Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some time in your past, you’ve probably had
the following discussion. It might’ve been just with a friend or two, or
maybe it was a game you played at a party. Maybe it was an activity you
did at a team-building event at work or school. The situation begins something
like this: “If you were stranded on an island, what five things would
you want to have with you?”
It’s pretty easy to ruin the challenge of that
discussion by coming up with obvious answers like: A ship with full fuel
tanks, a year’s supply of food and water, a radio, a map, and a compass.
Usually, though, the ground rules are set so that you aren’t allowed to have
the resources that would actually get you off the island.
So, if you’re a fan of Survivor, or Lost, or
even if you’re old enough to remember when Gilligan’s Island was filmed in
black and white, it’s something you can have fun with.
One of the questions that is often a part of
this game is: “If you could only have one book with you, what would
that book be?” Some people might say a guide to the plants and
animals of the island, or a survival manual. Others may choose a first
aid book. You could even push the edge of the rules and say: “I’d like
a book on how to build a boat.”
Most people, however, respond that they’d want
a book they have found meaningful in their lives. It might be a great
novel. An inspiring biography. A classic volume of beautiful
poetry. Most of the time, but not always, those who consider themselves
Christians will say, “I would want to have the Bible.”
Good answer, obviously. In any and all
situations, and especially when we find ourselves in difficulty, God’s Word is
where we should turn for answers. It is there—in the inspired
writings of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists—that we find truth, hope,
and inspiration. There we find warnings, encouragement, and practical
guidance for living. Most important, however, is the fact that it is
there that we find God. Not just information about God. Not
just a history of God’s creative work and His interaction with His
creation and with humanity. Not just God’s ideas and expectations
and promises. God Himself is there.
Here’s another challenging question for
you: If you had to choose only one book of the Bible’s 66, which one
would you have with you on that island? Some might say the Psalms, filled
with lovely, poetic prayers and songs. The hope and confidence in God
which is expressed there, even in the face of the many difficulties which
confront the authors, is certainly inspiring.
Some might choose the book of Revelation,
where St. John lays out the vision he had been granted of the glories of
heaven. Martin Luther might choose Galatians, where hope in Christ is
given so clearly that Luther sometimes referred to the book as “my dear
Katie” in reference to the fondness he had toward his beloved wife,
I think that if I were forced to choose just
one of the Bible’s books, I’d go with St. Luke’s Gospel account. I’m not
just saying that because it’s convenient to come up with that answer today, as
we are observing the Feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist. I’ve actually
thought that for quite some time. The reason it’s one of my favorites is
simple. Luke lays it out in his introductory verses. He writes of
the importance of having an accurate and reliable record of the fulfillment of
God’s promises. He assures his reader that he has carefully investigated
the events about which he has written.
He tells Theophilus, the recipient of his
document, that he has written an orderly account so that Theophilus can know
the certainty of the things he has been taught about the salvation God provides
us in Jesus Christ.
Luke also writes in a very detailed style,
giving us insight into things that Gentile need to know in order to understand
how God worked through the people of Israel to reveal Himself and to establish
the framework in which the Messiah would come. A major part of Luke’s
purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus is not simply the Savior of the Jews, but
the Savior of the whole world. So, it’s not just Luke’s approach to
research or his eloquent style that I find attractive about his Gospel
account. More importantly, God’s message reaches me through Luke’s words,
giving me great comfort that I, too, am among the redeemed and that I am
assured of the forgiveness of my sins and of eternal life through faith in
My fondness for Luke’s gospel is one of the
reasons that the first sentence in verse 11 from our Epistle lesson for today
struck me so powerfully. By itself, it doesn’t sound like much more than
a simple statement that Paul is making in his letter to his young protégé,
Timothy: “Luke alone is with me.”
No great confession of faith there. No
powerful prophecy of what would happen in the future. No fiery call to
repentance. No profound doctrine or spell-binding revelation of the
wonders of God or His works. Just a fact: “Luke alone is with
That sentence is pretty much what reminded me
of my fondness of Luke’s gospel account, and led to my discussion of just what
you might want or do if you had to choose what book or what book of the Bible
you would have if you were stranded, all alone. And make no
mistake: You are all alone, and when it comes right down to it, all that
stands between you and eternal isolation, torment, and despair is that
Holy Scripture is your only hope, your only
rescue, because it is there that God has chosen to reveal Himself to you.
To give Himself to you. To tell you who He is, what He
does, and sometimes—but not always—why He does it. God is in that
book, that book that too often sits dusty, unopened, unused, unexplored,
uncontemplated. He’s there, just as sure and certain as He is in the
waters of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Supper.
Don’t misunderstand me, please: I’m not
saying that having a physical Bible around is your guarantee of God’s presence
in your life. The Bible isn’t a lucky charm or talisman you can carry
around with you under your arm or in your purse to ward off danger and
evil. You can’t hope that having it in close proximity to you on the
shelf in your den or on the nightstand of your bedroom will allow you to absorb
the goodness and holiness of God’s Word.
That would be much like a foolish student who
puts his math or science book under his pillow in a hopeless attempt to absorb
some of the knowledge in it for tomorrow’s big test.
And certainly don’t think that just having
your Bible out on display where others can see it—on your desk at work or
school, or on your coffee table at home—makes you a better Christian or some
sort of valiant witness for the faith just because one of your co-workers or
friends might see it there.
God is in the Scriptures, it’s true.
That is where He is revealed to you and to me. That is where He begins
the process of bringing you to recognize your sin, to realize your need of
rescue from it, and to admit your inability to make that rescue happen by
anything within yourself. For your real predicament is not that you’re
stranded on an uninhabited island in the middle of the ocean.
Your real problem is that you’re stranded on
the island of yourself—a lifeless, sin-infested corpse floating in the
degrading cesspool of a sinful world. You can drift on the surface; you
can even sink down into its depths. But you have no ability to move
yourself toward God, and certainly not to bring the breath of life back into
your lungs. Inspiration always requires an external source, or else it
would be expiration, would it not? To think otherwise is sheer
arrogance. You are dead in your trespasses. Repent!
Taken by itself, Paul’s statement that “Luke
alone is with me” is rather empty of much meaning. It’s only when
we pull back and let the camera take in the surrounding text of this lesson
that we begin to see just what that means. Paul is in prison. He is
chained like a common criminal and knows that he is nearing the end of his own
Just prior to this text, he has given Timothy
a solemn charge to preach the Word of God in all its truth and purity, and
warned him that there will be times when people won’t want to hear that Word,
but instead will want to hear pleasing, easy, comfortable things rather than
the things of God that are difficult to confront, hard to accept, or impossible
to fully understand.
As this text begins, Paul tells Timothy to
stay patient and to keep his wits about him, in spite of the challenges and
difficulties his life in Christ will bring. Timothy is to perform his
duty—not against all odds, but against all worlds. Paul warns that his
own time is short, and wants to ensure that the message of the gospel does not
die with his generation. Paul is confident that the Lord has enabled him
to complete his own journey, and that he has kept the faith.
Indeed, Paul has. He has not only kept
his own trust in the salvation given through Christ alone. He has also
kept the message of the Gospel pure and unadulterated as it had been given to
him both by the written Word of God—the Scriptures—and by the Word made
flesh—by Jesus Himself. On account of his faithfulness, Paul expresses
his confidence that he and all who long for the return of Christ will receive
righteousness at the final judgment.
Even so, Paul has been deserted by some,
opposed by others, and left behind by several whom he has sent to far-flung
places to carry out the work of God. Yet, as he recounts to Timothy the
fact that no one stepped forward at his hearing to support him, he grants
forgiveness and asks that even his fickle friends not be held accountable for
their absence. Paul knows that the Lord was present for him,
strengthening his resolve and enabling him to proclaim the Good News of Christ
to everyone he encounters.
Paul finds himself with no earthly support but
Luke alone, but he has everything he needs. God will deliver him; God
will rescue him both from his isolation and his legal trouble, because Paul has
been granted the faith which saves—faith that comes from hearing the Word of
God. Paul may be without physical human company but for the presence of
Luke, but Paul is most certainly not alone.
And neither are you alone, whether you’re
feeling isolated in a vast crowd of humanity or pining away by yourself,
feeling no love or tangible comfort of friends or family. Luke is with
you, and you are not alone. Mark and Paul and Timothy are with you,
too. Isaiah and Jeremiah; Moses and David. Angels and archangels
and all the host of heaven as well. United in Word and Sacrament, the
Church of all times and all places is joined together into one body of
In Him, you are never alone, for He has
promised to be with you to the close of the age—with you, and with me, and with
all the faithful—wherever and whenever we gather around pulpit, font, and altar.
He stands by your side in all the trials of
your life. He gives you the strength to withstand both tragedy and
temptation. When all others have deserted you, and even when your own
mind and body have left you, He will rescue you from the mouth of that hungry
lion, the devil, who seeks your soul and your eternal destruction.
Fight the good fight, then. Finish your
race. Keep the faith that God has given you. Along the way and
throughout the battle, though, remember that you don’t go about it alone.
Your crucified and risen Lord is with you and within you, every step—Christ
echoing in your ears, Christ splashed upon your skin, Christ placed on your
tongue, Christ poured over your parched, desert-island lips.
Christ alone is with you, but Christ is never
alone. Through the words of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists—and
especially this day through the words of St. Luke—you have been made one with
Christ and with all those who will share with you the safety of His heavenly
To Him be the glory, forever and ever.