Friday, April 11, 2008

Lead us not into temptation

This one phrase in the Lord's Prayer is troublesome for many folks - myself included. The Greek phrasing of this part of the Lord's Prayer can also be translated: "Lead us not into a time of testing." It is followed by "and deliver us from evil" or "deliver us from the evil one." It's almost as if we ask God not to bring us into testing but, if God does, to deliver us from Satan's power.

So why would God bring us to a time of testing? Doesn't that seem paradoxical? A God who is good leading us to be tempted by evil?

I was drawn to my library the other day to start some reading. With the looming conclusion of my work at Gathered by Christ, I've found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I don't handle that terribly well. So, after the Wednesday Eucharist where we remembered Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I went downstairs to my wall of books to see if I had any of Bonhoeffer's writings. My library is largely composed of books given to me by two priests - John Keller+ and Sallie Bailey+. Both of these priests gave me gifts of friendship and care ... the books are representative of those gifts. I was looking, in particular, for the Cost of Discipleship and didn't find it. I did, however, find a small booklet entitled Temptation. I picked it up and read it last night and into this morning.

Bonhoeffer's observations are that the temptation of a Christian is the experience of Satan tempting Christ all over again. Satan failed in his temptations of Christ, even the temptation he experienced in the sense of God's abandonment of him on the cross. God is not the source of temptation; however, there are times when God abandons us to face it alone. God is silent (see II Chronicles 32.31; Psalm 27.9; Proverbs 1.28; Hosea 5.6). In that abandonment we are left only with God's Word and promise.

Temptation causes us to face the sin in ourselves - our pride, self-righteousness, and distorted images of ourselves. Temptation can lead us to either a place of false security in believing that our sins are really not that bad and God will really not judge us for them, or it will lead to despair that our sins will never really be forgiven since Christ only died for the trivial ones, not the ones we've committed.

This all rings very true for me right now. The last thing I ever thought I would face coming out of seminary is the disintegration of the congregation I was called to serve. I know this is not of my doing as the situation was quite grave prior to my arrival; however, it still hurts. I've done my pastoral duty and the members of this congregation are now in the process of finding a safe landing in another congregation. In fact, I've had area clergy contact me to see if the members were planning a visit to their churches! I asked our members how it felt to be so wanted that I'm getting calls and e-mails inquiring about their visits. It felt good for them to be wanted and needed again.

I think that's what's hurting so much for me right now. I know my husband and the girls want me and need me. Don't get me wrong - that's very important. But to not be needed as a priest just ten weeks after ordination is very painful. It is a deep temptation to question my call. Did I just get called to do this and then get dumped? At times I feel like the Israelites in the wilderness ... "Hey, Egypt wasn't so bad. Let's go back. At least we won't starve there." ;-)

The sense of abandonment is very real. Even other clergy don't know quite what to say to me. I'm living their worst nightmare, what can you say to that? Most of them are thankful they aren't facing what I'm facing ... and the loss of a call in a down economy with a geographic limitation and no prospects is truly frightening. I know I'm not the only priest to have lost a call to serve, but without a context to understand how the cycles of calls happen, the patterns that emerge, I don't have any idea what I'll be up against or how long I will have to wait. I know how these things work in the private sector. When you lose your job, you file for unemployment, start cranking out the resumes, and maybe take a temp job to generate some cash flow. But that's not how it works for clergy and I feel very lost in this system.

Bonhoeffer's words were helpful this morning. I realized this temptation has led me to despair. Bonhoeffer wrote, "... I must recognize in all this that I am here thrust by Satan into the highest temptation of Christ on the cross, as he cried: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' But where God's wrath broke out, there was reconciliation. Where I, smitten by God's wrath, lose everything, there I hear the words: 'My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness' (II Cor. 12.9)."

At some later time, I will be able to minister to others through this trial. For now, I just have to endure it and pray for deliverance from the evil one.


jadedjabber said...

I haven't known what do do with those phrases in the Lords prayer either, though I have to admit it has never been on the top of my list to figure it out. Thank you for these thoughts. They were very helpful

liturgy said...

Thanks for the thoughts.
I hope you'll pop by my site "Liturgy"
and maybe link?


Virtual Vicar said...

Hey Liturgy!

Love your site and have used it for inspiration many times. I'll put up the link!

liturgy said...

Thanks for the link
& the encouragement;
& I've linked back.