Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sermon: Feast of St. Lawrence

10 August 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:34-38

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our blessed Lord puts everything in sharp perspective for us today, dear brothers and sisters. The Christian life is not about fame, fortune, and riches, being appreciated and loved by many, seven steps to a better you, or anything of the sort.

The Christian life is about bearing the cross. “Whoever desires to come to Me” says our Lord, “let him deny himself and follow Me.” He goes on to say that the Christian life is a paradox of love – for the one who selfishly seeks to save his own life will lose it, but the one who gives of himself, even his very life, will find it.

Jesus does all of the work to secure your salvation. He is not asking you to give your life as a ransom – for He has already ransomed you. Now he asks you to sacrifice your life for the sake of others. Having been given the free gift of eternal life, you can now lay down your life for the sake of the kingdom, motivated not by self-preservation, but by selfless love.

The Church has many examples of those who bore the cross and laid down their loves for the sake of their neighbors, for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of making a good confession before paupers and kings alike, for the sake of love. And the Church celebrates one of her own beloved saints today – Lawrence the martyr of Rome.

St. Lawrence lived a life of 33 years, and was martyred in 258 AD during the persecutions of Emperor Valerian. Lawrence was not a priest, but rather a deacon. His job was to help his pastor – who happened to be Pope Sixtus II, the Bishop of Rome, both in the administration of the Church and in the distribution of the sacraments.

Like the men who serve our congregation as members of the Board of Elders, Lawrence was not a preacher, but he was a witness whose life proclaimed the Gospel. He did not celebrate and sing the Mass, but he held the chalice of the Lord’s most holy blood and helped his pastor to bring Christ to the people. Lawrence helped to administer the material possessions of the Church and helped to distribute the Church’s charitable goods to the poor.

Lawrence was a servant and a steward. And though Lawrence was not a pastor, he offered his life as a priestly sacrifice of service to the Lord – as all lay people are called to do. And he laid down that very life as a thank offering to His Savior – something that most of us will never be called to do. St. Lawrence understood what his calling was, however, and he carried it out. In the words of a sermon preached by St. Leo the Great more than 1500 years ago on this anniversary Lawrence’s martyrdom, Lawrence the deacon “was outstanding not only in the performance of the liturgy, but also in the management of the Church’s property.”

Deacon Lawrence’s pastor, St. Sixtus, the bishop of Rome, was beheaded on August 6, 258. According to St. Ambrose, the Roman madmen who were persecuting the Church turned next to Lawrence - for they had heard that the Church was laden with treasure. Lawrence cleverly sent away various relics in the possession of the Church. Then, when asked to turn over the Church’s treasures, Lawrence took a group of poor, blind, and crippled Christians to the Prefect, and said: “Here is the true treasure of the Church.” He added: “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

Four days after his pastor was executed, the faithful deacon and confessor was himself ordered to recant his Christian faith. Having refused, he was taken to a hot grid-iron, upon which he was laid out and tortured to death.

As our Lord has reminded us anew: “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it,” so too does the life and service of St. Lawrence remind us of where the treasure in the Church lies.

Our sinful flesh so often misses the point. Of course, we need material possessions to live. And quite often, people are driven to beg out of need. But so often people will only come to the church when they need money. Often a person will approach the pastor not because of the burden of his sins, not because he seeks to “lose his life” for the sake of Christ and the gospel, but rather because he seeks to save his life through money. In seeking the treasures of this world, they miss out on the “true treasure of the Church” – the Gospel, the very grace of God.

Indeed, what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For those who seem to have nothing have everything. They have the kingdom. They have eternal life. For the true treasure of the Church isn’t the chalice, but rather the blood inside. And unlike gold vessels that can be stolen and sold, the blood of Christ is given away by the Church, free of charge, without price, without limit, and without asking for anything in return.

St. Lawrence understood just what the treasure of the Church was as he served as a deacon, caring for the poor, those beloved of God but spurned by the world. St. Lawrence understood just what the treasure of the Church was as he served at the altar, giving rich and poor alike the greatest riches of all: “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

St. Lawrence clearly understood our Lord’s preaching in today’s Gospel, dear friends. For he did not desire to save his own life, but knowing that it was the Lord who had already secured for eternal life for him – he forfeited his own precious life for the sake of his Savior and of the Gospel as a testimony to an “adulterous and sinful generation.”

In every generation since, whenever Christians call to mind those who cared for the poor and those who endured suffering and death for the Gospel, they have lovingly called to mind our dear brother Lawrence, whose brief life on this side of the grave has inspired us for 1,750 years, and who lives in eternity.

As Pope St. Leo preached in the fifth century regarding the martyrdom of St. Lawrence:

“You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Lawrence departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ’s love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. You but served the martyr in your rage, O persecutor: you but swelled the reward in adding to the pain. For what did your cunning devise, which did not redound to the conqueror’s glory, when even the instruments of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then, dearly-beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is wonderful in His saints, in whom He has given us a support and an example, and has so spread abroad his glory throughout the world, that, from the rising of the sun to its going down, the brightness of his deacon's light does shine.”

May we likewise serve as lights of the love and mercy of God, mirroring the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the cross for us, He who chose to give His perfect life as a ransom for us poor miserable sinners, He who called St. Lawrence to likewise lay down his life. May we, like St. Lawrence recognize where the true treasure of the Church is, and may we carry out our vocations of grateful service to Him who has saved us by His grace. And may we too be proven faithful to Him “when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

1 comment:

Eddie said...

What a fantastic Homily Father... one which saint Lawrence the deacon would have been proud of