IN NOMINE JESU
Today we remember a man named Laurence, a third century deacon who was martyred for his faith. He was put to death on account of his faith in Jesus Christ. Laurence was likely born in Spain. He traveled to Rome and was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was responsible for church property—what was used for worship—and finances. The Roman emperor wanted the treasures of the church for himself, and he ordered Laurence to produce the "treasures of the church." What the deacon presented was no gold or silver. Laurence presented human treasures of the church, poor people whose lives were touched by Christian charity. The emperor was outraged and threw Laurence in prison, where it is reported that Laurence's behavior, his example, led to the conversion of the jailer and his family. The emperor arrested, tortured, and killed Sixtus, the Bishop of Rome, and Laurence. On this date in the year 258, Laurence was martyred by being roasted on a gridiron. A Roman citizen, Laurence, was put to death by Roman authorities on account of his faith, for Christianity would not be legalized in the Roman Empire for another 55 years, not until the year 313, under the newly-converted emperor Constantine. Laurence's martyrdom left a deep impression upon the early Church, for the date of his death, August 10, almost immediately became a permanent fixture on the commemorative calendar of the Church. The Feast of St. Laurence was one of the first minor festivals observed by the Church, in addition to the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, the three feast days that divided the Pentecost season, which we are in right now.
But what does this have to do with the Beatitudes? Hear the words of the Lord once again, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (vv. 10-12). Laurence met such a fate. He was persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the Gospel. Rather than hand the treasures of the Church over to a pagan, an evil, emperor, Laurence found the poorest of his neighbors and emptied the Church's treasury to aid them. Laurence was about the Church's business; he was not a lapdog for the emperor. His calling as deacon was of greater importance to him than to submit to an evil ruler. Laurence died for his faith. He paid the ultimate price and is now seated at the Lord's heavenly banquet table, dining at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.
What does the Feast of St. Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, have to do with us? The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, to which we as a congregation and I as a pastor have subscribed as a faithful exposition of the Scriptures, approves giving honor to the saints. This honor that we may bestow upon the saints is threefold. The first tine on this fork of honor is in our thanking God for giving us examples of His mercy, for showing His desire to save mankind, and for giving teachers and other gifts to the Church. On this day we thank God that He showed His mercy through St. Laurence as the deacon emptied the Church's treasury to give aid and comfort to the poor. The second tine on this fork is the strengthening of our faith. By Laurence's example we behold the grace of God. God's grace was made manifest in the year 258 when He rewarded Laurence for his labors. Yes, Laurence was put to death for his disobedience to the emperor, but Laurence, moved by the Holy Spirit, took care of the poor, for whom Christ came to save. On account of his faith, put into action, Laurence rests from his labors in the arms of the Lord. The third tine in this fork of honoring the saints is in imitating first their faith, then their virtues. We have heard of Laurence's example, one which we would do well to follow. That is to say, we ought to be willing to help our neighbors in their times of greatest need. Now, it is not likely that we will be put to death for doing such things. But if Laurence could help the poor in a time when Christianity was illegal and was put to death for being a Christian, then we surely can pitch in during our neighbors' times of greatest need. We really ought to be willing to take care of the poor, even if it means being ridiculed for it. We live in a time when being a Christian is no longer looked upon favorably by an increasingly hostile society. The poor continue to be criticized and vilified for being poor. But reality holds that poor people will be part of our society. The Lord Himself says, "You always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have Me" (Mark 14:7). Jesus uttered these words shortly before He was crucified; He was about to leave His disciples behind. The disciples would not have any excuse to give aid to the needy. We are no better. Yet we think that someone else will take care of them. We're too busy. We're too tired. We don't have any money. We forget that helping the poor does not mean simply donating money; it can also involve cooking a meal, giving them shelter, or giving them a coat or blanket for warmth—this is especially important as winter is just a few months away, perhaps even sooner here in North Dakota. We can even pray for them, that God would provide for them, that He may use us to care for the poor. Taking care of the poor is not to be done for show, nor can we not tend to them to avoid ridicule.
We all have the charge as Christians to live the Gospel, and we do this by serving our neighbors in the love our Lord has shown us. We have a great example of tending to the poor, even at the risk of ridicule or even persecution. We have an example even greater than St. Laurence. We have Jesus Christ. He welcomed the poor. He healed them of their infirmities. The lame walked. The deaf heard. The blind saw. The mute spoke. They came to Him from all walks of life, and He welcomed them. He even raised a man from the dead, His dear friend Lazarus. People began to believe in Him. But the religious leaders hated Him and what He was doing. They sought to put Him to death. Jesus was arrested, tried, and convicted, based on false charges. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He was beaten, whipped, and made to wear a crown of thorns. But understand, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, none of these events of Good Friday would have happened without Jesus' allowing them to happen. He could have called down from heaven legions of angels to take Him away from the events of His Passion. But out of His love for us, the poor in spirit, He willingly went the way of the cross, where He died to take away our sins—your sins and mine. He willingly underwent persecution for our sake. Jesus has borne the scars of His crucifixion for us. He went through hell on earth for us when His heavenly Father—and ours—forsook Him who hung from the cross so that our Father in heaven would not forsake us. But if the story ended there, our faith would be in vain. On this day, Sunday, we celebrate the weekly anniversary of our Lord's resurrection. The Lord has risen from the dead so that we, the poor in spirit, persecuted for righteousness, would inherit the kingdom of heaven. This means that by Jesus' victorious resurrection from the dead, we, by faith, will live with our Triune God into all eternity. Even as Laurence emptied the Church's treasury to help the poor, our Lord emptied Himself from the cross so that He would fill us with the forgiveness of sins He won there on the cross. The Lord emptied the tomb that we and all the faithful would be filled with eternal life. Until the day when the Lord calls us to our heavenly home through death or when He comes again in all His glory on the Last Day, He who emptied Himself from the cross continues to give us Himself in His Word, in His body and blood, and in Holy Baptism.
What does all of this mean for us until that day comes? It means that we need not fear when presented with an opportunity to help those less fortunate, for the Lord is with us. Our Lord tells us that we are in fact attending to Him. He tells us, "Then the King will say..., 'Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me'" (Matthew 25:34-40). And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Hebrews 13:1-3). We are members of the body of Christ, here to build up one another in the body. By the Holy Spirit, we follow our Lord's example and the model set before us by St. Laurence. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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