Sunday after Ascension, 2015

Evensong: 17th May 2015

Isaiah 61, Luke 4:14-21: Sunday after Ascension

The Gospel of Luke was called by the French Scholar, Ernst Renan ‘The most beautiful book in the world’. Why did he feel called to describe it in this way? Firstly, I think because it is all about good news, and there is always something lovely about good news. If the Greeks wanted to send good news they couldn’t email it or use Facebook or Twitter; they had to send a person and this person was the aggelos, from where we get the word angel, a messenger appointed by God. The Gospel of Luke is also a beautiful book because the good news it speaks about, which is centred in the life and ministry of Jesus, is about leading people into wholeness and completeness of life. In this fragmented world in which we live we often experience fragmented and disjointed lives. We long for a sense of wholeness that gives us contentment and peace. Well, says St Luke, the message that I’m writing about has just such a purpose because it’s all about reconciliation. And thirdly, the gospel of St Luke is a beautiful book because of its inclusion. Luke was writing to people who knew what it was like to be excluded – whether for example they were women, slaves or non-Jewish believers. And he tells them that the good news he is writing about is for them; indeed it is so much for them that it brings them into the centre of the community of faith, often displacing those who previously were there. The Prophecy of Isaiah has often been called the ‘Fifth Gospel’, and Isaiah is called the ‘Evangelist Prophet’. Why is this so? Well, if we reflect on the sacred writings that the early church had at its disposal we realise that there was no New Testament as we know it. The gospels that we love only reached written form some forty or so years after the death of Jesus. Early Christians had only the Jewish Scriptures, what we have in our Bible as the Old Testament. So they turned to it to help them understand the life, mission and ministry of Jesus. They found some of the Psalms to be of immense help, and also some of the Minor Prophets. But above all they turned to the prophecy of Isaiah. In Isaiah’s writings they recognised Jesus; the prophetic words helped them understand who Jesus was and what he had come to do. And this is not surprising because our New Testament readings this evening bring both Isaiah and St Luke together; and it is Jesus who does this. At the beginning of his public ministry he is in the Synagogue. He opens the scroll at the reading for the day and it is in the book of Isaiah and chapter sixty one. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’. Isaiah’s words should be at the heart of the Christian church and they should be there because they take us to the heart of God, and also to the heart of our mission to the world. They begin by telling us that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us just as it was upon Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Next week we celebrate the birthday of the church, when on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon on the early Apostles and followers of Jesus. The Holy Spirit came down and filled them with signs of glory and has never left, even if sometimes it may feel that he has. Pentecost bids us rediscover the Holy Spirit in our church life, providing power and confidence to be proclaimers of the good news in word and deed. The Holy Spirit is everywhere in St Luke; it is the most Spirit-soaked of all the Gospels. And it bids us to become the most Spirit-soaked church that we can: alive to the voice of the Spirit, sensitive to the urgings of the Spirit; and continually bearing the fruit of the Spirit. There is a wonderful exhibition installed in Holy Trinity Church by Richard Seed when he was Archdeacon of York and Rector of Holy Trinity Micklegate. Part of it is a large copy of a well-known drawing of Medieval York. The map shows all the church and ecclesiastical buildings, the monasteries and convents. Most of the latter of these have now gone; only the churches remain and some of these now have other uses – pubs or concert halls. St Lawrence’s church was rebuilt in late Victorian times as a temple to the recovery of the Anglo-Catholic faith. They built big in those days; and they had to, for the dignity of worship drew many hundreds to worship here. You stand at this time at the threshold of a new chapter in your history. And as you do so, listen to Isaiah’s words. ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations’. I don’t believe that we need have further decline in our churches and the reason for this is that I believe God is the great rebuilder and restorer. And I think Isaiah would agree with me! There is one more thing that I believe Isaiah would have us understand from this wonderful sixty first chapter and it is this. God cannot rebuild our ancient places unless we ourselves are renewed in heart, mind and soul. It’s obvious from the closing words of chapter sixty one that Isaiah has just been to his wardrobe. He moved in well-connected circles so dress was important to him. But as he stood there wondering what he should wear, God seized his mind. Clothes don’t make a man God tells him. There is greater clothing. ‘I delight greatly in the Lord; my spirit rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels’. Next Sunday we shall be reminded of the Holy Spirit who makes all things new. Let us pray that he will begin with us. And if we do so we shall know that we have understood both St Luke and the Prophet Isaiah. And everyone will acknowledge that we are a people the Lord has blessed. Rev’d Eric Robinson

An active Church of England church in York, between the busy University of York campus and the ancient city walls – serving the Parish of St Lawrence -with-St Nicholas with Christian prayer, worship, fellowship, hospitality, and charity.