When Pastor James asked me to preach today I asked, “okay, you’ll be doing the Lord’s Prayer sermon series around then right? Which verses are that Sunday?”… he said “Lead me not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” “Oh ok” I said… “the easy part…”
Those two words, temptation and evil, are so loaded, so crammed full of connotation, especially in a church setting, that it would take a week to unpack all of the different meanings, understandings, and experiences we associate with them. Don’t worry, I am not going to hold you captive here for hours… but I would like to explore a few of the ways this scripture may be sitting with us this morning or in this season of life. That is part of the beauty of scripture, is it not? This ability it has to feed us over and over again using the same ink… the same words on the page, but each time we sit with those same words it moves us, opens us, and makes us privy to God and the Holy Spirit in new ways we never knew we needed at that exact point in time.
So we discovered on Wednesday at Bible Study, that the word in Greek that is translated here as “temptation” (peirasmos)… is not only used in 21 other places within the New Testament, but can be translated as “test” or “trial” as well. Now, I don’t know about you, but each of those words in the English language strike me differently. When I think of resisting temptation, I think of not going to get the ice cream out of the freezer after dinner. When I think of being tested, I think of all of the exams I had to take to receive my Master’s degree… a test of my knowledge. And with trial, I think of either a court case or being in times of trial, of tribulation. These differing translations are all simultaneously interchangeable and very different. This one word alone, peirasmos, can leave us a bit disoriented, a bit confused in knowing what to do with it. But just as the water starts to get a little too murky, we remember that in verse 9 right before we hear “Our Father in Heaven”… we catch Jesus saying “pray then in this way..” We are reminded that this verse about temptation and evil is not simply scripture, but also part of a prayer! It was never meant to be a stand alone verse. It was never meant to be taken out of it’s larger context! While I strongly believe in spending time with and pulling apart verses individually, we must never forget they are not just pieces of wisdom floating around in the wind… they are usually tethered to something, and in this case, these words are tethered to the rest of the prayer.
And while we have established context is important, it turns out, so is the order of Jesus’ prayer. The more I read it, the more convinced I am that it is critical that the hardest, harshest, and most theologically confusing part of this prayer (today’s verse) comes right after we have blatantly asked for forgiveness of sin both towards God and one another. Seems a bit odd right? Shouldn’t it almost go after we petition God to lead us away from doing or perpetuating bad things?… So it would be as if to say “oh and in case we mess up and succumb to our temptations, can you forgive us please?” After all, in our daily lives we usually ask for forgiveness after we do something wrong, not before. But instead we petition to be forgiven before we even get around to petitioning God to help us make good decisions in our lives… hmm… it is almost eerily reminiscent of the pattern of God’s love for us, isn’t it… to be forgiven before we inevitably fall short of our potential.
And if the order of this prayer is meant to offer insight into the character of our Loving Creator, than skipping certain verses is not an option either…. Let us consider… if we skipped from “your will be done” straight to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” sounds like a much heavier, much more rigid declaration… one that seems to use fear and power rather than love and hope as it’s motivators. It reminds me of that phrase that I think real estate agents use… Because, turns out, it really is all about “location, location, location.”
So if we take a step back and look at the whole thing, take into account the order, inclusion, and placement of each verse in this prayer… how does that lend us insight into our verse for today? If trials and evil inevitable find their way into our lives, regardless of who we think brought it there… it seems that the emphasis is not on what grade we get, like my tests in seminary, not on whether or not I resist the siren call of my Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream, or even on “trial” as a way to stand up in front of a court and defend my actions. These are all things based on logic, fact, and retribution… and that is not our God…. if we look long enough we begin to see that our trials and tribulations are always meant to bring us back to the hope and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
After all, when take a step back and look at the whole thing, we find that this theme of hope and forgiveness is woven almost methodically throughout the entire prayer… we proclaim the awesomeness of God, then we have salvific hope that one day our reality will be the reality of heaven. Then we pray that God be present with us, feeding us every day… and that petition is answered by proclamation of forgiveness.
Hope… and Forgiveness… these are the responses that matter. If we reflect back on our own lives, we can all see that it is through our practice of forgiveness that we are able to know God, know one another, and know the love of Christ in our world. All of this in our Lord’s prayer… so that by the time we get to temptation and evil… we have been reminded of what is good, what is holy, and what actions and reactions truly sustain us through this life. It is when I read the Lord’s prayer like this, that the last verse begins to look a lot less scary and judgmental, and much more humble and unassuming… much more like the one who spoke it into existence.
A person who kept coming into my mind as I was writing this sermon, was my grandma. It could be because she was sitting across from me as I was writing a good portion of it, but I think it is because her life speaks to how we are to carry this last verse and the entire Lord’s prayer in our hearts in general. My grandma has not had an easy life. She lost her mom to cancer when she was eight years old, her dad institutionalized due to the trauma of World War 1, and just a few months later found herself on a train by herself from Massachusetts to California to live with family she had never met before. All this at eight years of age. The family she went to live with was not great, so she eventually went to live with a different family… and two marriages, two kids, two more moves, a stroke, and decades later here we are… but those are just the facts… when I look at her life through the lens of “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”… everything changes. If there is someone who has a right to be angry, to succumb to the temptation of bitterness, to shut the world out due to the evil she has experienced… it would be my grandma. But she has chosen hope, love, and forgiveness time and time and time again. She chose to keep loving despite the lack of love she received as a child, and now has two daughters, two granddaughters, and an extended family that would drop anything to be by her side. She forgave those that wronged her and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I put two and two together that it was a bit out of the ordinary to celebrate Christmas with my family, my grandma, her ex-husband (my gpa) and his new wife (my other gma)… all with the utmost joy and love for one another in our hearts. To me, her whole life is an example of the Lord’s Prayer. She has sought God through her 85 years, sat in awe at the wonder of God’s love, never stopped hoping in a coming kin-dom rid of pain and suffering, patiently accepted the daily bread of God while not knowing what the future holds, and each time has been delivered from evil and the road of dark temptations by her strength to love, forgive, and hope.
So may we all take a page from her book… may we all remember that this prayer is a way of life. And just like the cyclical nature of life, this prayer is meant to be read and experienced cyclically… so when we are in times of trial, of uncertainty, and temptation..may we never forget that your kin-dom God, is coming, that there are already moments of it here on earth… may this buoy us so that instead of words of hatred, may the next words on our lips be“Our father, hallowed be thy name!”… may God’s daily bread keep us seeking the path of righteousness, and lead us back to it when we begin to follow the road of anger, of fear, and of exclusion. We are shown how to stand up to and withstand the ways of evil through the life of our Messiah… may we always seek this way of life. Amen.