Sermon: October 22, 2017

Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh

St. Luke’s, Portland

October 22, 2017; St Luke’s Day: Ecclesiasticus 38:1-14 2 Timothy 4:5-13 Luke 4:14-21

The year was 1866. The country was recovering from the Civil War, Portland was rebuilding after having burned to the ground, and the people had an idea. They would build a great cathedral to show that this great city and great nation would live again. Resurgam![1] In the summer of 1867 Henry Adams Neely, second bishop of Maine, laid the cornerstone the cathedral you are sitting in today. Neely’s cathedral would be supported by the biggest congregation in the diocese of Maine – a congregation known as St. Luke’s which would move here from a church that stood where Joe’s Smoke Shop now stands.  On the front of our bulletin is a photocopy of a poster that was used to tell people about this cathedral when it first opened.  It reveals some important points: Worship was the number one priority, with services offered practically all the time. St. Luke’s was built at the height the Oxford Movement, a period in which Gothic architecture, medieval mysticism and sacramental spirituality were used to give people who lived in grimy gray world of the Industrial Revolution a vision of heaven, to lift up their eyes and their spirits, and help them see and experience the majesty and mystery of God. As illustrated so well in the Rose Window, this cathedral was built with an expansive view of Jesus as the Christ of the cosmos who would transform not just our lives and our world but the universe itself.

The high church Oxford movement was intimately tied with the Social Gospel movement, a focus on what today we might call social justice and outreach. That poster lists a sewing school, employment society, and classes for adults and children as part of St. Luke’s. Probably one of the most innovative items is the “free sittings” referred to in the last line. In that period, most churches supported themselves through pew rents, with the most wealthy seated prominently in front. “Free sittings” was an act of radical hospitality, equality and inclusion that transcended issues of class and race. It was both a statement that all were welcome and an expectation that all would support the cathedral through their offerings – each idea very ahead of their time. This isn’t the easiest way to balance a budget. Notice that the sketch of the cathedral used in the flier shows a tower and chapel that were never built because of lack of funds. Like us, they couldn’t afford to do everything they wanted – but like us they accomplished a great deal.  With its first service on Christmas Day of 1868, this cathedral’s theology was profoundly incarnational, focused on the presence of God through the sacraments and through mission and ministry in daily life. Called the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, this place was meant not just to be a church for its own congregation but also a cathedral for the city. It was one of the first cathedrals in the United States built as a cathedral from the ground up and claimed this role right away. [2] Did you notice on that poster that St. Luke’s ran an employment center at city hall?  Collaboration with and serving the needs the wider community and the diocese have been part of this place for 150 years.  In his book American Nations, Portland author Colin Woodard describes how the DNA is set for a region by its first settlers. The DNA for St. Luke’s was set right at the beginning. To use the words of a friend of mine, “if God had a plan for St. Luke’s, you would have seen it at the start.” This poster shows how much that is true. It is not a mistake that we currently have as many people coming here on Tuesday morning as we do on Sundays. That’s in our DNA. That’s we are… and who we have been for a long long time.

Of course, we have a name and a tradition that go back much farther than 150 years. Naming churches in honor seems a bit odd to our modern ears. However, as much as new congregations might default to the bland title of “Community church” or use some edgy sort of name devised by a marketing expert, saint names remain useful as models for our life together as a community of faith. This is the certainly the case of Luke, whose name we bear and whose feast day we celebrate today. Luke is recognized the author of the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The scriptures mention Luke as a traveling companion of Paul, who referred to him as “my beloved Physician” and today’s letter from Timothy suggests that Luke stayed with Paul to care for him at the end of his life. Tradition says that Luke was also a physician for Mary in her old age, and that it was from Mary that Luke received many of the favorite stories of our faith, such as those of the shepherds going to the manger in Bethlehem and the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son – stories which the other gospel writers did not know. In his gospel, Luke shows himself to be a historian, interested in both sharing history that happened in the past and in celebrating history as it is being made in the present. Luke doesn’t try to wrap his work in theological language but rather focuses on a real people and stories of real life. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are clear: The Holy Spirit is moving.  God is at work in the world. Jesus was and is a real person who lived in a real place in a real time. Through Jesus, God’s kingdom is being revealed right here and right now, “in our hearing.” As a sign of that kingdom, healing is happening around us and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ story continues in us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be his body here on earth…. even as he has ascended into heaven.

Healer and historian, source of stories, proclaimer of the Holy Spirit, giver of glimmers of the Kingdom of God. These are all attributes of St. Luke. On this St. Luke’s day, I suggest that they are also attributes of this cathedral and people that share his name.  A few years ago, one of my Bangor Seminary students expressed frustration about our mission “to restore all people to unity with God and one another in Jesus Christ.” She was upset because to her it implied that things weren’t quite right in our relationships with others and with God. I would suggest that it doesn’t take much looking around to realize this is true. Our relationships with God and our neighbor can indeed be better. Our lives and our world are not the way God created them to be. Our society does not yet reflect the kingdom Jesus sought to usher in. St. Luke and St. Luke’s offer glimmers of hope that it doesn’t need to that way. St. Luke shows that change is possible and St. Luke’s shows that a cathedral can be the catalyst to bring it about. This is what brought this place into existence 150 years ago, and what carries us forward today. At the Time and Talent Fair following this service, you will have the opportunity to do them yourself.

The church, after all, is not a building but a people. As our capital campaign reminds us, we are what the bible calls “living stones,” the body of Christ. The history we celebrate is not about of a  building but of beloved community, 8 bishops, 15 deans, and numerous other clergy,  lay leaders, members and staff who have experienced and served God in this place. It is a history of baptisms, weddings, funerals and other services that number in the thousands, of even more people who have come here for help and found solace and comfort, enveloped themselves in spirituality and mystery and found themselves in the presence of healing love of God.  If that happened to them, it can happen to you. Did you notice on that flier that all the activities were surrounded by worship and saturated with prayer? St. Luke’s was created as a sort of soul food feeding spiritual fitness center, a God-gym where people could get their spiritual muscles back in shape and prepare themselves for running the race and doing what needed to be done. This is important because by honoring physicians, encouraging Timothy to fight the good fight, and having Jesus claim that the scriptures are being fulfilled through him, our readings tell us that God works through human hands.  If people are going to discover Luke, St. Luke’s, or the Jesus who is behind it all, they will do that through us. It doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. None of us are. We are all wounded healers in need of healing and reconcilers in need of reconciliation. With the Holy Spirit, we can also be the body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit has been working in and through St. Luke’s and St. Lukans for 150 years and God willing, will continue for many many years to come. That’s why as we celebrate St. Luke and St. Luke’s we are also celebrating you. Thanks be to you. Thanks be to God.

[1]                 The motto of the city of Portland “I will rise again”

[2]                 While St. Luke’s has long thought of itself as the first, this title  also claimed by the Cathedral in Fairbault, Minnesota, which may be historically correct. Nonetheless, the vision remains the same!