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Amos 8:1-12

James 3:12-18


July 21, 2019


Not Into or Away From?


Pope Francis is in trouble again.  This time he has been busted for some new phraseology he is allowing for the Lord’s Prayer in the Italian Mass.  Not that he has been arrested, but he is under verbal fire. He has changed, “Do not submit us to temptation” to “Let us not enter into temptation.”   This is the fifth sermon in a series of six that Pastor Jon and I are offering on the Lord’s Prayer.  The fifth phrase of the Lord’s Prayer in the version we use is: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As I have researched the debate, I found that different English language news outlets translate the Pope’s Italian word changes with a variety of English phraseology.  So goes the business of translation. 


Jesus spoke in Aramaic, so when we read his words in the Gospels,  we are getting at the very purest a translation of a translation, but Mathew, Mark, Luke and John never claimed to be historians or court recorders.  They wrote the Gospel’s to share the faith and build up the church.  I have confidence that translators over the years have done their very best to stay true to the texts, and that faithful translators are guided by God, but I can see no logical reason to be a fundamentalist.  I guess if I was rewriting the Lord’s Prayer, I would translate the 5th phrase as “lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil.”  The Pope’s choice, although an improvement, seems too passive.


At the center of the debate lies the question: do we actually believe that God would lead us into temptation?  When we pray lead us not into temptation the word “lead”, at the beginning of the phrase, supposes that God just might do that.  Scholars have for millennium tied themselves into pretzels trying to explain away this incongruity with the whole of scripture.  Many things tempt us, but God is not one of them.   The Letter of James is quite clear God cannot be tempted and that God, Godself tempts no one.  Even more importantly, when we review the life of Jesus, we cannot find a single instance where he tempts a person to do something wrong or sinful; on the contrary, Jesus leads people to life abundant.  Since we believe that we find God in Jesus, God’s beloved Son, it’s only logical to conclude that God is not a tempter.

Temptation, however, is universal and inescapable; there is no one who is not tempted, and each of faces different challenges and tests.  One Christian scholar I have read claims that temptation is not the penalty of humanity, but the glory of humanity, in that by temptation we are made athletes of God.[1]  I am not sure I would put it that way, but there is satisfaction and maturity that comes from overcoming temptation.  And I will add that the very fact that we offer this petition every Sunday in worship shows us that we are well aware that we cannot deal with temptation solely on our own.  We do find help from God, and this is why we pray.


Temptation is the desire to engage in short term fun at the expense of long term goals.  In the context of our faith lives, temptation is the desire to do something now that will have a negative impact on our desire to grow into  more faithful followers of Jesus.  A good question to ask ourselves as we are making decisions is:  will acting on this desire compromise or detract from my discipleship?


There is some value to defining the temptations we face in our culture.  I am not trying to guilt anyone in our community, but describing the temptations with which we struggle, also gives clarity to our vision or dream.  One kind of temptation is the temptation to do something you should not be doing.  In our culture some common temptations are to eat or drink too much.  In addition, many of us spend and consume too much, while failing to save for unexpected events or retirement.  We assign too much importance to slick clothes, shinier cars and larger homes.  The effectiveness of advertising, and the pressure of living in an acquisitive consumer-driven culture, often causes us to lose balance.  This way of being runs smack into the 10th Commandment about coveting.  Channeling God’s voice, the prophet Amos warns the wealthy and powerful in Israel, 2800 years ago, in his eighth chapter, that they have become so devoted to king cash and prince privilege that they defraud the poor and oppress the less powerful. They have lost context and compassion; they gorge, and God has noticed.  


Many people are enticed to be poor stewards of their sexuality. In our bare-all culture, we face the temptation to sexualize people and situations.  We let natural God-given and God-blessed human longings for deep intimacy and meaningful love mushroom into casual encounters of the superficial kind.  Even in the 21st century, we allow women to be treated like objects and that’s the down or dark side of pornography.  Bodies are understood as merely physical.  The spirit is forgotten, and people are not valued as children of God.  From Victoria’s Secret to cable television, skin is used to draw us in.


We face the temptation to be powerful.  The United States spends 700 billion dollars a year on defending our nation, and our economic interests in the world, and yet still we feel insecure.  Meanwhile our State Department budget for 2018 was less than 50 billion dollars--you know, diplomacy.  Worldwide the annual amount of money spent on militaries hit 1.8 trillion in 2018, while at the same time 900 million people on our globe are hungry.  Is this where we are called to be as a nation and a world?   Short-term anxiety and urges depleting our global future?


Another kind of temptation is the temptation to do nothing when something is called for. Or the secondary temptation to do a little when much is called for.  Most of us are concerned about global climate change, but are we tempted to discount the many ways we contribute to the crises?  Aren’t you loving the summer weather? 


Many of us are quiet in the face of racial micro-aggressions, in the workplace and neighborhood.  We don’t want to risk an argument or debate.  Many of us are silent in the face of blatant systemic racism that is embedded in our culture.   We don’t want to trouble the waters.


My heart sank as I read about tweets and watched clips of the political rally in North Carolina, this week, and the following news stories.  The temptation to do too little led me to make mention of Dr. King in my Arkive letter.  I’ll just use his prayer below my letter.  I’ll just quote I John 4,  Beloved we need to love one another because God loves us in Jesus.  I’ll just keep it polite.


But to do a little thing in the face of an immense injustice, in the face of a gross evil, is like treating lung cancer with cough syrup.  And isn’t that what this fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is all about? Righting ourselves so that we energetically work against micro-aggressions of all kinds and the worser broad strokes of evil that pollute our world and destroy the souls of our brothers and sisters? If we remain silent in the face of sexist, racist, and “Islamophobic” chants against a legally elected member of the United States Congress, and a citizen, then not only will we be poor disciples, we will be the opposite of a patriot: we will be acting contrary to the values upon which our nation was founded, which by the way, are rooted in scripture.  Deliver us from evil.


These people who chanted “send her back,” instead of being held responsible for their hate-filled evil were labeled patriots by our president.  So not only did he fail to condemn a blatant evil, he held it up as an example to our children.  I am not sure I fully understand this word patriot, and the way it is bantered about in certain circles, but I know we have patriots in this congregation.  In my mind, a patriot is someone who serves the country and the community.  A patriot is someone who sacrifices personal success and financial gain to be a public servant: to work for our government; to preserve our freedoms, including religion and our way of life; to make our lives better. Military families who move every two or three years, yes, but also so many other public servants, veterans, definitely, who put their lives and the future of their families at risk to keep us safe, but also those who forfeit substantial private sector salaries to work for the greater good.  Our self-consumed president, a man whose has succumbed to so many temptations that we need a catalogue to document them, has no idea what a patriot is.  Let’s be clear, he does not qualify, because you cannot be a demagogue and a patriot.  They are mutually exclusive.  A demagogue is a leader who makes use of popular prejudices, false claims, and promises, in order to gain power.  A patriot is a public servant.  I was going to succumb to the temptation to do too little, but my sister-in-law showed me a clip of Republican John Kassich calling this situation out and lamenting about silence.


No one I know is perfect.  Everyone I know needs to pray forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Everyone I know needs to pray to be turned away from temptation and evil, and, certainly, the four congresswomen are just like the rest of us, far from perfect.  They are guilty of political mistakes, but there is a difference between rigorous political debate and inciting hate.


Our Dismantle Racism banner on Piney Orchard Parkway was blown down by some storm winds a few weeks ago—kind of representative of the tweet and chant truck that ran us over this week—but it’s going back up.


We are going to continue to provide sanctuary for those who are assailed by demagogues and racists.  We are going to continue teaching the LOGOS rule that everyone should treat everyone else like a child of God, and no one has the right to treat anyone like they don’t matter.  We are going to continue to ask God every week to lead us away from temptation and from evil, because we need God’s help, and because that is what Gospel calls us to do.

[1] William Barclay