Our Second Reading this morning comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter six, verses 7-13. This is week seven out of eight in our series on the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus shares it with his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Each week we are adding a phrase or a verse to our reading. Especially in the midst of the vision of authentic and alternative Christianity which Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount, we discover this is no ordinary prayer. It is a prayer which reminds us about whom God is and who we are. It teaches us about the world and the kingdom of God. We learn about faith and reliance; about justice and mercy. Yes, to pray this prayer, this Lord’s Prayer, in the quiet of our rooms and together as the people of God, is to discover what it means to follow Jesus.
Each week in this series, I have also attempted to share at least one practical word or tip about prayer before we read the scripture. I have suggested that you pray the Lord’s Prayer several times a day, you might shoot up arrow prayers, and that you need not be too fearful of letting your mind wander while you pray as God might be using your wanderings to lift up what you really should be praying for. I’ve encouraged open eyed conversational prayers before meals and to use short verses of scripture as you pray.
This morning, I’d like to invite you to use a simple version of a prayer called the Daily Examen. As you pray at the end of the day ask yourself three questions:
1. Where did I see God today? Then give thanks.
2. For what am I sorry today? Then confess.
3. Where do I need God’s help tomorrow? Then petition.
As you ask these questions and respond with thanksgiving, confession, and petition, I believe your ability to see God at work throughout every day will grow and your trust in the Lord will deepen.
Now, let us hear this Word of God to us as found in Matthew, chapter 6, verses 7-13.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
This was a most unfortunate week for this particular phrase in the Lord’s Prayer to appear in this series. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Yes, here were are, seven weeks into a new year, precisely the time when most New Year’s resolutions are on their last legs before abandonment. Yes, a week in which I was first given and then devoured in one sitting more than half a pound of peanut M&Ms. Then the Girl Scout cookies showed up at our house and French Market Peanut Butter Pie was served at a lunch on Thursday! My resolution to lose weight in the New Year faded quickly as I dove headlong into the temptations of tasty snacks and desserts.
Yes, a most unfortunate week to be pondering temptations. Or perhaps this was precisely the week I needed to be praying even harder, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”
Now, you might have noticed when I read the scriptural a minute ago that this particular petition is translated differently than we usually pray it in the Lord’s Prayer. As it was with last week’s translation of “debts” or “trespasses,” we owe our familiar petition of “temptation” and “evil” to the King James Version. The English Standard Version translation in the pews continues that interpretative choice as do several others. However, the New Revised Standard Version, which I typically use for teaching and preaching, renders this verse: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”
I am most grateful to our own Tim Owings for an insightful investigation into the Greek of this verse. Tim writes,
When we read or recite [lead us not into temptation], we tend to think about some temptation to commit an immoral act. But that is not what Jesus is teaching here. The word our Lord uses in the Model Prayer is the Greek work pierosmos. The other Greek word we associate with temptation to immoral behavior is the word skandalon, from which we get the English word “scandal.” What Jesus is talking about here are the trials, the tests that come because you are a Christian. These are the temptations that come, inviting us to flee being true to our faith.
Yes, times of testing, times of trial, which invite us to flee being true to our faith. Jesus knew from personal experience what he is talking about when he teaches us this petition. Back in chapter 4 of Matthew's Gospel we hear how Jesus was led up by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, by the evil one. Jesus fasts for forty days and when he is famished the tempter comes and offers three tests. First, to turn stones into bread. Second, to thrown himself down from the pinnacle of the temple and emerge unscathed. Third, to possess all the power and the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will fall down and worship the one who tempts him. There is more in that story than we can cover in this sermon, but I point us back there this morning because in each of those trials the tempter never doubts that Jesus is the Messiah. No the devil knows exactly who Jesus is. So each temptation is a test to determine what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. Is he going to be a Messiah who brings in the crowds by feeding them or is he going to entertain the crowds with magic tricks or is he going to rule the crowds by aligning himself with the powers and principalities of the world instead of his Heavenly Father? Yes, tests which invite him to flee from being true to his faith and his calling.
The same Jesus who passed each of those tests, who remained true to his faith and his identity, is the Jesus who teaches us to pray, “Do not bring us into a time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one.” Do you see the time of trial that we are praying about is not a full bag of peanut M&M’s or the best peanut butter pie you’ve ever tasted? We are not even praying about immoral acts which might cause a scandal. Those are very important parts of the Christian life, no doubt, but those are tests of our personal will, tests of our habits. Resisting temptations like that is completely in our power. We pass those temptations with commitment and endurance. We conquer them with community support, good decision making, and adequate plans and preparation.
But here, in the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying about those tests of who we are as individuals and whose we are together as the church. These are questions that go deep, to the root of our identity and faith. They ask fundamentally if we are willing to hold on to, to live into, and to flourish as sinners who have been forgiven, as adopted children of our Heavenly Father.
At the beginning of this series on the Lord’s Prayer, I told you that at least for me, I need a BIG God because there are big problems in this world. Today we are taught to name those problems as “times of trial,” which threaten our very identity and existence as the people of God. These are tests and trials we cannot handle on our own; we cannot meet with just our own will and determination. Every generation and every people have their own “times of trial,” but today I suspect we face:
• Societal denial of the existence of truth and a common understanding of facts;
• Characterizing those with whom we disagree as evil and morally inept;
• Language and actions that disparage and diminish the humanity of individuals and whole classes of people based on their gender, skin color, or ethnic origin;
• Attempts to control life to ensure things are exactly how we want them to be;
• A hopelessness and despair which believes that tomorrow and the day after can be no better than today.
My friends, there are big times of trial in this world, way bigger than M&Ms and peanut butter pie. And so we pray to a BIG God to deliver us, to snatch us from jaws of death, to forgive us our sins and resurrect us; to literally save us for new life.
And the good news of the Gospel is that God hears and answers our prayers. Times of trial and the evil one do not get the last word. The powers think they have the final word when Jesus cries from the cross, “It is finished” and breathes his last. But they do not know the end of the story. They do not know the answer to this petition of the Lord’s Prayer. They do not know that on the third day, Jesus rises again.
Yes, the God we know as “Our Father,” literally saves us for new life. As we pray this petition for deliverance, I want you to know that our redemption has already been accomplished. We can become so focused on the trials, the evils of this world, that we forget the good news. So I want to conclude this sermon with a different question. Episcopal teacher and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote about an invitation she received from a wise old priest to speak at his church in Alabama. She asked him what he wanted her to talk about. He replied:
“Come tell us what is saving your life now.” …
[Taylor continues] It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.
Yes, my friends, there is no doubt that we are, just as we always have been and always will be, in the midst of a time of trial that threatens the very heart of the church and the gospel. There is nothing new about trials and the church’s call to resist. But our prayer, “bring us not into a time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one,” has been answered. So, I invite you to ask “what is saving your life right now?” Where is God literally saving your life right now? What reminds you of who and whose you really are? What keeps you close to that reality? On what does your life depend?
This sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer is saving my life right now. Love and my family are saving my life right now. How about you? I would love to hear your answer. Give me a call, send me an e-mail, or stop by to see me. In the midst of times of trial, what is saving your life today?
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: