Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A treasure to eternal life. . .

Sermon preached for St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, on Sunday, August 10, 2014.

    What a day for a Pastor named Larry to return to his congregation!  I bet you did not even know there was a St. Larry's Day!  Well, there is.  Historically this saint’s day was also a tide - St. Lawrence-tide signaled the end of one phase of the Sundays after Pentecost and the beginning of another.
    The truth is, however, that there is a saint's day for each of us and for all of us.  In our baptism we were named for the Lord, declared holy and righteous in Christ, and born anew into His eternal kingdom.  But let me tell the story of my namesake.  Born about 225, he was one of the seven deacons of Rome when Valerian began a persecution of Christians.  He demanded all the treasures of the Church.  Here is where St. Larry enters the story.  He was in charge of the treasury.  Tradition tells us that he asked the Emperor for a few days to put it all together.  So on August 10 Valerian came to get the Church's treasure.
    Valerian was not prepared for this moment.  St. Lawrence knew that the treasury of the Church was not in gold or silver or jewels or money.  The great treasure of the Church was the Gospel and this Gospel was not hoarded by freely given away in the words and works of Christian witness and service.  Valerian was not amused.  He roasted Lawrence to death over a fire.  Lest you think this barbarism is ancient fact, note in the news of the 8 Christians crucified like their Lord and of the children beheaded in the Middle East for refusing to renounce the Christ of their baptism.  No, there remains no shortage of martyrs like Lawrence whose blood cries to the Lord for vengeance as we heard in the reading from Revelation.
    Lawrence knew the treasure of the Church.  Do you?  What we so often treasure, God does not.  There is the paradox.  We often wonder where all the offering money goes and why the Church does not amass a big bank account.  We see treasure in money and property and earthly things the world values.  So we are reluctant to give God more than a token of our money, property, and time because these are so valuable to us.  But God wonders if we have missed His point.  Isn't Christ our treasure?
    We see the Church as weak and vulnerable in a world of earthly power and glory.  We wish for the raw power of the world to answer the terrorists of Islam.  But Jesus says the greater power is He who can destroy not only body but soul.  The greater power is the One who can give life to the sinner dead in trespasses and sin; who can redeem the body from death and the soul from bondage.  The real power of the Church is not more of what the world has but what the world does not have and cannot have unless it comes in Christ.  The real power is mercy.
    We judge everything by popularity and fame.  How many Facebook friends and what do people think of you?  These fleeting treasures we sell our souls to own but they are empty and worthless.  What we values God does not.  What God values, we do not.  That is why we are here...
    What does God value?  He looks for faith and trust in Christ. He rejoices in the confession of the penitent in heart.  Heaven explodes in joy when one sinner repents.  He gives Himself to us even though we are unworthy and undeserving.  His grace is scandalously lavish.  He throws it around like it doesn't matter.  But it does matter.  It is the power of life and eternal life.
    Mercy matters.  It matters most of all.  Mercy is the Word that bids the sinner come and forgives us in Christ.  It is the water of baptism that cleans us inside and out.  It is the life giving voice  of the absolution that restores the fallen sinner.  It is the bread of heaven, His flesh for the life of the world, that is our food and our drink in the Sacrament of the Altar.  These matter.
    The alien and strange righteousness of Christ we wear by baptism and faith but can never attain on our own – this is His treasure.  We wear Christ's holiness as the new clothing of our new life in Christ.  It is this that bids us live up to this holiness of life and it is this that encourages us to strive to keep the commandments that reveal to us God's will for our lives.
    But there is more.  The treasure of Christ is not only something we receive in baptism and believe by faith, it is a treasure lived out in daily life.  The mercy that Christ has shown to us becomes the mercy we show to our neighbor in need and the stranger on the street corner.  We love because He first loved us and we love with His love all the world around us.
    We have the poor with us not as burden but as opportunity to demonstrate this treasure before the world.  It is unlike the world's treasure because it cannot be diminished or lost by sharing or giving away.  The world has never seen or known such a treasure as this.  This is what St. Lawrence died for.
    St. Larry's Day is not about me... but it is.  Saints are not holy people we must become.  They are those who know the treasure of God's mercy and grace in Christ.  They see what only faith can see in a world that thinks seeing is believing.  The saints are those who remind us by the words and example that God is trustworthy and true.  He does not disappoint us.  His treasure to us and for us cannot be consumed by moth or destroyed by rust or devalued by inflation.  It only grows in value.  They point us to Christ and to the eternal treasure of His grace.
    The true treasure of the Christian cannot be banked away for a rainy day but is lived out bearing the burdens of others as Christ bore your burden to death on the cross.  The treasure we show before the world is not a holy version of what the world loves but the very thing the world does not get and cannot understand. 
    This grace is so strange to the world that Christians appear drunk on a dream without reality – like Pentecost.  But that is the point.  There is a reality even greater than sin, a treasure greater than the world sees and values.  And there is the paradox.  The greatest treasure of all is the free gift of grace in Christ and the faith that receives it with joy and thanksgiving.  This is the premise of stewardship.  This is the hidden reality we meet each Sunday in Word and Table of the Lord.  This is the strange witness we bring to the world. What you value is cheap and what you think is cheap is of the greatest value of all – God's grace in Christ.  The grace that gives the martyrs the strength to stand firm in the face of persecution and even death and the grace that enables you and me to endure to eternal life.  Amen.

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