Genesis 22:1-19 Matthew 6:7-15
June 10 2018
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.@ This is clearly the most difficult and least understood petition in the Lord=s Prayer. Why would God want to lead us into temptation?
Lets all put on our scholar=s hats for a moment and do a little exegesis of the Greek text. The Greek word here can mean two things. It can mean Atemptation@ or it can mean Atrial.@
Again and again the Bible points out that when are tried, it=s good for our soul. AWhen God has tried me,@ Job says, AI shall come forth as gold.@(Job 23:10) ACount it all joy, my brothers and sisters,@ says James, Awhen you meet various trails, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness@ (James 1:2). And one more: AIn this,@ writes Peter, Ayou rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise, and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.@
So it=s the same word in each of these cases, temptation and trial. We prayed a slightly different version of the Lord=s Prayer today, the ecumenical version which is used in many Protestant and Catholic churches. ASave us from the time of trial,@ this version goes, Aand deliver us from evil.@
Although we don=t always like to be tried or tested, we know it=s good for us. A few years ago I decided to train for a marathon. A marathon is a little more than 26 miles, and the hardest part of the marathon isn=t the race itself; it=s the training beforehand. On Sundays after I preached two times, I would attach my Walkman to my waist and go running through the streets of northeast Portland for three hours. Now that was hard and boring to do those long runs by myself. But it caused me to reach down into myself to a place I didn=t know was there. And when I completed my first marathon, running through a driving rain in Seattle with a side stitch so painful I felt like crying, I knew I could do anything.
Well, it wasn=t true. I couldn=t do anything, but I thought I could.
A marathon is a trial, a test of character and endurance.
Taking on a job bigger than we are is a trial, a test.
Beginning a marriage is a trial, a test. Half the couples don=t make it. Those of us who have been married for a long time don=t criticize those who get divorced, because we know how hard it is. After all, the bible says the two shall become one flesh, but it just doesn=t say which one.
Every time I date a man I think: Is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with? ‑‑Rita Rudner
The rock star Rod Stewart said, AInstead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.@
Well enough of that. Marriage is a trial, a test of character and endurance.
We admire people like Pat Tillman so much. Why? Because he gave up a career as a millionaire NFL athlete to become an Army Ranger. Being an Army Ranger is far less glamorous, far more risky, and far less rewarding financially than being an NFL star. But Pat Tillman knew there were some trials in life worth sacrificing for.
So the basic meaning of the word here that we ordinarily pray, ALead us not into temptation,@ is ASave us from the time of trial.@
Let=s go on and talk about this petition of the prayer a little more, in light of what we know about ourselves. Then we can see how practical this prayer is. For….
Sometimes we are tempted to take the easy way out;
Sometimes we are tempted to ignore the suffering of the world, because otherwise we would have to change our schedules and get involved.
Sometimes we are tempted to justify our actions when we know we have made mistakes.
Sometimes we are tempted to try to get our own way instead of acknowledging the needs of others;
Sometimes it is tempting to live in the past or the future because the present is so unpleasant
Sometimes it is tempting to try to hide from God, because we simply do not want to make the changes we know we have to make if we give God everything we have and are.
Someone passed on to me this week a book about the life of Presbyterian Medical Missionary, Clarence Salisbury. Dr. Salsbury began his medical missionary career in China in the early 1920’s. He came home for furlough and was planning to go back. But he was contacted by Dr. Ned Dodd, the secretary of the medical board of foreign missions. Dr. Dodd told Clarence Salsbury about the need for a doctor on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. He came to visit him with some pictures of the mission and a few scraps of general information. Dr. Salsbury listened to the need without any enthusiasm.
AGot to find somebody,@ Dr. Dodd said.
Dr Salisbury was uncommital.
Then he realized Dr. Dodd was looking at him.
AI don=t know anything about Indians.@
AYou didn=t know anything about Chinese either.@
ANavajo Indians are very interesting people.@
AI won=t do it.@
AJust fill it, Clarence. It=s only a matter of time until we find the right man to take it on permanently. These people have got some serious problems out there. There=s an epidemic of diphtheria. You can=t turn your back on them.@
AWell, I=ll go for a month. One month. If we can=t get the epidemic under control in a month, it=s hopeless.@
AOh, you couldn=t do anything at all in a month. You=d scarcely get your bearings.@
AOK. Two months. That=s the limit. I=ll be back here in two months, and you=ll find a permanent man.@
AWell, try, Clarence, we=ll try.
It was a rather protracted two months. Clarence Salisbury arrived on the 17th of May, 1927 and retired in 1950. Today he is a renowned medical pioneer of our state.
I think this story reveals the meaning of the first part of the petition. Clarence Salisbury was praying, ADo not lead me into the trials of Ganado,@but that trial forged his character, and gave him a career more rewarding than any he might have chosen for himself.@
And then the second half of this petition, ADeliver us from evil.@ Clarence Jordan puts it this way in his colloquial Georgia dialect, ADeliver us from evil=s sway.@ I like that phrase Aevil=s sway.@ It lacks the red suit and pitch fork of our comic version of Satan or the haunting and terrifying version of Satan in films like Athe Exorcist, but it captures what the Bible treats far more compellingly, the fact that evil often has a charismatic appeal and is wrapped frequently in the most appealing package.@
Well, most of the images of Satan or the Devil are caricatures. But there is nothing funny about the power of evil. Every week, it seems, there is another shooting, so many of them in schools We are five months in 2018 and there have been 101 mass shootings 23 of which have been school shootings. Each week we have stared into the awful face of evil.
In a wonderful little commentary of this prayer, Dr. Tom Long says this: AThe best way to understand the petition, >Do not bring us to the time of trail= is to envision the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do god=s work in a storm-tossed world and whispering the prayer >Keep us safe out there, O God. Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out=.@
I hope by now that you all can see that when we talk about temptation and the power of evil, we are talking about serious temptations, not those itsty-bitsy sins, but temptation that strikes us where we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. For it is only here that the prayer takes on real meaning for us. For words like Atrial@ and Adeliver@ are words of crisis. They remind us that to pray this prayer is to be thrust in the middle of a cosmic struggle.
I will call her Betty. Betty was a member of my church in Portland. She and her husband, Ken, joined our church when they were both in their late 60’s. I got to know them, and Betty found out our teenaged-daughter was in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. She asked me to come over to here house. She told me very simply, AI am an alcoholic.@ She told me her story, how she attended AA regularly, but had never managed to have more than seven or eight months of sobriety before she would start to drink again. I told her I would always be glad to help and to talk to her. Sometimes she would call me late at night while she was drinking, so I made a pact with her, that I would never talk to her while she was drinking.
At first, when I met her, I think I felt contempt for her. For I remembered my own grandfather who was an alcoholic, and even as a child, I had no respect for him. But over time, as I became more educated about the disease of alcoholism, I learned as they say in AA that it is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease. And seeing what drugs and alcohol had done to my own family, my contempt over time melted into compassion.
One day Betty asked me to come by her house. She was sober, but she had drunk all weekend. And in tears, she said something I will never forget. She said, AI do not want to die a drunk.@
Even now, years later I can hear the pathos and the despair in those words. I do not know if Betty died sober or a drunk. I left Portland and lost track of her. But I do know the temptation to despair that she felt, for I have felt it myself, and so have you. The despair that we will never be healed of some festering problem. The despair that those we love may never get it. The despair we feel when there is so much wrong in the world, and the wrong is so strong.
Broken and worn down by this despair, the only weapon we have left is this: this prayer. When we are angry or despairing or lonely, our only choice as Christians is to turn to the one who taught us to pray. In turning to him, we know that despair does not have the final word. And that=s the good news of the gospel.