Deliver Us from Evil
Some say there are only two prayers. “Thank you, Lord” for all the times of celebration and salvation. When we get good news, “Thank You, Lord.” When we survive a disaster, “Thank you, Lord.” Or when we make it another year around the sun, like number 73, “Thank you, Lord.” Every one of us here today, and listening to this teaching, has more than one reason to pray this prayer, “Thank you, Lord."
That is the first prayer: “Thank you, Lord.” The second prayer is similar, “Help me, Lord.” This is the prayer all of us pray sometimes, and some of us pray all the time. When a tornado approaches or a hurricane, we pray, “Help me, Lord." When the doctor brings bad news for you and somebody you love, you pray, “Help me, Lord.” When you lose your job, or lose a client, or lose a case, or lose a child, you pray, “Help me, Lord.” When you are convicted of your sin, when you fall into temptation, when you face a test of your courage or strength or discernment, you pray, “Help me, Lord.”
Most of us here today need this prayer. You are dealing with something in your life and you need the help of God. You are too weak, too uncertain, or too confused, so you are praying today, “Help me, Lord.” Perhaps you have a friend, a spouse, or a child that is facing an uncertain future. You want to help, and so you pray to God, “Help me, Lord.”
Jesus taught us to pray this way. He phrased it like this, “Deliver us from this evil.” You might be facing a form of natural evil: disease, danger, even death, and you are praying for deliverance. You might be facing a form of social evil. I think especially of all the trans people in the United States. You are watching states like Utah and Kentucky pass laws that are ignorant and wicked, laws that threaten your mental health or endanger your life. Pray this prayer, “Deliver me from this evil.”
There are the two prayers you need in your pocket every day. “Thank you, Lord” and “Help me, Lord.”
And today we are focusing our attention on this word of the gospel, “Help me, Lord,” and “Deliver us from this evil.”
This is the prayer Jesu prayed.
He had enjoyed immense success in his teaching and healing ministry. For three years, we think, using the chronology in the Gospel of John, Jesus went about doing good. He preached the coming kingdom of God. He called people to live with simplicity, truth, and generosity. He rebuked religious and political leaders that made life hard for people. He welcomed all who sought peace, and forgiveness, and kindness. He said things we still repeat: “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Come unto me, all who labor and are heaven laden.” “You must be born again.” What saying of Jesus is most precious to you?
But after three years of this, Jesus had enemies. Some were threatened by his popularity. Some were irritated by his freedom with the religious tradition, with the Hebrew Bible. Some were uneasy with his challenged to the religious and political status que. Some were mystified by his vision of a new world order, of the rule of God, the kingdom of God.
Some of these people conspired against him. They successfully tempted one of his close associates, Judas. They carefully plotted to arrest Jesus and get rid of him. They secretly organized a mob (although that may be an oxymoron) and set a trap. These are the events of Holy Week, that we celebrate this time of year. Jesus makes a grand and glorious entry into Jerusalem, for the last time. Jesus goes to the temple and challenges those who are using religion to gouge the people. Jesus predicts a future for Jerusalem full of danger, defeat, and death. Jesus gathers his associates, his disciples, and eats the Passover meal with them.
Jesus senses that something dire is about to happen. He knows his life is threatened. He gathers his people and retreats to a private place, a place of prayer. He prays with them, then moves and prays alone. He prays this prayer, “Help me, Lord.”
Throughout his life, Jesus had many occasions to pray the other prayer. When he talked with the scholars in the temple, as a teenage prodigy, he might have prayed, “Thank you, Lord.” When he listened to the preaching of his cousin, John the prophet, he might have prayed, “Thank you, Lord.” When the two fish and five loaves turned out to be more than enough for the crowds of people, we know he prayed “Thank you, Lord.”
But this time, this day, in this place, he was praying, “Help me, Lord.” His words were, “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” He was referring to the cup of suffering. Sometimes, we use that phrase to refer to what is being poured over us. Jesus saw the coming days of suffering, for the nation and, more immediately, for himself. He sensed that rejection, violence, and pain were to be his lot. He knew the Hebrew tradition of suffering by the prophets. Later, when one follower of Jesus, a man named Stephen, stood to address a hostile crowd, he put it this way, “You stubborn people! You are deaf to the truth. Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute. They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of Messiah.”
Stephen knew, and Jesus knew. They knew that prophets of God were often silenced, exiled, or killed. Jesus knew this, and he looked for a way out. He wanted to fulfill his mission as messiah of Israel and savior of the world without the pain of rejection and punishment. He prayed to God the father, “Help me, Lord.” He faced an arrest, a trial, and an execution. He prayed, “O Lord, help me. Take this cup of suffering from me.”
This week, many people around the world and throughout our community have prayed this prayer. Some in Somalia are praying, “O Lord, deliver us from this famine. Give us something to eat.” Many in Ukraine are praying, “O Lord, deliver us from this invader and bring us peace.” Thousands in Central America are praying, “O Lord, deliver us from drug cartels and the daily threat of death.”
In thousands of private situations, people you know are praying today, “O Lord, let this cup pass from me. Don’t let this continue. Deliver me from this evil.” The evil might be a violent husband or an abusive child. The evil might be a gambling addiction or a food addiction. The evil might be a creeping despair that threatens to drain all the joy and hope right out of your soul. It might be the suspicion that suicide is the only solution to your sad situation.
These are evils of society and evils of the soul. They call for the prayer Jesus gave us to pray, “Deliver me from this evil.”
The people that needed this prayer this week live in Nashville. That city is an attractive and vibrant community. People are moving there to work, to live, to make music, to make a million dollars. The streets are full of life, and the downtown bars are full of talent. But last week, an all-too-familiar evil made its presence known. An angry and confused person, armed with enough guns and bullets to exterminate a village, busted through locked doors and started firing. When it was over, seven people were dead, seven people who did not need to die.
Through it all, people were praying some version of these words, “O Lord, deliver us from this evil.”
Whither it is your private pain or this public horror, God hears and answers our prayers. We join with the psalmist of old and say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless your holy name.” These are the words of Psalm 103. “You forgive all my sins. You heal my diseases. You renew my strength. You fill my life with good things. You make me strong like I was when young.”
When you pray for help, God answers your prayer. Sometimes, God makes you able to endure more than you think or wish. Sometimes, God sends a person into your life to love you, or lift you up, or lead you to a better way. Sometimes, God gives you the courage to act or the patience to wait. Sometimes, as I said last week, God lets you know when it is time to speak and when it is time to be silent. Sometimes, God uses your wife or your husband to let you know when to speak and when to shut up.
Today, we as a congregation are praying for help. We want to survive as a congregation. We want to thrive as the people of God. We want to fulfill our mission as a church that is singing for joy and living with hope. How will God answer our prayers today?
We expect God to act on our behalf, don’t we? But God expects us to act on behalf of others!
When we are in danger, we pray, “Help me, Lord.” When others are in danger, we also pray, “Help them, Jesus.” But in both cases, we often need to do more than such thoughts and prayers. We need to take action.
Jesus was clear about this. When confronted with the hungry, he said feed them. When faced with the sick, Jesus said, heal them. When surrounded by strangers, Jesus said, welcome them. When watching some be carried away to prison, Jesus said, visit them. When with a thirsty person, Jesus said, give them something to drink. Yes, we can pray for them, but we also must act.
Faith without works is dead, James the brother of Jesus wrote to us. We might rephrase that this way, prayer without action is dead. It really is no prayer at all. It is no faith, no hope, no love. It is false religion. It is no religion.
If a tornado approaches, we pray, and then we flee or find a cellar for safety. If a neighbor is sick, we pray for them, and then we mow their grass or make their dinner or pay their electric bill. If a war brakes out, we pray, and then we send clothing, give money, and welcome refugees.
This week many people have If an angry person breaks into a school and kills six people, what do we do? If you are politicians in Tennessee, you might offer thoughts and prayers but nothing more. You might send out a Christmas card with you, your wife, and your four children all holding assault rifles. You might stand in public and say, “We’re not going to fix it.”
But followers of Jesus pray and act.
We pray, Lord’s deliver these families from grief. Lord, help these teachers with nightmares. Lord, rescue these security people from relieving the necessity to shoot and kill another human being. O Lord, help us all. And we might also pray, help these elected officials to take a stand against the violent culture of weapons in our country.
I want to pray this prayer with Jesus. Deliver us, O lord, from angry people. Deliver us, O lord, from armed militias. Deliver us, O lord, from assault rifles. Deliver us, O Lord, from fearful leaders. Deliver us, O lord, from open carry laws. Deliver us, O Lord, from our addiction to firearms. Deliver us, O lord, from the violence that arises from weapons of war.
Sometimes, God surprises us with things we did not know we needed. I felt this way when I discovered the music and lyrics of John Prine. I felt this way when I discovered this church, Providence Baptist Church. I felt this way when I watched the movie, “The Jesus Revolution.”
I do not often attend these Christian films. They are normally very predictable, like the television movies by Hallmark. They are thin and poorly written and generally unremarkable in every way. I don’t know why I went to see “The Jesus Revolution.” Allan went with me, and so did Sam.
I loved the music. I have found the music on YouTube: music like “Since I Opened Up the Door.” And “Come on Down to the Water” and one that was not in the movie, “Sometimes Alleluia.” I have read the back stories of the film and watched hours of video of people who were involved in that social, spiritual movement in the 1960s and 1970s. It has all been a blessing to me.
I noted the title of the book from which “The Jesus Revolution” movie was taken. It was written in 2018 by the still-living, still-preaching Rev. Greg Laurie. It carries the title Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How God Can Do It Again Today.
Can God transform a generation, again today? Can God send the Spirit to change things, to change us, to change our nation? What is it that needs to change? Who is it that needs to change? How is it that such a change happens?
The key message of the movie is the conversion of the church. It is not “an unlikely generation” that needs to change, the generation that is outside the church, that is on the beach having a good time rather than on the bench in some sanctuary. It is not the week-smoking, music-making hippies that needed to change fifty years ago. It was the church!
In the movie, it is the preacher, the pastor (played by Kelsie Grammar) that needed to change. It was the people in the church that needed to change their attitude and their behavior in order for the people out of the church to change their attitude and their behavior.
We need a change of attitude in the church, about guns.
One way God can transform our nation and our church is the surrender of our guns. I don’t mean the police (although they do that in England) or the military (and there are countries with only a token army) or even the general population. I mean the Christian people, the Jesus people, the baptized people of God. If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked, gun-loving firearm-fanatic ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.
The prayer of Jesus begins with this call to surrender: Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven there will be no more war, no more guns, no more armed militias, no more weapons slung around the waist or over the shoulder. Christian people must surrender their guns; leave law and order to the army and the police. Trade our weapons for tools. Melt our guns into toys. Bury our implements of violence and raise us a generation of peace-loving, problem-solving followers of Jesus.
Want a Jesus Revolution? Let the church of Jesus Christ surrender their guns and follow Jesus. Want an awakening among the people of God? Let those called by the name of Jesus humble themselves and turn from our gun-toting ways. Want a revival that will shake the foundations of our society, renew a right spirit within us, and heal our broken soul and twisted land? Let our altars be full of people walking the aisle and laying on the altar of God every means of killing, every implement of war, every tool of violence.
“Those that live by the gun will die by the gun,” so said Jesus of Nazareth, so long ago. Which makes him the prophet of today, the teacher of us all, the savior of the world. Deliver us, O Lord, from these wars of war and violence, and fill us with your spirit of peace, generosity, and hospitality.