10 August 2014

St. Lawrence Day

Here's a fine homily for this day from Pr. Curtis:

St. Lawrence, 2014
Trinity & Zion – Worden & Carpenter, IL
Rev. H. R. Curtis
John 12, 2 Cor 9
The Cheerfullest Giver

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence of Rome, a deacon of the 3rd century. St. Lawrence is known primarily for two features, which are reflected in our readings today: his care for the poor and his martyrdom. And in all of it, St. Lawrence shines forth with joy – truly a cheerful giver.

The year was 258, dark days for the Roman Empire. The government was broke and Christianity was illegal – a nice combination if you are the mayor of Rome, called the prefect. The emperor had ordered all of the clergy of the Church to be killed and that dark work was already well under way by August 7th, 258. But the prefect of Rome had got to thinking – what about all the riches of the Church? Before we kill all these guys we ought to find out where they have it stashed. 

And so the prefect of the city of Rome orders the head deacon, Lawrence, to come in for a chat. As a deacon, Lawrence’s job was not only to help out in the Sunday service but was especially to care for the property of the Church, to see to it that the gifts of the people were used properly and wisely: to see to it that the church buildings were kept up; that the ministers received their sustenance; that the articles of worship like the chalice for communion, or the paintings, or the stained glass, or the vestments were purchased and cared for; that all was kept in good order; and that those people in the Church’s family who truly could not care for themselves and were in need were cared for. That was St. Lawrence's job.

But to the Roman prefect he was just the guy with the key to the vault. “Give us all the Church’s riches!” 

Now put yourself in Lawrence’s place. For days you have witnessed your friends being dragged off by the government and executed for their faith. You have been busy hiding whatever people you can, getting people out of town, etc. The meanest, foulest sort of men are chasing down all the people you love, seeking to destroy God’s holy Church.

And now on top of that they are demanding you to hand over all the beautiful things in the church – all the gold chalices, the paintings, the works of art, that were paid for with the people’s gifts. These wicked men are demanding that the Church hand over to them the money that the people of God gave to support the ministers of the Church – the very ministers they had just killed with the sword!
How would you respond? Would you already be too depressed to get out of bed? Would you fly off the handle in an angry tirade? Would you break down in tears?

Not Lawrence. He has a plan. A crazy, funny, joyous plan. In these dark days St. Lawrence, or Larry –I don’t think he’ll mind if we can call him Larry and it seems to fit better – even in these dark days Larry could see the absurdity. 

“Give me three days, o Prefect, and I shall deliver to you all the treasures of the Church.” 

The Prefect was delighted – that was easy! For since he was a cowardly, greedy, faithless man he thought that all men were like him. He supposed that Larry just wanted three more days to live and would be happy to sell out his Church for the chance to live for 72 more hours.

But no, Larry had a plan: a plan to fulfill his duties as deacon, and a plan to play the most outlandish practical joke on this Roman prefect. So for three days Larry went on a wild reverse shopping spree. Every golden chalice, every piece of art, every chair, every lamp, everything! – he sold it all. He emptied the bank accounts and closed them down, and then he filled the pockets of every lame, blind, palsied, and leprous man in all of Rome. 

And then, on August 10th, he marched the whole parade of the poor to the prefect’s front door and said, “There you go! Here are the treasures of the Church. As you can see, we are even richer than your emperor!”

Infuriated, the prefect ordered that Larry was not to be beheaded, quick and clean, like the rest of the clergy of the city – no, he would be beaten and then roasted alive on a grill. 

Now again: put yourself in Larry’s shoes. Do you beg for your life? Turn pale and throw up? Faint? Not Larry. He’s a man of faith. He knows where he’s going. He knows the Jesus who speaks to us today in the Gospel lesson, the Bread of Life, the Seed that was sown so He could bear much fruit, the Jesus who died and rose again. The Jesus who shed His blood so that we could be cleansed of our sins – the Jesus who got up from the dead, glorious and eternally living, and who promises us a likewise glorious resurrection. 

So Larry didn’t beg. He didn’t faint. He took his beating without a word. And then when they threw him on the red hot grill he gritted his teeth and bore up under the suffering, but after a while he couldn’t control himself: he opened his mouth and said to the soldiers, “Boys, I’m done on this side, you’d better flip me over before you eat.”

Ha! The Lord loves a cheerful giver – and Larry was certainly that. 

Now, I hope that you will not share the martyrs' fate – but you certainly share their faith. So how can we not be cheerful? Don’t we know the same Jesus that St. Larry of the Grill knew? Don’t we know where we are headed? Don’t we know that death is not the end of our story? Don’t we know that the things of this world are nothing but tools to be used for God’s purposes? Don’t we know that the only thing that matters is clinging to Jesus and following His commandments of love? 

Lord willing your life will not be anywhere near as dramatic as that of St. Lawrence. But I do hope it is filled with as much joy: the joy comes from knowing Jesus. The joy that makes it possible to be a cheerful giver. 

What can we learn from the wry comedy of St. Lawrence? In the face of a world that is so deadly serious about its sins and about its greed and about its cruelty, we can learn from St. Lawrence to laugh, to see how ridiculous the world is. People live and die for such foolish things: for money, for power, for lust, and for fame. But we live and die for Jesus Christ. The contrast is so enormous that we do not know whether to laugh or to cry. St. Lawrence did both. And now his tears are dried and he is very happy in heaven. Where that prefect or those soldiers are depends on whether or not they learned anything from St. Lawrence – whether they clung to the Word and learned to laugh at this world, too. For humility and humor and generosity and courage all come from the same place: faith in Jesus.

In the Name...

1 comment:

Alan said...

Now we know the rest of the story.