Third Sunday after Trinity, Sermon B.
The Lord says through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel: "I will feed my flock and will feed them in a good pasture. I will bind up that which was broken, I will feed them with judgement." Ezek. 34.
Thus said the Lord through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel. And we believe that the Lord has fulfilled His gracious promise; although it appears before our eyes as though much has remained unfulfilled. When we observe that time when Christianity first appeared in the world, we find that the Lord Himself had begun to feed His sheep when the Holy Spirit was poured upon the disciples and upon the first Christians, and the first Christians could rejoice in the Lord, although they were so hated and persecuted by the world. And many times afterwards the promise of the Lord also became fulfilled, as we read of the recollection of former Christians who were in the pope's kingdom, where every so often the true Christians were terribly persecuted, but the Lord Himself has fed them and strengthened them with His grace, that they have been able to go to death with joy and rejoicing. And also in the kingdom of Luther, the Lord Himself has fed His sheep since the lazy and careless shepherds have not fed Jesus' sheep, but fed themselves and the goats. Then the Lord has always awakened some man or some woman to preach powerfully to the sorrowless people, and in that way the Lord Himself has fed His sheep and led them to the best pastures, where the graced souls have come to feel joy and rejoicing and a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven. But we see that it is such a small group which the Lord feeds in this way; there are not many souls alongside of that great multitude, who can taste of that sweet food, which is in the best pasture. And those few who can taste of that sweet food, can only seldom taste of it. What then happens to all the rest? Must then all others eat the devil's food? Many a worldly vise one has said that God would not be almighty if He could not lift up from hell that great multitude which has fallen into hell. And many a peasant who imagines that he understands what the right doctrine is, many a peasant says, "God has not created me for destruction." They rely upon that, that God is so merciful that He will raise all the impenitent whores and thieves up from hell. But it is not as the grace thieves think. God is certainly almighty, but God cannot do anything contrary to His nature. God is not only merciful, but also wrathful. He is wrathful to those who do not believe, so that they would be able to war against sin. He is also wrathful to those who commit sin upon grace, who believe and commit adultery, believe and steal, believe and deceive their neighbor, believe and drink, believe and curse, believe and laugh the giggler's laugh with the gigglers. That laughing of the gigglers God could not bear in the Old Testament. No one has ever seen the Saviour laughing, but the disciples have seen Him weeping many times.
Where now are the lost sheep of the House of Israel, which the Shepherd of Israel came to seek? Where now are the lambs of Jesus which He asked Peter to feed? They were all scattered on the mountain of Israel in the cloudy and dark day. But the Shepherd of Israel saw that they would become meat to all the beasts, if they would remain alone for a longer time, therefore He had to begin to seek them out. The great Shepherd of Israel travels now those heavy and troublesome steps, seeking and calling out in every place, on Mt. Sinai, on the shore of the Red Sea, and near Jordan's stream. Some have climbed on Mt. Sinai from where they fall down and break their necks. Some have become exhausted on the shore of the Red Sea, and fear they will drown when the enemies oppress them into the Red Sea. But step boldly into the Red Sea, Israel. If you believe, you will cross the Red Sea dry shod, but the enemies will drown in the waves of the Red Sea, and then you will, for the first time, get to sing the new hymn to God. He finds some on the shore of the River Jordan where John baptizes, but one great multitude lies dead and as bones on the shore of the Dead Sea, where they decay and stink, and that worm which will never die, it gnaws at them. That worm which is called the dog of Hades will gnaw their bones even after death.
But when the Lord Himself has promised to feed His sheep, we pray that the great Shepherd of Israel would bring them to the best pastures, then they would grow white wool which the Shepherd has washed in the river Jordan, that they could rest on the hill of Golgotha when they come from the wilderness of this world, that the great Shepherd of Israel would bring them into the sheepfold when the snow storms and tempests come, and finally on Mt. Zion, where the lambs leap as deer and rejoice and are exceedingly glad. Hear, Shepherd of Israel, the bleating of the lost, strayed, and wretched sheep. Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Luke 15:1-10.
In accordance with our holy gospel we must seek the lost sheep. First, let us consider those places where the lost sheep usually are. Secondly, what joy comes to the angels in heaven over one sinner who turns and repents. Whoever goes to seek sheep must be very familiar in those woods, in dangers, also along the shores of the rivers where the sheep usually are. He must be familiar with Mt. Sinai, the shore of the Red Sea, and the shore of the River Jordan, where the sheep usually were before. He must take notice of their footprints, if they have gone up into the heights of Mt. Sinai, or if they have gone to the shore of the Dead Sea, or if they have become lost on Mt. Hagar, which reaches unto Jerusalem, whose children are slaves together with their mother. It is not known where the Shepherd must find some lost sheep. Some have probably gone so far into the deep woods, that they will never come back. The Shepherd travels those heavy and troublesome steps and cries out on Mt. Sinai, on the shore of the Red Sea, and near Jordan's stream, but hears nothing there. There is no voice or answer there. And when He calls the lost sheep, "Where are you!", then the mountains answer, "Where are you!" Sometimes some wretched sheep can be heard bleating far away, and the Shepherd thinks that there might be other lost sheep there.
But when He goes there, there is nothing; even that one is gone whose voice was heard. No doubt it was some lean wretch, which the wolf was ravaging and then it bleated. If the Shepherd looks down, He sometimes sees some footprints of sheep in the muddy bog. Sometimes He encounters some carcasses which the wolf has killed, and of some nothing is left but some pieces of skin, and who can repair those carcasses which the wolf has killed? With great sorrow and bitterness of mind the Shepherd looks at those carcasses which the wolf has slain, but He cannot help them or give them life. But He must leave them and seek others who however still have life. It seems as though the lost sheep were gone for all time, since formerly the Shepherd of Israel has found some on Mt. Sinai, where they had strayed, but now no one is found on Mt. Sinai, where God roared terribly in Moses' time. The frightened and trembling ones do not dare to climb up there. But this fear did not remain long; they soon began to dance around the goldan calf. That great Shepherd of Israel has also found some on the shore of the Red Sea, where the enemies began to oppress them. But Moses lifted his staff and they were able to escape; they crossed over the river dry shod. And then they saw the enemy drown in the waves of the Red Sea. And on the other side of the sea, for the first time they were able to rejoice and be joyful. But this joy was not long lasting when they began to travel in the wilderness where there were no berries on the trees or water on the earth. And although the Shepherd fed them manna, which rained from heaven, they were not satisfied even with that, but when the flesh pots of Egypt came to mind, they began to murmur and complain. Faith did not endure during the time of temptation. Because of that murmuring and that impatience, they had to travel back and forth in the wilderness of this world. To many the desire came to turn back to the house of bondage, and there they died like dogs. And although such a good reward was promised in the land of Canaan, where milk and honey flow, so they were seen going into the kingdom of the dead, nor do many people now reach that promised land where milk and honey flow. Woe! Woe! How many souls are lost in the wilderness of this world. And it appears that it is the same now as then, the same battle with the enemy, the same murmuring in the wilderness, the same dissatisfaction, the same complaining when the flesh pots come to mind. And because of adultery, 24,000 were slain. What other than the devil of adultery takes the young folks, which is so strong in the young flesh? How many souls do you think will reach the promised land? Probably not many will reach there. I do not however doubt of their Christianity who have become rooted and strengthened, but there are many lost ones and scattered ones, so there is left only one small flock who will hardly stay together without a shepherds. And if now the shepherd goes after those which have become lost, where will he find them? Who knows, in the desert or in the deep forest, where the wolves have torn and ravaged some. Some have drowned in the Dead Sea. Some are in the caves of the cliffs, some run amidst dangers after mushrooms, and some have gone into the land of the pagans. But that great Shepherd of Israel, who always travels those heavy and troublesome steps seeking and calling those lost sheep, has found some on the hill of Golgotha, where they stand with sorrowful and broken hearts, weeping and lamenting that the Shepherd has died. There stands also Mary Magdalene and Johanna and that disciple whom Jesus loved. They see and know that Jesus has died. But at this time there are not many who weep and lament when Jesus dies. Surely they see that Jesus has died, but sorrow does not come because of that. What kind of mortals are they, who do not become sorrowful, although Jesus has died? Just so they are not of that large group, who stand and make mockery of the crucified One. Of that I have wondered much, that the unbelieving of this time do not have sorrow. However they do say there is no faith, therefore they do not become sorrowful. I think that they do not have true unbelief, but it is like some slime of dead faith which flows from their mouths. If the old order of grace must remain in its power, then sorrow must come from Jesus' death, and if there is true unbelief, then weeping and lamenting will be heard there. So it has happened to the disciples, and so it must happen even now if there is the true unbelief. But if there is dead faith, sorrow will not come. Sorrow does not come to the unbelieving of this time, and they go into the world, one to his field, one to his business; some go to commit adultery, some to drink. Some begin to bear finery, some to build beautiful estates. Do they have unbelief, who do and live so? Certainly not, it is not unbelief, but the faith is strong as a rock. What did the disciples do when their faith ended? Did they go to drink and to commit adultery when their faith ended? Did they go to carry finery and to seek delicacies? They were not able to go anywhere because of unbelief, but they were together in one room and there they wept and lamented. Go now, all you unbelieving ones, to weep and lament when Jesus has died. Go and complain that you have no refuge in heaven or in the world. Turn your hope to hell since you know and sea that Jesus has died. Turn your hope to hell and sigh so heavily that an opening will come into the roof. Perhaps these sighs will be heard in hell, where that crucified One is after His death, perhaps death and hell must allow Him to come up since the sighs of the penitent, sorrowful, and lamenting ones make unrest in hell. The tears of the penitent burn the conscience of death and he must allow the great Crossbearer to come up. Then joy will come to the sorrowful disciples, when Jesus becomes alive and they can follow Him to the mount of Ascension, where they pray to Him, bowing their knees. And then they go to preach the gospel to all created, each day awaiting the return of that great Victor to come to judge the quick and the dead. Amen.