Colossians 1:9-13; Luke 19:28-40; 22:39-46

Palm Sunday

St Barbara’s; 10.04.2022

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Today was going to be the last in our series on the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him how they should pray. But as I prepared this sermon I began to think that the final phrase of the Lord’s Prayer  – “for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory” – fit very well with our Easter Sunday theme, so today, we will focus just on the next two phrases of the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil”.

Last week, Victoria helped us to reflect on what it meant to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. In some ways, that was a prayer that looks backwards, to sinful acts that have already been done and need forgiving. We now look forwards: we pray for help to avoid sinning; and we pray for protection and deliverance from the consequences of sins done against us. Looking back; now looking forwards.

We begin with “lead us not into temptation”. It is a difficult phrase. Is it saying that God wilfully leads us into temptation and so we need to ask him to stop doing so? Such an understanding goes against what we know of God’s character revealed to us in Jesus. And as James points out in his letter to the churches, “No one when tempted should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God… himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13). A better way to understand this phrase is to pray “Lead us away from temptation.” God does not lead us into temptation, but we are certainly dependent on his help, his guidance, his empowering, to lead us away from it, to resist its pull on our lives. Praying this prayer acknowledges how much we need God’s help, that in our own strength we will keep failing. Earlier in the Lord’s prayer, we have prayed for God to forgive us our sins. Now we are praying that God will help us to resist future sin. We are in a sense praying: “Father, you know my failings, you know my weaknesses, you know my tendency to greed, or arrogance, or unjustified anger, or to complacency or wilful ignorance in the face of the suffering of others. Lead me away from the temptation to live in this way. Lead me away from selfish living. Lead me to a desire to live a holy, loving life.”

Today, Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, welcomed by excited crowds, we are reminded that Jesus himself faced huge temptations, temptations to pander to the crowd, to give them what they wanted, to ride a wave of popularity. After all, they give him a welcome fit for a king, spreading their cloaks on the ground, singing songs that compare him with David, Israel’s greatest ever king, and waving palm branches in the air. That was an act last done in Jerusalem 200 years earlier to welcome a freedom fighter by the name of Judas Maccabeaus into the city, a man who was to violently overthrow the foreign power of the time and establish a short period of Jewish independence. This is their expectation of Jesus, a conquering hero, a glorious king, and how easy it would have been for Jesus to be tempted to fulfil those expectations.

And then in the Garden of Gethsemane, the temptation again to turn from the path of suffering, the wrestling with the terrible choice that lies ahead. One imagines the temptations of the wilderness –  to comfort, to popularity, to power, all without cost – come back with renewed force, and yet Jesus’ response is ultimately “not my will, but your’s be done”. This is what it ultimately means to pray to be led away from temptation: to come to a place where we desire the doing of God’s will of love, mercy and grace above any of our own weak or self-centred desires. For all of us this is very much a work in progress, but the Lord’s Prayer encourages us to turn to God the Father for help and to Christ for our inspiration.

Practically that may mean naming before God those areas of our lives where we know we have the tendency to fall. It may be that person who, whatever they do, manages to wind us up or irritate us, and cause an unloving reaction. It may be in certain situations or in certain company where we just allow our tongues to run away with us and we may often say things that we later regret. It may be our desire to hold on to things that would be better shared, or to look the other way when we see someone approaching us for help. Whatever those areas are for us, name them before God. Ask for his help.

And acknowledge too that at times we lead ourselves into temptation. I know for myself, and certainly those around me know all too well, that when I am tired, I am particularly prone to acts of irritation and anger. There are times when I can’t do anything about tiredness, but there are many times when I only have myself to blame – whether indulging in “just one more episode” of a late night Netflix binge, or pushing myself to finish a piece of work that could have waited until the morning. There are times when we need to be the answer to our own prayers, to recognise that the choices we make can lead us either towards or away from temptation.

And then we are to pray, “deliver us from evil”. There is a realism throughout the Lord’s Prayer. This was not a prayer dreamt up in a remote, other-worldly place, a mountain monastery where the life of the world does not intrude. This was a prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the midst of the challenges and difficulties of everyday life. As they walked around Galilee with Jesus, on a daily basis they were encountering the sick and unwell, the poor and oppressed, the despairing and spiritually lost. As they encountered this, and so much more, this was the prayer that Jesus taught them: a prayer that acknowledges that God’s kingdom is not yet fully here; that recognises that we need to ask God for even the most basic things in life; that we daily stand in need of God’s forgiveness and of help to forgive others; that we struggle with making right choices; and also, that bad things happen from which we need God’s help to be delivered.

We have acknowledged that we are capable of making bad choices, choices that hurt and harm others – lead us away from temptation – and we now acknowledge that others are capable of doing the same to us, and we need deliverance, to be set free, from the evil caused by their actions. Deliver us, O Lord, from the sniping criticism of colleagues; from the  unkind gossip of neighbours; from the being taken for granted by family members.

And as with every other aspect of the Lord’s Prayer, this is a communal prayer, as well as a personal one. We pray “deliver us from evil”, just as we pray “give us today our daily bread”.  And so as we pray, we pray that the people of Ukraine will be delivered from evil – from the atrocities and barbarities of war; we pray that the women and girls of Afghanistan will be delivered from evil – from their denial of education and other human rights; we pray that the peoples of Bangladesh, Mozambique and other poor countries will be delivered from evil  – from the evils of environmental exploitation by industrialised nations causing climate chaos.

And as we pray, we come to see how prayers to be delivered from evil are connected to our prayers to be led away from temptation. For our own actions and attitudes can make a difference at a personal, and ultimately at a global level, in whether evil is challenged and overcome.

But the greatest difference of all is made by Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus confirms the choice of his calling – he sets his face towards the cross. The cross is the most heinous and terrible expression of evil the world has ever seen: the putting to death of the one who was the source of all life; the hating of the one who was the source of unconditional love; the condemnation of the one who was truly innocent and holy; the torturing of the one who brought healing; the place where all the sin and evil of the world was dumped. The war crimes being reported in Ukraine is just the latest in a centuries-long litany of evidence of humanity’s capacity to inhumanity. And the cross is the greatest indictment of all.

And yet it is also the place where evil, having done its worst, is overcome. The place where evil exhausts itself, and does not succeed. Christ’s resurrection, that we will celebrate in seven days time, is the proof that evil does not have the last word. God overcomes. It is the reason why we can pray “deliver us from evil” with confidence. One day all life will be delivered from evil.

Over the next few days we will mark and remember again the events that transform our world and universe forever, events that give us confidence to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.