Last Sunday in the Church of England we kept the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the gospel that bears his name as well as the Acts of the Apostles, and who also accompanied Saint Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
During my childhood one of the most popular toys to be introduced was Action Man. For those of you who have no idea what an Action Man is let me briefly explain. It was introduced in the UK 1966 – a fully pose-able action figure about a foot tall of a soldier, sailor or airman complete with uniform. When they first came out just about every boy wanted one. I have to admit that I never had one – and to be honest I never really wanted one, but I think I must have been unique. But for a while they were top of every boy’s wanted list. Except me, obviously.
Over the years they started to introduce additions to the range. In time, in addition to the soldier, the sailor and the airman you could get a tank commander, lifeboatman, space ranger, jungle explorer – the list just grew. One model that they never introduced – I can’t think why – was evangelist action man. I think they may have missed a trick there, but clearly they didn’t know anything about Saint Luke.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, and I want you to think of Luke as an Action Man. And to help us do that our readings, very conveniently, all have something to teach us about action – about being busy – about our response to God, God the Creator, who himself is always active. Luke’s writings, in particular, are full of action, and highlight how a life of action is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus. Luke himself was to accompany Saint Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
In the reading from Acts we see Paul and Timothy urged by the Macedonian – traditionally believed to be Luke – to cross over to Macedonia to preach the gospel. And it’s clear that this is the point at which Luke joins Paul for the first time – just look at how the writer starts by talking about ‘they’, but immediately after the vision switches to ‘we’. Luke in action right from the start! A reminder of the call to all of us to get involved in the preaching of the good news of Christ.
Then there is the reading from the second letter to Timothy, from Saint Paul. Paul is older now, an old man calmly facing death – he knows he is going to be taken to Rome, he knows the result of the “arranged” trial there long before he even starts on the journey. He looks back over a ministry packed with action – and he still would like to fit in some reading, and some further writing up of his memoirs – if only Timothy will bring the books and his notebooks he left in Troas.
Above all the Gospel makes us conscious of the need for action in the service of God; Jesus is shown sending out thirty-five couples of disciples, telling them to prepare the way before him. Luke is the only evangelist who mentions this episode; it seems to go in with his special interest in activity. He is very strong on action.
It is in Luke’s gospel that we have the parable of the Good Samaritan, who was certainly a man of action; the story of Zacchaeus, who so badly wanted to see Jesus that he was prepared to make a fool of himself and climb a tree. It is also Luke who gives us the stories of Gabriel coming from God to announce the news of a birth to Mary, and of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and of the birth of Jesus himself among the animals. Since Luke never knew Jesus and since only Mary could have known the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus it has been the tradition since the early church that Mary knew Luke and told him these things. Saint Luke likes to portray people who ‘do’ things. And part two of Luke’s gospel is of course the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us everything by its name.
These are not just examples to follow. All three readings are deeply theological. That is, they give us the reason why we should be people of action. The reason is, that this is the way we respond to God, who is also active in the world – God does not simply sit back and let things follow their own course. It was perhaps best put by Saint Teresa of Avila, whose feast day was last Thursday. She wrote:
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through
which he is to look out into the world;
yours are the feet with which
he is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which
he is to bless us now.
Probably she was talking to a priest when she first said that but she might just as easily have been talking to any Christian man or woman.
But when the writer of 2 Timothy says “Do all the duties of your calling” he means more than that. He means prayer too – and this is where we often slip as Christians. When we are under pressure, when time seems short or life particularly difficult, the first thing that often starts to go is prayer. We think that God will understand and forgive. So he does. But that is not an excuse. Prayer is not for God’s benefit, it is for ours. One of the best definitions of prayer that I know also comes from Saint Teresa:
Prayer is knowing, remembering, considering,
that I am always in the presence of God,
who is closer than breathing,
Closer than hands and feet.
If we are too busy to take that to heart, too busy to pray, we are letting go of the very thing that make us Christian – our relationship with God through Jesus.
Luke may well be an Action Man. But he is also equally concerned about prayer – because Luke also knows the value of being properly prepared for our action. Any Action Man – soldier, sailor or airman, knows the need for proper preparation before going into action. So it is with Christians, and for us that means prayer. Luke is always showing us Jesus at prayer. And he is the one who gives us that story about Martha, who rushed around, and Mary who chose the better part and sat at the feet of Jesus and listened.
Our prayer life is absolutely crucial. Each of us needs to ask ourselves – are we praying enough – at home – or with our brothers and sisters in Church? Could we pray more? Could we spend an extra few minutes each day in prayer? For prayer must undergird everything we do for Christ. It is for our sake and the sake of the work we are doing as Christ’s body in this place.
Now, to finish, this is the point at which I should ask you all to be, like Saint Luke, an evangelist Action Man. But clearly that would be sexist. I don’t think that they ever introduced an Action Woman figure, and I don’t think Barbie quite fills the bill.
So – be an evangelist Action Person. That’s the message that comes out of our readings this morning. That people who follow Jesus need to be active in the spreading of the gospel, the good news about Jesus. Be people of action for Jesus, with everything you do undergirded with prayer.