The Prayer of Deliverance

Genesis 3:8-13

1 Samuel 8:4-22

Our Lord’s Prayer sermon series continues this morning with “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. 

I spent a fair amount of time this week wondering why I hadn’t generously let either Victor or Joann preach this one. 

We’ll talk both about the temptation part and the evil part.  Let’s start with evil. Evil is a word used in lots of contexts, often about particular situations but also in a bigger sense. Humans can do evil things, but we do not believe a human can be categorically evil. We trust that God is always seeking the redemption of people who perpetuate evil, even when we can’t see it. Darth Vader, Hitler, Pol Pot, Vlad the Impaler, and people who enjoy torturing puppies absolutely do evil acts. 

They are still and always God’s children, and the evil they commit is at odds with God. For many people who do evil acts, they learned their behavior by being on the receiving end of it when they were children, or through the systems of evil that impacted their own lives. 

Evil is a bit of a mystery for us, in truth. We don’t understand it. And maybe we also recognize there is the potential in each of us to participate in it. 

I don’t understand gun violence and what makes a person decide to go to a school, movie theater, church, parade and open fire. It feels evil to me. At the same time, I recognize that many of these young men, and most of the perpetrators are young men, were baptized in churches when they were babies, and grew up hearing the stories of Jesus. Something goes terribly wrong in this world sometimes. 

In Scripture and Christian tradition, evil is often personified, or spiritualized, as the Evil One, or Satan. One translation of the Lord’s Prayer is “deliver us from the Evil One”. But Presbyterian flavored Christians are hesitant to hand over our responsibility for evil behavior to an unseen and unknown force. “The Devil made me do it” feels more like an excuse for our own actions than it does a good reason for why we did it.  

Jason Sudeikis as Satan on Saturday Night Live.

So when I think of evil, I don’t picture a guy in a red suit with horns. I picture people like us who, for whatever reasons, have participated in, and perpetuated, evil acts. It keeps me vigilant and mindful that evil is not “other”. Evil can come from within. The apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

The Holocaust, where at least 6 million people were killed by the Nazi regime in World War 2 is a reminder of evil. And it happened because seemingly good people, many of them Christians, went along with it. Same with slavery. Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.

When we speak of evil as a system, we think about how rules, norms, cultures, laws, governmental structures enforce, legalize, and systematize evil. To pray “deliver us from evil” is a challenging prayer. We are asking for safety from outside forces and safety from inside ones. I don’t want to be the victim of evil. I also don’t want to be complicit in evil. 

What is the connection between evil and temptation? They walk hand in hand. The translation of the word Satan is the tempter. 

What is tempting to each of us is different. My secretary in Boise really loves chocolate. I like it fine, but I don’t love it the way she does. So she’d keep her chocolate in my office. It wasn’t a temptation to me the way it was for her. If she was going to eat chocolate, she had to walk over to my office to get it.  Luckily the things I’m tempted by aren’t usually kept in candy dishes on desks. I’d be in trouble if pizza, cute shoes, or Warriors tickets were in front of me all day long. 

In scripture, temptations are often BIG things. Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the Tempter by worldly power. Adam and Eve are tempted by the knowledge of good and evil. BIG things. 

But I suspect for Eve and Adam, when the serpent talked them into eating the fruit, it didn’t feel like a big thing. I suspect it felt like a little thing. It’s just one piece of fruit. How bad could that be? 

The Genesis account is an historically loaded text. It has long been used to blame women for all sorts of things, even in the New Testament. The author of 1 Timothy writes in my absolute least favorite passage of scripture:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Since you just heard the Genesis text read, I trust that you are wondering, “wait, Marci, wasn’t Adam a part of it? Didn’t he eat the fruit too?”

Why, yes. He did. Thank you for noticing. You are correct.

This text is used to keep women from full flourishing in the church. This text is used to support the theological understandings of “The Fall”, where we left a garden of earthly delights for a life of labor in a hard world because of original sin. But the word “Fall” does not occur in the text. Neither does the word “Sin”. And, if you noticed, there was already labor in the garden. God put Adam and Eve in the garden to tend it, to protect it. They weren’t sitting on chaise lounges, drinking pina coladas all day. So the idea of work being a result of the Fall is not correct.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that scripture itself is used to keep half of humanity from full participation in church and society. God calls us to resist evil and temptation, and the church used that very story to justify what God calls us to resist. 

This text is used for a lot of things. But let’s not lose track of what this text has to teach us.  It shows us who we are. We are people who are called to till a garden, people who are called to care for the gift of abundant creation we’ve been given.

And, like Adam and Eve, we distrust God’s very voice, giving us instructions for our flourishing. We, instead, trust the voices of the tempters, calling us to take on for ourselves determination of what is good and what is evil.

We are tempted, by little things that become big things. 

And perhaps we are so easily tempted because we doubt God’s intentions for us, or we doubt our status as God’s beloved children. We seek our own glory. We trust voices other than God’s.

The story of temptation in the garden reminds me to listen for God. It reminds me to trust God. It reminds me to question the voices who try to tell me that I don’t need God’s guidance and I don’t need God’s instruction.

Lead me not into temptation is how most versions of the Lord’s Prayer are translated, but Pope Francis has recently been arguing the Catholic Church should change it to better reflect what we know of God. Francis says we should pray “do not let us fall into temptation.” I think I agree with him in this. God does not lead us into trouble. We do that just fine ourselves. God heals us, supports us, forgives us, transforms us, but God isn’t a trickster, out to trap us. We find temptation without much effort. Adam and Eve are two verses into their story in Scripture when the serpent shows up. Two verses.

Do not let us fall into temptation. 

The other story we heard today shows us a more subtle kind of temptation. But it is also related to not listening to what God desires for us. 

Samuel was a good man and a good prophet, but his sons were not good leaders or good people. Israel had been ruled by judges and prophets, all calling the people to follow God. But the people were tired of prophets. They wanted kings. They looked to Babylon, or Ninevah, Egypt or England, North Korea or Russia, and thought “those rulers have gold palaces and big armies. Lots of power and money. That’s what we need. We’re tired of being overrun by other armies. We’re sick of power being spread amongst 12 tribes.  We want a king, someone who says what he thinks and will tell us what to do.” 

Samuel knew that was a bad idea. But God said, “give ‘em what they want. They aren’t rejecting your leadership. They are rejecting mine”. 

Samuel laid out exactly how bad it would be. The king was going to take their sons for his army, their daughters to work in his castle, and their crops to feed his army. The king would take portions of their wealth to build his wealth. It doesn’t sound appealing at all when Samuel lays it out. And the people say “sign us up! This will be great!”

That’s part of the challenge with temptation. It takes courage to listen for God’s voice and God’s intention. It is easy to listen to a strong man leader. It takes courage to sit with the questions and the doubts and the complicated choices before us.  It is easy to abdicate our responsibility and put the crown on someone else’s head. 

Ultimately, I think issues of temptation often come down to Enough. What’s enough? How much money do we need to amass before we’ll feel secure? How much power do we need to project before we’ll feel in control? How many pairs of shoes is enough in my closet? 

Adam and Eve were living in paradise, but it somehow wasn’t enough. In eating the fruit, they showed that they didn’t know who they were, they didn’t trust who they were supposed to be. They wanted to be something else—in this case, wise and with the knowledge of God. 

The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, led by God through prophets and judges, claimed by God in a Covenant. And it wasn’t enough. By demanding a king, they showed they didn’t know who they were, and whose they were. 

Our experience with evil and with temptations may look similar or completely different than the ones we heard today from scripture. But as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I also offer us the reminder of courage.  Evil happens when good people are silent. Evil can be thwarted when we speak up. 

John Stuart Mill said in 1867: 

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

As we pray this week, may we not fall into temptation. May we be delivered from evil, within and without. Amen. 

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