John Morrison – 19 November 2017

This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. A significant commemorative project called the Luthergarten is nearing completion in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church. This involves the planting of 500 trees in three connected locations.

The main site has trees #1-292. In the centre is a Luther Rose pattern, representing Luther’s faith and theology. Seven paths symbolically lead out to the world. The trees have been sponsored and planted by churches and denominations from all over the world, including the Roman Catholic Church (tree #1).

Our history as Baptists is intertwined with that of the Reformation and early Anabaptist groups. It’s a fascinating story with some unexpected twists and ongoing implications for today. Thorwald will be sharing aspects of that story this afternoon at a special afternoon tea linked to the 500th Anniversary.

Following on from Belinda’s comments on prayer last week, I want to say a bit about Luther and prayer in this one.

A famous quote attributed to Luther is: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” While it is uncertain that he actually said that, there is no doubt that he was an extraordinary man of prayer. Veit Dietrich, one of his friends, wrote: “There is not a day on which he does not devote at least three hours, the very ones most suitable for studying, to prayer. Once I was fortunate to overhear his prayer. Good God, what faith in his words!”

But that is not to say that Luther found praying easy. Like most of us, he often found it hard work. In a letter to his friend Melancthon, he said: “I sit like a fool and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God, yet burn in a big fire for my untamed body. In short, I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, in laziness, leisure, and sleepiness… Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied.”

Nonetheless, he has provided much helpful instruction on prayer including a very long letter to his barber, Peter Beskendorf, entitled “A Simple Way to Pray”. Here Luther recommends using the Lord’s Prayer as a model and prayer prompted by meditation on Scripture, especially the Psalms.

Here is part of a prayer he wrote for the morning. “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things… Amen.”