What’s in a phrase?

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church.

Last week, there was some stir as to Pope Francis changing a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer. The line, “And lead us not into temptation” was changed to “do not abandon us to temptation.”

This has garnered some attention and some anxiety for those who hold the prayer dear to their hearts.

To be specific, Pope Francis did not change the language. It was proposed by an Italian bishops’ conference of the Roman Catholic Church and this was approved by the Apostolic See which includes Pope Francis but may also include other Vatican officials. For United Methodist context, this would be like a theological study of the church similar to Wonder, Love and Praise proposed by the Faith and Order Committee but then approved by the General Conference. Of course, a big difference here is that this new United Methodist study has not been used in worship for generations!

Pope Francis in the past has called into question the theological stance of asking God to “lead us not into temptation” in that it might lead us to believe that God “pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall.” If we believe that God does lead us into temptation as part of a spiritual experiment, this seems to stand against the fundamental notion of God’s grace and love that we receive in Jesus Christ.

Some may wonder if this will cause us to change how we utilize the prayer in our local worship. This particular change is Roman Catholic in scope and is specifically for churches that speak Italian. The English speaking Catholics have not addressed this particular phrase in their liturgical use. Protestants use their own liturgies that are approved by their own bodies.

While I utilize the United Methodist version of the Lord’s Prayer from our hymnal (#895) that includes the phrase, “lead us not into temptation” we actually have an Ecumenical version approved for our use if we wish (#894 in our UM Hymnal) which states “Save us from the time of trial”.

Some have berated Pope Francis for changing the prayer but if we look back to the original prayer of Jesus, we have to look at two similar but not identical prayers. Our liturgical prayer is patterned after Matthew 6:9-13 from the Sermon on the Mount. But we also have a shorter version found in Luke 11:2-4. Liturgical worship is the work of the people. How we express ourselves to God may change with the generations (our worship today is different from a service 100 years ago). We may hope that some of the ways we express our devotion and worship would be constant. There is a comfort we take from constancy in the midst of all the change we experience. But the ideas we express in our worship vary just as human language varies. I would say that this is why theology matters. How we communicate about God matters for the people who still need to hear. If I am only communicating about God in ways that I understand but have no regard for my neighbor’s hearing, then I may be doing a disservice to the Good News by placing my own need for familiarity above God’s call upon my life.

This Sunday, the liturgical church will recognize Trinity Sunday. This is doctrinal in nature in how we understand God from the basic Christian confession of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The default for doctrinal sermons is frequently lecture, more lecture and then is followed by even more lecture. As a narrative preacher, I try to tell a story that leads us to understand doctrine more fully. You’ll have to let me know if I’ve succeeded or not!

We’ll be looking at Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 from the lectionary. I hope you’ll join us either in person or online (and you can always go back and listen to the sermon later if you are unable to be present on Sunday). Worship should be familiar as the familiar gives us spiritual comfort. But Spiritual comfort should then give us strength to fulfill our mission to fully love God and our neighbors! Tightropes are all about balance and moving forward.

In Christ,


Follow Sam’s Blog at www.precedinggrace.blogspot.com. Photo by PaoNu via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.