Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, our patron saint. And there’s so much to say! About Luke who was a physician, an evangelist, an early Gentile convert to Christianity and the writer of over one quarter of the content of the New Testament. And about St. Luke’s, Ballard – this 130 year old start-up congregation with a rich, roller coaster-like history that makes it quirky, beloved, reviled and unique.
Every three years the liturgical churches are guided by the words of Luke the Evangelist Sunday by Sunday as we work through his gospel in Year C of the Lectionary and add in readings from his Acts of the Apostles for a number of months. Through his eyes we see social outcasts like lepers and Samaritans who are made whole and well in body, mind and spirit. We experience the power of God’s Spirit guiding and giving courage to followers of Jesus as they make risky journeys of love for the sake of the gospel. We hear Mother Mary’s Magnificat praising the God who turns the world upside down on behalf of the poor and lowly. We join shepherds in their fields by night, prisoners whose jail doors have been blown open and prodigal sons who are freed and forgiven by the grace and mercy of God.
There’s plenty of drama in Luke-Acts. Just as there has been plenty of drama in Luke’s namesake congregation here in Ballard. Despite its central location in the neighborhood, it has often been a church on the margins. First as an Episcopal Church in a neighborhood that was originally, overwhelmingly Scandinavian and Lutheran. Then as a congregation of mostly working-class people of modest means in a denomination often known for wealth and status. For the first 75 years it moved locations, changed names and nearly closed any number of times. It had trouble holding onto clergy and paying its bills.
When growth and attention finally came to St. Luke’s, Ballard it came in the form of the charismatic revival movement that brought both renewal and notoriety to this little corner of the world. The dramatic power of the Holy Spirit energized this little church, brought them closer to Jesus and more willing to reach out in love and faith to others. All sorts of people flocked here from every social and religious background as well as atheists and agnostics from all over this city, the country and the world. Newsweek and Time had cover stories on the Rector, Dennis Bennett and the congregation. Thousands would visit each week at one of 4 Sunday services or the weeknight gatherings on Tuesdays and Fridays.
It was in this place that people were inspired and changed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. People from widely different backgrounds experienced love in such a profound way that they grew in love for one another across the divisions that normally keep us separate. Former prisoners came to find freedom and acceptance. Those who had been blinded by hatred or addiction or the rat race towards success recovered their sight and began to respond to the beauty of the Lord.
Lots of marriages began here and many others were saved. Individuals who were converted or renewed in their faith went back to their own congregations or even out into the world to share the love of God with others. Countless others discovered their vocation of Christian ministry within the church or in their secular occupation. This little church was an incubator for movements of the Spirit that are still growing all over the world.
And 30 years ago, one small prayer group decided to start feeding lunch to the hungry in the neighborhood and to the seasonal workers and alcoholics who were hanging out in Ballard. Most of us know what has happened since!
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke. But both Luke the Evangelist and Physician and the rich history of this congregation are pointing away from themselves to someone greater. The miracles and healings in Luke and Acts point to Jesus.
The powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian community points to Jesus. The charismatic renewal movement here in Ballard in the second half of the twentieth century points to Jesus. Even the prophet Isaiah proclaimed by Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth reveal the source of life and love being fulfilled in Jesus.
Because of these witnesses we too are called forward into a new experience of renewal and healing by the power of the Holy Spirit. In a very secular age, in a very secular city, we are called to live as people of faith, hope and love, to be witnesses to Jesus. We want, we need to experience the Spirit that breaks down divisions, that binds up the wounds of racial hatred, that frees those bound up in addiction and depression. We need a renewed vision of community that brings people together in love even when they don’t like one another.
We want, we need the power of God to change our careless ways that are dealing death to the planet we love. We need the courage of the Spirit to step out sacrificially to care for more than just our own wellbeing. We want to be part of a movement of the Spirit that renews the face of the earth.
But here we are, this Sunday, just a small group of characters, peculiar treasures. We are not a mega church. We are not successful or rich or acclaimed. We don’t have a ton of resources and we struggle with our own lack of racial diversity, our own busyness that makes it hard to develop a rich spiritual life, our own doubts and fears that make it hard to believe God would call us to do something risky or demanding in Jesus’s name.
And we ourselves are wounded. Maybe you identify with those who are trapped by jobs and responsibilities that take all your time and energy and leave you very little for yourself, let alone the Spirit. Maybe you find yourself bound by behaviors that you know are not good for you or helpful to others and leave you feeling ashamed and filled with self-loathing.
Some are facing physical and psychological challenges that make it hard to believe that you will ever feel well again. Or you may be caring for loved ones under tremendously difficult circumstances. Despair can get a hold of us and make it hard to hear the life-giving voice of the Spirit. Doubt can produce fear that blinds us to our own beauty and the beauty of the world around us. Our own failures and the failures of those we have trusted can cause us to wall ourselves off and prevent us from trying again, loving again, caring again.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. You’re in the place of St. Luke, the physician and proclaimer of good news. You’re with fellow St. Lukans who share an experience of renewal and healing by the power of the Holy Spirit even during the darkest times. You’re at the table of Jesus where all are welcome and fed.
You may have noticed that each Sunday, a few people gather by the prayer candles and the baptismal font to pray for healing in body, mind and spirit. Maybe you’ve participated. Maybe you’ve felt awkward or nervous about what’s happening and have chosen to stay away. Maybe you’re not sure what you think about healing prayer. Maybe it’s delusional, or anti-science or some form of magical thinking. Or maybe it’s just way too public and exposed!
Today we will offer healing prayer, laying on of hands and anointing with oil as a sacrament of the Church in a more formal way. I want to let you know what is happening and why as we prepare for this.
First of all, no one here is a healer. The source of all healing is God in Christ Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. None of those who pray for you have magical gifts. What they do have is a love for God and for you, and a desire for the greatest possible good for you. They may be your friends or even family who join me in praying for you and supporting you. They may be those who have followed Jesus in his healing ministry for many years and have experienced their own healing through God’s grace and mercy.
They may have special gifts of prayer that allow them to pray in a prayer language that goes straight from their heart to God. They offer to pray for others out of their own faith and love.
Secondly, healing prayer is not in contradiction to, or in place of good medical care. In the first reading from Sirach we heard an exhortation to honor physicians and their skills. Healing prayer accompanies appropriate treatment. It is not a last resort when all has failed. In healing prayer the focus is on God, not whatever the ailment is because this is not medical treatment. Those who pray for others lift them up to the source of light, life and love that is the Holy One, entrusting you to the God who knows every part of you.
Finally there is no right way to pray. You can pray for healing personally and quietly without involving others. You can pray in any language and with many different words or in silence. You can pray here in church with oil that has been blessed by the bishop or anywhere else you like or need to.
What matters is that you give God the opportunity to move in your heart, will and spirit. Healing and wholeness come from God but often in ways that are unexpected or unasked for. I know that when I was working as a diocesan executive in a nice office in Northern California and praying for spiritual renewal and better emotional health, I sure didn’t expect that prayer to be answered by bringing me to St. Luke’s, Ballard!
At the end of the sermon we will pray for healing for all people and their concerns in a litany of healing. Then I will go over to the side with a few others who will join me in prayer and the laying on of hands. You may come forward and stand or sit as you prefer and let us know for whom we are praying. Oil will be place on your forehead and we will put hands on your shoulders and back. If you prefer not to be touched, please let me know. Again, there is no magical or right way for healing prayer.
During the healing prayer, Ivar will be playing and there is music in your bulletin for singing. Singing is certainly one way to join in prayer. In fact, right now I’m asking Ivar to add the song “Give me Jesus” at the end since it is often the prayer of my heart and our collective spirit.
Let us pray.