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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, August 21, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to Brynn Elizabeth Dwenger on her baptismal day and always to the glory of God!
Deliver Us From Temptation and Evil
Part IV of V in the sermon series: "Teach Us to Pray: The Lord's Prayer in our Daily Lives"
Psalm 138, Matthew 16:13-20

"...Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil . . . " Out of the glory and mercy of our Lord's prayer comes this difficult double petition for deliverance from temptation and evil. This appeal contains both a negative (lead us not into temptation) and a positive (and deliver us from evil).

The first phrase has disturbed many people through the ages. How can God tempt us or lead us into temptation? The Greek word itself means "trials" or "trying circumstances," and the only time God tries us is when something in our hearts needs to be revealed. For example, Judas had difficulty with money, which is precisely why Jesus made him treasurer of the apostolic band. In time, what was in the heart of Judas came to light (Foster, Richard, Prayer, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1992, pp. 188-189).

No one knew more about temptation and evil than Jesus. Testing, temptation, and trial mark Jesus' entire public life. Immediately after his glorious baptism by John in the Jordan River, Jesus is sent directly to the desert to wrestle with the temptations from Satan. This testing time focuses on a series of choices Jesus has to make.

First, Satan asks if Jesus can turn stones into bread? This test is for Jesus to change his long range goals into immediate problem solving. In other words, will Jesus take action, even the right action for the wrong reason at the wrong time? The answer is "no." In our lives, we are often tested in mighty ways. We see a path in front of us as a way out of a certain challenge or problem. We take it without ever asking, "is the Holy Spirit leading me down this path?" Often, an immediate problem is solved. But, more often a long term problem is created. Jesus is clear in his response, "Man cannot live by bread alone." In other words, changing stones to bread does not solve the problem of hunger in this world.

Second, Satan offers Jesus all power, glory and authority if he will simply bow down to him and worship him. In other words, Satan says, "Jesus I can make you a superstar." But, Jesus is not greedy. He knows power and glory can only be given by God. He answers, "It is written, `worship the Lord your God and serve him only." I wish you and I could follow Jesus in the path of greedlessness. In our lives, Greed produces so many of our problems. We become greedy for money, for power, for sex, for success, and for other things which are desires of our hearts and minds. We are led into temptation for power and glory in all sorts of ways. Through it all, Jesus teaches us to always put God first, keep God first, and serve God first in our lives and in the choices we make.

Finally, Jesus is tempted to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple, because certainly (Satan says) the angels will catch God's son as he falls. Jesus responds, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." In this final temptation, Satan attempts to lead Jesus astray by misusing scripture. Again, Jesus responds and walks away.

Daily we face the temptation to receive great things, if we only do certain things. Whether by mail, by email, by phone, or even face-to-face, offers come flying at us all the time: "If you . . . pray this prayer; if you . . . buy this product; if you . . . own this car; if you . . . live in this neighborhood; if you . . . go to these schools; if you . . . work for this company, etc. etc. We are regularly put to the test. It becomes hard to sort out right from wrong. But, Jesus says, God wants us to live by faith, not by magic. In fact, Jesus says in Luke 16:31, that it wouldn't even matter if God sent someone back from the dead to warn us about things to come if we didn't have faith in this life! So, get it right this time!

Scripture is clear that Satan leaves Jesus alone only for a while. He will return when the opportunity presents itself. Throughout Jesus' ministry such opportunities present themselves and temptation comes back. Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus faces his impending death, temptation returns one more time. Jesus overcomes the final temptation to run for the hills. Instead he persecuted, beaten, crucified and then raised, in the end, thus conquering sin and death and thus reconciling the world to God!

Temptation never goes away from our lives. Temptation is always close at hand. And the temptations we face as adults are not, in Martin Luther's words, "Puppy sins." They lead us on self-destructive paths when we allow our hearts and minds to run away with possibilities which are not "of God." We think, "if I only had this (fill in the blank)...I could do such good." But, if we get whatever our hearts desire dreamed of, we often lose track of doing the good that was in us at the beginning. Instead, too often, we simply do more for ourselves. We turn the glory to us, not to God.

Jesus tells us to combat the temptations we encounter, we must watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation. I find that turning a desire into a prayer works wonders. "Not my will, but thy will be done, O Lord." This prayer turns "I want," or "I need" into "Have it your way, Lord."

Finally, what is "Evil" and how are we delivered from it? The original text is quite clear that Jesus is urging us to pray for rescue, not from evil in some generic sense, but from the evil one, namely, Satan. While many of us have trouble wrapping our heads around this, for Jesus, evil was real and powerful. It is "out there," and present and active within each of us. More than the sum total of evil impulses and actions, evil is a force which calls us to give in to and give ourselves over to that which is not God. We have a hard time with this, don't we?

Many of us want to pretend evil doesn't exist. We say, "people do strange things, but evil? ...I don't believe there is such a thing." Other people mirror this with paranoia in which they see evil everywhere in everything. By either denying evil or wallowing in it, we give in to the dominating power of evil. Others may take the self-righteous approach to evil. They say, "Thank God I am not like other people." We say, evil is out there, but we live righteous lives, so we are not touched by its grasp. Minimizing evil, wallowing in evil, and being self-righteous about evil - none of these approaches were acceptable to Jesus. Jesus recognized the reality and power of evil and confronted it with the reality and power of God's kingdom coming! The Lord's prayer deals with evil in proper perspective.

I have found that confession is good for the soul. Take time each day to pray. In your time of prayer, confess to God those things that you have said or done to hurt or wrong other people. In the spirit of our Lord's prayer, also name the part you have played in the wrongs of our times, our society, and our world. Although this often hard to grasp or give voice to, it is essential in the life of prayer and confession. Each of us has to name and claim the places and ways we have allowed evil, and not God, to reign. Each of us needs to pray for God to deliver us from evil. In so doing, we need to allow God's presence of joy and hope to penetrate the darkness of despair that pervades this world and, all too often, our daily lives.

This last petition of the Lord's prayer is a cry from the heart of Jesus that all his disciples, including you and me, not fall away from God.

I pray that God will lead you and me out of the temptations of egotism, pettiness, selfishness, and all else that puts us out of harmony with God. I pray that God will grab hold of the desires of each of our hearts and shape them for healing and joy, and thus, deliver us from evil. Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church