Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Massillon Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2018

MACA Lenten Service, 2018
James 1:12-14
Matthew 6:9-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, back when the preachers got together and decided to divide up the Lord’s Prayer for preaching, I picked “Lead us not into temptation.”  Mainly because I was interested in it, and also because I was too dumb to realize how difficult it would be.  Pastor Gower, being a wiser pastor chose the phrase, “Our Father,” although he was hoping for just "Our."  Which reminds me, let’s begin by reviewing what we’ve heard so far.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with that phrase, Our Father.  It reminds us that—even though we tend to think of this as an individual prayer—it is a prayer from and about our community.  And the next week, we heard that asking for God’s kingdom to come is asking that life in this world would be like it is in the parables, when Jesus describes what the kingdom of God is like.  Then we heard that asking for our daily bread really reminds us that all our needs are provided by God.  And last week, we heard that—with God’s help—we can let sin pass us by rather than grabbing onto it when it comes to us, because come to us it will.

And that leads us to today:  Lead us not into temptation.  This is, perhaps, the strangest of all the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.  In Matthew’s version, it gets coupled with, “but deliver us from evil,” which is the easy part.  Luke’s version stops with the hard part: Lead us not into temptation.

Even when I was a little kid, I thought this was a strange thing to ask of God.  I mean, God wouldn’t want us to fall into temptation, so why would we need to ask God not to tempt us?  It’s like asking God not to make me steal candy from the kids at school.  And, as I grew to be a teenager, I began to think of this phrase as being more like, “Lead us not into temptation, because I can get there on my own just fine, God, thanks.”

The more you think about this petition, the stranger it becomes.  If you have a world view where God is literally in control of everything, maybe it’s a less confusing request.  You know, everything happens because it is God’s will, even the bad things.  And therefore, it might just be God’s will that we fall into temptation, so we’d better be sure to ask God not to lead us into temptation, in case that’s one of the things God had in mind.  And if that worldview works for you, then, well, good for you.  But I just can’t embrace that, personally.  As best I can tell, bad things happen in this world, even though God does not want them to happen.  And not put too fine a point on it, a God who actually wants innocent people to suffer is a God I’m not that interested in.  Please don’t throw anything at me.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Job.  Some people will point to the book of Job as an example of God leading someone into temptation.  Now I’m not going to debate whether the book of Job is an allegory or not, since I feel like I just dodged being hit by a load of Bibles from you all.  But I do feel the need to point out that it is Satan who is tempting Job to denounce God; God is not leading Job into temptation.

And what do we do with that verse from the book of James that we heard read a little earlier tonight?  “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.  But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.”  No person should say, “I am being tempted by God.”  That’s pretty clear, right?

Huh.  So on the face of it, we don’t really see God leading anyone into temptation.  And we have James telling us that God does not lead us into temptation.  And yet, on a regular basis, we pray that God would not lead us into temptation.  As the Lutherans might say, “What does this mean?”

You may have heard that Pope Francis has begun floating the idea that this phrase ought to be rendered something more like, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”  And the Catholic Church in France has begun using that phrasing.  Well, in French.  And soon the Swiss Church will make the same change, starting on Easter day.  But I don’t think that’s going to catch on really, because language scholars have lined up against it and . . . well . . . people just won’t do it.  The Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer.  Just ask any Episcopal priest how easy it has been to introduce the “Contemporary” version, which appeared in 1928, and is still considered “too modern” in many churches.

But here’s another thing to consider.  In the Gospel of Mark, right after his Baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he is tested, or tempted by Satan.  In fact, the actual phrase is “thrown out” into the desert.  The suggestion here is that Jesus was not looking for this; Jesus was not slipping into temptation; no, Jesus had to be thrown into temptation, since it is so contrary to his very nature.

And maybe that’s a helpful thing to keep in mind when we consider the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Like, it is certainly our nature to fall into temptation.  We don’t need to be thrown.  We don’t even need to be led.  Show us temptation, and the honest among us will say, “Where do I sign?”  We are all tempted to sin against God and our neighbor, and we are all prone to give into those temptations, no matter how hard we might strive to fight against them.  And that is why we constantly and consistently confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, and why we constantly and consistently need to hear the words of assurance and absolution, that God forgives what we have done, are doing, and will do in the future.

And so, what about this phrase, “Lead us not into temptation?”  Why did Jesus tell us to pray that, and why do we keep on doing it, even though it is so confusing to us?  The answer is . . . I have no idea.

HOWEVER, maybe this is something to carry with you, and it goes back to the first sermon we heard at these weekly gatherings:  Us.  Our.  The collective.  I do not pray that God would give me my daily bread.  Or forgive me my trespasses.  And you do not pray that God would not lead you into temptation.  It is us.  It is the church.  It is this collective, messy, struggling, hungry, forgiven people of God, following God’s call to go out into the world and make it a little more like the Kingdom of God that we pray will look on earth as it does in heaven.

You and I are in this together, whether we like it or not.  And my prayer for all of us is that God would lead us away from temptation and into being the church that God wants us to be.  Forgiven, united, welcoming, loving, and ready to celebrate the risen Christ who passes over from death into life, and pulls us with him, by the grace of God, and by the will of God.  The one who has the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.


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