Sermon preached by Rev’d Clare Hayns, Chaplain and Welfare Co-ordinator of Christ Church, Oxford on Sunday 7th July at St Giles’, Horspath
Jonah 1; Mark 14:32-42
I am delighted to be able to come and join in with your series on the Lord’s Prayer.
When I was sitting in Church once the Vicar said “As our Saviour taught us, let us pray..” and a little kid in the row in front of me exclaimed, very loudly, “He said tortoise!”
It’s a wonderful thing to do, to focus on this prayer that all Christians have been reciting for 2000 years. It’s such a remarkable prayer isn’t it? There is within it very little of doctrinal statement of faith. There is no mention of the Holy Spirit, the Cross, or even Jesus himself. Churches have split and divided over the centuries but still we can say this prayer without argument.
Lead us not into Temptation, but Deliver us from Evil
One of my favourite Billy Connolly lines was his confusion as a child when saying the Lord’s Prayer as there is a place in East Lothian called Drem, which was pretty bleak. For years he thought the line was ‘Lead us us not into Drem’s Station’!
There has been not a little bit of controversy over this section of the Lord’s Prayer.
In May Pope Francis made changes to Lord’s Prayer in Italian.
From “Lead us not into temptation”, to: “do not let us fall into temptation”.
“It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation,” “I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.
“A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation – that’s his department.”
I’ll come back to the theology but first what do we think of changing the words? Straw poll on changing the language if you thought it would clear up a point of theology?
Yes. No. (note: there was a mixed response with the majority keeping it as it is!)
My view is that these prayers are learnt ‘by heart’, deep within us and the poetry and cadence of the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t be changed as they are deeply within us.
To the theology.
Firstly, from everything I’ve read the Greek word translates as ‘lead’ or ‘bring’ and doesn’t say ‘fall’ as the Pope would like it to. The same word used in every other place makes no sense when translated ‘fall’.
But does God himself lead us into sin. Into temptation?
Other places in scripture make it clear that God doesn’t tempt us. James 1:13 tells us that, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” (NKJV)
Jesus is tempted in the wilderness:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” (Matthew 4:1).
God doesn’t tempt us. That goes against everything we read, understand and know to be true about the God of love who wants to lead us into life.
But God guides us. Perhaps what it means is that every day we live there are opportunities and moments where we are tempted away from God, from life in all fullness, and we as we pray this prayer we are acknowledging that God guides us and will often guide us into situations and places where we’re tested, and that we need his constant help and strength.
St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians promises that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear and that, when we are tempted, God will provide a way out. (1 Corinthians 10.13)
And perhaps what we can bear is different for each of us depending on our age, experience and stage of life. I have a friend who is an alcoholic and knows that she he needs to say this prayer daily to give him the courage to overcome his addiction.
So, ‘deliver us from evil’.
What do we mean by evil? In some translations it is ‘The Evil’ or ‘The evil one’.
In beauty and calm of parishes like Horspath, Garsington and Cuddesdon it can be hard to imagine evil. The evil one as a devil with horns. Or to think of evil as the kind of Stalin, Hitler type of evil.
What are we asking to be delivered from?
Evil. Firstly global and national. So much in our world is beautiful, plentiful, glorious but…
- Inequality and injustice
- Child poverty
- Domestic violence
- Read this week of the camps in China where Muslims are being separated from their children and ‘re-educated’ – chilling.
These are all global evils. How about things that are closer to home?
- The fact so many elderly people are living lonely, isolated lives
- Divisions and conflicts that fester and destroy communities
- Environmental catastrophe
Or perhaps we go even closer to home.
Ambrose in 4th Century says:
‘No wise person will deny the existence of evil in the world. I believe evil to be a perversion of mind and spirit… the greatest danger does not lie outside us. It comes from our very selves. The enemy is within… within us, I say, dwells our adversary. Hence we must examine our aims, explore our patterns of thought, and generally be vigilant over our thoughts and the desires of our hearts’
Yikes. But I know this to be true. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, clever enough or skilled enough to make a difference. Or we tell ourselves we are so good and clever and skilled we have no need of God at all.
The readings we had give us examples of the different temptations we face in the face of evil.
Jonah 1 – Jonah is called by God to speak against evil and injustice in the City of Nineva, to tell the people to turn back to God.
His response? To run in the opposite direction.
Gospel reading the disciples are asked by Jesus to stay awake and accompany him to in his hour of need.
Their response? To fall asleep and leave him on his own.
When faced with evil or wrong in the world, in our families, in our own lives, our responses are pretty similar to these.
To run in the opposite direction or to fall asleep and ignore what’s happening.
Perhaps these are the also the temptations we are praying to avoid? The temptation to run away or ignore issues.
This can all make us really helpless.
But we are not helpless. We are not to be afraid of any kind of evil.
In scripture Paul speak of putting on the armour of God to protect us against evil.
‘The shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit’.
I’d like to end with the image I began with: that of the tortoise.
Just like a tortoise has its shell everywhere it goes to protect it, so we have the promise of God that he will be with us to protect us, guide us and provide us with an escape from temptation.