Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

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Sermon Date: 
8 Jul 2012
Bible Base: 
1 Col 10: 12-13, John 21: 15-19
Preacher: 

David Jeans

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Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
God has some extraordinary ways of communicating with us. As I was preparing for this morning’s sermon, I interrupted myself to check my emails. And there was one from Amazon. “Hello David Jeans, Amazon.co.uk recommends for you ‘Humility’”. (It is a classic book by the 19th century author Andrew Murray).
So I have downloaded ‘Humility’! Since Wednesday morning I have got ‘Humility’ – on my Kindle. Would it were that simple.....
This part of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ – is all about humility. I hope you will see why in a bit.
Also on Wednesday morning God communicated with me in another extraordinary way. One of the books I read as a young Christian which had a big impact on me was ‘The Letters of John Newton’. Some of you will know that John Newton was the author of that great hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, and that he was converted when he was a slave trader and later got ordained. The book is his replies to letters written to him about living and growing as a Christian. Now I hadn’t seen this book for years. I had persuaded myself that Viv had left my copy of it in France many years ago (before we were married so about forty years ago). Well, on Wednesday I was searching for another book in an obscure section of my bookshelves (between prayer and church history, and that’s an interesting story in itself!), when lo and behold there was my copy of ‘Letters of John Newton’! So, my humble and public apologies to Viv for the times I have said ‘I wish you hadn’t left that book in France’....
So here it is! What I remember most vividly from this book is his description of 3 stages of growing as a Christian. In the first stage (which he characterises by the word ‘desire’) we are full of the joy and peace which comes from knowing Jesus. We have experienced the touch of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we believe that we can do anything for God. We are full of zeal – and perhaps sometimes not very kind to other Christians whom we think have lost their passion and zeal and have gone lukewarm.
In the second stage (which he characterises by the word ‘conflict’), we know that we are loved by God and we long to grow more like Christ, but we begin to recognise that the more we progress towards God, the more we discover about the sinful nature of our hearts. Just when we think we have won victory in one area of life, we become aware (because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts) of our sinfulness in another area of life. With Paul in Romans 7 we find that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. Actually, God is merciful with us in this – if we knew at the beginning of our Christian life just how far we had to go to become like Christ we might be overwhelmed and tempted to give up. In this stage we sometimes have victories, but we also have defeats which we need to bring to God in confession and to receive his forgiveness.
As we grow by the work of the Holy Spirit we come to the third stage (which Newton characterises by the word ‘contemplation’, though he could have used the word ‘humility’). In this stage we are very aware of our own sinfulness, but we rest in the love that we know that God has for us. We are realistic about ourselves, but we don’t beat ourselves up. We know that even in our best actions there are some dodgy motives, but that leads us to understand more the greatness of God’s love and grace to us and that is the sure rock upon which we stand. I know some of you have been taught only to receive communion once a day – and that’s fine. But when there is communion at both 9.00 and 10.45, I receive at both. That’s not because I know I have committed specific sins in the two hours between receiving at 9.45 and receiving at around 11.45 (although I am quite capable of that!); it’s because receiving communion expresses my dependence on the grace of God at all times and in all places. That is the heart of this third stage, that is, at the heart of humility. It is a place of rest (not rest in my goodness but rest in God’s grace). It is a place of commitment to become more like Christ, so it is not a place of complacency. But it is a place of generosity to myself, and above all of generosity towards others. It is a place where as we heard last week we let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. It is a place where that NZ absolution that I use comes into its own – ‘God forgives you; forgive others; forgive yourself and be at peace with God.’
I changed today’s Gospel reading to the story of Jesus and Peter in John 21 because I think Peter illustrates these 3 stages beautifully. On Maundy Thursday evening Peter is full of what a good follower of Jesus he is – ‘Even though they all fall away, I will never fall away’. Later that night he is in the place of conflict and struggles, and he fails and denies Jesus – and he went out and wept bitterly.
But in the story in John 21, Jesus brings Peter to a different place. He asks Peter ‘do you love me more than these?’ I think he is saying to Peter ‘ do you still think you are better than the rest?’. And Peter only says ‘you know that I love you’ – no attempt to compare himself with the others. Why does Jesus ask him three times – because Peter denied him three times, and Peter would have realised the connection. Three times Jesus commissions him to feed his sheep. The denials are forgiven, Peter is given his task for Jesus. But the struggle and failure of those denials has brought Peter to a place where he is able to feed the sheep – because he can sympathise with them and be generous towards them because he too has been in the place of letting his Lord down.
So back to the Lord’s Prayer. We might be puzzled about praying ‘do not lead us into temptation’ – surely God doesn’t lead us into temptation? But remember what happened to the people of Israel – after their deliverance from the evil of slavery they had a long journey through the wilderness where they were tested. And above all remember what happened to Jesus after the wonderful experience of his baptism – he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. God allows us to have struggles because through them we grow more like Christ; through them we grow to realise more our dependence upon God; through them we learn to be a sympathetic help to others in their struggles. Remember the story we had around the week of prayer for Christian Unity. If you help a chrysalis in its struggles to escape its cocoon you end up killing it because the struggles help it develop the muscles it needs to fly as a butterfly or moth.
But notice the promises of our NT reading from 1 Corinthians. Firstly, note ‘let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall’. That is why we should be careful about getting into places and situations where we are tempted – never assume you are strong enough in yourself to resist temptation. If you need to go into difficult places for the sake of others, go in prayer, go with the armour of God from Ephesians 6. And secondly, note that God won’t allow the temptation to be too strong for you, and he will provide a way of escape. When you are tempted look for the way of escape – it will be there! If you are tempted by your computer (and that might be as heavy as pornography or as apparently harmless as Spider Solitaire or Angry Birds) surround your computer desk with images that remind you of God and of his love for you. Look for the way of escape!
So if struggling with temptations help us to grow why is it OK to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’? I think it’s a prayer of humility. It’s sort of saying to God ‘ you may think I can cope with this, but actually I’m struggling. Please be gentle with me!’. And Jesus says it’s OK to pray that!
The key prayer of course is ‘deliver us from evil’. In this prayer we acknowledge again our dependence upon God, and we ask him to protect from those forces which are stronger than us – but are never stronger than him. Bishop of Taunton – never forget that the power behind you is always greater than the force in front of you.  God has won the victory over evil. We declare it when we say or even shout ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed! Alleluia!’
There is a wonderful Collect – Collect is a word for a prayer (you don’t have to do what I did when I first heard the word ‘collect’ and get your money out!). This prayer goes like this:-
Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.
God may allow tests and temptations and struggles – but he will not allow us to be overcome by evil. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkn