Sermon Reflection

This past Sunday, we used Ephesians 3:14-21 as our sermon text.  The magnificence of the text continues to distract me and hold me captive.  At its core, and the thought that will not let me go, is that our God pours out his power into us through the Holy Spirit for the express purpose that we might grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”  How awesome it is that El Elyon, God Most High, has such a vast love for us that he must aid us in comprehending it!

He Giveth More Grace“                                                                                                                 Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932)

“His love hath no limit,                                                                                                                       His grace hath no measure,                                                                                                                   His power hath no boundary known unto man.                                                                           But out of his infinite riches in Jesus,                                                                                                 He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

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This is a rather technical reflection on a sermon given on 15 July 2018.  In it, Greek grammar is studied to explain the meaning of “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

[If your eyes tend to glaze over when reading about grammar, please just skip to the last paragraph.  Since the key to understanding this week’s Scripture passage is tied up in grammar and word choice of the original text, I am providing in writing (with some additional detail), what I attempted to summarize in my sermon.]

This week we came to the last petition found in The Lord’s Prayer,  “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  (NIV translation of Matthew 6:13)  Perhaps this verse is TOO familiar for us to appreciate its true meaning.  Sadly, that is how it can become when we encounter very familiar texts that have been committed to memory.  One way to look at texts with a “fresh pair of eyes” is to do an original translation; another way is to read an unfamiliar translation.[1]

In the English, this prayer looks like it has two appeals (in the form of two commands) joined by the conjunction “but.”  The key question is what is the relationship (if any) between the two appeals or commands.  Related to this, we MUST understand the meaning and use of the word “but.”

It turns out that, while the two appeals/commands seem to have the same form, they, in fact, do not.  In the Greek, the verb contained in the “lead us not” clause is in the subjunctive mood, while the verb contained in the “deliver us from the evil one” clause is in the imperative mood.  Both verbs are addressing Our Father and are in the second person singular form, so we are free to understand the pronoun “you” (singular) and we are just as free to provide it in our translation.  We have the subjunctive mood in the English language that is similar to the subjunctive mood in Koine Greek (i.e., biblical Greek).  It carries a sense of possibility or potentiality rather than something actual.[2]  In English, we often use the helping word “may” to indicate that a verb is in the subjunctive mood.  Let me now offer a translation of the first clause that reflects the subjunctive mood and the second person singular nature of the verb:

And may you not lead us[3] into temptation

Let us next deal with the conjunction “but.”  In English, as in Koine Greek, we use the conjunction “but” in two quite different ways.  The first way is to add detail and can often be replaced by the conjunction “and” without changing its meaning.[4]  The second way we use the conjunction “but” is to show contradiction; it is used to negate a claim or expectation.[5]  In English, we have only one word for “but.”  In Koine Greek, there is one word for the detail but and another word for the contradiction but.  Our Bible text uses the contradiction but.[6]

This would appear to present a difficulty in trying to identify the relationship between the two clauses in our verse.  How can the second verse contradict the first verse?  The contradiction but has a range of translational values that include but, except, and however.  Interestingly enough, we have the seem meanings of the word but in the English.[7]  For clarity of meaning, I shall use except as the translational value for the Greek word (ἀλλά) found in our text.

And may you not lead us into temptation, except ….

And now we must deal with the meaning of the second clause of this petition.   The verb is in the imperative mood, which is normally associated with command or instruction.  But it is also related to a plea.  We have a similar phenomenon in English.[8]  The imperative verb form is found throughout the petitions within in The Lord’s Prayer; the verse we are inspecting is no exception.  I shall again provide the pronoun “you” which is found in the verb form.

And may you not lead us into temptation, except you deliver us from the evil one[9].

Finally, we arrive at the meaning of the prayer.  We give God permission to sovereignly send us anywhere and at anytime, but we ask this one thing, that God protect us from the Evil One.  We are not asking that God would shelter us from all temptation.  Where could God actually send us such that we would be free of temptation?  We are asking God to send us only into those circumstances where he will not allow us to be totally defeated, but instead will deliver us should we stumble and fall.  This is a “Thy will be done” prayer with the explicit plea that God will uphold me in my time of need.



[1] For those without training in Koine Greek (i.e., most people), reading from an interlinear Bible that has both English and Greek next to each other or using Biblehub.com and selecting the Greek translation (which provides an interlinear representation) is a good way to see things freshly.  Simply reading an unfamiliar translation can also help, but only when the translation has not taken on established value, as in the case of this prayer that used throughout the Christian community.

[2] In “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevia sings a song, “If I were a rich man.”  Ever wonder why he doesn’t sing, “If I was a rich man?”  That is because the verb is in the subjunctive mood and takes a peculiar form.  The song is grammatically correct.  Yeah Tevia.

[3] Because The Lord’s Prayer has become a staple of the Christian community, we generally keep the arcane word order of “lead us not” which has the exact same meaning as “not lead us.”  For clarity and ease of understanding, I have changed the word order to reflect modern speech.

[4] An example of this is, “I drove home, but I stopped to get a bite to eat on the way.”  This sentence has the same meaning as “I drove home, and I stopped to get a bite to eat on the way.”

[5] An example of this is, “He said he was 6 feet tall, but I know for a fact is only 5 feet 10 inches tall.”  The word “but” shows contradiction and that the first purported fact is in reality untrue.

[6] Grammarians refer to this as a “strong adversative conjunction.”

[7] For example, “But for the rain, the crops would have failed.”  This has the same meaning as “Except for the rain, the crops would have failed.”  There is still a sense of contradiction, in that we understand that the crops did NOT fail and the reason is found in the clause beginning with but.

[8] As an example of plea in command form, we might hear someone say, “Pass the potatoes, please.”

[9] If you were to do research on the use of Aorist Imperative verb tense and mood, you would find an important discussion on the “aspect” of the verb.  For simplicity, I have opted to avoid this discussion

This last Sunday (17 June 2018) in our sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer, we focused on “Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  We find in the section of the prayer a combination of praise, petition, and pledge.

Implicit in this prayer is that God’s Will is desirable.  It follows from the previous verse in The Lord’s Prayer, which could well be translated “Thy Name must be praised.”  Since God’s Name has in view his reputation, his character, and his deeds, we are indeed praising God’s Name when we express the desire that “Thy Will be done.”

Our prayer is a petition.  Like the faithful throughout the ages, our hearts cry out “how long O Lord” (see Psalm 13:1; Habakkuk 1:2).  We know the world is gravely out of whack and misaligned with God’s goodness, and so we groan with all of creation (see Romans 8:22-24) and petition God to foster his Will “on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are eager to see more of God’s goodness and grace poured out on Creation.

Just as there is implicit praise in this petition, there is an implicit pledge on our part to seek after and welcome God’s Will.  There are a lot of dimensions to this pledge.  In part, I believe a sincere pledge to seek God’s Will means a commitment to talk with God daily.  By talk, I mean to speak and to listen.  I am convinced that being in the Word of God daily is the best approach to having a conversational relationship with God.  Still, there are different ways of being in the Word and some will prove to be more comfortable for you than others.  Find one that works for you.  Remember the motto: “Do as you can and not as you can’t.”

For those who find being the Word, difficult, I recommend resources like The Upper Room, These Days, and Our Daily Bread.  These are daily devotionals that are available to you free of charge on the shelves as you enter the sanctuary.

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On 10 June, we continued our series on the “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Our focus was on the last part of Matthew 6:9, “Hallowed be thy name.”  What does “hallowed” mean?  It is a very difficult word to translate from the Greek.  About half of all New Testament translations render the English equivalent as “hallowed.”  Since “hallowed” is an obscure word in English, the meaning of the prayer is often itself obscured.  Some think hallowed means holy, or sacred or set apart.  With such a translation, this part of the prayer becomes a declaration that “God’s name is holy.”  While this is true, it is not what “The Lord’s Prayer” is saying.

As I said, the Greek is difficult to translate.  This is not because the Greek is uncertain, but because Greek grammar and English grammar are quite different.  In the Greek, “hallowed” is an imperative verb, that is to say it is a command.  It is also passive (action is done to someone or something) and it is in the third person (he/she/it).  [We have nothing like this in English.]  I believe a better translation of this prayer text would read “Thy name must be sanctified.”  This captures the third person passive, imperative nature of the verb.

In place of imperative language, some translations offer the language of exhortation (e.g., “Let Thy name be honored”).  Exhortation and command both capture the sense of “ought-ness.”  Exhortation language is fine as long as we understand the right sense of it.  Exhortation is not like, “Please vote for Mr. Bobblehead.”  It is more like, “It is imperative that God’s name be honored.”  The difference is that we are not obliged to vote for Mr. Bobblehead, but we most certainly are obliged to honor God’s name.

After the service, some grammarians asked me to parse the Greek verb for “hallowed.”   For those who care, the Greek verb for “hallowed” is parsed as an aorist tense verb, in the imperative mood, using the passive voice, for the third person singular subject.

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On 3 June, we began a sermon series on “The Lord’s Prayer” (a.k.a. “The Our Father”).  It may seem that we are off to a slow start.  After all, last week’s sermon only addressed “Our” and “Father.”  Even so, I am embarrassed to admit that I omitted something from my sermon that I regard as rather significant on the topic of “Father.”  I meant to tee up the question, “Did Jesus invent a new name for God by which we are to address the First Person of the Trinity?”  There are biblical metaphors that use father language, such as in Psalm 68:5, where God is described as “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”  But a metaphor is not really the same as a name.  So the question remains, did Jesus invent a new name for God in the Lord’s prayer?

The answer is no.  Jesus did not invent a new name for the First Person of the Trinity.  In Isaiah 63:16, we find this:

…you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

In Jeremiah 3:19, we find this:

“I myself [God] said, “‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me

In Malachi 2:10, we have this:

Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?  Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

The first two references occur in texts with strong Messianic overtones.  That is to say, in these texts containing Father-language, the activity of the Messiah is in view.  In our Matthew text of The Lord’s Prayer, when the Messiah teaches the faithful how to pray, Jesus puts the Father (our Father)back in view.

From the very beginning, the role of the Messiah was to make intimacy with God possible, such that by the indwelling Holy Spirit ‘we cry, “Abba, Father.’  16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15b-16).

The Lord’s Prayer is first and foremost about intimacy with God.  May God open our hearts and minds to greater intimacy with our Triune God.

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During the month of November, we looked at what God has to say to people of faith about how to live our lives on borrowed time and using God’s stuff.  On 26 November we finished up Stewardship month with a message on what God has to say about stewarding the agape love that he lavishes upon his believers.  We turned to the Gospel of Mark 12:28-34 in which Jesus was asked which is the Greatest Commandment.  It was a raging question at the time; the answer could have been so many different responses.  Jesus answered from the Shema (beginning at Deuteronomy 6:4): Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.   Jesus then provides an additional, unsolicited answer; he tells everyone what the Second Greatest Commandment is.  For this Jesus borrows from Leviticus 19:18Love your neighbor as yourself.  In Jesus’ answer, it is always agape love that is being mentioned; it is always that love which we must receive as gift from God.  Jesus does not reference any of the other types of love that have a common, earthly origin.  In Jesus’ answer, the people of faith are given instructions on what to do with God’s agape love that they receive as a gift.

Jesus’ commands are both clear and challenging.  What seems most difficult, is the implied commandment to love ourselves with the agape love that God puts into our care.  We must cast off the narcissistic self-love, that society promotes and the Bible teaches to be sinful.   In its place, God beckons us to see ourselves as God sees us: made in his image and likeness; adopted daughters and sons; friends of Christ; intended for glory and fellowship with our Triune God forever.  This may not be easy, but it is part of what Jesus calls the Second Greatest Commandment.  With the guidance of his Word and the Holy Spirit, may we come to an improved understanding of and obedience to these commands.

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The month of October is Missions Month in our denomination.  It is good to focus on this broad topic for an entire month.  On 15 October we dug into Luke 10.  In that text, Jesus sends out the 70 (or 72) unnamed disciples to prepare the way for his arrival.  They are travel without provisions; they are to heal the sick; and everywhere they go they are to announce the Kingdom of God has come near.  I love that these disciples are unnamed and their identity is lost to history.  That makes them a lot like us.  I believe that we, the Church, are to live without a safety net of provisions; we are to heal the sick in Jesus’ Name; and we are to make a winsome announcement that the Kingdom of God has come near.   May God bless us, everyone, in this endeavor.

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Christians usually focus on the gift of an assured inheritance, looking toward the present and the eternal joy of communion with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  On 27 August we reflected on the Romans 11 passage relating to the Gentiles being grafted into the Jewish heritage.  Paul uses the imagery of  wild olive shoots grafted into a mature olive tree to “share in the nourishing sap.”  It is a wonderful gift God has given us; he has given us the gift of a heritage.  All that God spoke to the Hebrew family of faith, God spoke to our family faith.  This is what it means to be grafted in, two becoming one in Jesus, in which there is not Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28), nor circumcision or uncircumcision (1 Corinthians 7:19).

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On 13 August we had a message that was grounded in Romans 9.  The chapter is long and somewhat difficult.  I was having second thoughts  about reading the entire chapter.  I did read the entire chapter, but had a feeling of uncertainty about whether or not this was the right this to do.  On the Tuesday following the worship service, one congregant told me she was deeply impressed by the verses that came towards the end of the chapter (Verses 30-32).  These are verse that I would not have been read had I focused only on the preaching text.  It is a reminder that the Word of God is powerful all unto itself.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon had this to say about the Word, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”   I am grateful that the power of God’s Word does not rest on the gifting of the preacher.

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On 6 August we enjoyed joint worship with four other Presbyterian Churches, hosted by Andover Presbyterian Church.

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On 30 July, we completed Romans chapter 8 with a very encouraging message from God’s Word.  In Romans 8:26-39, we find God is forward leaning in expressing love and care for Jesus’ brothers and sisters of faith.  We find that the Holy Spirit intercedes for God’s children (8:26), a promise which is restated in the next verse (8:27).  Jesus Christ, who is “at the right hand of God,” is also interceding for us (8:34).  The promise of this text is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God (8:37-39).  These verses really bring home the point that the children of God are free of condemnation (8:1),able to live our lives with inner peace (8:6) and free of fear (8:15), and assured of a glorious inheritance (8:18).  It is a joy to be in a relationship with such a wonderful and gracious God.

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On 23 July, we looked at Romans 8:18-25.  We explored what it means to live in the time between Jesus’s first and second comings.   Because Christians in this age enjoy a significant but incomplete foretaste of heaven through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we sometimes refer to this age as the “already but not yet times.”  In this age, the Church is blessed to serve and glorify God through the many opportunities that will not exist in heaven.  In the age of already but not yet, the Church is called to visit the lonely, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and defend the oppressed among many other expressions of God’s love for a broken world.  None of the opportunities will exist in heaven.  We live in truly sacred times.

On 16 July, we looked at Romans 8:1-18.  It is a magnificent text that is full of promised blessings from the Lord.  Those who are in Christ (i.e., Christ is in them) enjoy incalculable spiritual riches on this side of glory, as well as on the other.  The mind controlled by the Holy Spirit is “life and peace (v6).”  It is possible (I would say natural) for the Christ bearer to please God (v8 – implied by contrast).  We are the adopted sons and daughters of God (v14). We need not live in fear (v15).  God’s Spirit talks to our spirit (v16).  We are co-heirs with Christ in his glory (v17) and the glory of our life story will be revealed (v18).  Verse one (v1) started with the Christ-bearer’s freedom from condemnation.  God’s grace so very much more than freedom from condemnation.  We are part of His kingdom.  May we live as kingdom people and participate in God’s grace towards all Creation.

On 25 June, we looked at the Jeremiah 20 passage.  It is a very raw passage, in which Jeremiah nearly curses his very existence.   It is a reminder that depression is a common affliction.  Even God’s powerful servants are not shielded from its oppressive power to dishearten, distort, and discourage.  Let us consider two responsibilities Christians have in fighting depression.  The first is stewardship and the second is fellowship.  Let us be good stewards of our own spiritual and emotional health.  Stewardship calls us to be intentional in preserving and nurturing the gifts of God, including our physical health, our emotional health and our spiritual health.  Stewardship of these gifts require that we learn about ourselves, our fragility and our needs.  Stewardship requires that we do the work of preserving and nurturing.  We also have the responsibility of caring for others through deep fellowship.  Communion with the Body of Christ is a means of significant grace.

On 11 June we took a valiant stab at coming to grips with the Triune nature of the Godhead.  The Trinity is a very difficult concept (reality).  We can be assured that  understanding the Triune nature of God is worthwhile, because the self-revealed God of Scripture has repeatedly informed the people of faith about his Triune nature.  So, even though the Trinity is a mystery,  we ought to wrestle with the biblical material we have.  Surely God wishes to bless us with knowledge that will aid us in our spiritual journeys.  In our Children’s Message, we looked at a hard boiled egg that had been cut in half – one egg with three separate and easily identifiable regions: shell, white, and yolk.  We then made Kool-aid from water, sugar, and flavor packet.  It was a single beverage that could not be properly called Kool-aid without all three parts mixed into one.  In the Trinity, both metaphors (i.e., the egg and the Kool-aid) are true at the same time.  If this last thought is comfortable to you, you are well on your way to understanding the Triune nature of God.

On 7 May 2017, we had a children’s message based on John 10, where Jesus refers to himself as the sheep gate.  I was delighted and encouraged by the engaging attitudes the youth brought to this time of worship.  They were eager to demonstrate their own understanding of the text.  They were not self-conscious that another 60 adults were listening in on our conversation.  Everything that they said was solid and orthodox.  In my heart I was praising their parents.  Since the church family is a team, I am also grateful for Sunday School teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers and all who have helped shape their awareness of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On Easter Sunday we explored the credibility of the empty tomb.  My intention for the sermon was “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15).”  I reflected on the martyrdom of the those who claimed to be eye-witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The tradition of martyrdom for the Apostles stands up to historical scrutiny, at least for several of them.  What did they gain by proclaiming Christ and his resurrection?  Not wealth, not leisure, not security.  They suffered and were abused the rest of their lives and (at least some) died hideous deaths.  Chapter 5 of Josh McDowell’s book, More Than A Carpenter, is entitled “Who Would Die for A Lie?”  The reasoning behind this chapter was rooted in my head over 35 years ago.  I have examined it ever since.  The argument does not unravel with additional research; it only gets stronger.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

It seems that our website had some technical difficulties but we are back.  It is good to be back.  On  2 April, we looked at the Goodnews contained in Romans 8:5-11.  Verse 11 contains a tidy encapsulation of the Easter story and its meaning for us.  A promise was made to the followers of Christ that the death of their mortal lives would mark the  beginning of their eternal lives with resurrection bodies.  Through the Apostle Paul, God points to the resurrection of Jesus as proof that he is able to fulfill his promise.  God then rassures Christ followers that a down payment on this promise has already been made; we have the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is a really good news story!  May you have a spiritually prosperous Lenten season.

On 19 February, we looked at the amazing truth of God’s design of the human race.  We are told in Genesis 1:26-27 that God chose to make us in his image and likeness.   This is so incredibly, outrageously awesome, that no man-made religion had ever previously made such a claim.  God made us in his image because he intended to adopt us as daughters and sons and to love us most deeply.  Our truest identities have been revealed in the Word of God, in the very beginning, as if it were of first importance.  God’s identity, our identity, and our relationship with each other and with God are of primary importance every day of our lives.

On 12 February, we opened up Philippians 4:4-7.  It is an amazingly dense text, rich with guidance on living in spiritually wellness.  The key to the passage is that the Lord is near (4:5b).  Practicing the presence of God changes everything around us, by first changing us.  It may be unexpected, but at the core of it all is this truth: God wishes to bless those around you by first blessing you.  You and I must be open to the idea that, like Jesus, a life lived well has a balance between time spent with the Father and doing acts of compassion.

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