Sermon for 02-07-10: “The Prayer Jesus Taught Us, Part 5: Deliver Us From Evil”

February 9, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:13

[Please note: Due to operator error (i.e., I forgot the recorder), there is no audio of the sermon this week. Sorry!]

A time of testing is in the air. Last week, one of you told me that your daughter is taking the Kaplan course for SAT preparation. I know the SAT has changed over the years, but the propaganda used to be that it’s not a test that you can study for. But of course you can study for it, and you ought to. How many of you are taking the SAT this spring? God bless you. Testing doesn’t end when you’re out of school, unfortunately. I might have mentioned this recently, but I would appreciate your prayers as I prepare to be “tested” by the Board of Ordained Ministry. I turn in all of my paperwork tomorrow for full ordination, and then I have to go defend myself before the Board in the spring.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my apprehension over the Board has manifested itself by these recurring nightmares I have about academic failure. I had two dreams last week about it. In one, I was back at Georgia Tech, taking a calculus exam. The test was being proctored by ministers on the Board of Ordained Ministry! In the other dream that I can remember, I was in a cooking competition, and the meal I was frantically preparing was being judged by these same ministers! Testing!

Then we have today’s scripture… Today’s scripture is really all about testing, the testing of our faith: “And do not bring us to the time of trial,”—or “testing.” The traditional King James language that we say each week—“lead us not into temptation”—is tricky because temptation should not be construed as God doing something to tempt us to sin. As James 1:13 says, “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.” No, a better word for “temptation” is a time of trial or time of testing. I agree with scholars who say that the best interpretation of these words is this: “Give us the strength to endure trials and temptations. Enable our faith to endure these times of testing.”

Listen to these words: “trial,” “rescue,” and “evil.” These are words of crisis. These are words that communicate something about the kind of trouble that we face in the world. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that placing our lives under the sovereignty of our King Jesus and giving our ultimate allegiance to God’s kingdom no matter what, means that we’re going to come into conflict with all those evil forces in the world that oppose God’s kingdom. When we are baptized, we sign up to fight them. We enlist to fight in a war. Did you know that?

When you are baptized and when you reaffirm your faith at someone else’s baptism or confirm your faith, you are asked if you will “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness” and “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” That means trouble for us. If we were simply going to do Satan’s bidding anyway, then I suppose we’d have an easier time of it—going with the flow, after all, is easy. If we’re going with the flow, even if doing so leads to our ultimate destruction, why should the devil bother us? It’s when we go against the tide and stand up to the evil forces in the world and say, “No! This is not how we’re going to live,” that we face real resistance. As Paul says in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [Eph 6:12].

Last week, I was at the office. I had a lunch appointment, and I was getting ready to leave. I got a call from Cindy, our secretary. A stranger had come into the office saying that he really needed to talk to a pastor—and I was the only one of those around at the time. This man seemed desperate. I said, “I’ve only got five minutes.” He said, “That’s enough time.” As he walked into my office, he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m an alcoholic.” Then, in case I didn’t hear him, he repeated it: “I’m an alcoholic.” He went on to explain that because of another DUI he was facing real legal trouble; he had jeopardized his marriage and his career. He said, “I’m at rock-bottom. I’m not only a drunk; I’m a criminal now, and I’m a weak and helpless person.” He was crying as he said it, which he said deeply embarrassed him. I was thinking, “God bless him on his journey to recovery.” It’s seems really bad for him, but with God’s help he might have turned the corner. The truth is that man was finally ready to pray this prayer our Lord teaches us. He was ready to acknowledge the struggle that we face and pray these words, “Deliver us from the evil one.”

Most Bible scholars agree that the King James words, “deliver us from evil,” are too general. Jesus really said, “deliver us from the evil one,” i.e., the devil. How does that make you feel? I know that many of us modern and post-modern people are uncomfortable with devil talk. Prior to seminary, I certainly was. Then I realized that my skepticism was mostly just buying into this bogus post-Enlightenment ideology that says that there’s really nothing beyond this physical world. What you see is what you get. But if we believe in the reality of a transcendent God who is beyond the world of time and space, how much more difficult is it to believe that God has created angelic beings, some of whom, like us human beings, choose to sin—and that sort of heavenly fall from grace has spiritual consequences in this world?

Believe me, I’m uncomfortable with the way we often talk about the evil one. I don’t know how the devil manifests himself or itself in the world, but I know it’s not like the way popular culture depicts him or it. The devil does not come to us as some frightening beast that you would be afraid to meet in a dark alley at night. See, that depiction actually trivializes evil. If only the devil were something frightening! Then the temptation wouldn’t be tempting! If I directing a movie about Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness, I would have George Clooney or, better yet, Scarlett Johannson play the devil. See what I mean? Really beautiful people. However the evil one manifests himself in the world, he or it has a way of disguising evil as something very good, very beautiful, very compelling, very subtle.

Here’s why I accept the reality of the devil: Because evil is a reality that is greater than the sum of its parts; evil is more than just the sum total of humanity’s sinful choices; evil seems to have a life of its own. The Bible teaches us that evil is organized against God’s kingdom. They are conspiring against the good work of God’s kingdom in the world.

Evil has a way of influencing human systems, institutions, and organizations. It infiltrates government. When a Democrat is in the White House, Republicans say, “Of course the government is evil!” When a Republican is in the White House, Democrats say, “Of course government is evil!” But evil is strictly bi-partisan. It infiltrates our economic system, when it says that whatever happens as a result of free and fair competition must be a good thing. Did you know, for example, that Americans are finally saving money for the first time in a generation? That’s a good thing, right? Wrong! It’s not good for the economy, which needs us to spend, spend, spend—and even if you don’t have the money, spend anyway!

It infiltrates science, when science not only describes the physical world, but goes beyond its authority and tells us that there is nothing beyond the physical world. It also infiltrates the media—and I don’t just mean with its gratuitous depictions of violence and sex. Last Tuesday, for example, 10 million Americans tuned in to watch the show Lost. The next day there was a lot of buzz about the show in the media. Today, 50 million people in the U.S. will go to church. Yet it doesn’t even create a ripple in our media: in the news, on TV, in the movies, in books, and in music. On the contrary, our media reinforces the idea that the Christian faith isn’t an important part of people’s lives. The media actively promotes a lack of belief. It doesn’t reflect reality, yet it will help shape reality for us over time.

And none of this happens because bad people are in the media, government, the sciences, or big business. Plenty of Christians and good people are involved in all of these spheres. It happens because that’s the way evil works in the world. It wants to enslave us without our even knowing it. It has a way of saying, “Look at me over here,” and as soon as we’re distracted, it attacks us somewhere else. That man who came to my office last week finally recognized his enslavement to alcohol, and may God set him free. But evil wants to enslave all of us—in far more subtle ways if necessary. This prayer wakes us up to the reality of what we’re up against. When we pray, “deliver us from the evil one,” we recognize that it’s a daily struggle.

But… It’s not a struggle we face alone. First, we attach ourselves to the One who faced all the same temptations we face yet overcame them through his life, death, and resurrection. Where we may fail, we have someone on our side who doesn’t fail. Also, notice that we pray “us,” “we,” and “our,” not me, I, and my… We the Church are in this struggle together. We are not made to fight our battles alone.

I had a friend who is struggling with his faith. I knew at one time he was active churchgoer. I asked him, “Are you going to church?” Not surprisingly, he said he wasn’t going very often anymore. We’re going to struggle with faith at various times in our lives; trials will come; God will not always answer our prayer for deliverance from trials with a “yes.” But when that happens the worst thing you can do is stop going to church, because you cut yourself off from what the church calls the means of grace, the regular channels by which God blesses us, speaks to us, gives us grace. Can’t find Jesus in your life anymore? Come to church, because guess what…? Jesus promises to be here: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’ll be there.”

Maybe you’re struggling right now? Maybe you’re going through a trial from which you need to be delivered. Good news: you’ve come in the right place. In a moment, you’re invited to come to the Lord’s table for Holy Communion. Through this meal, Jesus invites you to experience him in a special way…

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