Let me start by asking a question. Is there anybody you consider to be a hero? It doesn't need to be someone famous, although it might be. I think, although I am slightly guessing, heroes are afforded their status based on two criteria: what they do, or achieve and just as importantly how they achieve it. Sadly, I suspect that in today's culture many are more interested in what we might think of as 'mere achievement' rather than the character.
I think that there can be little doubt that Laurence quickly became a hero to the early church. Laurence is of course our patron saint. There is a chapel dedicated to St. Laurence in Salisbury Cathedral and, the ancient European Cathedrals of Genoa, Lugano, Prague and Trogir (Croatia) are all dedicated to St. Laurence. In more recent times the cities of Amarillo (Texas) and Berthangandy (India) have also taken the name of St. Laurence. When Sadiq Khan was installed as Mayor of London in Southwark Cathedral, the Dean saw fit to invoke the spirit of St. Laurence.
And yet, St. Laurence was not an ecclesiastical high flyer. He wasn't an archbishop, bishop or even a priest. He was a deacon. He never rose above the first rung ladder on the church's ladder of hierarchy. Maybe he would have done in time, who knows, but his martyrdom got in the way.
His martyrdom got in the way because he understood what the gospel is all about. He knew that you cannot serve two masters, you either serve God, by following in the footsteps of Jesus, or you serve yourself. He understood that God cares for the poor, the weak and the marginalised. He understood that the middle classes, of which he was a member, have an ethical responsibility to use their assets judiciously. He understood a basic Christian truth:
That assets should be used to help people, rather than people being used to to build assets.
'If you have many possessions make your gift from them in proportion, if few do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.'
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.'
The readings inform us that what is at stake is our own souls; it is our souls that the world wants to steal, not simply our 'stuff.'
Laurence had an eye for the common good. He understood that people are the treasure of the church. Its a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn. Loving service, hospitality to all, irrespective of worldly rank, status or achievement should be our central, Christian, concerns. Everyone in God's house deserves the best. No one should be treated differently; that's why its so crucial to the practice of our faith that we all share one common meal, the Eucharist. Its the one meal where everyone gets to eat and drink the same amounts from a common set of vessels.
It is my hope that this church will continue to regard St. Laurence as our local hero and to be inspired by his story. The story of this humble deacon must entourage us to embrace the dangerous and dirty pursuit of holiness. Like Laurence we need to look to the common good whilst regarding the poor, weak, rejected, different and marginalised as the treasures of the Church. As the reading from Tobit reminds us: ' do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.'
And, if we are serious about a deacon shaped ministry we need to make sure we are active in the community, serving the community and its needs. I hope that St. Laurence week is a catalyst for our ongoing, diaconal, ministry.
As a 'good Anglican' I am going to leave the last word to Pope Francis, who in the following reflection captures the essence of Laurentian spirituality, the ministry of the deacon and the dirty work of holiness:
'I like to use the image of the field hospital to describe this church that goes forth. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care so that its soldiers do not die.'
St. Laurence, I suggest, should for us, not simply be a name on our letter heading, but our hero of the faith, a Saint whose spirituality and influence lives on and informs our mission and ministry in, but more crucially for, this community and especially its most vulnerable members.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown