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The Reformation lived and prayed

October 19, 2015 No Comment

by Robert Bugbee

Rev.Dr. Robert Bugbee

Rev.Dr. Robert Bugbee

Lutherans everywhere are gearing up to mark the 500th anniversary of that day—October 31, 1517—when a little-known monk, teaching at a fledgling university at the edge of nowhere, set events in motion which radically changed the established church. Some people lament the Reformation, because it introduced a division in Christendom from which the church has never fully recovered. Others feel moved to celebrate, because they see in it the Lord’s hand in uncovering again the heartbeat of the Gospel, that God sent His Christ to die for fallen humankind and now offers pardon for every wrong you ever did in the shed blood of Jesus as you come to Him in penitent trust.

I may as well admit I think this anniversary—coming in two years—is well worth celebrating. Yes, I feel sorrow at the sad divisions in Christianity and believe we ought to seek to overcome them as far as that can be done on the basis of God’s Word. But the liberating good news of Christ, crucified and raised again, was sorely needed in church and world five centuries ago. That has not changed. We have good reason to rejoice, give thanks and reflect on the priceless treasure transmitted to us by Luther and his colleagues from those days.

We’ll miss the mark if the celebrating is only a matter of thinking about the past, reviewing historical details, and supposing we have reason to be proud people because of the precious stuff we have stored away in our family “heirloom chest.” Above all, we can kneel and thank the Lord that He caused the light of Christ to burn brightly through the Reformation, because we are sinners who stood in rebellion against God and did not deserve His kindness any more than anybody else. To say it another way, Luther’s Reformation must not only be observed, researched, and debated.  The Reformation ought to be lived and prayed.

This is surely one reason Martin Luther had such an impact. He was indeed a learned man. He produced writings on nearly every area of sacred theology that would cover countless linear feet on our bookshelves. Even more, he was not some “egghead” who researched and speculated for academic reasons alone. He touched people of every conceivable sort—farmers, merchants, rulers, milkmaids—because his words burned with an urgency that sought to bring their Saviour close to them.  He was a God-fearer.

A friend of mine once called his Small Catechism “the most radical social document ever written.” If its teaching were deeply pondered by Christian people, made the subject of their prayers to the Lord, and then lived out, it would transform marriages, family relationships, business dealings, and community life, despite our weakness and stumbling. Of course, one can decide to just bottle it up, store it on a shelf, and only grab it as a reference work to win an argument or pass a test in confirmation class. But the Reformation is at its best when not merely remembered or referred to. The Reformation is meant to be lived and prayed.

The Reformation is at its best when not merely remembered or referred to. The Reformation is meant to be lived and prayed.

The Small Catechism can help you with that, starting with its section on “Daily Prayers.” Luther gave this guidance to Christians on how they might begin the day. “In the morning when you get up,” he wrote, “make the sign of the holy cross and say, ‘In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.’” When the alarm rings, my thoughts are sometimes dark, the new day very unwelcome, especially if I didn’t sleep well or am burdened by work, family tension or stubborn problems. It’s a great thing to draw the cross over my own weak body, recognizing that I—personally!—am covered over by the blood Jesus shed and the death He died there. It’s a relief to be reminded once more that I do not move into this day alone. I do it, covered by the cross of Christ, carrying with me the saving Name into which I was baptized. This does not make the burdens magically evaporate. It can, however, make them bearable, since I tackle them with the loving help of the One Who died for me and is on my side, as St. Paul said (Romans 8:31).

Then follows that sweet morning prayer that begins by thanking the Lord for the care that got me through the hours while I slept and could not defend myself. Before I ever opened my eyes, heaven’s Father kept busy giving me reasons for thanksgiving and hope. The prayer builds on that launching pad. It trusts God to guard me from falling into sin and to take good care of my body, my soul, and everything else that concerns me. The prayer grows out of the good news of Christ, Who more than anything wants to be your Rescuer and Comfort.

I ask God to give all of us a celebration that moves along these lines. I say it again: The Reformation is at its best when not merely remembered or referred to. The Reformation ought to be lived and prayed.

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Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.