Tobit 4, 5-11 & Matthew 6, 19-24
May I speak in the name of the Living God……..
I have always been intrigued by Saints and the lives of the Saints. The Saints can be a great source of inspiration to us and, of course Christians throughout the ages have developed ways of living based around the example of particular saints: Benedict, Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits), Augustine, Dominic, and Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is today, are some of the most obvious examples. The Rule of Benedict is of particular importance to me – I am a member of the Order of Saint Benedict. I could think of an awful lot to say about some of the saints just mentioned; but St. Laurence, not really. There just isn’t that much information about him. In saintly terms he is a bit of a nobody.
But, this is the important point: nobodies can and often do change the world around them. Nobody’s often shape the Church, leaving nothing behind but their good name. The gospels also include many obscure nobodies who had an important part to play in the unfolding of our Christian story, who had names worthy of mention, but whose specific ‘leadership role’ is shrouded in mystery. Think of Joanna and Suzanne who supported Jesus’ ministry or St. Matthew, who is remembered simply because he dared to obey Jesus’ command to ‘follow me.’
St. Laurence, like Matthew dared simply to follow Jesus. And, he appears to have taken Jesus’ pronouncements at face value. History records Laurence was a deacon, not an apostle, or a priest. The ministry of the deacon is one of service and didn’t Jesus say that ‘he came to serve and not be served?’ Laurence was above all a servant of the Lord and, the gospel.
Jesus’ compassion was universal and, Laurence, like St Francis of Assisi, cared particularly for the poor, the needy and the outcast. Such care cost Laurence his mortal life. History records that Laurence was commanded by his inquisitors to bring before them the treasures of the Church and, he did. He assembled the poor and is reputed to have said: ‘See these are the treasures of the Church.’
Laurence had a wonderful ability to get to the core challenge of the gospel, he took to heart Jesus’ teaching that ‘no one can serve to masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ His acceptance of the gospel as a rule of life cost him his life. But, the irony is that it didn’t because as Tobit reminds us, ‘almsgiving (loving service, righteous living) delivers from death and keeps you going into darkness.’
Even though we know very little about St. Laurence, the little that we do know must surely inspire and challenge us. So here our three challenges that we must accept if we are to honour his memory, in this town, at this point in time:
- Are we prepared to embrace a life of service? And, this is a very personal challenge to me, as well as to you, for I need to remember each and every day, that before I was ordained priest I was ordained deacon.
- Do we see the poor as the ‘treasure of the church?’ And, if we do what does this mean in terms of mission and evangelism?
- What is the orientation of our hearts? Is our love directed towards Jesus, who emptied himself of all but love, or towards things and possessions?
I would like to suggest that as a community we might like to explore afresh what it means to honour and be inspired by St. Laurence and his spirituality. Will you come with me on that journey? Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown 4th October 2015