Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Tonight, we conclude our focus on the Lord’s Prayer. Over these past six weeks, we have walked our way through the petitions of the Lord’s prayer. The first three petitions have to do with God. We pray that God would be like a parent to us and continue to be like a parent. We talked about how we pray that God’s kingdom and God’s will, and no one else’s, would be done and would come to earth. And that God’s will is that love and justice would prevails throughout the world. One way of putting this is that we are called to help bring heaven to earth.
And then the next four petitions have to do with human needs. The need for daily bread – basic necessities of life. We pray for forgiveness – that God will continue to be forgiving with us, so that we can be forgiving toward others. We pray that God would not lead us into temptation or that God would save us from times of trial and difficulty.
And tonight, we pray that God would deliver us from evil. Of course, as we’ve said many times, when we pray this prayer, we pray not only for ourselves, but for all people. Deliver us from evil.
Do you believe in evil? Or maybe I should say, do you believe in the devil? You know, with the horns, and the pitchfork, and the red suit. A sort of evil being that is tempting us and leading us in the wrong direction? For Jesus and his followers, they would have had no trouble believing in the devil and demons.
These days, people have differing opinions on the devil. Some would say they believe in the devil as a being. But other would say they believe in evil as more of a force, or a power in the world. Whatever you believe, I think most of us can agree that there is evil in the world. Things that go against God and that lead us in the wrong direction.
And the question that comes up in me is: so do I have an excuse or not? Is that the devil or evil forces or is it just me? Is it evil outside of me that it is causing me to do this? Or is it the evil within? Sometimes people will say, “That person is just evil.” Recently, Elliot has been getting into Star Wars and whenever he sees Darth Vader, he says, “Darth Vader is a bad man.” Where he learned that, I don’t know. But is that the case? Is Darth Vader a bad man, or is he influenced by evil that is larger and outside of him?
Which is it? I have no clue. I just know that evil is real. The temptation, the draw, to do things that serve myself rather than the needs of others.
In his book, Why Christian, Douglas John Hall writes about a conversation with college student who isn’t Christian but who wants to learn more about it. The two were talking about salvation and being saved. And the college student asked, “Yeah, but what do you need to be saved from?”
After thinking about it, Douglas John Hall said, “Myself. I need to be saved from myself. I need to be saved from my self-conscious pride. I need to be set free from worrying about myself, congratulating myself, examining myself, blaming myself, and so on.” He went on to say, “I really think that ‘salvation’, when it’s for real, must have something to do with freeing us from the burden of self-absorption, freeing us…for love.”
Remember that part of our Lutheran identity is built on the belief we are simultaneously saint and sinner. Simul Justus et peccator. 100% saint. 100% sinner. Which means there is always a struggle within us – doing what’s best for me or what God is calling me to do. And sometimes those are the same. Sometimes God does want you to care for yourself. But often other times, it isn’t what God wants. Save me from the way I put myself before others. Save me from the way I say things that I don’t mean, but because I know it will hurt. Save me from building walls around myself that protect me from being hurt but that also block out the opportunity for love. Save me from thinking and acting as if I am god.
Lord, deliver us from evil. Save us from ourselves. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
That closing part isn’t in Jesus’ original prayer. But the church added it over time. It is the way as the church we have claimed this as now our prayer. And as at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, where we pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth, we are announcing where our allegiance lies – with God. And no one else. Which is kind of a treasonous act. In Jesus’ day, it was to say that we stand with kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Rome. In our day, it is to say we stand with the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of the United States. I have a friend who is a Christian and he does a lot of traveling around the world and giving talks. He’ll introduce himself by saying, “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m from planet earth.” He doesn’t want to identify with any other nation or kingdom than God’s. He doesn’t want to put any borders on where he is from because in God’s kingdom there are no borders. We pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God.
And what does God’s kingdom and glory and power look like? Well, this is where it gets really wild. It looks like Jesus on the cross. That’s what God’s glory looks like. Suffering and vulnerable love that is willing to die for love.
Some of you may have see the photo, but after 9/11, a photo emerged of a group of dusty firefighters carrying an older man in a chair away from the wreckage. As it turns out, it was the body of the chaplain for the New York Fire Department, Mychal Judge, and he was the first recorded casualty of 9/11. And when you look at that image and you know who it was, there is something profoundly sacred about it. I think it is because there is something of God in that picture. An image of one who was willing to enter a place of great suffering in love and willing to die for it. For you. And for me. That’s the way of God’s kingdom and God’s will and glory. The way of the cross.
Lord, deliver us from evil. Save us from ourselves. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Amen. It’s a Hebrew word that means, “So be it!” or “May it be so.” May it be so, Lord. That you would be our loving parent. That your kingdom and will would come to earth. That all would receive daily bread, and forgiveness, and be protected from temptation and evil. Forever. May it be so. Amen.