Sunday, 15 November 2009

Deliver us from evil

Preacher: Sue
Readings: Romans 8:18-39, Matthew 6:5-17

This is the second last in our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer but for various reasons it will be just a five minute mini-sermon.

Our phrase for today is “deliver us from evil” which we find in Matthew and in a few manuscripts of Luke’s gospel. Apparently the Greek is such that we can’t tell whether Matthew means “deliver us from evil” or “deliver us from the evil one”. Both senses seem to occur elsewhere in the bible. The German theologian Lochman suggests that our reading of this may be shaped by our theological beliefs. The Eastern church with its emphasis on Jesus’ death and resurrection as a victory which rescues us from the devil’s clutches is more inclined to hear “deliver us from the evil one”. The Western church - Catholic and Protestant - with its focus on how Jesus redeems us from our own sin is more likely to hear “deliver us from evil”.

Perhaps we can be ready to hear both and let the two readings come alive to us at different times in our lives.

Either way, the prayer cries out to God for rescue. Either way, the prayer trusts that ultimately, however much evil may sometimes appear to have the upper hand, it will in the end be overthrown. Not that we will always experience this immediately or at an individual level. We live in the “already and not yet” and we pray for an “us” which includes those who are distant in time or space. So we trust that God has already overcome evil for us all. But evil has not yet been expelled entirely and forever and at times we will each experience that “not yet” very close to home.

But we need this prayer even when we are not besieged by evil. One writer points out that Jesus’ encounter with the tempter should make us very cautious - the devil’s arguments are based on scripture and sound plausible and indeed full of concern for Jesus’ wellbeing. So this prayer can be preventative maintenance, asking God to deliver us from slipping gradually away from God and the values of the kingdom of God in ways that are superficially reasonable and easy to justify.

And another reason to pray this prayer even in times of quiet is in solidarity with those for whom life is full of threat. Just as we ask for our daily bread in solidarity with those who hunger, so too we ask for rescue from evil in the name of all who suffer. Perhaps we should say in the name of all that suffers, with the reminder from Romans 8 that not only do we suffer till God brings the ultimate rescue from evil but so too does all creation, which of course links to our other theme for today, of care for creation and combating climate change.

So the Lord’s prayer started with a focus on heaven and moved through the coming of the kingdom of heaven on earth to prayer for ourselves and the world including all of creation. We started by reverently contemplating God and over the course of the prayer we came down to earth and back to the memory of evil and pain and injustice. But praying “deliver us from evil” reminds us that God is with us at this end of the prayer too. So although the Lord’s prayer encourages us to pray (and work) for God’s kingdom to come, it also invites us to patience and trust as we look to God for rescue. So though we may feel overwhelmed by the scale of evil and the enormity of the task of bringing in God’s kingdom, we can also trust, wait and hope for the dawn, the deliverance from evil, that will surely come.

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