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St. Luke, Covenant & Healing

The Feast Day of St. Luke the Physician

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Today is the feast day of our namesake, St. Luke the Physician. The word physician comes from the Greek for “one who heals.” We hear praises of physicians in our first reading from Sirach. Sirach, by the way, is a Jewish text written over a century before Jesus was born that was taken out of the Protestant biblical canon by Martin Luther during the Reformation. In case you were wondering why you haven’t heard of it.

“Honor physicians for their services,” Sirach says, “for the Lord created them; for their gift of healing comes from the Most High.”

In the three and a half years I’ve been here, several people have commented to me about how the name fits our community. Or perhaps this community fits the name. We were established as The Parish of St. Luke the Physician more than half a century ago. I don’t know what kind of community that initial gathering was. Who they were, what they valued, why establishing a church felt important to them. Why they picked the name St. Luke’s—whether it was prayerfully intentional or just the name of one of the big-time saints that they wanted to claim.

What I do know is that this parish has been through its ups and downs. We heard Jim Stumpf talk last week about when St. Luke’s had 150 members and two services every Sunday. Many of us have heard the story of the conflict that happened here when the larger Episcopal Church was roiled in debate about homosexuality. Several people left this community. And some of you were here when worship dwindled to 15 people and there were rumblings about closing our doors..

There has been theological conflict in this community of St. Luke’s. There has been spiritual injury and interpersonal illness. And there has been mending, nurturing, healing. Deep healing.

As you know, taking the Hippocratic Oath is an important tradition for new physicians. We readily recognize one part of it: First, do no harm. Except no version of this oath, old or new, actually contains those exact words. Instead, the oath that physicians take today includes:

“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.” Or “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being.”

This is less of an oath, actually, and more of a covenant. An oath is a promise someone makes to oneself, or a general commitment to think or behave in a particular way. But a covenant is a promise made between two parties. God with Noah or Moses or the Israelites. Ruth with Naomi. A covenant assumes the importance of relationship, of care and concern that mutually benefit all who make the promise, who enter into covenant with each other.

So when physicians take the Hippocratic Oath, they’re actually entering into covenant with every patient they will treat in the course of their practice.

And in today’s gospel, I hear Jesus making a covenant with the world.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In his ministry, and even in his death, Jesus strives to fulfill that covenant with every person he encounters, constantly setting people free from illness and injury, from unjust judgment and narrow religion.

Through this covenant, the words taken from Isaiah, declared in the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus is the ultimate physician, the greatest healer.

The modern Hippocratic Oath says, “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.” To me, this is what covenant is all about. Agreeing to be with one another in loving, respectful, safe, and life-living ways so that we can prevent harm, so that we can live in health together.

This doesn’t mean we’ll prevent conflict. Where two or three people are gathered, there Jesus is, but also there conflict is. It’s inevitable. We’re all different. We all have different ideas about how things should be, and that’s a good thing. That’s how we grow, how we learn to love one another better. But it’s how we agree to be with one another in conflict that’s important. Covenant is how we practice being with one another when things are good so that when conflict arises, we already have a loving, respectful, safe, and live-giving container to hold it. To heal the small wounds before they fester into something dangerous.

Just like the Hippocratic Oath gives physicians and patients a container to hold whatever comes their way, to heal.

And today, we renew covenant with one another. First, through our pledges. Our stewardship covenant calls us to give of ourselves, our time, our skills, our money, to build up the Body of Christ right here in this community, and to be built up, each of us, in God’s love through this community.

But I also invite us to enter into covenant in another way. Not all of you may know it, but I, as your rector, have a formal covenant with you, with this Parish of St. Luke the Physician. The Vestry reviews it every year, and the Bishop and your Senior Warden sign it. It mostly details what your expectations of me are, but I’ve included another covenant within this formal covenant that details how we will be in healthy, compassionate relationship with each other, you with me and me with you. The Vestry reviewed it at our meeting last Sunday, and they thought it would be helpful to adapt it for our whole community and the ways we agree to be with one another, particularly when conflict arises.

These Ten Rules for Respect are in your bulletin. I’m going to read them aloud. They are adapted from the Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia.

  1. If you have a problem with somebody, go directly to that person (privately).

  2. If someone has a problem with another person and comes to you, send them to the person they have a problem with.

  3. If someone consistently will not go to the person they’re having a problem with, say to them, “Let’s go to Bill/Mary/Pat (whomever) together. I am sure they will see us about this.”

  4. If you go to Rev. Sara with a problem about someone else, she will support you in talking directly to that person, including offering to be present to help facilitate that conversation, if needed.

  5. Be careful how you interpret another person; let that person do that themself. On matters that are unclear, do not feel pressured to interpret another’s feelings or thoughts. It is easy to misinterpret intentions.

  6. If it’s confidential, don’t share it with others. If anyone comes to you in confidence, don’t tell anyone unless a) the person is going to harm themself, b) the person is going to physically harm someone else, c) a child has been physically or sexually abused. Please tell Rev. Sara immediately if you hear about any of these three things.

  7. Do not respond to unsigned letters or notes. Do not engage in writing anonymous letters or notes to others. Your rector and Vestry do not read or respond to anonymous letters or notes.

  8. Do not manipulate and do not be manipulated by others.

  9. Remember that your feeling about something or someone is not everyone's feeling. Instead of assuming, be curious.

  10. When in doubt, just say it or ask it. The only unhelpful questions are those that don’t get asked. At the end of the day, our relationships with one another are the most important things. If you have a concern, pray and then (if led) speak up. If you are asked a question, answer it if you can, but only if it can be answered without misrepresenting something or someone, or breaking a confidence.

Our reading from Sirach says, “God’s works will never be finished; and from God health spreads over all the earth.” We will all fail in our covenant sometimes. I will fail at it sometimes. Just as the Israelites failed sometimes. But it is in our striving to live into the covenant, to course-correct when we don’t, that we honor our namesake, St. Luke, and find health and healing. Amen.

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