Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
The Lord's Prayer - The Sixth Petition
"Lead Us Not Into Temptation"
We are at war.
We are at war with an enemy that could assault us at any moment of night or day. We are at war with an enemy with vast resources, tools and weapons that could be used to bring us to ruin. We are at war with an enemy who envies what we have, the life that we live, the gifts that we take for granted. We are at war with an enemy that will not rest until every child, woman, and man falls under his dominion.
The battlefield is vast. It ranges from the deserted, desolate places of the world to great cities that never seem to sleep. The battles occur both abroad and here around us: in our workplaces, in our schools, at our shopping malls, around our tables and in our beds, even as we sleep. The fight goes on, closer that we might suspect, because it is even taking place now, here. We might not notice, because as long as we feel comfortable enough, we are content to ignore the battles, thinking that they've nothing to do with us. There are, however, no innocents among us, and the battles burst the bubbles in which we'd live.
The stakes are high. If we look at our own lives, we can see the effects of lost battles. Relationships have been strained and damaged by angry words. Time has been lost to procrastination, and financial resources have been frittered away in the pursuit of some elusive happiness. Bodies that were once strong and whole have grown weaker and ill, sometimes as a result of choices made, others, as a consequence of just living in this fallen world. But the results of the battles pale in comparison to the objectives of the war. The enemy seeks to win our heart and mind, our loyalty, so that, ultimately, we would suffer his fate at the war's end: death. Not just an earthly death or a blinking out into non-existence, but death which is a permanent, tortured existence apart from our Creator.
We are at war. And in times of war, knowing your enemy can be an invaluable aid. But who is the enemy that so earnestly seeks our demise? In this war, we face three foes that have allied themselves to work us ill. The first enemy is actually the closest to home: our sinful nature. No matter how good a life you think that you've lived, the plain truth of the matter is that you've fallen short. You and I both bear the stain of original sin, but what's more, we have all given in to temptation, and we stand to be judged for it. As John the Apostle writes in 1 John 1:8, as we confess in our liturgy, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." This is the "old Adam," at work in our lives, encouraging us to follow our lusts. No matter what we do, we can't free ourselves. We are, in fact, collaborators in this war, working with the enemy in an effort to save ourselves. Even when we're not actively giving ourselves over to the enemy's plans, we often stand idly by while those around us fall in battle.
The second enemy is an expert at infiltration and propaganda. We call it "the world." The world around us is fallen and imperfect. Every person on earth is tempted to make themselves first before all, in a myriad of ways. No one wishes to be the least amongst others. Our culture here in the U.S.A. is driven by this desire, encouraging behavior that is vane, greedy, and self-important - all out of the lie that the things and experiences that you can "have" will bring lasting joy and contentment. We live in the world until the day we die.
The third enemy is Satan, the devil, the accuser. He is real, and he is waging a war against you and me, never stopping, never tiring. The devil tempts us to sin, luring us away from God and His gifts - this is the aim of his work. His primary goal, though his means are many, is to distance us from God. His attacks come in both physical and spiritual forms, but they are all designed to incite us to turn from our Creator, to turn into ourselves. He cannot make us sin, though - the devil's power is one of persuasion, and his attacks are siren songs. These attacks are aimed squarely at your head and your heart, every day you draw breath, until you give up the fight. Such is the desire that he has to devour us. While this is serious and fearful stuff, how much more serious is it that we don't often think about it?
And so, we come before our Lord in this Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer. [Read the Petition and Explanation from Luther's Small Catechism.] Really, this petition should always be prayed with the Seventh Petition - they form a joint thought. As Luther rightly expresses, God temps no one. God can, however, lead us into spiritual warfare. In this sense of the word "temptation" - struggle with the spiritual powers of our sinful nature, the world, and the devil - we may rightly say that God sends us. We are not asking in this petition to be kept from the time of trial. Just as we have asked our heavenly Father for food and forgiveness, which He provides, we now look to Him for the power to resist temptation. And God again provides. As Psalm 138, which we read today, expresses, God answers when we call out in faith. He does not send us onto the field of battle alone. God grants the Christian - God give you and me - the strength required to overcome the time of temptation. (But more on that next week in the Seventh Petition!)
We are at war. But though the battles continue around us, the war as been won! Christ defeated the devil and his allies on the cross. He took the consequence of all our lost battles on his own shoulders. The devil thought that death would defeat this man, this Jesus, and swallow him whole. But what happened on the cross and was revealed in the empty tomb on Easter morning was this: death could not contain the Son of God, and the devil's real power was forever broken. The devil now rages about in retreat, seeking to lay waste to whatever he may until the Last Day comes and he is forever vanquished.
In the week ahead, consider what battles against the devil, the world, and your sinful nature are taking place in your life. Call them out. Do not let the temptations hide behind their lies or stand in the shelter of complacency and collaboration. In Christ, you have been freed from the enemy's power, it cannot hold you captive any longer: the war is won.
Let us pray: O Lord, who sends us into battle with the forces of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, we pray that You would stand beside us according to the steadfast promise given to us in Holy Baptism. Continually call us back to Yourself, that we might stand victorious over all the temptations that the Enemy sends to assault us. Strengthen our faith, the free gift that You have given and continue to give, for the sake of You Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.