The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25th)
June 27-28, 2009
Text: John 15:1-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
For twelve long years, the Holy Roman Empire had been racked with religious controversy. In that time, Emperor Charles V had defeated France, sacked Rome in a dispute with Pope Leo X, and defeated the Muslims who had laid siege to Vienna. Charles had been raised in the Spanish Netherlands - what we would call today Belgium. He was the grandson and heir of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. He had ascended the Spanish throne at age sixteen under the name King Charles I. He was also the grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. He succeeded to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire at age eighteen in the year 1518. Holding two of the most powerful and most wealthy thrones in Europe, he was considered the most powerful man in the world. But there was one matter that he couldn’t seem to get under control - the religious controversies racking Germany. The religious dissent had led to a popular revolt in the mid 1520's called the Peasants War. Tens of thousands died. Yet, Charles could not get his hands on the leaders of the religious dissidents. Part of the problem was the peculiar polity of Holy Roman Empire. The emperor was elected by a small group of nobles called “electors”, and thus was largely dependant upon their support. The most powerful of all these electors was the Duke of Saxony. Frederick the Wise was a cagy, elderly politician, who had played young Charles like a fiddle. By 1529, Charles was older and wiser, and Frederick had died. He was succeeded by his brother, Duke John the Steadfast. And Charles had defeated his most powerful enemies.
Charles ordered the Diet or parliament to assemble in the city of Speyer in the summer of 1529. At the opening of the Diet, Charles ordered that all the German princes join him in a Corpus Christi procession - that is a procession through the streets of the city behind a piece of consecrated communion bread. A number of German princes, led by Duke John, refused. Because of their protest of the Emperor’s command, they were termed “Protestants.”
Both sides maneuvered through summer as the Diet dragged on. Finally, Duke John was able to secure an order from the Emperor to present their confession of faith to the Diet. There were a series of hastily convened meetings through the winter. The protesting princes chose Professor Philip Melanchthon to prepare their statement. He was considered a better writer than Luther. Further, since Luther was an outlaw, he could not attend the Diet. Melanchthon was able to be present.
The Diet again convened in June of 1530, this time in the city of Augsburg. The maneuvering was on again. Finally, on a blistering hot, June 25th, Wittenberg attorney Christian Beyer read the confession before the Emperor in a booming voice, declaring that their confession would prevail against the very gates of hell. It had been signed by seven German princes, and the representatives of the free cities of Nuremberg and Roetlingen. By August, most of Germany and some territories outside of Germany had signed on to the Augsburg Confession. The Lutheran Church was born. To this day, pastors and congregations of the Lutheran Church pledge themselves to the Augsburg Confession.
What did the confessors of Augsburg do? They divided themselves from others. They shattered relationships. They told the majority of Christendom that they would have nothing more to do with them. And they paid dearly for this. Two of those seven princes would spend many years in prison for their confession of faith. Why would they do this? It certainly wasn’t Minnesota nice! They did this because they understood something very profound. As Christians, we are bound by the Word of God, that is the Holy Scriptures. Our relationship, one to another, is based upon Christ and upon His Word. If we are not united in the Word, any relationship we would have would be a false relationship. The Lutherans were first to take such a stand.
The text that has been associated with the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, already in 1531 is John 15: I AM the vine, you are branches. What John the Steadfast, well schooled by Luther and Melanchthon, understood, is that in Baptism we are grafted into Christ. As branches grafted into Christ, His sap, flows through us and nourishes us. That sap is the Holy Scriptures - God’s law which us shows us our sins and God’s Gospel which shows us our Savior. Furthermore, our relationships are determined by Holy Scripture. Either we are together conformed to God’s Word, or our relationship is based upon a lie. This has become a big problem in America. The world tells us that the way to get along is to stand for nothing. If we dare to stand for the truth, it will divide us. It will divide us from those who stand for falsehood. But didn’t Christ come to draw people together? Listen to the very words of Christ recorded for us in Matthew 10:34 and following: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” So Christ Himself says that the purpose of His coming was divide. He came to divide those who confess the truth of God’s Word from those who profess falsehood.
Why does this make a difference? Because this is not a game. This is a deadly earnest business. Eternal life is at stake. Christ also warns us in Luke 12 to fear that One who kills people and then sends them to hell. Who is that? Christ is speaking of Himself. We confess this every week in the Creed when we say that Christ will judge the living and the dead. One of the constant themes of the Old Testament is that God is about truth and God establishes what that truth is. We either do this God’s way or we are enemies of God. Thanks be to God, that in Jesus Christ, we have perfect forgiveness of our sins and are given, as a free gift, eternal life. Being grafted into Christ, and having God’s Word flowing though us as life giving sap, is not only for this life, but for all eternity. No man made worship, no man made rites, no man made works can please God. All these things are false and must be rejected, as our forefathers did at Augsburg. But the ways of God are not a burden, but a joy. Why, because He has done for us what we could not do. Now Word and Sacrament are gifts to us to graft us into Christ. They are the sap that flows through us and preserves us in the faith. They give us life by the forgiveness of sins. God is angry at man for sin. But that anger was burned out upon Christ. So now, all who are in Christ, have forgiveness and eternal life.
In 1530, the confessors of Augsburg confronted a church that was corrupt. It taught many false and man made doctrines. Because the church was not conformed to the Word of God, that is Holy Scripture, many people ended up in hell. People were taught to please God by their own works of satisfaction. But this is impossible, because the filth and disease of sin is so deep that we cannot earn God’s favor by our works. We are hopelessly lost in sin and death. But our forefathers at Augsburg confessed something else, was well. They knew from Holy Scripture, that, while we cannot earn God’s favor by our works, Christ has already earned God’s favor in our place. And all who cling to this truth, will indeed rise, bodily, from the dead, and live forever with Christ in heaven.