Deliver Us from Evil

Deliver Us from Evil

March 17, 2024 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

St. Luke’s UMC

March 17, 2024

Lent 5

The Lord’s Prayer

“Deliver Us from Evil”

Matthew 6:13; James 1:13-15; Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15-16  


Today we come to the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, at least as it appears in the Bible. The last line we say is “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” If that’s not in the Bible, why do we say it? If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to come back on Easter Sunday in two weeks.


But the last line Jesus offered in the Lord’s Prayer says, “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” For the second week in a row a petition of the prayer begins with “and.” And is a connecting word. It means that what we are about to say is connected to what we just said. SO last week Pastor Jen pointed out that the prayer for forgiveness was connected to the prayer for daily bread. By saying “AND forgive us…” Jesus points that just as God provides for our daily needs, forgiveness is also a need just as great. Today, we go from forgiveness to praying, “And lead us not into temptation.” This means that just as God is willing to forgive us when we mess up, God wants to help us not mess up!


Years ago the great preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick, gave a sermon titled “Preventive Religion.” He began by recognizing how much we love rescue stories. Books and programs build entire plots on someone getting into trouble and someone coming to the rescue. He says we love rescue stories because they are thrilling and exciting. But what isn’t as exciting and not as thrilling, is someone preventing their getting into danger in the first place. As he wrote, “True religion is not simply an ambulance at the foot of a precipice to pick up those who have fallen over, it is a fence at the top to prevent their falling in the first place.” (Riverside Sermons, p83)


In this petition, Jesus offers us a fence for which to pray. He concludes the Lord’s Prayer in a way that is meant to have these last words be the lasting words. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.


At first glance it may seem odd that we should pray for God not to lead us into temptation, as if that is something God might do. As the old saying goes, I don’t need God’s help finding temptation, I can do it on my own. Or as the great theologian Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation, unless I can’t resist it.”


But it’s a misunderstanding to think this petition means God leads people into temptation. We see efforts to correct this misunderstanding as early as the Bible itself. James said, “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) James makes it emphatically clear that God doesn’t tempt people.


BUT, how are we to deal with other verses like the one we heard from Matthew. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”(4:1 NIV) How do we make sense of that? On one hand the Bible says God does not tempt, and at the same time we read God sent Jesus to be tempted?


As you are probably finding in this series, the key to understanding this prayer comes down to understanding specific words in it. In this case it is the word for temptation. In Greek that is peirasmos. Peirasmas can mean temptation or it can mean testing. That is why many translations of that Matthew verse say God led Jesus to be tested. Tempting and testing are similar but not the same. Temptation is an effort to get us to fail. Testing is an effort to improve us. And testing is certainly something God does.


Some scholars translate the word peirasmos as “Challenge.” German theologian Joachim Jeremias uses it this way. In his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, beside the word challenge he puts in parentheses the German word, Anfechtung. When I read that I immediately thought of the Reformation leader, Martin Luther. He wrestled with deep spiritual challenges of guilt and temptation. They took a physical manifestation causing him to tremor and get sick. The word he used for this was anfechtungen. Yet I think of how God used those challenges. As difficult as they were for Luther, you wonder if they also made him stronger and able to endure hard things. He was able to defy archbishops and even the pope by risking death to declare on trial, “I will not recant. Here I stand!”


God will use our testings. I remember years ago hearing the chair of the Board of Ministry speak to the pastors in the conference. The Board of Ministry oversees the strict testing of candidates for ministry before approving them for ordination. He told about his daughter going through nursing school. She was uptight and anxious about her final exams. He knew she was being challenged really hard in her training. He said, “Hearing that gave me comfort. I like to know that when I’m in the hospital, the nurses poking needles into my arms have been put through some rigorous testing.” And then he told the pastors, “How much more should members of our congregations and communities expect of the church! As important as our bodies are, how much more important are our souls!”


Even Jesus said, Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)


So God will test us and God will use our trials and challenges to make us better. But the other side of this word peirasmos does mean tempt, as in a lure to sin. When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” we are asking God to lead us away from, protect us from, do not let us succumb to the lures of sin. To make sure we get the magnitude of what’s at stake here, Jesus adds these words, “but deliver us from evil.” Some scholars point out the Greek article in this sentence “the.” The proper reading would be “deliver us from The Evil.” That’s why some translations say, “Deliver us from the Evil One.”


Of course, this is talking about the devil, or Satan. We don’t talk much about the devil, or spiritual warfare, but Jesus did. Even Paul and the other New Testament authors, all spoke about the devil or Satan. The Bible takes evil far more seriously than many modern Methodists do. My father-in-law, Richard Wilke, in his book on the Lord’s Prayer began the chapter on this petition saying, “We fear sickness more than sin.” We ask for prayers when we have surgery or fall ill, but we don’t typically ask for prayer not to fall prey to temptation to things like cheating whether its on our taxes or our spouse. But the fact is evil is very real. It is a presence in our world, and to ignore it is perhaps the highest form of spiritual irresponsibility.


But to take evil seriously means we need to understand how evil works.


Evil shows itself in the opening chapters of the Bible. One of the first things the first human beings encountered was evil. The serpent represented the devil who comes to Eve as a tempter telling her its okay to eat fruit God has forbidden. Look at Eve’s response. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (3:6)


So temptation works by appealing to something we find desirable maybe even in need of. Then we are tempted to rationalize, to think about why something is forbidden but find a way to justify given in. Finally there is choice, choosing to eat the fruit.


Right there we learn much about the nature of evil.

Desire, Rationalizing, Choosing. Evil lures us, and the heart of evil is to believe that we don’t depend on God to get what we need. At the heart of it, this is how evil tempts, by appealing to something we long for, something we desire, and makes us believe we don’t need God for that, we can get on our own. Preferring our way to God’s way is at the heart of evil. As the old saying goes, I is in the middle of the word SIN.


In fact, thinking about the Lord’s Prayer, this must be why Jesus uses the words, “Thou, Thy or Thine” is used four times, and “Me, My or Mine” is used none. Jesus’ prayer focuses us to depend on God. And so the last line Jesus offers begins by saying “Lead us.” In other words, “If you don’t Lord, we are bound to find trouble.”


This is why James says emphatically “Resist the devil.” (4:7). Most of us I would think want to do just that. We want to resist evil, but our effectiveness is probably determined by what we think evil looks like. If it’s a talking serpent like in Genesis, we are probably going to succeed because we don’t run into many talking serpents. Or if it’s a figure with horns and a pitchfork, we are probably on guard pretty well.


But evil is much more seductive. Temptation works by appealing to something we find desirable, something we very much want. And over time, the more we give our thoughts to this, our guard begins to drop.


Years ago I was in a church where our money counters discovered that certain denominations of money like tens and twenties were declining. They didn’t think this meant people were giving less cash, so our financial secretary looked into it and found a specific week when the cash count changed. We suspected someone may have found a way to beak into our system.


We thought we had a fail-safe plan. At least two ushers put offerings in sealable bags after services. They are then put in a safe in the financial secretary’s office and not opened until money counters take the bags on Monday mornings. We talked to the sheriff’s office and they did a surveillance. They found the custodian was coming back to the building on Sunday nights after everyone left. He had keys to get into the financial secretary’s office and new where she kept the key to the safe. He would open the bags, takes various denominations of money then put them in new sealed bags.


We, of course, learned what we needed to do to improve our system after that, but what was sad was what this did to this man. He fell behind bills at home. One night when cleaning he saw the safe and wondered what was in it. He found the bags and took some bills. He told himself he would pay the money back to the church, so it wouldn’t be like he stole anything. He could justify it to himself.


But then came another Sunday, and another, and before long he forgot about paying anything back. He had lost count of how much he had taken. He had no idea that over nine months he had stolen over $28,000. It ruined him in many ways and was devastating to his family.


Temptation doesn’t make us think about consequences. It appeals only to our desires and what we need to do to satisfy them.  The intention of evil is to destroy. So Jesus leaves us with a prayer that is like a fence of protection, “Lord, lead us not into temptation. Protect us. Give us strength. Help us not to fall.”


But Jesus gives us more than a prayer. He gives us himself. We heard early the reading from Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest(Jesus) who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


When we pray the Lord’s prayer Jesus draws near to us. He meets us in those words and offers his power to help us.


But, there are times we fall and fail. And if you wrestle with a failure in your life, a regret that you can’t change, something that grieves you, then make sure you come back next week for the monologue on Judas. We will consider Judas through a very different lens than we traditionally think and consider the power of God’s grace that never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves.


But let me offer one further observation about this last line in the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus gave it. It doesn’t speak of temptation or evil as just a personal issue. In fact, it doesn’t say “Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.” It is “Lead us...deliver us.” Evil takes on a social dimension. There is corporate evil. And when individuals come together, our own personal challenges with temptation can grow into something way bigger and more frightening than any individual temptation.


In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King included this sobering quote by Reinhold Niebuhr, “Groups are more immoral than individuals.” What a stark judgement, yet just look at the reality of history. In Jesus’ day Jews and Samaritans hated each other. In the early days of North American history laws were created forcing native Americans to preserve their culture, forcing them to learn white American customs. Many children sent to boarding schools in Canada and the US died. And this, of course, was all legal.

   Anti-Jewish hate was fostered in Christian communities. Nazis built their campaign on the ideologies of antisemitism taught by Christians in the history of Germany.

   Many laws allowing for the mistreatment of black and brown people in America were driven in large part by white Christians. The last lynching of a black person in Indiana shows a crowd of white people, many of them teenagers watching and laughing.

   Just last month a transgender teen was beaten in a school bathroom by a group of students and they later committed suicide so it has been ruled. 


Truly groups can be more immoral than individuals.


When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” we are not just asking God to help keep our private lives out of trouble. We are asking God to confront us with the evil that can flourish among groups, maybe fellow workers who get together and begin venting about “those people;” maybe it is organizations that seem harmless until you learn what they stand for; maybe it is the petitions and laws that go before legislatures, that if passed have the potential to harm people, to do evil.


When we pray deliver us from evil, we are inviting God to help us recognize evil and join God’s work to deliver others who are victimized by the evil done in our world.


This is what John Lewis, the late civil rights leader and congressman, called “good trouble.” Getting into trouble for doing what helps rid the world of the evils we deplore. What motivated him his whole life to do this? His Christian faith. In a 2004 interview with PBS he said, 

“In my estimation, the civil rights movement was a religious phenomenon. When we’d go out to sit in or go out to march, I felt, and I really believe, there was a force in front of us and a force behind us, ’cause sometimes you didn’t know what to do. You didn’t know what to say, you didn’t know how you were going to make it through the day or through the night. But somehow and some way, you believed — you had faith — that it all was going to be all right,”


We need this prayer in our personal lives and we need it in our world, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” So let us join together in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray…


Let us pray…Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.