The Faith of Lawrence
Lawrence, Martyr
10 August 2016
Today is the commemoration of Deacon Lawrence of Rome, who was executed by the Prefect of Rome in 258 A.D. as a result of the gruesome edict of Emperor Valerian (253-260) commanding that any Christian pastor or deacon should suffer summary execution and that all their earthly goods should be forfeit to the Roman state. The Prefect of Rome demanded that Deacon Lawrence turn over the riches of the Roman church. At his trial Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth for the prefect. He worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the suffering, and said these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, "The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor." Lawrence was executed by the enraged prefect.

The church's riches are in things that cannot be confiscated by the state. The state can persecute the church by fire and sword, but cannot take her Lord Jesus from her. It cannot nullify the blood of Christ. It cannot put the baptized back into the slavering jaws of death. It cannot force the church to unsay the holy absolution. In such things the church is far richer than the state and the state cannot do anything to take those riches. The IRS has no power against this wealth. Indeed, if the local authorities would desire to subpoena the church's shepherds' communications, perhaps the leaders should print their sermons, tie them up in red ribbons and deliver them to the authorities. By taking our sermons the state is not taking anything away from the church. The church is giving a blessing to the those who work for the state.

It is said that Lawrence was roasted alive on a grid iron by the raging prefect when he turned over the riches of the church. Although this remains doubtful, some witnesses record Lawrence as saying to his executioners, "Turn me over. I am done on this side." in an attempt to make mockery of the church's enemies. We can mock their attempt to steal what cannot be stolen. They are welcome to try to steal what has been kept for us in heaven by our Lord: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt 6:19-21). Government coercion in matters of faith is futile, because the conscience is not susceptible to worldly attacks. The suffering of the cross does not change the fact that the cross became the instrument of the triumph of Christ and the seat of His enthronement over the church. Lawrence knew this. He accepted and embraced his suffering as Christ's way of shaping him like the cross. Let us pray for the faith of Lawrence.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"As Abraham had circumcision and the glorious words 'I shall be God to you and your descendants after you' (Gn 17:7) added to circumcision, so we have several visible marks. In the first place, we have baptism itself, which is adorned with the most important and delightful promise that if we believe we shall be saved. But because in this weakness of ours it is very easy for us to fall, there have been added to baptism the keys or the ministry of the Word (for these must not be separated) which in itself is also a visible mark of grace bound to the voice of the gospel in accordance with Christ's institution: 'Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven' (Mt 18:18). When you take hold of this Word in faith, you will be restored to grace, and the life which was lost through sin is given back.
"The same thing takes place in the use of the holy Eucharist. For the words 'My body given for you, My blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins' (Mt 26:26-28) are certainly not without meaning; they admirably strengthen the hope of the forgiveness of sins.

"Thus you see that we have the promise of eternal grace far more opulently than Abraham himself. Therefore, we should also take pride in this gift against Satan and the world, and we should buoy ourselves up with this comfort in all misfortunes, just as the saintly patriarch did. But we are hampered by our miserable and sinful flesh, and we have reached the last times corrupted by evils of every kind. Therefore, we neither see nor marvel at these eternal riches.

"In this one way St. Stephen, Lawrence, Sebastian, Fabian, and men like them triumphed over death and all tortures. Because they kept the faith of Abraham and consoled themselves with these visible signs of grace, all tortures, as an often repeated statement of Vincent of Lerins puts it, were a game, a joke, and, so to speak, child's play for them.

"So great a thing is faith when God reveals Himself through a promise and hearts embrace this promise seriously. This very promise, 'I shall be your God,' sounds forth continually in the church. Therefore, the prophets and apostles diligently meditated on it and splendidly elucidated it in their sermons. They taught that this life should be devoted to the service of one's neighbor, in order that as many as possible may be brought to the knowledge of God. And if some hardship is encountered, the hope of deliverance should be retained, and the name of the Lord be called upon. For inasmuch as He has promised to be the God of those who believe in Him, eternal joy and life will follow the miseries of this earthly life."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 17.8
Matthew 6:19-33

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (ESV)
Almighty God, You called Lawrence to be a deacon in Your Church to serve Your saints with deeds of love, and You gave him the crown of martyrdom. Give us the same charity of heart that we may fulfill Your love by defending and supporting the poor, that by loving them we may love You with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For Michael Golchert, that the God of all compassion would grant him strength, confidence, and healing

For all those who travel, that the Lord, who sent the patriarchs on sojourns, would send the holy angels to watch over them

For pastors and staff of Memorial Lutheran Church, especially Pr. Ian Pacey, Pr. Sagar Pilli, Vicar Matthew Bless, Pr. Victor Atsinger, and Pr. Clayton Campbell, that the Lord who places men in the service to God's people would strengthen them in His ministry
Art: ANGELICO, Fra  St. Lawrence on Trial (1447-49)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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