St. Luke's Patronal Festival 2017: "The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me"
“The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4. 21)
Let us pray that in the written word and through the spoken word, we may behold the living word, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, we have heard your words to us in holy scripture, and know your call to each of us. In every age you have spoken through the voices of prophets, pastors, and teachers. We give you thanks that over the years we have heard you speak to us through the preaching of your word in this place. Grant that those who preach in this place may proclaim the crucified and risen Christ and interpret your word with sensitivity and insight, that we may hear that word inwardly and respond to it in all our life. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, your living Word. Amen.
I feel honoured to be present with you today on such a happy occasion with both the 8:00 a.m. and the 10:30 a.m. groups worshipping together. There is a good story of a couple, Sally and Joe, who decided to sit up front in the sanctuary one Sunday because their little daughter was going to be in the Christmas pageant, and they wanted to be sure they could see her. Before that, like everyone else, they’d always sat in their usual pew. The woman they sat next to greeted them with a hearty smile and said she was so happy to welcome them. “Where are you two from? She asked. A bit embarrassed and confused, Sally answered, “The Back.”
When the Dean invited me to preach two words rang out over and over in my head….patronal and festival. The first word speaks about a patron saint which the Merriam Webster defines as the ‘person chosen, named or honoured as a special guardian, protector or supporter of a church’ and so we remember this Cathedral’s patron - Luke, beloved physician and story teller. We thank God for giving such ‘gifts of understanding and literary skill on Luke, and we remember the storyteller for the story that he told – and that story is Jesus’s story.’ (FAS pg. 310)
The second word has all the makings of a celebration, a feast, a party full of joy and laughter and noise. In the short time I’ve been in the Soo I can say for certain that you know how to do that really well so - Here’s to a happy feast day, St. Luke’s!
Patronal festival days like birthdays and other anniversaries are an important time in anyone’s life they give us a reason to celebrate, but they also become an occasion for thanksgiving for all that has been and all that will be… so today is Thanksgiving day as well.
First, we give glory to God and we give thanks for Jesus’s presence in this place, whenever two or three have gathered in his name. Because before the Cathedral was given the name of St. Luke’s it was and remains His church. If it hadn’t been for Jesus who knows what other kind of a building might have stood on the corner of Brock and Albert Street in Sault Ste. Marie, or where you or I might be today – not just geographically, but also in our souls if it hadn’t have been for Jesus and all the marvellous things he said and did and that people have been saying and doing in his name ever since.
When Bishop Fauquier stepped ashore from his little boat on the St. Mary’s River in SSM on November 6th, 1873, he was most likely met by the Rev. John Rolph of St. Luke’s Mission, who probably took the new Bishop a few hundred feet up the road…if there was a road…to visit that little Mission Church which was standing right here on the spot where we are standing today. But November – what a time to arrive by boat in SSM! Mud and slush. Imagine this for a moment if you will – that when Bishop Fauquier looked at St. Luke’s Mission church he was looking at the only church building in the deanery of Algoma, and the only stone church in the whole of the diocese. There were no rectories and no episcopal residence. That small mission church eventually became the pro cathedral for the diocese and then the Cathedral itself. Naming St. Luke’s the Cathedral was the last act made by Bishop Sullivan after he announced his retirement in 1896. From small beginnings to what we have today… now that’s a reason to give thanks.
We give thanks too for the founding fathers and mothers of St. Luke’s... men and women doing everything they could to make a go of it for their families and their future. We remember some of them who took their place in the councils of the church whose names we see in stained glass windows and plaques honouring them. There are many more who aren’t remembered by anybody and so we remember and honour them today because they had something in common with us – they had the gift of faith… they believed in a loving God who created the heavens and the earth and they wanted to worship Him and live out their lives in his name as his disciples. They set aside a holy place on a small plot of land to come together to worship him.
We give thanks for their faith and dedication through good times and bad, times of war and times of peace; times of prosperity and times of hardship, times of belief and unbelief - and today I give thanks for all of you, because more than a mission church, a pro cathedral or a stunningly beautiful cathedral building like ours, this church is the whole people of God who for over 100 years have come to it to pray and sing, break bread and break open the Word of God, make promises, shed a tear or two, remember loved ones long gone, delight in the little ones now present, and do all the things that makes a church a church.
I still find it strange when I’m told that this is ‘my cathedral’ because I’m hardly ever here on Sundays. But travelling to the far flung corners of the diocese over the last eight months has made me realize more and more that the Bishop is the symbol of unity and that this is where the diocese imagines me.
Today I give thanks for your role as the Cathedral church in Algoma. To many of you this may be your family church but you have a particularly important role to play in the Diocese as being the diocesan family church also – the central sacred space in which we gather for significant events in our life together – the opening worship of Synod and clergy conferences, episcopal elections, the consecration of Bishops, and ordinations to name but a few.
I know, because I’ve seen it firsthand just how much work goes into preparing for these events, and you have a Dean and a group of people who do that very well. Nothing speaks louder to a diocesan family than the welcome they find when they come to Their Cathedral. In the gospel today we heard that when Jesus came to Nazareth he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He was rooted in his faith and the synagogue is where he wanted and needed to be. Over the years I have been a pilgrim, like Jesus, travelling from Sudbury to SSM for synods and ordinations and elections and I have seen the excitement of others when we met up in Timmies in Blind River…all coming home to pray in their Cathedral. Never underestimate the ministry of hospitality that you offer to your diocesan family and the difference that welcome means. Some of them have never sung with an organ or heard a choir or experienced worship in such a large space. Even as they find a welcome, may they find this to be a place of hope and healing. That would make your patron saint proud. Cherish the God gifts you have been given.
“To God be the glory who great things has done……
”It would be easy for us to sit back and relax in our comfortable pews to celebrate but today’s gospel will not allow to do that…
We find Jesus at the start of his ministry back in his hometown of Nazareth along with the comfortable people of the congregation in their comfortable pews. He’s Mary’s boy and is known and loved by the community as the kid down the road – the carpenter’s son. But all of this is about to change as Jesus is handed an ancient scroll to read. He chooses to read a passage from the prophet Isaiah that is both challenging and difficult for those who hear it.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4: 18-21)
When Isaiah first spoke these words they were to the Hebrew people who had returned to their homeland after 70 years in exile. They’d arrived back with great optimism and hopefulness that things would be different now that they were back home. But that didn’t happen – in fact life became very difficult for them. Their optimism was abruptly challenged by tremendous economic difficulties. With few financial resources, meager food supplies, and harsh weather conditions, the people found the task of rebuilding their once proud homeland next to impossible. They had come home to a forsaken and abandoned city in ruins. Whenever I read this passage I cannot help but think of the millions of refugees standing outside their homelands wanting to return, but seeing only the ruins of their once beloved cities and homes. It’s a frightening picture.
And the worst thing of all for the Israelites was that in the midst of all of this God seemed silent. They desperately needed to hear a message of hope.
A word of hope. As Jesus sat down in the temple, he spoke these words to herald what his purpose and mission were going to be. These words are Jesus’s State of the Union address; they are his moral agenda. The good news, Jesus says, is for the poor and the oppressed, those who find themselves living at the margins of society; those like him who had never tasted privilege, who had nowhere to rest their head at night, who often don’t know where their next meal is coming from; who are discriminated against because of their class, colour, creed or sexual orientation. Those who feel they do not belong in a place like this.
At the end of it, Jesus looks up at the gathering of people in the Temple and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (vs. 21)
A new era has dawned and Jesus is the new beginning the prophet refers to. He is The Anointed One; God’s chosen one who will be a bearer of good news to those who need encouraging, a teacher, a healer, and bringer of freedom to those who are imprisoned in any way. In his lifetime Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in a thousand ways.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are persecuted”, says Jesus, and the words are true, even though those who hear them are no better off than before. His presence and touch brought healing and wholeness. “I do choose. Be made clean,” he tells the leper, and he is cleansed. “Little girl, get up” he says and a child is raised from the dead. “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid” he tells the terrified disciples in the boat, and the storm is calmed. And then he turns to all of us, his would be followers and says: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” And that is what we are, and must be even though we might be feeling decidedly dim or flavourless at the time.
As Jesus made that text his own, if favour, comfort, gladness, building, and repairing are the ways Jesus did ministry, then this is a pattern he is asking us to follow too, especially as it finds bringing hope to people who find themselves on the margins of our society or in our churches. Many of these people only know a God who appears far away and silent.
There are two stories happening here today…there is the Cathedral’s story that is full and rich and for which we give thanks. And then there is Jesus’s story told through the lens of Luke’s words that wants to converge with your story and become one with the Cathedral’s. Because we know who and whose we are we have it in us to be Christs to each other in here and to those who may never enter those doors. On this side of heaven, in the kingdom of God on earth it is our business to speak words of love with our hearts and to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel as Luke did when he wrote it all down for us to read.
Can we speak a words of hope, comfort and good news as Isaiah did in his time, as Jesus did in his. On the surface they may sound like they are just a band aid in the face of a terminal illness but let me tell you those ancient words still have the power to help and to heal, to set the world ablaze; to challenge the status quo, and to remind us all that God is still at work among us, and that we have a part to play in the remaking of the world as God intends it to be.
God gives us no other day than today to bring good news to the poor; release to the captives; sight to the blind; freedom to the oppressed and new beginnings to all who have failed. May this Scripture be fulfilled in our hearing today.