The Plot to Kill Luther
Tuesday of Pentecost 16
6 September 2016
Martin Luther felt bound to help with government affairs that seemed important to him. In the last days of his life he traveled to Eisleben to sort out a squabble among the local nobility. Eisleben was his birthplace and ancestral home. He had a strong commitment to its being governed well. He described the squabble among the nobility as "the most difficult of porcupines." So despite being quite ill, he traveled in the dead of winter to Eisleben while exhibiting what we would call the signs of congestive heart failure, perhaps suffering on the way even a heart attack by the way Luther described his symptoms: sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and pain in the left arm. Yet, go he did. It would be his last trip. While he was in Eisleben he took to his bed for the final time, dying in the faith on 18 February 1546 in the town of his birth and childhood.

Luther's body was hardly cold when squabbles arose among Lutherans about the content of Luther's confession and the faith of the Lutheran Church. Lutherans themselves battled for more than 30 years until the Formula of Concord resolved struggles over significant Lutheran teachings, such as justification, law and gospel, the person of Christ, and the sacrament of the altar. Not only did squabbles arise among Lutherans but once the old lion was dead the enemies of the Lutheran Church certainly gathered to battle his corpse. The Roman Catholic Church commenced its anti-evangelical Council of Trent just weeks before Luther's demise, anticipating the event. When the old lion dies the young lions try to take over his pride. Soon after the death of Luther Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain made war against the German Lutheran princes defeating them soundly at the battle of Mühlhausen in 1547.

When the Emperor arrived in supine Wittenberg, loath to break into the Castle Church, he had subordinates look for the church Sexton to bring the keys to gain entrance where Luther's remains had been interred just 18 months previously. Upon gaining entrance, Charles strode to stand below the pulpit where Luther's mortal remains lay under the floor. When one of his subordinates suggested that they should dig up the remains of the German heretic and have them burned a la Jan Hus (1415), Charles said solemnly, "I do not make war on dead men," showing himself as magnanimous and gentlemanly in victory. He wasn't about to try to kill a dead man. Luther's body remains there to this day to be oggled by tourists and venerated by overawed Lutherans.

It is ironic that Luther died while on a governmental diplomatic mission. Yet, it is indicative of Luther's broad interest in the welfare of the German people and especially the people of his hometown, Eisleben. He would have died anyway, but he lived out his life to the end in love and in service toward his neighbor. That should be no surprise. It's no wonder then, that Charles declined to perpetrate any indignities on the remains of the old lion. It's too bad Luther's followers couldn't do the same theologically for the old lion. Following the death of Luther, the history of Lutheranism is really about how many tried to escape the hold of Luther's teaching on justification, the power of the gospel, and the evangelical administration of the sacraments as means of grace. But these things are God's things, not Luther's. They will survive his death no matter how hard we plot to kill Luther.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Grace and peace in the Lord! I do thank you, my Philip, for your prayers for me, and I ask you to continue to pray. You know that I am an old man, and a man who ought to be retired. Now I am being drawn into a struggle which is troublesome to my studies, totally incompatible with my disposition, and quite bothersome to my old age. Consequently, I certainly wish you were here, were it not that consideration for your health forces me instead to think it is good that we left you at home.

"During the trip both a loss of consciousness and that illness which you usually call humor ventriculi (symptoms of heart problems) caught me. For I went on foot, but this was beyond my strength, so that I perspired. Afterwards in the carriage when my shirt also had gotten cold from the sweat, the cold grabbed a muscle in my left arm. From this came that tightness of the heart and something like shortness of breath.It is my own stupid fault. But now I am quite well again; how long-well that, of course, I do not know, since one cannot trust old age."

Martin Luther, Letter to Philip Melanchthon, From Eisleben, 1 February 1546
Psalm 147

Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat. He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow. He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD! (ESV)
Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people.  Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For all professors of theology, that they would not disinter Luther by their teaching, but uphold the faith once delivered to the saints

For the Praesidium and all members of boards and commissions of the LCMS as they prepare for their installation in office this coming Saturday, that they would faithfully carry out their duties in accordance with the word of God onto the good of the holy bride of Christ

For all church musicians, that the Lord who grants the gift of song would uphold them in their office
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by in collaboration with
Constant Contact