Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Sermon: St. Lawrence – 2022

10 Aug 2022

Text: Mark 8:34-38 (Lam 3:22-33, Rev 6:9-11)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Lawrence was a deacon in the church.  In fact, he was named the Archdeacon of Rome by the Bishop of Rome in 258 AD.  In August of that year, the Roman Emperor, Valerian, ordered all the Christian clergy to be killed.  The Bishop of Rome, Pope Sixtus, was captured after leading the Divine Service in a Roman cemetery.  He was executed on August 6.

Since the Archdeacon was the treasurer of sorts, the Roman government, operating under a kind of forfeiture law, demanded that the church’s money be confiscated.  Lawrence asked for three days to make that happen.  Meanwhile, he gave out as much money to the poor that he could all at once – rather than give the money to the government.  When he was summoned before the Roman prefect and was asked for the treasury of the church, Deacon Lawrence pointed to all of the poor and crippled people that the church had helped, and said that they were the “true treasure of the church.”  He added, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

Because of his bold non-compliance with the Roman government, St. Lawrence was also put to death.  Tradition says that he was burned to death on an iron grate, but more likely, he was beheaded.

This would not be the last time that governments were to go after the church, weaponizing various agencies to confiscate our money and persecute our pastors and laity.  There are many reasons why governments hate Christians.  Sometimes they tolerate us and leave us alone, other times they persecute us. 

Jesus says that we need to be ready to “take up [our] cross.”  For “whoever would save his life will lose it,” says Jesus.  But “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  The government could only kill Lawrence’s body – just as they did Sts. Peter and Paul a couple hundred years earlier, and just as they did our Lord on that first Good Friday.  We all know what happened that first Easter.  And we all know what will happen to the bodies of Peter and Paul, Sixtus and Lawrence, and all the blessed dead in Christ across the ages, including those yet to be born.

We cannot serve two masters.  The state is subordinate to the kingdom.  Emperors and kings and presidents and IRS agents will all give account to the King of kings and Lord of lords for their deeds: whether they treated their citizens fairly, as creatures created in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Christ, or if they abused and persecuted their own people.  And if they single out the Lord’s church, woe be to them.  Their punishment will be all the worse. 

And our Lord’s warning applies to government officials as well as to all of us: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.”

No doubt St. Lawrence knew well the prayer of the Psalmist with which we began this Divine Service: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O Lord!”  In fact, it has been the custom to open the daily Matins service, in part, with these very words for as many centuries as anyone can remember.  We begin our day by seeking the Lord’s deliverance, and we pray for Him to hurry.  No doubt, when Archdeacon Lawrence saw his pastor beheaded, and the weight of the Roman government coming at him, he must have been terrified.  Perhaps he was even tempted to comply with them, or even to deny his Lord and spare his own life.

But history teaches that he did not take that course of action.  For as our Lord asked him and continues to ask us rhetorically today: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” 

Dear friends, we may be called upon to confess Jesus in difficult circumstances.  It may be that our friends will mock us.  It may be that we are looking at being fired from our jobs.  It may be that we face ostracism and “cancellation” by people who call us bigots and haters (just as they did in the times of the Roman persecutions), and hold us in contempt because we do not pray to their gods.  In our own day and age, we are getting a taste of what it means to defend traditional marriage and the lives of the unborn, even as the government is adding 87,000 armed IRS agents to enforce government decrees – and we have no idea where this will lead.

Maybe it will go nowhere.  Maybe we are concerned for nothing.  But maybe not.  We need to prepare now.  We need to pray now.  We need to immerse ourselves in Scripture now.  We need to get into the habit of praying “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me O Lord!” now.  We need to teach our children that there are things worth dying for, and there are lines that we will not cross.  There are times when we will join St. Peter in saying, “We must obey God rather than men,” and when we must be like the stubborn Lutherans in Magdeburg in the year 1550, who endured a military siege and the threat of starvation rather than surrender the faith to which they promised to be faithful unto death.

We all want to be good citizens, and we all want a godly government that keeps the peace, that rewards the good, that punishes the evil.  But when government rewards evil and punishes good, when it lies and cheats and violates its own laws, and most especially when it persecutes the church and attempts to silence her testimony about Jesus – then it is time to resist.

St. Lawrence became a hero right after his martyrdom.  We Christians have honored him in our liturgies on August 10 now for 1,748 years.  And countless other saints have indeed come after Jesus, have denied themselves, have taken up their crosses, and have followed our Lord.

And, dear friends, we follow Him where He leads us.  Sometimes following Him means following Him to Golgotha – sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.  And even if we do follow Him to our own cross, we also follow Him to our own tomb.  And our tomb will be empty, just like His, when He calls us out on the Last Day.

For the time will come, as John told us in the Revelation, when “those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had born,” those who cry out for vengeance, will be avenged.  Meanwhile, for the time being, they receive a “white robe and [are] told to rest a little longer.” 

We do not put our trust in princes or in currying favor with the corrupted world.  We do not make deals with the devil.  But we confess with Jeremiah the prophet that, “The Lord is my portion… therefore I will hope in Him.  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”

And this blessed hope, this assurance gives us courage to live for the Lord, and to die for the Lord.  Like St. Paul, we recognize that either way, we win.  And like St. Lawrence, we recognize that the church’s treasure is in her sinners redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, in her faithfulness to Him, and in His promise to her. 

“Make haste, O God, to deliver me!  Make haste to help me, O Lord!”


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

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