gives you the Great Physician, your Lord Jesus. When He was born, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk. 2:14)—uniting heaven and earth with His peace and healing. He is your Good Samaritan who binds up the wounds of your soul, pouring on the oil and wine of His Word and Sacraments, and brings you into the inn of His Church where you may convalesce and receive His healing (Lk. 10:33-35). He is the loving shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the pen to go looking for you. And when He finds you, aching and hurting in your diseased soul, He takes you up in His arms, He rejoices, and He restores you to His Father and His flock (Lk. 15:3-7).
And when your Great Physician hangs on the cross, wounded by lacerations and spikes, by mockings and betrayals, He utters the most healing, peace-giving thing we can ever hear: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Yes, that includes you! There’s your healing medicine! “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5).
Now you can rejoice with the thief crucified right next to Jesus. You get to hear the same hopeful, peaceful, soul-healing words: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Oh, you say you still have doubts about God, His Word, or His will for you? You still struggle to call upon Him, praise Him, or give Him thanks? You still have dry times in hearing and learning His Word? And loving your neighbor is still difficult? You still have diseases of the soul? That’s what the promise of Paradise is for! “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6). That’s when the full and final healing will come.
It’s also why your Great Physician gives you His Body and Blood as healing medicine for your soul. It’s “a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy that grants salvation and comfort. It will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved” (LC V:68).
Your Great Physician Jesus comes to heal you. He sends His ministers, such as St. Luke, the beloved physician, to deliver the healing medicine in water, words, and meal. That’s why today we thank our Lord for His servant Luke. It’s also why we praise Him that, even in our day, His true servants are not shopkeepers with shopkeeping concerns, but men who dispense and administer the healing medicine of Jesus, our Physician of the soul. Amen.