“The Lord’s Prayer #4: Deliver Us”
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
July 22, 2018
First Congregational Church
University Baptist Church
We are at the end of our four-Sunday sojourn through the Lord’s Prayer with our friends at First Congregational Church. I don’t have a catchy song to share you’re you this morning. Just this old hymn "Though the cause of evil prosper yet tis truth alone is strong. Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown, standeth Truth within the shadow, keeping watch above God’s own". We need that word. Truth alone is strong. Even when it is on the scaffold and wrong is on the throne. God is keeping watch, ready to deliver us.
Before we get to the doxology that ends the Lord’s Prayer, we have to deal with the last of the seven petitions. The word for us today is “deliver us.”
Have you said this before? Maybe not deliver us, but deliver me. I mean we pray it every week. Deliver us from evil.
To what do you want to be delivered?
Deliver us from the voices in our minds that say we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough.
Deliver us from the thought that we don’t have enough. This scarcity thinking that says that the ways of the world are all there is.
Deliver us from those who captivate us. The bad boss, the glass ceiling, the disease, the downward progression of age or just plain gravity.
Deliver us from leaders who make up preposterous talking points and then repeat them so often that they are accepted as truth, even when we know they are not.
Deliver us from the loudest, worst voices.
Deliver us from despair and defeatism.
It’s tempting to believe what your enemies, who do not have your best interested in mind, say about you.
Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.
Some of us can’t wait until the next election to deliver us.
Matty Strickler wrote an excellent ordination paper, which those of us at UBC heard in February. Here’s a little bit of what he said about sin and evil:
I recognize suffering not as punishment for sin and imperfection, but as consequence of them. To me sin is anything that breaks, conceals, or threatens the connections that bring people together into healthy relationships and healthy communities. If God’s love is a unifying force, then sin is that which divides or that which disregards the unifying force of God’s love. Evil is the systematization of those sins. For example, institutionalized oppression is a systematized expression on the sin of division. Sin is committed by humans, evil is larger than any individual sin. I believe that human beings are imperfect, make bad decisions, are sinful, but I do not believe that individuals are evil. Evil can only exist when sin transcends the individual, and therefore the soul, and becomes systematized or institutionalized.
Some examples of personal sins of hatred that have been institutionalized to become evil are: racism, sexism, classism, ableism and heterosexism. When the sin of individual greed becomes systematized it can become the evil of exploitative global capitalism. When the sin of vengeance becomes institutionalized, it can become the evil of the prison industrial system. When the sin of hatred becomes systemic, it can become the evil of genocide. Of course none of these are discrete; in fact, part of what is insidious about these examples of sin and evil is that each of these evils feeds off the others.
The last petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Deliver us from evil.” Some translations say “deliver us from the evil one.” Some of us can really relate to that version. In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil—the ultimate evil one. Jesus was tempted with bread, religious power and finally political power. Jesus did not take the evil one up on his offer. When we pray deliver us from the evil one, remember that this one can control resources, can manipulate religion and can take political power, for a time. But we are not beholden to that one.
At the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s summer conference a few weeks ago, the topic was “Decentering power and privilege.” That’s an easier title than living it out. Speaker after speaker and workshop after workshop encouraged us who are part of the dominant culture to recognize the way we benefit from such a system. Most places we go people speak English as their primary language. We assume people fit into predictable binary male and female boxes. We continue to live in a heteronormative culture. Those of us who look like me seldom have to worry about showing ID to prove my citizenship. I can drive through town without being pulled over because of the color of my skin. I can assume that police will not view me as a suspect. For the most part, we don’t even notice our privilege. If we do recognize it and take steps to decenter that power and privilege, there will be pushback. Is that how Jesus would have us operate in the world? As Jessica Vasquez-Torres said, “How can we embrace a Christianity of liberation when we have benefitted from its colonizing hubris and history?”
The evil one tempted Jesus with bread. It’s hard to think right if you’re hungry. Have you ever been “hangry?” That’s a hunger-induced short-temperedness. My family knows to encourage me to eat when I get like that—for everyone’s sake. But what if bread was a symbol for resources. Some of us make compromises in order to keep our jobs because we need the income or the health care. If you keep your mouth shut, you can keep this job. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us.
The evil one then tempted Jesus with religious power. He put him on the pinnacle of the temple and said all of this can be yours. You just need to say the right things. I remember when I was going through my ordination process 29 years ago this month. I had been denied ordination twice because I would not say that homosexuality was a sin. One of my white male clergy soon-to-be colleagues told me to just say what they wanted to hear, get the credential and then make changes from within. I didn’t do that, but recognized the temptation. We have been told the formula to make our churches grow. We need to have a more conservative approach to scripture. We need to have rock bands and words projected on the walls. We need to get rid of our hymnals and our social justice focus and certainly our inclusive language. Imagine not having to worry about keeping the building and program operate? Compromise the Gospel and watch the coffers and pews fill up. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us.
Finally, Jesus was give then opportunity to rule the world. All he need to do was worship the evil one. Worship systematized evil. Worship violence and domination. Worship wealth. Make enemies and tell the people that their lot in life is because of them out there. Never admit complicity or collusion. Keep people afraid. It wins elections. Deliver us.
I came across this quote from Hannah Gadsby on social media this past week: “To be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity. Resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who think they have a right to render another human being powerless.”
My friend and colleague Ken Sehested wrote this week after evil ones had their summit in Finland.
We must be prepared. Things are likely to get worse before they get better. We must listen to the news, from a variety of sources. But we must not draw our bearings from that news. Ours is a larger horizon.
We must be prepared to take emergency action, to go completely out of our comfort zones, in resisting the Powers-and-Principalities’ sway over current events.
In the meantime, however, we must not neglect our common duties:
• to care for those close, especially our young ones, in guiding them toward a life commitment to empathy, simultaneously brave and humble;
• to care for neighbors, for friends and acquaintances and co-workers;
• to be faithful in communities of faith, in whatever form that takes, to listen for and proclaim the Word’s invitation and direction;
• to building a culture of peace in the zip codes, the watersheds, the time zones, in which we live and with special attention to and advocacy for those who presently have no seat at the table of bounty;
• to risk the status we have been given in the world as is present on behalf of the world that is promised.
In light of these and an endless list of other similar commitment, we plead: Lord have mercy on our frail appeal; and grant what we need for the living of these days.
That’s the last of the petitions of this revolutionary prayer. Such power in those two words. We pray so often, “Delver us.”
On Friday night, I went to the first of many Minnesota Orchestra concerts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. It was an epic experience commencing with a drum ensemble, African flags and dancers entering the auditorium and the singing of the South African National Anthem, a piece that intentionally has snippets of five of the South African languages in its lyrics. Video tributes were made of Mandela’s life and the chorus was augmented by South African and African-American church choirs. A new generation learned of how after being released from 27 years in prison, Mandela resisted the temptation to demonize his captors and furthering the gulf between the people of South Africa. Instead, he initiated a period of truth-telling and accountability called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation was not possible without the truth being told. Imagine if we had something like that in the US. Might we be able to bridge the gaps between our people?
And then we declare once again that “THINE is the kingdom/kindom the power and the glory forever.”
That coda, that doxology does not appear in all ancient versions of scripture. So some do not pray it, especially if you are in a catholic church.
But the doxology is the theological therefore of this revolutionary prayer.
Thine is the Kingdom or the kin-dom. Thine, not the US, not Russia, not China, not the world capitalist system, not the prison industrial complex, Not white hegemony, not compulsory heterosexism, not the system that keeps the rich rich and the slaves enslaved.
This doxology, this coda sums it all up. For thine is the true Kindom. The true power, the true glory. Not just in this election cycle, but forever. God lasts longer than empires and rulers. Put your trust there. Thine is the kindom, the power and glory forever.
My friends, we pray that God will deliver us from evil and lead us toward a world that we long for. It’s what we pray for each week when we invoke the revolutionary worldview embodied in this ancient prayer of Jesus. It’ a declaration of allegiance to a different kind of power. One that will truly deliver us. So let’s embody this prayer. Let’s pray it with abandon and fervent devotion. Let’s imagine a world where peace dwells with justice. Where every voice sings of harmony and beauty. Where we acknowledge the bloody past and do our level best not to repeat the mistakes that have robbed too many of life.
May we imagine a world where God’s will is done on earth. Where we all have bread. Where are not indebted to anyone. Where forgiveness and balance are the rules. Where we are delivered from the evil one because we have declared that we are part of God’s commonwealth where true lasting power and lies, and glory is deserved. When we live into this model, then we truly say Amen.