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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

The Temptations

Pilgrim Congregational Church
Rev. Peggy O'Connor
Matthew 26:41
"The Temptations"
April 6, 2014


Today's sermon is the fifth, in a six part series on the Lord's Prayer. Each week in Lent we have looked different parts of the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples after they asking him to teach them to pray the way he did. We began with "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name" and continued with "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven" the second week; "Give us this day our daily bread" on week three; and last week Cal Mutti tackled "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Today we move on to "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

These words mystified me as a child. At 10 or so I took them literally as a plea begging God not to lead me into temptation. But that made no sense to me. Surely God would never do such a thing. So why did we ask God to not do what I was sure God would never do? It made no sense to me.

I did not tell anyone about my confusion for a while. Every Sunday I would fold my hands, bow my head and then surreptitiously look around to see if anyone else hesitated at these words. No one did. I figured I was the only one who was bothered by these words. Finally it got to be too much for me and I told my parents about my confusion. I do not remember their answer other than I would understand when I got older. Not much help.

Well, I am older now...quite a bit older...but I still think that this part of the Lord's Prayer is confusing. So let's take a look at it and see if we can make sense of this part of the Lord's Prayer.

"Lead us not into temptation"...judging by the amount written about these words I imagine they have confounded lots of other people too. That confusion, say scholars, stems from the word temptation. We hear this word and think of being enticed to do something we should not do. But that was not how people in Jesus' time would have understood it. Back then, the word we translate as temptation was understood as a "time of trial". That is a big difference.

More modern translations of the Lord's Prayer try to clear this up by using those words, "Save us from the time of trial" in place of "Lead us not into temptation". What's wonderful about this rendering is that it helps us to hear what Jesus was saying in a new and more helpful way.

"Save us from the time of trial" tells us that hard times...times that are filled with pain, confusion, grief, anger, disappointment, and loss... are a part of life. Hard times happen...in everyone's life. This is an honest look at life... not a sugar coated life's a bowl of cherries view. It is real.

We might like life to be more like what the advertising industry presents to us on TV, in newspapers, on the radio, and via the internet...you know... where buying the right car, or beer, or drug will make you more attractive, a lot happier and madly in love. We might like to live in that world but we know we don't. They are selling a dream that never was or will be.

Jesus, on the other hand, is telling us something about the world we live in...and about the God we worship. Jesus gives us the real deal...life at is truly is...life that includes not just the good but the bad too. Jesus reduces the eight verses in Ecclesiastes that tell us there is a time and season for everything to this one phrase "Save us from the time of trial". He is saying there is a time for everything in life, even times of trial.

While we may recognize the wisdom and truth of this we would prefer that it were not true. Even when we substitute "Save us" for "Lead us not"...we tend to hear the same meaning...which is something like..."Dear God keep me safe...keep times of trial away from me," which is only natural. No one willingly walks into such times. No one signs up for times of trial.

But here is the thing. Times of trial are a part of life. And, it is only by finding our way through such times that we can learn two of the most valuable lessons in life. The first is that God did not make us flimsily. We are not breakable. We are not particularly fragile. We may feel fragile at times...like we will shatter into a million pieces...but in fact we do not. We come through hard times...stronger because we have learned that we are not breakable. By surviving such times we also discover or perhaps reclaim some of our better attributes.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: "the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat. Known suffering. Known struggle. Known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."

I love that quote and I agree with the author that it is the hard times that help to define us. It is by going through them that we gain strength or perhaps more accurately, we learn how strong we really are. We also deepen our character. And in addition, I believe, that as people of faith, we learn that we can depend on God to be by our side during such times.

But I disagree with the author when she says that beautiful people do not just happen. I believe that God only makes beautiful people. But, and here is where we get to the second part of this morning's section of the Lord's Prayer, evil exists in our world and it does want to lure us into being less than we are. So, we have to work at staying beautiful people and our greatest help in this is our faith.

You can call it anything you like...the devil...the powers and principalities... the advertising industry...evil exists in the world. That was a cheap shot I took at advertising, but in fact evil is always trying to sell us something that a part of us knows is wrong but another part of us drawn to because the gain seems so tempting.

Have you ever had a sleepless night and found yourself watching TV in the early morning hours? If so, you have no doubt seen the ad for steak knives that cut through tin cans and concrete. Now, in the light of day can anyone say, with a straight face, that knives that cut through concrete make any sense? No. But at three in the morning, when you are tired and up because you are worried about something, knives that can cut through anything somehow seem like something you might need. It makes not sense...but then again maybe it does. When we are tired, afraid, broke, and or broken we think we need something like knives that will cut through metal. We get the message that we need something....we are not enough.

The other message we get bombarded with is that we don't have enough. This makes us susceptible to offers that are too good to be true...learn to flip houses and get rich in your spare time. Getting something for nothing or next to nothing is a great temptation in life. Even if you can withstand all the outlandish offers on TV, everyday life offers us lots of opportunities to wrestle with this particular evil. The sales clerk gives you your change and as you walk to the door you realize he gave you an extra quarter. Do you take it back or just put it into your wallet? It is just a quarter. You are already in the parking lot. What if it is a dollar...five dollars...ten dollars...where do you draw the line? Or, as tax season is upon us...do you declare everything...do you search high and low for every deduction...are you ever tempted to cheat...just a little? Deliver us from evil...we pray this because we know that even as people of faith we can be tempted into doing the wrong thing. We are we are surrounded by a world that contains temptation to be less that beautiful.

No matter how you understand this part of the Lord's Prayer, the one constant in it is the assumption that God is with us. In good times and in bad; when we are at our best and at are worst; when we are proud of ourselves and when we are ashamed...God is there. God is the one constant there is in our lives. God is always ready to stand by our side and help us find the right path that will save us from ourselves and the pain of the world...always there to help us find our way back to the beautiful person that she created us to be in the first place.

Posted: Sunday April 6, 2014