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Raise Up The Fallen World: A Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday and Luther at the Diet of Worms

Misericordias Domini – Third Sunday in Easter

On the 500th Anniversary of Dr. Luther’s Confession at the Diet of Worms to the Holy Roman Emperor – 18 April 1521

“Raise Up The Fallen World”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor  

St. John 10.11-16

18 April 2021

+ In the Name of Jesus +

O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys… (Collect, Easter 3)

Our collect today points us to what faces God’s little flock. Christ has raised up the fallen world by His death and resurrection, and rescued it from the peril of everlasting death. Yet we live in a time of bearing the cross, waiting for the return of the great Shepherd of the sheep on the last day to bring us to perpetual gladness and eternal joy with Him. We clearly have the promise of such gladness and joy to come, but it is not here yet. We still live in days when clouds and thick darkness seem to have the ascendency – hired hands seek to lead the flock astray to sin and false doctrine – even pastors who should know better fail and disappoint and fall into sin and shame; kings, princes, governors and presidents and legislators lead their nations astray towards less love for our neighbors, and to become an ever more self-centered and selfish people; and of course the wolf, the devil, prowls around seeking to snatch sheep from God’s flock and scatter them away from faith in God’s saving love and care for them.

Today we observe the 500th anniversary of a seminal event in the Lutheran Reformation. Dr. Martin Luther was summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms in order to either renounce or reaffirm his theology in response to a papal bull of Pope Leo X which branded Luther as a teacher of false doctrine. God had given Dr. Martin Luther the gift of studying and knowing Holy Scripture, and there Luther learned the central article of the Christian faith: that God desires man to live in and with the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, and so be counted and reckoned righteous freely by God for Christ’s sake alone, as the clear Scriptures teach. The papacy deemed this “false doctrine” or heresy.

But it was the papacy which had to the time of Luther led the Church astray – the Pope and his bishops were the classic example of the “hired hand” Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel, they do not own the sheep, they care for themselves, and they leave the flock to the wolf, the devil. Most of the popes and bishops of that time were not true pastors and theologians, rather they were men of wealth and nobility who mostly bought and bribed their way into their positions. They forsook the Gospel and left the flock to the wolf by teaching people to put their faith and trust in their good works of manmade piety and devotion as a way of earning one’s way to heaven, including the selling of indulgences which enriched Roman coffers and their own. This left the sheep, the common, baptized Christian, on the precipice of being snatched back by the devil into the clutches of hell.

Today, April 18th, 1521, Luther was asked one final time before the Holy Roman Emperor and the various cardinal bishops of the Pope, and before the princes and dignitaries: would he renounce the biblical doctrines he was teaching? Luther replied:

How much more should I, who am but dust and ashes, and so prone to error, desire that everyone should bring forward what he can against my doctrine. Therefore, most serene emperor, and you illustrious princes, and all, whether high or low, who hear me, I implore you by the mercies of God to prove to me by the writings of the prophets and apostles that I am in error. As soon as I shall be convinced, I will instantly retract all my errors, and will myself be the first to seize my writings, and commit them to the flames…

Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen. (Luther’s speech to the Diet of Worms, 18 April 1521)

At the end of the Diet, the Emperor issued the Edict of Worms, a decree which condemned Luther as “a notorious heretic” and banned citizens of the Empire from propagating his ideas. Private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate, but he was not arrested at Worms. Through negotiations by his prince, elector Frederick the Wise, Luther had been given a letter of safe conduct to and from the hearing. After his dismissal Luther departed for his home in Wittenberg, however, fearing for Luther’s safety, the elector sent men to fake a highway attack and “kidnap” Luther, hiding him away at Wartburg Castle – where for over a year Luther wrote books and translated the Scriptures into German. Meanwhile, God’s Word of comfort in Christ spread once again to many hearts.

This is an example of our Lord being a good, living Shepherd. He sees the terrible state of humanity and the Church itself, the hurting, lost, straying flock – whether in the days of the prophets like Ezekiel, or at the time Our Lord Himself came down, or when the Church faced persecution and martyrdom and various heresies in the early centuries after our Lord ascended, or whether at the time of the Reformation when men denied the Gospel itself, or whether it is in the trials and travails and tribulations we face today – the Church is always a storm-tossed, wolf-harassed little flock.

But the Lord is risen and is able to raise the dead, “and is also able to uphold His cause when it is falling, or to raise it up again when it has fallen, or to move it forward when it is standing.” (Luther letter to Melanchthon, June 1530 – Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 147) If there are no worthy shepherds, He will raise up others, like Luther, to accomplish his purposes. God does not wash His hands of us. He does not give up and just consign us to hell and the devil.

First and foremost, the Son of God willed to take upon Himself our flesh as our brother and be humiliated in our place for the sin we were guilty of. He willingly fell into fiery furnace of God’s wrath over sin and went down into the grave for us so that we would be raised up. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.

The Lord laid upon our Savior and Shepherd the iniquity of us all. God struck the Shepherd to save the sheep, the Shepherd willingly laying down His life for the flock. But now you have been taken back – by God’s gracious work at Calvary, brought back safe into God’s flock. How? Upon the shepherd and overseer of your souls. You might picture the shepherd as Jesus does in Luke 15 – returning with the lost sheep over His shoulders, rejoicing. It’s a happy picture.

The truth that Christ is this Good Shepherd who returns rejoicing with each member of His flock to the Father is bound together with His resurrection. There is no shepherd to bring back the lamb on his shoulders rejoicing if He is dead. But in fact, God has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep.

Here, in His Church, Jesus Christ gladly receives and comforts and strengthens all sinners. He deals with you graciously, out of love for you. He comes to raise you up out of the muck and mess of this life with mercy and peace, the forgiveness of sins He won by laying down His life for the flock.

Jesus says: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down in the green pastures of my Word, beside the still and saving waters of Holy Baptism, in front of the table I set with my own body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Here, with the Gospel, my living voice, I, your Good Shepherd, seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, raise up this fallen world.”

Luther knew this and believed this in his heart, and this faith in Christ gave him courage and steadfastness to make the good confession of God’s Word before kings and princes and all the world, even under threat of death. The Gospel was at stake, but like the apostles and so many countless confessors who came before him, Luther also knew and trusted the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus who laid down His life for the flock and took that life back up again on the third day, and who even now lives and reigns to shepherd the flock with His voice. He sends faithful shepherds to raise up and tend His people through His Word, His Baptism, and His Supper.

Within the vocations God gives you each day, pray for the strength, courage, mercy, and love the Lord has first shown you, to not give up on the hurting sinners around you, to pray for them, to encourage them, to bring them to the services of God’s house to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Know that in God’s Kingdom, in our congregation and community, and in our own families, there are only weak and sickly people, the broken and contrite, the lost and straying, all who so dearly need raising up by the power of the risen Good Shepherd. Here, God raises up dead sinners to new life, by the voice of the one Good Shepherd, joining many into one flock that will at the Last Day be raised up from this fallen world into the perpetual gladness and eternal joy of the .

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

 

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