Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Sunday of Easter 4/18/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Easter3 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s readings. To read the Bible texts for the third Sunday of Easter, click here.
Five hundred years ago today, the city of Worms became famous. It was there that the Reichstag, the Imperial Diet, was held. This was a routine meeting to deal with the business of the Holy Roman Empire. One item on the docket, however, was not routine. And it is the reason this Imperial Diet is still remembered by us and by the world.
The Bishop’s palace was packed with the electors and the German princes, jurists and clergymen, and anyone else who could fit – not to mention the Emperor himself, Charles V. They were there to deal with Fr. Luther, a problematic monk and professor, who caused no small amount of trouble by teaching the Scriptures. They demanded:
“Martin, answer clearly and without any double-talk. Do you or do you not recant your books and the errors in them?”
Would Luther recant and deny the clear teaching of Scripture? Grace, faith, and Christ alone: for us and for our salvation… Doing so would be sure to save his life, but of course there’s more to life than that. You probably know how it went. Martin replied,
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures and by plain reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, May God help me, Amen. LW 32:112-13
Because we admire strength, it’s fun to think of Luther as the German Hercules, as many did. Because we love independence, it’s convenient to imagine Luther as a rebel, as we still do. Because we strive to be courageous, it’s inspiring to think of his bravery.
Strength, independence, and courage are not bad in and of themselves; much to the contrary. When these things are wielded faithfully for the right reasons, they’re virtuous and good. But if we focus too much on these things this morning, we risk missing the point.
Luther wasn’t trying to be a brave, rebellious hero of mythical proportion. Luther was being a sheep, resting in the care of The Good Shepherd. This is not the picture we have in mind, and it is not the one we really want. We don’t want to think of Luther as a sheep.
Sheep are not strong. Sheep don’t have sharp teeth. Sheep are not very smart. Sheep don’t fight wolves, princes, and popes. Sheep exist in a state of constant dependence on their Shepherd.
So when he was put to it in front of God and everybody, this is what he insisted on. The proceedings of the Diet are lengthy, but what Luther scribbled on a piece of paper as he lay on his deathbed is not: “We are all beggars. This is true.”
He may as well have written “sheep.” The idea is the same: No strength, no smarts, no stuff. Just weak, defenseless, and dependent. This is the only way to be a Christian.
For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. verses 11-13
The day of clouds and thick darkness came on Good Friday, as the Lord Himself sought and found His scattered sheep. They were there strewn about, lost, confused, and starving to death. But on the cross Jesus gathered them to Himself.
He went further still. The Good Shepherd entered the thick darkness of the grave to find those lost in darkness and in the shadow of death. And because He is risen from that grave, He brings out the peoples and gathers them, and will bring them into their own land.
Here I stand, I can do no other.
What does this mean? It means: Here I stand in the care of my Savior, and I cannot stand anywhere else. All around me are clouds and thick darkness. All around me is sinking sand. But I have been found and placed in a new land.
It means here I listen to my Shepherd’s voice. And I cannot not listen to the voice of a stranger. Strangers won’t lay down their lives for me, and if they did it would profit me nothing. My Shepherd, who has died for me and risen for me, calls me by name. I am His and He is mine. There is no other voice, and no other Word to which I will listen.
It means here I eat what my Shepherd feeds me. And everything else is indigestible. What the world would feed me is poison. What my Shepherd feeds me is hearty and nourishing, and it alone satisfies. His Word I will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. His Body and Blood I will eat and drink to my salvation.
Whatever name they want to call us by doesn’t matter. We don’t stand on Luther. We stand with Luther, a fellow sheep. Which is to say that we stand on Christ, our Good Shepherd: Hearing His Voice, eating what He provides, and living daily by His grace.
This will increasingly put you at odds with friends and neighbors, vven if it does not draw the attention of kings and emperors.
Standing on Christ and refusing to stand elsewhere; hearing Christ’s voice and refusing to live by lies; eating what Christ feeds and spitting out junk…
All this may look like you’re being strong, heroic, or a rebel. But this is what it means to be a sheep. That’s what Luther’s declaration at Worms was all about. This is what the whole Bible is about: Christ, the Good Shepherd, come to seek out, rescue, and feed His Sheep.
Here we stand. We cannot do otherwise. God help us. Amen.