Quoth the Raven

SERMON 

Sunday 18 October, 2020 

Feast of St Luke, Evangelist and Martyr 

Jeremiah 8.22 – 9.3 

Psalm 145.10-18 

2 Timothy 4.9-17a 

Luke 10.1-9  

Quoth the Raven ©Suzanne Grimmett 

Is there no balm in Gilead? 

 Is there no physician there? 

Why then has the health of my poor people 

 not been restored? Jeremiah 8.22 

When across the globe we are in the grip of a pandemic, when  the tumultuous pre-election days in the US are dominating the  news, and we worry about the future of climate and our planet, this cry from Jeremiah, whether it be God or the prophet  speaking, is one that could come from our own hearts. Where  can healing be found? 

Today we celebrate St Luke as the physician and the Gentile  doctor who decided to set down ‘an orderly account’ of the  witnesses to life and truth revealed in Jesus the Christ. Not  purely concerned with physical healing, Luke’s Gospel shows  his particular concern for the poor, for victims of injustice, and  for a gospel that is liberating good news not just for some, but  for everyone. It is to Luke, for instance, that the gift of the  Magnificat comes to us; a clear declaration of the upside down  nature of Jesus’ reign. The kingdom of God has arrived in one  who puts down the mighty from their thrones, and exalts those  of low degree, who has filled the hungry with good things, and  sends the rich away empty (Lk 1:52-53). The healing and  wholeness offered in Jesus is as much for the societies in  which we live as it is for our individual bodies. The health of  any people is always caught up in the health of all people.

In our text today we have the account of the sending out of the  disciples to bring this good news and healing. The disciples are instructed to come in peace and leave in peace, not  pushing or manipulating or coercing but offering the gift of  themselves and the message they bring. They are to embody  the kingdom. Where there is hostility or rejection of the peace  being offered they are told by Jesus simply to allow it to return  to them so they may continue on their way. No one is being  forced to do or think or be anything; they are simply offered  the gift.  

This story of the mission of the seventy is a healthy corrective  to an understanding of religion as something that belongs to  the professionals. Even in our own tradition the church has  suffered from the clericalism that would rob the community of  Christ of the power of its vocation. The idea of laity as passive  recipients of religion whose responsibility is best summed up  in the words ‘believe, pray, obey, and pay’ represents a tragic  loss to the kingdom envisioned when all the baptised are sent into the world, partners with Christ.  

Jesus never promises this task will be easy, but rather that his  disciples will be ‘like lambs in the midst of wolves.’ Apparently, peace and healing can be threatening. The confines of self created prisons can seem to be safe havens that need  defending. In the section that follows today’s reading when the  disciples return with joy, Jesus tells them; 

“I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.  See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and  scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and  nothing will hurt you.” 

The disciples go out in Jesus’ name to share the peace of God  that is for all people, and they find as they bear this message they are able to overcome evil. Snakes and scorpions are 

normally what we would walk around to avoid, but Jesus’ power leads them to step on them and destroy them. What is  being symbolised here is that evil can be confronted because  God has put on flesh and we are now together, cooperating  with the ongoing creation and recreation of the world. In  Luke’s narrative, the world is being made whole because God  is now in the world with us, healing creation from within as one  disciple after another is “sent out”. 

But what are we being healed from? Certainly Jesus promises  we shall not be harmed, but this is not to be translated as  escaping suffering. This is something that Jesus himself did  not escape, and neither did his disciples who also drank from  that same painful cup. What is being promised here is that the  kind of death which haunts us will not ever come to pass.  Physical death will happen, but we need not fear the  separation from others and from love itself. God is with us in  our material reality, walking with us through life and beyond the barrier of death itself. The healing proclaimed in Luke’s  Gospel is the promise that the powers of this world cannot  stand in the way of the good news that God is eternally and  unchangeably for all of us. 

In the prophet Jeremiah’s time the town of Gilead was famous for producing balms of healing. Yet Jeremiah is known as the  weeping prophet because he questions whether such a balm  to heal the brokenness of the people can be found or a physician to bring relief from their suffering. Lament is the first  powerful word that something is very wrong. Many of us have  been in that place when we have wondered if there will ever be  a cure, whether the complexity of our problems or our past  trauma can be overcome, whether our poverty or  unemployment will ever change, or if the ache in our chest  which reminds us daily of the loved one we have lost will ever  go away. The idea of finding a healing salve to save us from  the horror of separation that haunts us has been often used symbolically in mythologies. It appears in the surreal poem,  The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, where the narrator, visited by a  talking raven, mourns the death of the woman he loved. He  entreats the bird for hope and yet finds only despair; 

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore— Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!” Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

In our moments of pain we might believe the raven, a  messenger sent from the darkness, tempting us to abandon  ourselves to the hopeless story of finality and separation.  ‘Nevermore’ is the word of the father of lies. 

Is there a balm in Gilead? I believe St Luke, the physician, St  Luke the Gentile, St Luke the friend of the poor has shown us  the way to that healing balm in the orderly account he has set forth in the Gospel that bears his name. The powers and  principalities that rule by fear and violence…the barriers that  divide us from one another… the lying voice that whispers that  nothing will ever change and that we are always and eternally  on our own….all this has been overcome by the God who  would so invest in creation as to join it, and ask only that we  join in too. 

This is the story of the incarnation narrated in Luke’s Gospel,  from the foretelling of birth to the quiet sneaking into the world  of a God who is laid in a manger. This is the story of the Alpha  and Omega, the one who has declared that our existence is  not defined by death but by resurrection. Luke invites us into  this story not as God followers, but God bearers, and it is in  living and ministering together as the body of Christ that we  find our healing. In the joy of this shared life, it is Christ who  raises a new song in our hearts, “Evermore and evermore.” +Amen.

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