Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homily for the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs

Here is the homily I preached last night as we observed the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian:

28 September Anno + Domini 2011 (Observed)
Luke 21:9-19 (Wis. 3:1-8; Rev. 14:1-5)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers and physicians.  They were also Christians.  They went from place to place providing medicine to those in need, and didn’t charge for their services.  They were well loved by the brethren. 
But, word came to the authorities during the reign of Diocletian that these brothers and physicians were Christians, and they were ordered to renounce Christ or suffer the consequences.  Refusing to renounce Christ, suffer they did.  According to tradition, they were shackled in chains, burned, stoned, hung on crosses, and shot with arrows.  Amazingly, they survived all of that.  Even more amazingly, they still refused to renounce Christ.  Finally, the authorities, perplexed that these men wouldn’t die, beheaded them.  And in so doing, they thought that they put Saints Cosmas and Damian to death.  They didn’t.  Instead, they set them free and ushered them into the bliss of paradise, where they live to this day. 
Our Lord builds His Church upon blood – His own blood, shed on the cross for all sinners, and the blood of His martyrs, which is shed to bear witness to His salvific life, death, and resurrection.  During the severe persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, when Christians were being tortured and put to death in great number, Christ’s Church grew.  The blood of these martyrs, including Saints Cosmas and Damian, was like miracle grow for the church.  In Christ’s kingdom, suffering produces glory, weakness is strength, humility is power, the last are first, and death leads to life.  That’s how things work, and the world shall never understand this. 
Our Lord is still building His Church upon blood.  Do not think that martyrdom is a thing of the past.  Just this week, we have been reminded that the persecution of Christians is still happening around the world.  An Iranian Christian pastor is facing execution for refusing to renounce Christ and pledge his allegiance to Allah, the mythical and false god of Muslims.  By the time I preach this sermon, this brother in Christ may have already been put to death, which will mean entrance into the bliss of eternal life for him.  And if that does happen, look for the Church in Iran to grow, even as it continues to grow throughout the world where Christians endure suffering and are being persecuted and killed. 
You know where the Church is not growing?  Here in America or anywhere in the West, where ease of life and freedom of religion are prevalent.  It is, rather, declining, and at a rapid rate.  And this, dear friends in Christ, is the cross we are called to bear.  We are not threatened with death for refusing to renounce Christ, but we are persecuted all the same, tempted by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh to pay little mind to our faith and to join the crowd in satisfying our own sinful and fleshly desires.  The conditions are ripe for a great turning away from the faith when ease of life and freedom are prevalent, and the devil is Johnny-on-the-spot to help facilitate this falling away, even raising up many who claim to speak for Christ to accomplish his will, leading them to make the Church more worldly so that one can barely tell the difference between a pop concert and worship in many places today, and so that one can hardly tell the difference between the messages preached by the plethora of false prophets on the scene and the messages of self-help, motivational speakers.  The devil has been wildly successful in getting many to buy into his lies, so that they see the Church as just another place of entertainment and Jesus Christ as nothing more than a life-coach or cheerleader who roots you on so that you can indulge your selfish desires, fulfill your fantasies, and live your best lives now. 
This, dear friends, is our cross, our persecution, our call to martyrdom, for while we may not be asked to renounce Christ or be put to death physically, that same temptation and threat is cast upon us, so that we are asked to renounce true faith in Christ and join the crowd, which leads to spiritual death.  We have not yet been forced to resist these temptations to the point of bloodshed, but they are no less real and no less threatening.  For, in the end, that Christ builds His Church upon blood is not merely about the blood itself, but about the confession, the witness, the testimony that blood makes.  We are called, even without the threat of physical bloodshed, to withstand the temptations all around us and make the good confession of the faith, and, rest assured, we will be persecuted for doing so. 
And like Saints Cosmas and Damian, and all those who have been slain for Christ through the years right up to the present day, we shall not be free from the darts of the devil, the sinful world, and our own sinful flesh, which often falls prey to the temptations and joins the crowd, until our hearts stop pumping blood throughout our bodies.  Until then, we have but one avenue for sustenance and strength as we wend our way through the wilderness of this sinful world, and that is Jesus Christ our Lord, who graciously and mercifully feeds us with the sweet honey of His Word, and prepares a Table for us in the midst of our enemies, that we may feast on His very Body and Blood.  There is our strength.  There is our food.  There is our peace and joy, amidst the many sorrows and sufferings we must yet endure this side of glory. 
Fix your eyes on Jesus, you Cosmases and Damians, you beloved martyrs, repenting daily of your sins and clinging ever to the Lamb of God who has taken your sins away.  You will be hated.  You will be persecuted.  You will suffer much in this world.  You will even be delivered up by parents and brothers and relatives and friends.  Yes, even those who are supposed to be your supporters and allies will be your persecutors at times, as our brothers and sisters in Christ at University Lutheran Chapel have sadly had to learn recently.  But, you have had the Divine Name written on your foreheads and have been covered in the blood of the Lamb.  You are part of the 144,000 beautifully pictured in Revelation, the redeemed of the Lord.  You belong to Christ.  He will sustain you.  He will keep you.  He will not allow a hair on your head to perish, for He will strengthen you to endure.  And your endurance will soon gain your lives, and you will dwell with Saints Cosmas and Damian, and all the saints and angels, in glory unspeakable.  

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

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