This is our last week of sermons addressing the Lord’s Prayer – and you may have noticed we are omitting that section of the prayer at the end – commonly known as the doxology, “for thine be the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever…” It seems highly unlikely that this was part of the original prayer that Jesus taught his disciples- which is why it rarely appears on modern translations.
So this evening, we are looking at the last line of the Lord’s Prayer – lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. When my daughter was about 2 years old, she used to struggle through the Lord’s Prayer – and as we did it one bed time with her older brother, she accidentally said, “Lead us not into … heaven.” At which point, older brother threw a tantrum, convinced that the liturgical mishap had consigned him to an eternity in hell.
I wonder what goes through your head when you say those words? Do we think about avoiding an eternity in hell? Do we picture some great cosmic struggle between good and evil, with god on the one side and the devil on the other? Do we picture some well-meaning pious people seeking divine assistance in their own personal struggle against moral failure? Or is there something more specific? Remembering that in its proper context, this is a prayer offered to help a bunch of first century Palestinian Jews get a sense of who they were and what it meant to follow this Messiah.
There were all kinds of Messiahs that popped up in first century Palestine, rebel leaders who sought to bring liberation to the oppressed people of Israel. The land flowing with milk and honey was being bled dry, the land that God had given to the Jews was inhabited by a hostile occupying army. The promised land was a mere province of an all powerful empire. And from time to time, Jewish Messiah’s would gather armies and attempt to overthrow the Romans- and every time they came to a sticky end. But never was this the end of Israel as a whole. Not until 70 AD.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus had warned that those who made a big deal of being in the promised land, who assumed that God would always show favouritism to Jerusalem – that a dark cloud was gathering. Throughout, he had warned that rebellion against Rome was only going to end in disaster. As his own disciples entered Jerusalem and were awestruck at the beauty of Herod’s golden temple, Jesus warned them that the days were fast approaching when it would become a pile of rubble.
Blessed are the those who never had children – just about one of the worst things you could say about a Jewish woman, because it would be better to remain childless than see your children suffer and die at the hands of a sophisticated but brutal empire. One of the worst trials imaginable.
Lead us not into the time of trial, but deliver us from evil.
That, it seems to me, is the context for making sense of the end of the Lord’s prayer. This is not to de-spiritualise the prayer, or to politicize it. There is an urgency in the politically radical nature of Jesus’ ministry from start to finish. There is an apocryphal story in my family, about an incident among my grandparents during an air raid in the second world war. My great grandfather, having successfully squeezed the family into the Anderson shelter at the back of the terraced house, was dismayed to see his wife – Dolly – shuffling about and doddering back into the darkened house. “Where are you going?” he shouts above the drone of Heinkels. “I’ve left me teeth in the house.” “For God’s sake Dolly, they’re dropping bombs not sandwiches. You don’t need your blinking teeth.”
There are serious, heavyweight, political realities that Jesus is constantly addressing during the course of his ministry, and it’s easy just to skate over them, or consider them secondary, or not really take them seriously. But they lie at the heart of Jesus message from start to finish, and at the heart of what it means to be his followers.
Because the destruction of Jerusalem about which Jesus is constantly warning his listeners, also included the destruction of the temple, the meeting place of heaven and earth, the place where the Holy Spirit rested, where God made himself present. It was a political disaster that was to have massive spiritual, ritual, communal implications. And whose fault was that – it’s not that Rome was evil, or the evil one. So much as the mentality that duped so many Israelites into a disastrous headlong drive into nationalistic self-destruction.
Surely the destruction of the temple spelt the destruction of the people of God.
But then, if you think back to the words of Jesus, he had described himself as a temple. He had said that when two or three people get together in his name, he would be there in the midst of them. In other words, it is the community that gathers in the name of Christ that effectively becomes a temple. Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul speaks about the body of Christ as the temple in which God dwells by his spirit. Pentecost, of course, is when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit – enabling the people of God to be who they are called to be. God making himself present to his people.
So, when we celebrate Pentecost, we celebrate the fact that Israel was not forever submerged in the time of trial, and that the true Israel had been delivered from evil. The temple in Jerusalem had become redundant, from the moment of Jesus’ crucifixion when the curtain wall of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The new temple is now the people of God, identified by living out the Lord’s Prayer.
To celebrate Pentecost, is to enter the temple, to be part of the people of God, the people whose identity is outlined in the Lord’s Prayer, whose lifeblood is the Holy Spirit.