2 Corinthians 9:6-15
The Treasures of the Church
Commemoration of St. Lawrence (observed)
Midweek Summer Service
August 12, 2015
Early in the third century, a man named Lawrence was born in Spain. As he was going to school, he met a man who would eventually become the bishop of the Rome, Sixtus II. After Sixtus became a bishop, in the year 257, he asked Lawrence to move to Rome and he ordained him as a deacon and appointed as the head of the seven deacons in Rome. We read about the establishment of the office of deacon in our first reading today from Acts 6. At this point in history, a deacon was an ordained clergyman who was in charge of the care of the poor, the widowed, the needy, and the distribution of the church’s goods. While ordained into the pastoral office, his job, basically, was comparable to the church treasurer and trustee all wrapped up into one along with assisting in the worship services.
During this time in the Roman Empire, things were not so good for Christians. The Roman Emperor Valerian had recently ordered several priests executed, and imperial troops to raid churches and homes of Christians. The Emperor wanted not just to get rid of the Christians but in his greed to take whatever goods they had. He knew the church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the treasures of the church.
On August 7, 258, standing before the Roman Emperor Lawrence asked for three days to gather up the treasures of the church and to present them. The Emperor happily agreed to give him this time. So Lawrence went back to church and basically liquidated everything. He sold all the paintings, the statues, the paraments, the vestments, melts down the chalice and communionware. Then he distributes all that had to the poor and needy of the city.
At the end of the three days, on August 10, Laurence brought before the Emperor the poor, the lame, the sick, the needy whose lives had been touched by Christian charity and says to him, “Behold, the treasures of the church, they are yours.”
Obviously this makes the Emperor mad, so he threw Lawrence in prison. He was so enraged that he denied executing Lawrence in the typical way a Roman citizen would be, by beheading, and instead ordered him beaten and burned alive. The legend goes that Lawrence was tied to a great gridiron, with hot coals beneath it. After Lawrence had suffered the pain for a long time being roasted above the coals, the legend concludes that he made his famous cheerful remark, "I'm well done on this side. Turn me over!"
This is one of the great things about Lawrence. It’s not his wit when persecuted, nor the humor in the face of death. But it’s that he shows a free and easiness with the things of this world. Not just Lawrence, but a lot of the early Christian martyrs, illustrate this extremely well. They face their persecution, threats of their personal safety, and even their death with a sense of playfulness. They just can’t take the world as serious business because it’s fading away, it’s time is coming. In other words, they know their lives rest with Christ, in the kingdom of God and the things of this world are fading away.
With all the things that have been going on in our country recently, it’s easy to fall into a panic, of a sense of anxiety over the sin and evil we experience. There’s already been lawsuits filed against Christian churches refusing to conform to the demands of the culture in regards to gay marriage and other things that threaten to take away the tax exemption of the churches. We’ve been used to a long tradition of religious freedom unburdened by taxes and many other restrictions. What happens if the government decides that the church is not worthy of such a status? Well, we do the same thing that the early church did-we live as God’s faithful people trusting in His provision and proclaiming His goodness toward us in all things. We give to the church how we can, for the work of the church, for the public proclamation of the Gospel, for helping those in need, recognizing that the treasures of our bank account are good and helpful and gifts of God to be used for His glory, but it is not the true treasures of the church.
Our Lord was serious when He said in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If one wants to see what is most important to another (where their heart is), it is most telling to look at where that person spends most of his money (where his treasure is). Does one spend it mostly on fancy coffee every morning, expensive clothes, a nice car or house? Does one spend it mostly on the latest gadget, the newest iphone, the biggest TV? Does one spend it on helping the needy, the poor, the hurt, the lonely, the widowed? Does one spend it on the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel to one another and our community? The Lutheran School or Daycare to educate our children in the ways of the Lord and to be good citizens of this earthly kingdom?
And the Lord was also serious when He says that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom and to focus upon the treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. The true treasure of the church is the Gospel of Christ, that good news that you, God’s people, are redeemed by the blood of Christ upon the cross. Your sins are forgiven. That Jesus has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold of silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness (SC, 2nd Article Explanation). This is how St. Paul can write in 2 Corinthians, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency, all contentment, in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
As Christians, we don’t need to worry too much about the things of this world. The Lord will provide. The Church will remain, for not even the gates of hell can overcome it, much less a Roman Emperor, or any government of this world. It may not always look like we want it to, and it may not always be easy. But Luther wrote of this in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress, “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Through these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
We live our lives here and now in light of the resurrection. This gives us perspective on all things that happen around us. This is what St. Lawrence had that we need to have in our day – faith in Christ who not only died to save us from our sins and was raised three days later, but who also is coming again to bring the completion of His eternal Kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.