The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE LORD'S PRAYER
"LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION"

Delivered 3/20/94
Text: James 1:12-18 (Matt. 6:9-13)
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

I recently read of the Rev. Martin Perelra of the Roman Catholic Our Lady of the Airways parish in Moulton, Ontario. It seems he was downtown bringing Communion to a sick member but was unable to find a place to park. So he DOUBLE-parked and left a note on the windshield. It said, "This is a priest. I circled the area for 20 minutes but couldn't find a spot. Will be back in five minutes. `Forgive us our trespasses.'" When he returned he found a parking ticket with its own note attached. It read, "I have been patrolling this area for 20 years and have not forgiven a single ticket. To do so might cost me my job. Therefore, `Lead us not into temptation.'"(1)

We come near to the end of our study of the Lord's Prayer. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

To properly understand these clauses will require some linguistic analysis. (I will try to keep you awake.) The first word to concern us is "temptation." The modern understanding of "temptation" conveys the flavor of enticing someone into sin. H.L. Mencken said, "Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a moveable body." But to the 17th century translators of the English Bible, "temptation" carried a broader meaning - it embraced the concept of TESTING, and THAT is what we should understand as the meaning of this petition in the Lord's Prayer: "Lead us not into temptation...Do not bring us to the test."

See how it works out with just one example. Do you remember the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah? In the King James Version the story starts out, "And it came to pass...that God did TEMPT Abraham."(2) Obviously, the word "tempt" did NOT simply mean "to entice into sin." Abraham was being called upon to submit to a test of his loyalty. God does not encourage people to sin.

Our lesson from James makes that clear. Evidently, there were some in the early church who, when faced with a particularly trying situation or even a temptation to fall into sin, wanted to shift the blame for succumbing onto God. But James writes: "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." Nothing could be more clear than that. God does NOT tempt people into sin. "Lead us not into temptation" is the cry of the anguished heart, terrified that it might not measure up.

The second linguistic concern involves the final word of the petition: EVIL. In the original Greek, we find a definite article prior to the word, making the phrase read literally, "But deliver us from THE evil." We cannot tell whether Jesus, speaking in the vocabulary of his day, meant "the evil one," the devil, or if he meant "the evil thing," the power of evil. But as one writer notes, "It is clear enough that he meant something quite definite: not just the absence of good, but the definite, cunning force that is arrayed against the will of God...There is at work in the world another will, an evil will, a will that resists and struggles against the will of God. This will...wears a thousand disguises. It seems purposive and intelligent. It is a master organizer, combining our sinful wills into a vast network of evil that seems far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. The evil makes the world a dangerous place..."(3) No kidding.

Last week's issue of Time magazine has a morbidly fascinating article called "A Sniper's Tale,"(4) the story of a Bosnian Serb named Pipo. From his perch overlooking Sarajevo's downtown he watches people strolling the streets. He prefers to think of the streets the way they were two weeks ago just before the cease-fire: fearful, deserted. "Everyone likes peace except me," he says. "I like the war."

Pipo claims his bullets have felled 325 people. He has become comfortable in war, and knows that peace will bring him uncertainty - or worse. "I don't think we snipers will survive the peace," he says. "We have killed too many and it is a small country. Not only will there be the revenge of families, but our own army will not want us around. We know too much. We did too much." He claims that other snipers have gone to South Africa, where, "they are hiring men like us."

I doubt that any of us pray for deliverance from the temptation toward that kind of evil. I doubt that many of us are tempted towards ANY such evil activity as would land us in jail or send us scurrying for South Africa. No, we are the GOOD people, the church-goers, God's frozen chosen, the Presbyterians. So what is it then from which WE are asking to be delivered? I am convinced that there are massive evils in this world that have contributed to the dangerous state of affairs we now endure, evils in which we indeed ARE tempted to participate and actually DO! Let me give you a few examples.

First, I think it is a massive evil to say, "Anything goes; if it feels good, do it." Despite the fact that we would prefer to "Live and let live," to "Judge not that ye be not judged," those are not always appropriate options. It is evil, in my estimation, to encourage life without limits, because, in the process, someone ALWAYS gets hurt.

One morning a young lady named Padrica Hill, a former bank teller, a mother and wife, dressed her three children, made breakfast for them, smoked some crack cocaine and let the kids watch cartoons. Then with a clothesline she strangled 8-year-old Kristine and 4-year-old Eric, Jr. She tried to strangle 2-year-old Jennifer, but left the girl still breathing softly on the floor. When the police came, Padrica Hill said she loved her children. Why did she kill them? "I don't know. I hadn't planned on it." The drug arrived like a barbarian invader in her brain and destroyed the civilization there, including the most powerful of human instincts, her mother love. Life without limits is anarchy; it even kills children in the middle of morning cartoons.(5)

Another evil from which we ought to be crying for deliverance is the temptation to dehumanize our brothers and sisters - we do it all the time. The tendency in the modern world is to treat human beings as something less than the image of God. People sleep on steam grates in our cities. Congress and the President battle over an appropriate solution to the health care mess in this nation. Meanwhile 37-million of us cannot afford to get sick because, there is no insurance. 40,000 children around the world die every DAY from malnutrition related disease. Two weeks ago we got the news that ten percent of America relies on food aid, eating in soup kitchens and getting their groceries at food pantries. Thousands more are turned away because the cupboards are bare. That, according to a study by the Second Harvest network of food banks. Children account for nearly half of the 26 million Americans who rely on that help.(6) Sadly, because those problems are not deposited on our individual doorsteps, we pass them by like the Priest and the Levite on the Jericho Road leaving the Samaritan to suffer and die. That is evil.

One of the techniques of this brand of evil is to get us thinking in categories. It is easy to ignore or even exterminate a category, a class, a race, an alien tribe. Thus, a Baruch Goldstein can come into a mosque in Hebron with an automatic rifle and murder 40 Muslim worshipers or a black soldier in Bophuthatswana can stand over three injured white men and, with news cameras running for the entire world to see, calmly execute them. Tomorrow night, Schindler's List will probably win the Academy Award for Best Picture telling the story of an Aryan who did NOT load cattle cars full of Jews and send them off to Auschwitz. It is EVIL to dehumanize people, and ALL of us need deliverance from that temptation.

I will offer you one final category of evil from which we desperately need deliverance. It is rampant, remorseless, relentless stupidity. We find it in every area of life...the family, business, government, even the church. The older I get, the more convinced I become that so much of what is wrong in this world can be credited to sheer stupidity. That can be called nothing less than evil.

Are you familiar with the name William Burroughs? Burroughs is novelist who happens to be a drug addict. During a drunken party in Mexico one night, he undertook to play William Tell - he used a pistol to shoot a glass off his wife's head. He put a bullet in her brain instead.(7) Stupid. Evil. Stupidity is so evil that it kills.

We are not without responsibility. We might WISH to blame all that is wrong in this world on SYSTEMIC evil, but, as we discussed last week in "Forgive us our debts," those are DEBTS that WE INCUR.

I always remember a series of interviews conducted by a wealthy industrialist as he searched for a new chauffeur. The first candidate came to meet him and as they talked, the prospective employer took the young man outside, pointed to a portion of road near a cliff and asked, "If I hired you as my driver, how close could you drive me to that precipice and still assure my safety?" The arrogant young man said, "Why within twelve inches, sir." The next candidate came in and was asked the same thing and responded with an even bolder claim: "Within six inches, sir." A third prospect came in and, when asked the question, responded, "Why, I wouldn't drive within ten FEET of that cliff." The third man got the job. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from [the cliff of stupidity]."

One more problem to solve - what do we make of "Lead us not...?" The epistle of James has already established that God does NOT lead us into sin, and common sense knows that we will face times of testing. What then are we requesting?

Back to linguistics one more time. Have you ever heard of a LITOTES? A litotes is a rhetorical device that makes a statement by using a negative or an understatement. It comes from a Greek word meaning "simple" or "spare." We use it all the time in common speech. For example, if you were to ask me how much weight I lost last week, I might reply "Not much," and you would know what I meant. Even though the descriptive adjective used was the word "much," you would know that by attaching the negative to it, I would be saying something exactly opposite. If you were to ask me how much longer this sermon would last, I might say "not long," and inwardly you might whisper a little "Praise the Lord." (You might even whisper it outwardly. At any rate...) You would know what I meant. We use the litotes device all the time.

This might give us a clue as to what we are actually asking when we pray, "Lead us not into temptation." If we understand the clause to use a litotes, we realize that our prayer is to be led into whatever is opposite of temptation or testing, the opposite of the Evil from which we cry for deliverance. This is a request for divine guidance into, as the Psalmist puts it, the "paths of righteousness."

That is a prayer God honors. Paul talks about it in a letter to the church at Corinth. He describes some of the dangers these new Christians were facing as they were beginning to grow in their faith. He recognizes that there will be times of difficulty, times of testing and temptation. And he affirms that such things happen to all of us. But listen to what he says about deliverance in those times: "God is faithful; He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."(8) When we pray "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," we are praying that God will very positively lead us into that WAY OUT.

Make no mistake. Real Evil DOES exist and is so insidious, cunning and powerful that we cannot deliver ourselves. And if we trust ourselves to resist all temptations, to pass all tests in our own strength, to overcome evil on our own, we are fools. But there is a power outside ourselves that can deliver us, a power more powerful than the evil, the power of Almighty God. Our God is able to deliver us.

There are two pieces of good news today: 1) Spring arrives officially this afternoon, and with it the promise of renewal and glorious new life in nature. And 2) God hears and answers our prayer for spiritual renewal and glorious new life. "Lord, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." God WILL answer the prayer for guidance in the direction of good, and God WILL deliver us from evil, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

Amen!


1. The United Church Observer, July, 1993, p. 50, quoted by the Pastors' Professional Research Service, Jan/Feb 94

2. Genesis 22:1

3. Albert Curry Winn, A Christian Primer, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), pp. 72-73

4. Time, 3/14/94, p. 24

5. Lance Morrow, "Evil," Time, 6/10/91, pp. 49-50

6. PRODIGY(R) interactive personal service, 3/09/94

7. Lance Morrow, ibid.

8. I Corinthians 10:13

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