October 24, 2017

Reformation 500: Luther’s Prayers

Some Prayers of Martin Luther

One of Martin Luther’s tasks in reforming the church and raising the level of faith among the people was helping them learn to pray. For example, in his greatest work, The Small Catechism, he encouraged families to have morning and evening prayers together.

How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening

Morning Prayer.

1] In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

2] Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

3] Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

Evening Prayer.

4] In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

5] Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

Here are some other prayers of Luther for various occasions. I chose some that I find particularly instructive and insightful, and hope that they might prove useful for our iMonk community. These are taken from a collection called Luther’s Prayers, edited by Herbert F. Brokering.

• • •

Prayer Before the Sermon

Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us your Holy Spirit who writes the preached Word into our hearts. May we receive and believe it and be cheered and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify your Word in our hearts and make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, through your Holy Spirit think what is right, and by your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer After the Sermon

Dear Lord Christ, you have enlightened my heart with your truth. Grant me your Spirit and the power to do and not to do whatever pleases your gracious will. Amen.

A Prayer for Strengthened Faith

Almighty God, through the death of your Son you have destroyed sin and death. Through his resurrection you have restored innocence and eternal life. We who are delivered from the power of the devil may live in your kingdom. Give us grace that we may believe this with our whole heart. Enable us, always, to steadfastly praise and thank you in this faith, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer After Communion

We thank you, almighty Lord God, that you have refreshed us with this precious gift, and we ask for your mercy that you would let it nurture in us strong faith toward you and intensive love among us all, through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Lasting Peace

Dear God, give us peaceful hearts and a right courage in the confusion and strife against the devil. And so may we not only endure and finally triumph, but also have peace in the midst of the struggle. May we praise and thank you and not complain or become impatient against your divine will. Let peace win the victory in our hearts, that we may never through impatience initiate anything against you, our God, or our neighbors. May we remain quiet and peaceable toward God and toward other people, both inwardly and outwardly, until the final and eternal peace shall come. Amen.

A Pastor’s Prayer for Guidance

Dear heavenly Father, say something. I will gladly remain silent and be a child and learner. If I should rule the church with my own knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, I would have been sunk long ago. Therefore, dear God, you guide and direct it. I will gladly forsake my point of view and understanding and let you rule alone through your Word. Amen.

A Prayer for Relief from Misery

Lord, misery and misfortune annoy me and oppress me. I long to be rid of them. You have said, Ask and it will be given you. So I come and ask. Amen.

A Prayer for Love toward Others

Dear Father in heaven, for the sake of your dear Son Jesus Christ grant us your Holy Spirit, that we may be true learners of Christ, and therefore acquire a heart with a never-ceasing fountain of love. Amen.

Reformation 500: Sermon on Conversion (1Thess 1:1-10)

Sermon: Conversion (1 Thess 1:1-10)
Reformation Principles in 1Thessalonians

Introduction

One of life’s most difficult realities is change. Most of us have a way of doing things, a pattern of life, habits, routines; and we find it hard to adjust those or go in different directions. We have proverbs that talk about how we get “set in our ways,” about how you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and so on.

Psychologists tell us that studies have show that people after their 20s are not as open to change, at least until their 60s. That is probably because the demands of adult responsibilities that come upon us in our middle adult years make it increasingly difficult to change. Once a family and career are in place, novelty and change may not longer be as welcome. So most people may dream of taking adventures and making big life changes, but in the end most of us hold fast to the familiar.

Our brain also works against us making big changes. It is always trying to automate things and create habits that give off a sense of pleasure and accomplishment. When we hold to the tried and the true, we get feelings of security, safety, and competence, and our fear of the future and of failure are reduced.

Many of us do however entertain unrealistic expectations about what change is possible. There’s even a name for it: False Hope Syndrome. We envision big changes and try to do too much too fast. The result it that we get disappointed time and time again by our inability to maintain the change. New Year’s Resolutions, anyone? Better to think of making regular small adjustments than a total overhaul.

When we get to about age 60, however, we become more open to change, as the nest empties and we approach the end of our work careers, and we have fulfilled other life obligations. But even then, researchers have found, it is hard to make fundamental changes in our lives.

We have to face these tendencies in ourselves straight up. It is hard to change. It is difficult to change course. It is hard to replace bad habits with good ones, to alter our attitudes, to change our ways of thinking, to follow different patterns in our daily lives.

Nevertheless, one of the things the Reformation teaches us is that we must be people who are open to change. The first Reformation principle I would like to talk about from this first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is CONVERSION. To convert is to to change, to turn around and go a different direction, to adjust your course, to choose a different way than the one you’re going on. Conversion involves changing our minds, changing our attitudes, changing our feelings, changing our actions, and changing our habits. Converted people think differently, feel differently, talk differently, and act differently than they did before they were converted.

Martin Luther became converted when God’s Word came to him in power, showed him the futility of the path he was on, revealed a new path to him, and gave him the desire and strength to get up and walk on that new path. That is why the first thesis he posted on the Wittenberg door was this: The Christian life is a life of continual repentance, another word for conversion. In other words, he was saying that Christians are converted people who are always and ever being converted, or changed, by God.

If we are true Reformation believers, we are always changing, always growing, always dying to the old life and being raised to walk in the new life. We are always listening to God’s Word, which tells us which way to go and which way not to go. We are always being led by the Spirit, who shows us how to avoid the ways of darkness and seek the paths of light. Yes, we believe that God accepts us as we are, that he loves us and welcomes us even though we sin and fail and mess up. But in that process of being welcomed, new desires to change and grow and develop are born in us. We enter a new life of adventures, of new paths, of faith instead of self-righteousness, of hope instead of mere existence, of love instead of self-absorption. We don’t seek change because we’re afraid of God but because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts and it is our joy and ultimate fulfillment to learn to walk in his ways.

You see, when a person is converted, he/she receives new life, the life of Christ himself. We are joined to Jesus and we share in all that belongs to him — all of his righteousness, all of his goodness, all of his wisdom, all of his love. Life becomes a daily adventure of discovering more and more about the treasures we have received in him and then sharing those gifts with others.

This is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians here in chapter one. He gives thanks when he thinks of them because, in them, he sees wonderful examples of converted Christians who are on the paths of ongoing conversion and transformation. He sees in them an ongoing “work of faith and labor of love and stead-fastness of hope.” He notes how God’s Word came to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with great conviction.” He rejoices in how they imitated the Lord and the apostles, even though they had to endure suffering because of it. They were converted so soundly and continued in daily conversion so steadfastly that they became an example to other believers all around the region. Everyone could see how they had “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.”

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote that one of the best ways to enter into the practice of daily conversion is to remember our baptism each and every day.

What does such baptizing with water signify?

—Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?

—Answer. St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

You know Gospel examples of people like Zaccheus, who made his living extorting money from others. He was converted and began living a life of justice and generosity. Or Peter and John, who exchanged fishing for the life of discipleship with Jesus. Or Paul, whom Jesus confronted on the Damascus Road and turned his life around. Or the people who came to John the Baptist, confessed their sins, were baptized in the Jordan, and began looking for the Messiah. I myself had a major conversion experience when I was a teenager, a spiritual awakening that turned my life around and led me into ministry. Martin Luther had several, from the thunderstorm which caused him to become a monk, to the Tower experience when he was reading Romans and it suddenly became clear to him that “the just shall live by faith.”

But I want to emphasize that conversion need not be a big, life-changing, dramatic thing. The most important conversion happens every day, when we die to sin and rise to walk in newness of life in the midst of our families, our neighbors, and our community.

Martin Luther’s first thesis of the 95 was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This turning around, this changing direction, is also known as conversion, and it is the first mark of Reformation Christians.

19th Sunday after Trinity: Pic & Cantata of the Week

French Fishing Vessel ‘Alf’ in the Irish Sea. Photo by Defence Images

(Click on picture to see larger image)

This article describes the metaphorical world Bach creates in today’s rich solo bass cantata, BWV 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen” (I will gladly carry the cross)”.

Cantata 56 was written for the 19th Sunday after Trinity in 1726 (October 27 that year). The Gospel reading for that day mentions a voyage in a ship over the sea; the storms encountered on such a journey are related to the burden of carrying the cross and living with all of life’s obstacles. It is ultimately a metaphor for sailing life’s journey to reach heaven (Robertson, The Church Cantatas of J.S. Bach, p. 298). The text, whose author remains anonymous, makes numerous references to the sea, to ships, and to a journey throughout, making both overt and subtle ties to the Gospel of the day.

My pilgrimage in the world
is like a sea voyage:
trouble, suffering, and anguish
are the waves that cover me
and to death itself
daily terrify me;
my anchor however, which holds me firm,
is mercy,
with which my God often appeases me.
He calls thus to me:
I am with you,
I will not forsake you or abandon you!
And when the raging torrents
are come to an end,
then I will step off the ship into my city,
which is the kingdom of heaven,
where with the righteous
I will emerge out of many troubles.

Finally, finally my yoke
must fall away from me.
Then will I fight with the Lord’s strength,
then I will have an eagle’s power,
then I will journey from this earth
and run without becoming fatigued.
O let it happen today!

• • •

Photo by Defence Images at Flickr. Creative Commons License

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