Welcome to this time of reflection. While we are still unable to meet in church, and the news suggests that the virus is still active, it is wonderful that, through technology, we can join together from our homes, in spirit and in fellowship, to worship the One who never changes in his love and care for us.
Call to Worship
Psalm 62: 5-6,8
For God alone my soul in silence waits, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Hymn CH3 115
Great God, Father, Son and Spirit,
In this time of worship come to your people, we pray.
Heavenly Father, Creator and Sustainer,
Come to us, remake us and renew us, we pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Light of the World,
Come to us, and lighten our darkness, we pray.
Holy Spirit, Love divine,
Come to us, warm our cold hearts, we pray.
Father, Son and Spirit, come to us now in mercy and in love; pause
Heal our diseases,
comfort our sorrows,
and give us strength for today, hope for tomorrow,
and, now and always, the joy in you that never fades.
The Lord’s Prayer
James 1: 12-15
Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No-one, when tempted, should say: ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no-one. But each one is tempted by their own desire, when they are lured away and enticed by it.
Matthew 4: 1-11
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him: ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
But he answered: ‘It is written, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him: ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’
Jesus said to him: ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’
Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour, and he said to him: ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him: ‘Away with you Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Hymn CH3 482
Lead us not into temptation
I remember that once, when I was a child, the Minister began a sermon by telling us how, on a visit to the local primary school, he had been brought up short by a question asked him by one of the pupils. She had asked him to explain why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we are told to ask God not to lead us into temptation. Did God ever ‘lead us into temptation?’ It was a chum of mine who had asked the question, and so I was delighted that she had been able to give the Minister pause for thought – which is why I remember the episode. Unfortunately, I can’t remember anything else about the sermon!
In our Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer we have now reached this rather problematic petition, ‘Lead us not into temptation’, which may have puzzled many adults, as well as children. The difficulty arises because the Greek word used in the New Testament means both temptation, and testing. Our traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer uses the wording of the authorised (King James) translation. Let us look at what modern translators do with this verse in Matthew’s Gospel.
The NIV, the one used in our church, has ‘lead us not into temptation’, with a footnote telling us that temptation can also mean testing.
The New Revised Standard Version translates the verse as: ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’, and gives an alternative in a footnote, ‘do not bring us into temptation’.
The New Jerusalem Bible reads: ‘do not put us to the test’; while the Good News Bible has ‘do not bring us to hard testing’.
So the consensus seems to be that, in this context, the meaning of the word used is closer to what we understand as ‘testing’ than to the way we, in our time, understand ’temptation’. We also have the assurance of Scripture, in this morning’s reading from the Letter of James, that God does not tempt anyone to do wrong.
The Old Testament has a number of instances of the testing, by God, of individuals or the community. We met one of these last week, in the story of God’s provision of manna for his people in the wilderness. God said that the people were only to gather enough manna for one day, and must not try to keep it over for the next day – in that way, he said, he would test them, and see whether, or not, they would obey his instructions. But this was also a test of their faith -whether or not they would trust God to keep his word, and to provide the manna every day.
So, God tests. In our daily life we know that testing is not harmful, but useful and often necessary. An assay-master tests precious metals to determine their purity. An engineer will test materials and designs to ensure that a structure is fit for purpose. A teacher may test pupils to see if they have understood a lesson, and so are ready to go on to learn something new. This may not be pleasant for the one tested at the time, but it is a necessary part of growth. So, too, testing in the spiritual life can show us our strengths and our weaknesses, show us where we need forgiveness, where we need to make more effort. This process – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – can lead to spiritual growth.
Trials and temptations are universal human experiences; and Jesus, being human, was, as the Book of Hebrews tells us (4:15) ‘tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin’. The gospels tell us of the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.
Matthew 4:1 reads: ‘then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’. So, it was the will of the Spirit of God that Jesus should experience testing in this way – but it was the devil, not God, who tempted and attempted to deceive him, without success. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, (2:18), ‘because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’ (NRSV translation)
St Matthew’s Gospel was probably written in the last quarter of the first century. By this time the early Church had experienced various persecutions, including the bestial attacks made on them by the Emperor Nero. So when they prayed not to be ‘put to hard testing’ or ‘brought to the time of trial’ it is possible that not only their private temptations were in the minds of these early Christians, but also the possibility that their faith might be put to the ultimate test of life or death.
Paul, who had himself endured considerable suffering for the cause of Christ, writes at an earlier date to the church in Corinth: (1 Cor. 10:13) ‘No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.’
We who live in a country and an era when we may practise our faith without penalty, would do well to remember that there are thousands of Christians in our own time who are not so fortunate, and who should be supported by our prayers, and by material assistance where possible.
When we pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation’, we are asking not to be tried beyond our strength. We ask for God’s help in meeting and overcoming not only all our personal temptations, and all the sins against our neighbours which we may commit consciously or without thinking; we also ask for strength to resist those subtle temptations which assail our faith, leading us to downgrade it in our list of priorities. And because there are many trials in this life which are not in themselves temptations to do wrong, we ask God’s help in meeting our sorrows, our anxieties, and ‘all the ills that flesh is heir to’. As St Paul found, God will see us through. Amen.
Great God our loving heavenly Father,
we bring to you our prayers for a world in desperate need;
a world where wars break out on every side,
in need of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
A world assailed by diseases of body, mind and spirit,
In need of health and wholeness.
A world where the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer,
In need of justice.
A world where hatred and unreason poison human relationships,
in need of grace.
Gracious God, hear our prayers for the sick, the sad, the lonely;
Hear us for all who are near death, and for those who mourn the loss of loved ones.
Hear us for all who struggle under loads too great to bear;
Hear us for all who are touched by despair. Pause
Great God, we give you thanks for all that is lovely and whole in nature, and in humanity;
For wild woods and tilled fields;
For creatures wild and tame.
For deeds of courage and acts of love;
For those who do not pass by on the other side;
For those who travel the extra mile.
On all such we pray your blessing.
All these our prayers we offer in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
Hymn CH4 466
May grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, rest and remain on each one of us, now and always. Amen.