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Category Archives: Prayer

Jesus Who Prays For Me

(a sermon for May 13, 2018, the 7th Sunday of Easter, based on  John 17:6-21)

What a feeling it is to realize that you have been prayed for.

It’s been almost 20 years now, but as you can imagine, the events surrounding our oldest son’s first surgery for the removal of a pituitary tumor are still indelibly etched in our family’s collective memory.  All of it: from the discovery, after a long search, of the tumor itself and the decision that something akin to brain surgery (the first of what turned out to be four such procedures over the next ten years or so) would be necessary to remove it; through the countless doctors’ appointments, consultations and follow-up visits; and leading up to all those horrible hours spent in hospital waiting rooms waiting for news.  It was a difficult situation, to say the very least; and this is to say nothing of the hard realization that all the medical advances in the world mean nothing when it’s your kid being wheeled into the operating room!

But that said I also have to say that what I also remember about that time was being awed, amazed and utterly humbled by the prayers being prayed for our son.  Now, we knew that our families and our friends would be praying for Jake as he was going through this, and that of course meant everything; and given not only that we were members of a close-knit church family but also that I was pastor of that congregation, we were very grateful to know that the church would be praying as well!  But I guess what was surprising was the depth, intensity and the utter expanse of that prayerfulness; as revealed by the women who gathered in the sanctuary on the morning of the surgery so that they could pray together at the exact moment the doctors were operating; or as evidenced by the prayers coming from the people in other churches in town, as well as from those at Jake’s school, others throughout the community and even from perfect strangers (!) who would came up to us in the supermarket to embrace us and let us know in a variety of ways that they’d been praying for us.

Friends, over the course of several months we got cards and letters from people we hadn’t heard from in forever or barely knew at all; and not only that, but also notes from churches out of town (and even out of state!) who wished us well and who wanted us to know that Jake’s name had been brought up in prayer concerns during morning worship!  I think my favorite, however, were the cards and pictures that came to us from an anonymous someone in Connecticut – we never did find out exactly who – but which was always signed by their cat, “Mittens;” as in, “Mittens is praying that Jake feels “purr-fect” very soon!”

It was amazing, it was uplifting… and it mattered.  It not only offered up to us a large measure of comfort and encouragement at a time when it was sorely needed, it also revealed something to us of the love of Christ in the midst of all our worry and stress.  All those prayers, no matter what their shape or form, made a real difference in our lives; it was such an incredible feeling, and so very important for us to know that our son was being prayed for; that Lisa and I and our whole family was being prayed for; and that there those out there who cared about us and who loved us and, moreover, who trusted God to hear them and respond to them as they prayed for us!

Those who have been there know what I mean when I say that this was life-affirming and in many ways, life-changing; and that’s why we should never underestimate the meaning of what we do together in our prayer time every Sunday morning.  There is power in prayer, and there is love expressed in the act of prayer; which is what makes it all the more remarkable to discover through our text for this morning that in the midst of those final moments just before the events of his crucifixion begin to unfold; even as, as David Lose puts it, he is “anticipating an immediate future that will include betrayal, trial, condemnation, beating, and execution,” Jesus stops everything to pray or those he loves… for his disciples… for those closest to him… and for you and me.

This passage from John’s gospel we’ve shared this morning continues on with what’s referred to as Jesus’ “farewell discourses,” but biblical scholars and church theologians often talk about these verses from the 17th chapter as being Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.”  This is a reference to Old Testament tradition, in which the temple priest would go into the “Holy of Holies,” which was the central-most part of the temple, so to offer up prayers of the people and bring a sacrifice as a payment for their sins.  In our Christian faith, of course, we understand that Jesus stands as a mediator between God and ourselves; offering up the one, true sacrifice – himself – as the final and complete payment for our sin before God.  So… the tradition of the church has always held that this prayer of Jesus in John’s gospel represents Jesus acting as our temple priest; quite literally standing before the throne of grace offering up prayers for his people in preparation for the sacrifice that’s to be made.

And that’s certainly true; in fact, these are verses central to our whole understanding of Christian theology; in particular the idea of Christ’s atonement for our sin, all for the sake of our salvation before God!  But I also have to say that because of how incredibly rich and dense the language in John can sometimes be, we can easily miss how very personal a prayer this is.  I mean, think of it; Jesus is speaking these words to his heavenly Father just prior to that moment in the garden when Judas and the soldiers come to arrest him.  Jesus knows that his hour is nigh, that very soon now he’s going to have to leave his disciples; and so he wants them to be prepared for what’s going to happen next.  Actually, you know, if you read all through these “farewell discourses” in John, you realize that up till this point, Jesus has been giving his disciples a whole series of last minute teachings – about his nature, about the sure and certain hope of life eternal, about peace that the world can’t give nor take away, and about the disciples’ own mission of love moving forward; three chapters’ worth of these teachings in John’s gospel (!) – but now, the lessons are done and in these last few moments before what’s destined to happen happens Jesus needs to pray for them!

And it makes sense; after all, these are the ones who have been the ones closest to Jesus, and these are the ones – whether they understand it or not at this point – who will carry on his ministry! Certainly Jesus wanted his disciples to have the protection and the assurance of God the Father in every uncertain moment that was to come to them, in the days and years to come.  So yes, he would pray for them, which in and of itself is an act of great love and affection; but – and this is important – it turns out that it’s not just the disciples that he’s praying for… Jesus is praying “not only on behalf of these” but also “on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” (vs. 20)   and that includes you and me, “that they may all be one.”

And I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it fills me with awe: that the very same Jesus who in his moment of deepest despair would seize that time to pray for his disciples is also the Jesus who prays for me!

And what a prayer it is!   It’s certainly not a prayer that all will go easily for his disciples, because Jesus knew it wouldn’t; that it couldn’t!  It’s interesting to note that all throughout this prayer, Jesus talks about how the “world” that hated him would also hate his disciples “because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”  The Greek word that’s used here for “world” is kosmos, which more than just suggesting the physical nature of the earth, really means that which is totally alien and hostile to God’s intention to love and redeem all; in other words, Jesus knows that there will always be that “dark side” of humanity who will hate them simply because of who – and whose – they are!

So Jesus doesn’t pray that all will go along without incident, devoid of any difficulty or conflict in their lives ahead;  but rather that they, and we, might always be protected by the power of God’s name, “so they can be of one heart and mind” just as Jesus and his heavenly father were of one heart and mind.  And his prayers of intercession build from there: praying that more than simply having protection from their troubles, “they may have [his] joy made complete in themselves,” as they go forth with God’s word on their tongues and in their lives; praying that because of this they not be lost as Judas had been “so that scripture would be fulfilled;”   and praying finally, and above all, that they may be sanctified – that is, consecrated, made holy“in the truth;” which is God’s word.

And that’s important, too.

For what Jesus understood would be true for his first disciples would also be true for any of us who are followers of Christ: that the very nature of being his disciples, of adhering to the Word they’d received from him, would mean living their lives as outsiders, living “in the world but not of the world,” and yet because of this, having a clear purpose and mission for life itself; to be made holy for what we do, or as the word from the original Greek, hagios, suggests, to be “set apart for sacred use.”  Jesus – the Jesus who prays for me and for you – prays that in and through all our journeys and all our trials and all of our crises of life and even faith we might be set apart by God himself for sacred use!

It’s a big prayer; really, there’s no other way to describe it.  But in the end, you see, what it all comes down to is while that life is difficult, full of the unexpected, the unimaginable and very often the unmanageable, our Lord, in infinite love and care, has prayed – and is still praying – for us: that we might find the strength we need to get through; that we might glean joy in the midst of sorrow; and that we will be made aware in ways both large and small that we are not, and have never been alone in the struggle.  Jesus prays for us with the same constancy of care and compassion as that of the one who knows us the best; he shows us the deep and abiding love of God who brings to us life both abundant and eternal; and he assures us that even right here and right now, in the midst of it all, we’ve been set aside for a sacred purpose.

What a feeling it is to realize that you have been prayed for. 

I wonder what Jesus is praying for in us today.  Maybe that we find the strength, the encouragement or the patience to get through the stress and uncertainty of whatever it is we’re having to face at this moment; a medical issue, perhaps; or a “rough patch” in a relationship with a loved one, a friend or co-worker?  It could be that Jesus is praying that we find the courage we need to stand up in the face of injustice (both personal and societal), or that we might we finally get some sense of healing of mind, body, spirit… or all three at once.  Maybe he’s praying that we have the grace to receive and accept the forgiveness we’ve needed for so long; or else that we figure out that what we really need to do is to be more forgiving of others!  Maybe Jesus is simply praying that we’ll stop for a moment, and pay attention… pay attention to God’s presence and power, and remember how much we’re loved.

Whatever the need happens to be today, friends; know that Jesus already knows, and that he’s praying for you and for me; and that we are the recipients and the stewards of that truly amazing grace.

There is power in his prayer; there is power to comfort us, to strengthen us, and to move us through the joys and struggles of this life… and I pray that each one of us here today might be strengthened and renewed by the power of that prayer.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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And When You Pray: The Threefold Benediction

(a sermon for August 27, 2017, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost; last in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Matthew 6:9-13)

And so now, after all these weeks, finally we come to the final petition of our Lord’s Prayer, and what a word it is:  “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever… Amen.”

Amen, indeed! I mean, from a literary standpoint alone, this is the grand finale of a remarkable work, is it not; it’s the pinnacle of everything that’s been said and prayed up until this point, each phrase and petition having built upon the one before so that now there’s nothing left for us to offer up except this ultimate expression of our praise and thanksgiving unto God: to proclaim with whole hearts and loud voices that thine is the kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever and ever, Amen!

You know what I’m saying; it’s there in just about every musical setting you’ve ever heard of this prayer, most especially in the beautiful version by Albert Mallotte that we’ve heard sung and played here on a couple of occasions this summer; and I don’t know about you, but even on those numerous occasions that we speak this Lord’s Prayer together in worship, there’s nonetheless this same crescendo that peaks the moment we come to the final verse!  It’s a true benediction and powerful way to end this prayer of our Savior, and not only am I grateful, as we’ve said so often through this sermon series, that this is the prayer that Jesus himself gave to his disciples and to us, but also that Jesus – Jesus himself (!) – also chose to conclude this prayer he gave us in just this way!

Except…

…that maybe he didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve probably noticed by now that this particular part of the Lord’s Prayer is not included in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching of it.  Luke doesn’t refer to it at all, and Matthew’s gospel relegates it to a mere footnote, claiming that “other ancient authorities, in some form” included these words about the kingdom, the power and the glory; but frankly, most biblical scholars argue that that’s not even the case!  The likely truth is that this final petition to the Lord’s Prayer was something added on by the early Christian Church (probably sometime around the fourth or fifth century) as a way of making it more liturgical in form; that is, to “complete” the Lord’s Prayer as an all-encompassing affirmation of faith by adding what is referred to in “church language” as a doxology, which in the Greek literally means to give a “word of glory and honor.”  Obviously, the addition caught on because we’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer that way ever since; although if you’ve ever repeated this prayer with a group of Roman Catholic worshippers, you’ll know that they end their unison prayer at “deliver us from evil,” owing to the fact that addition or no addition, as far as we know from the gospels Jesus most likely did not say those particular words in teaching his disciples how to pray!

Now, does this mean that the Lord’s Prayer, or at least the way we’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, has somehow become nullified by our mistaken translation?  Absolutely not!   To begin with, adding those words about “the kingdom, power and glory” at the end of Jesus’ prayer does bring an appropriate (and dare I say, triumphant) conclusion to these series of petitions that, one after the other,  speak not only of the presence and power of the divine but also to our relationship, yours and mine, with the divine.  Moreover, there’s a symmetry to how that last verse relates to everything before:  we start out the Lord’s Prayer by praying that God’s, our Father’s, name be hallowed and requesting that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and we finish with the unequivocal affirmation that “thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.”  It’s a true doxology, a threefold benediction that serves to remind us, even as we pray, that everything we are and have and can ever hope to be is solely by virtue of the power and glory of God!

So it does seem a fitting addition to our prayer; and besides… though Jesus might not have spoken the words in that specific context, he most certainly knew them to be true; in fact, as a teacher himself, Jesus likely spoke of that moment we read about in our Old Testament reading this morning, in which King David, toward the end of his life and about to pass on the task of building the temple to his son Solomon, gathers the people and prays unto God, “Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom O LORD, and you are exalted as head over all… and now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.”  That those words are familiar to our ears is by no accident at all; to quote one commentator, “It is fitting… that a portion of David’s kingdom prayer should be attached to the Son of David’s kingdom prayer.”

You see, at the end of the day (or the end of the prayer, as it were), what we pray in this amazing series of petitions that Jesus gave to us is that it’s God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God’s glory that prevails over everything… everything in our lives, now and eternally.  Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth, who has breathed the very breath of life into each one of us; whose presence and power is felt in every passing moment of our lives, whose very strength is felt in each and every joy and sorrow and challenge that we face.  Our God is the one who nourishes us with daily bread, who offers us forgiveness of sin along with the grace that we might forgive others in kind, who leads us along the surest of pathways that deliver us from evil. Our God is the one who decries all kinds of evil in the world by proclaiming a gospel of love and justice and peace, sending forth his own Son as the example and expiation, and then calling you and I to proclaim that same Word by our very lives.  Our God is the one who intends for his truth to be made real in and through every one of us here; so that truth – God’s truth, the truth of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ – might finally begin to penetrate the walls of division and hatred that are the ongoing construct of a sad and misguided culture.  Our God is the God who wishes that in all things – whether that applies to the ways we approach one another around the breakfast table or how we stand on the streets of Charlottesville or Boston –  that in all things we might live as true reflections of God’s kingdom, his power, his glory and yes, most especially, his love.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”

Perhaps Jesus didn’t speak those words in exactly the context we like to think he did; but we do know that it’s exactly what he meant, and what he means for you and for me as we are sent out into this world to walk the walk of discipleship in these days of sad, confused and conflicting situations.

As you might imagine, and perhaps like a lot of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks reflecting on the faith implications of everything that’s been happening in the world and in our own country; specifically, how we as the church ought to be responding to the kind of destructive hate that’s been so much on display as of late.  I mean, I think it’s obvious that we in the church need to be loud and clear in naming “the evils we deplore,” denouncing all manner of racism, violence and bigotry as being not only un-Christian, but un-American as well.  Moreover, though I must confess that I was more than a little skeptical as to what good it could do, I stand in great admiration of my brothers and sisters of faith (especially my clergy colleagues) who linked arms in Charlottesville and Boston and stared down the Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists, witnessing to love and justice quite literally there on the front lines of conflict.

But that said, what I’ve been wondering about is the rest of us?  How do we respond?  How about those of us who sit in these pews every Sunday morning and who need to spend the week ahead at our jobs, or running errands, going to doctor’s appointments, running kids (or grandkids!) to school on time and all the rest of the “stuff” of life: what are we to do about those who would so easily and deliberately dismiss the law of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.  Honestly, friends, these days, all it’s taken is ten minutes watching the news to make one feel helpless about the state of the world!

But then in my reading over vacation I came across a piece from the Christian Century, actually written a couple of years ago by Samuel Wells, regarding the great 20th century theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as you may recall, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis; the result of speaking out against the Third Reich and having been implicated in a plot to kill Hitler.  Ultimately though, writes Wells, it was not Bonhoeffer’s politics that got him put in jail; it was Jesus!  It was Bonhoeffer’s confession that Jesus was over and above any and all of the powers and principalities of this world; that it was and is God’s incarnation in Christ that makes us the Church and what moves us surely and steadily toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Wells writes that “Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say.”  It’s truly the difference between death and resurrection; and it’s what not only renews the Church in every generation, it’s what empowers us to stare down the face of every new evil that arises in this world… for thine is the Kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever!

You’ve heard me say it before from this pulpit: that the first and best thing you and I can do in these times is for us to truly be the Church of Jesus Christ; and that begins, I believe, with making God in Christ the centerpiece of everything in life.  And no, it’s not always, if ever, an easy thing to have one’s faith take priority over that which is safer, or more expedient, or more profitable in a worldly sense.  In fact, it’s almost certainly going to involve some risk; but it is, truly, the way, the truth and the life that Jesus spoke about, and not only will it change us for the better, it will change the world as well.

So, friends… “and when you pray,” how will you pray?  Will you let the words of Jesus simply roll off your tongue in the same manner as you have countless times before?  Or will you let the phrases and petitions that we’ve been given be the means by which let our Lord have leadership of your life?

What’s interesting is that beyond the King James Version of the Bible, this final part of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t included in most modern translations of scripture for the reasons we mentioned earlier.  It does, however, appear in The Message (which, given that it’s technically a paraphrase of scripture rather than a translation, gives it a little leeway in interpretation).  But this is one “rendition” of the Lord’s Prayer that, while decidedly untraditional, kind of says it all from beginning to end, and seems as good a way to conclude this sermon series as any I can think of:

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so, beloved, may it truly be, “Yes, Yes, Yes,” forever and ever…

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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And When You Pray: The Times of Temptation

(a sermon for August 6, 2017, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13)

Well, not counting my time away, now we’re six weeks into this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and I have to tell you: speaking both as a preacher and as a hearer of God’s Word, I have been amazed by just how many big questions we’ve had to address as we’ve gone along!

I mean, from the very existence and nature of God (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”) and his unending grace and providence (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), to the gift of both sustenance (“…our daily bread”) and forgiveness (“…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”),  this seemingly little prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples not only touches upon many of the central issues of our Christian theology but also encompasses just about everything we hold dear about our faith; and friends, that’s a lot!  In fact, it can all be a bit overwhelming; and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that even in preparing these messages I’d find that for every one of these big questions I’d hoped I was answering for the sermon and for myself, I’d discover that there was another question to take its place (and trust me, that’s not something you want to happen late on a Saturday night!).

Honestly, sometimes it’s enough to make your head swim (!); but then, that’s sort of the nature of a life of faith.  What’s the expression about the unexamined life not being worth living?  Well, I’d suggest to you this morning that the unexamined faith is, well… impossible!  We reach out our hearts to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will intercede for us “with sighs too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) but then we are left to prayerfully discern what the nature of that intercession and its meaning for our lives might be!   We seek to live, as the old confessional puts it, “a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s Holy name,” but then we have to wrestle with what that actually means in today’s world.  And we know that ought to be in accordance with biblical truth, however that happens to apply and based on what we’ve come to understand about scripture, and absolutely it needs to adhere to the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  But then in trying to do that we make a very interesting discovery: that it’s not so much what we don’t understand about scripture or about Jesus that raises up the bigger questions for us; it’s what we do understand about our Christian faith that gives us pause, leaves us confused, and sometimes, absolutely scares us!

You see what I mean?  Big questions, one right after another…

I tell you all this today because now we’ve come to the next to last petition of this “Prayer of Our Savior” that arguably raises as many questions for us as it answers:  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, on the face of it, this is pretty straightforward language that represents a necessary shift in this prayer to a tone of stark realism.  Mickey Anders writes that this has to happen in the Lord’s Prayer, because ultimately “life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread and even forgiveness.  There is [also] the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will… [and] we face the temptation to evil every day.”

Now, I love that quote; but I still have to ask, what does all this mean?  I mean, ordinarily when we talk about temptation we’re apt to be speaking about the need to avoid those worldly enticements that are bad for us and which keep us apart from God; ranging from the temptation toward eating too many sweets to being unfaithful in one’s relationships.  It’s all about ethics and morality, self-care and righteousness before the Lord; and while that’s most certainly a part of it, this prayer to God to “lead us not into temptation” really does seem to go much deeper than this.

And while we’re on the subject, are we really praying that God not “lead” us into temptation?  Why would the Lord who loves us beyond limit and who wishes us to be in a relationship with him ever be leading us into temptation to begin with?  If God is good, then why would God ever deign to tempt us to do evil, especially as we’re praying that he deliver us from said evil?   And here’s another question:  is it even possible to forever be led away from temptation?  That’s a question that’s at the heart of our reading this morning from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul – lifting up the example of generations of the faithful who had come before – says to these new Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” or to quote one very apt paraphrase, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful,” because nothing that comes your way is any different than what others have had to face!  Bottom line is that none of us are totally beyond the reach of temptation; quoting Mark Adams here, “All of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.”

So… if temptation is an inevitable reality that all of us have to deal with; and if we understand that God’s would never be responsible for leading us into that place and probably cannot completely remove us from it; then what are we asking when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”

Questions…. Oy veh, the questions!

Actually, part of the problem here has to do with translation.  The Greek word that’s used here for “temptation” is “peirasmus,” and this is a word that just as appropriately can be translated as “enticement or temptation,” or (and listen to this!) “a test or trial.”  That’s how in a number of biblical translations, including our own NRSV, this verse in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer can be read, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   This might seem like a subtle change, but for me it brings this prayer from seeking refuge from a place of hopeless repetition of inevitable mistakes to… a way of enduring and triumphing over the trials and tribulations of life; in particular the life of faith. For me, you see, what we’re praying for is a way to confront the struggle we all have with this thing we refer to as temptation, but which is in fact the effort that it takes to face up to the reality of evil and live that “godly, righteous and sober life” in a fallen world: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (we’ll get to that second part in just a minute…)

So… here’s yet another question: what is the nature of temptation; what is the time of trial we you and I will so often have to face?  Actually, to answer this I always come back to a verse from Romans – and by the way, friends, if there’s any verse in Holy Scripture that seems tailor made to make one’s head spin, this is it – “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23)

Let me just repeat that just one more time so it can sink in:  “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, understand that Paul is saying this in the context of admonishing the Roman Christians to not be a stumbling black to those whose practice of the faith might differ from their own (specifically, what is permissible to eat under the canon of law).  In other words, this is a stern message not to let one’s faith become a means of arrogance because if your actions and attitudes aren’t wholly attuned to your faith then it’s no longer faith but sin.

Opens up a whole bunch more questions, doesn’t it?  What that means is that even our most well-intentioned behaviors, as good and even  as “religious” as they might well be, end up not proceeding from faith at all if they are not rooted in our “own conviction before God.” (v. 22) Worship, outreach, mission, stewardship, the things we do for the church, the things we do for the world, the things we do for each other, to say nothing of our own personal piety; the applications to such a truth as this are literally endless!  I remember back in seminary, when we had to “exegete” this particular passage in our systematic theology class, our heads pretty much exploded (!); and if that’s your reaction when you go home today and start thinking about all this, I’m truly sorry; although, if it ends up in some spiritual self-evaluation, then so much the better!

But I also have to tell you that this very difficult assertion from Paul ends up connection with this every Sunday prayer I pray that my God “lead[s] me not into temptation.”  If, in fact, there is so much that apart from my faith is sinful behavior, then I need God, in Jesus Christ, to save me from it; to lead me beyond the barren and empty temptations of the world so that everything that God has given me and has empowered me to do and to be in this life can work to deepen the relationship I have with God, and to strengthen me to be more fully a disciple of Jesus Christ in my walk through these days of, to say the very least, confused situations.  I need my Lord to save me from this time of trial; understanding I can avoid it, but I can triumph over it.  It won’t be easy, for the evil in this world is real and relentless, but I won’t be alone in the effort either.

That’s where the second half of this petition comes in:  “…but deliver us from evil,” or, as our gospel reading puts it, “…rescue us from the evil one.”  Now whether one takes the view that the “evil one” depicted here is quite literally the figure of Satan, or rather a representation of the whole curse of a sinful humanity from back in the time of Genesis (now there’s a big question for another day!), the meaning is nonetheless the same: there is ever and always going to be the temptation before us to succumb to the evils of this world.  And lest we forget the story of Adam and Eve, evil can come in very attractive and enticing packages; even sometimes in what looks all the world like goodness and light.  We need to be delivered from that kind of evil; and that only comes in walking arm and arm, heart in heart with God himself!

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  A hard prayer this is; but a necessary one.  And, might I add, nothing new for any of God’s people past or present.  Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?  “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock tha followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  And it was not always easy; the way was very often filled with temptation, and very often they failed in the midst of trial, to the point, Paul says, “that God was not pleased with most of them.”

But they persisted on the journey, seeking to live unto their faith in the Lrod their God… generation after generation, from age to age, through countless challenges and in the midst of a thousand or more big questions;  and today they are part of a communion of saints of which you and I are part and which we celebrate at this table set before us; indeed, “there is one bread, [and] we who are many are one body.”

Let us today allow this holy meal, and those with whom we share it, be our inspiration as we walk the walk of faithful discipleship in Christ’s name, having been lead beyond the times of temptation… and delivered from all evil.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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