Sermon – Deliver Us from Evil
Jeremiah 4:11-18; Matthew 6:9-13
Farmville Presbyterian Church
August 6, 2023
– God’s saving us from temptation
We have two remaining sermons in this series on the Lord’s Prayer, today’s and next Sunday’s. Today is the last line of the written prayer. Next week is the line we SAY but that is not actually in the Bible. If you have been on this journey with me across these weeks, I hope you have found a prayer that is meaningful and challenging. None of the lines in here are easy. They push us to take our faith seriously and to lay our hearts before God as a people who needs help. Today, we need help with temptation and evil.
Believe it or not, praying this line is not like covering our eyes, our ears, and our mouths. This is not an automatic “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil” as if the answer is just to avoid difficult situations. Some might say that if you simply don’t want to get hit by a car, stay off the streets, right? That is until the car comes across your yard and hits the side of your house and enters your living room as happens from time to time. Just ask the family with two toddlers in Rialto, CA who had an SUV slam into the front of their home a little more than a year ago. The article I read about this had the headline, “Uninvited Car Enters Home.” Are there any “invited cars” that enter homes? Anyway, the point stands. Despite our best efforts to avoid problems, temptations, and evil, sometimes they find us regardless. This is something I expect that requires help. We actually need a lot of help.
In fact, isn’t this the real heart of our struggle to be Christian, to live in the example of Jesus? We are way too easily distracted or tempted or pulled after things that we have no business going after. We seek self-gratification over the good of our neighbor. We look for our own benefit over the blessing of our enemy. We seek to gain more than to give. Our hearts lust for everything we wish we had but do not possess. Our society and its advertising knows how to get our attention and convince us to buy all kinds of things that we do not need. “Lord, deliver me from the dessert and candy aisle.” Maybe I should have figured this out 28 years ago as a newlywed. The first four years of marriage, I put on ten pounds every year like clockwork. Maybe, it would have been rude to pray, “Deliver me from my wife’s cooking.” How about, “Lead me not to the kitchen table?” That does not sound quite right. What is Jesus up to here?
I wish I could say there is a simple answer that makes everything clear, but there is not. To pray that God NOT lead us into temptation makes it sound that it is something God MIGHT do if we don’t pray that. Why would we need to pray that at all, if God loves us and wants what is best for us? Being delivered from evil or the evil one (as the text literally says) also sounds like something God would automatically do. Honestly, this line and every other line is a flag to get our attention, to raise awareness, to bring to our eyes and hearts front and center what God wants us to be thinking about. This line especially.
I don’t know about you but my biggest challenges to temptation or struggling with what is not so good is when I am not thinking about, when I am not paying attention, when I am not focused on following Jesus in the Spirit. We do live in that culture of dazzling sights and sounds, lights and attractions everywhere. I have never been to Las Vegas, but I have heard about how you have no idea when it is day or night because of the overabundance of lights and distractions. The forces of evil are going to do their most effective work against oblivious hearts, so Jesus wants this prayer on our lips and in our heart to raise awareness and sound the alarm. There is far too much out there in the world to lead us astray if we are not paying attention. Just ask King David who decided to put aside his kingly duties of leading the army that one year and hang out on his roof where he spied Bathsheba. That’s all that it took.
The flipside is that God does allow us to be tested. Life itself seems like one big test, but clearly, it is in God’s interest for us to grow more and more into the people God would have us be. Growing up in life, learning more in school, or succeeding more at work all require us to be pushed beyond where we were. People who are never challenged will never grow. The same goes for followers of Jesus. No one should want to be stuck in the baby pool of faith their whole life. Some people might want to say that God specifically leads us into those challenges, as if God is thinking, “Shirley has gotten a little stagnant in her faith. Time to stretch her spiritual patience. Maybe she needs a chronic disease.”
That is wrong on a number of levels. Frankly, there is enough struggle going on in the world already. I don’t believe God is cooking up trouble for anyone, but God does allow us to enter that struggle that comes. We are all affected by our choices and consequences. I have a feeling people would have thought twice about smoking if they had known the risk back in the day. The same goes for sunbathing. I have heard of people who actually applied oil to their skin to get that deeper, darker tan, without any idea of the harm they were inviting.
God is going to walk with us into the mistakes we make, the bad choices we invite, the evil we cook up. When we experience the trainwreck, though, we don’t need to stay there. We don’t need to become consumed by it. We don’t need to accept evil as the rule of our lives. We commit sin, but it does not own us. The grace of God is there for us all helping us through those difficulties and showing us something better, even with those mistakes and brokenness. They cannot be snapped away, but we can find with God’s help forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and possibility for a future.
That’s what the people in Jeremiah’s time had a hard time seeing. This passage from Jeremiah 4 sets the stage for some of the carnage coming as people exchanged evil for God’s way. They were living under the threat of unimaginable and horrible things because they forgot to turn back to God. They gave up on following in God’s way, and the world came crashing down on them. We truly cannot imagine what it would be like to have everything we know taken from us – our nation, our culture, our lives, our possessions, or our freedom. This happened back then. Some of us are deeply worried about the future of our nation today. We should be. Some of our appetites are tearing us apart rather than building a better people. Some are chasing after temptations for power and control without any thought of what God actually wants from us. The same God who gave up worldly control and submitted to injustice for the sake of love is the one who calls us today to pray for deliverance from evil, not looking for victory over our neighbor. No one truly wins in war, whether with guns or words. Lives are still destroyed when we give our hearts to evil ambitions. The care of God’s children, all of them, must be our first priority on this earth.
You are not alone. There is one more thing that I’d like to point out about this Lord’s Prayer that shows up in our lives so very often. It is all in the plural: Give US, Forgive US, Lead US, Deliver US. None of this prayer is designed for one person praying only for themselves. If this is a model prayer, then Jesus’ example shows us that prayer is always for more than just us. When we face times of temptation or evil, we are not doing this alone, either, no matter how alone or isolated we may think we are. Our actions always affect others. Our consequences always impact others. We all struggle to live our best lives and to be our best selves. We all fall short. We all sin. We all share in evil. We all need God’s help and God’s grace. The faster that we find ourselves in the same bucket, the faster we will also see God’s work in our shared life. This is especially helpful if we want to dare to pray for how as a people we have done some lousy things, how as a culture we have failed to be very Christlike, or how as a nation we have sold our souls to profit at the expense of life. In any group, the ones who do not fit very well or who are the minority, never seem to really succeed. Every society, every people, will be judged by how well it takes care of the most vulnerable.
To help us get back on track, Jesus gives us this simple prayer: do not let us be overcome by our struggles and the evil of this world. Give us the good path, the faithful path, the righteous and loving path that we can take together. Help us, Jesus. Help us, Lord. Pray with me, friends.
Sweet, Heavenly Father, hear our hearts for your help. We have too often strayed from your way to chase our own glory, to feed ourselves at the trough of selfishness, or to follow the ways of this world. We have not resisted the siren call but have strayed into sin far more than we want to admit. Help us to admit it and to be honest with our part of what’s wrong with this world. Help us to admit it and to finally work to remedy those broken places with your healing grace. Show us your goodness. Show us what love can do. In the name of Christ Jesus, love made flesh, we pray to your eternal glory. Amen.