Birds In Our Hair
Tuesday of Pentecost 20
24 October 2017
When I was about 15 years old, I had a friend who lived on a farm where horses were stabled. Once, while visiting my friend, who was an accomplished horseman, he invited me to ride with him. I was reluctant to avail myself of this opportunity, never before having sat astride anything more than a pony at a birthday party. He, however, was optimistic that I would have no problems, and I was convinced. So with minimal instruction I got aboard the most docile of the hoofed denizens of his stable, while he continued to reassure me that I "wouldn't have any problems riding." Uh-huh.
Things went well for a while as we trekked through the trails in the bush of rural Ontario. My mare followed the lead of my friend's horse without any mishaps, until the mare got it into her head that she was missing her evening distribution of feed. She turned her head right around and headed back to the barn at a clip I was unable to control, let alone stop. My horsemanship ended right beyond the docile trot. After that it was pure terror. Because I didn't know what I was doing, I gave her the reins and suffered a wild ride that gave me a stiff backside for some days. I now view horses described as "no problem" with a great deal of suspicion.
We live out the course of life astride temptations. There is no way to live in a world where the devil prowls about and in which our hearts are filled with loathsome desires, without temptation. But as Martin Luther puts it, we should not let the horse have the reins. It would be a wild ride. This is why we pray in the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer, that we would not be led into temptation. We pray this daily as a confession of the peril in which we live in this wicked world.
Temptation is a constant certainty, but it does not mean that we must succumb to it. Martin Luther repeated this wise advice given to a young man suffering temptation: "You cannot prevent the birds from flying over your head. But let them only fly and do not let them build nests in the hair of your head. Let them be thoughts and remain such; but do not let them become conclusions." We should not despair when the devil does us the ultimate compliment of seeking to tempt us, but we should rejoice to use the weapons the Lord has placed at our disposal to chase him off. The devil is felled with one little Word from God.
The bit of God's Word bites into the mouth of careening temptation, bring the foaming beast to a screeching halt. This is a skill that takes constant honing and there is plenty of opportunity in daily life for that practice. The devil, the world, and our flesh all see to that. We must not let the serpent slip his head into our lives, for the whole body will come with it right quickly. Pray that you do not fall into temptation. Use God's Word as your weapon against it. Don't let the birds nest in your hair.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"This, then, is what 'lead us not into temptation' means. It refers to times when God gives us power and strength to resist the temptation (1Co 10:13). However, the temptation is not taken away or removed. While we live in the flesh and have the devil around us, no one can escape his temptation and lures. It can only mean that we must endure trials--indeed, be engulfed in them (2Ti 2:3). But we say this prayer so that we may not fall and be drowned in them.
"To feel temptation is, therefore, a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. We must all feel it, although not all in the same way. Some feel it in a greater degree and more severely than others. For example, the young suffer especially from the flesh. Afterward, when they reach middle life and old age, they feel it from the world. But others who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, feel it from the devil. Such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called temptation. But we consent to it when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it.
"Therefore, we Christians must be armed (Eph 6:10-18) and daily expect to be constantly attacked. No one may go on in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far from us. At all times you must expect and block his blows. Though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and firm in faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. So when one temptation stops, there always arise others and fresh ones.
"So there is no help or comfort except to run here, take hold of the Lord's Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: 'Dear Father, You who have asked me to pray. Don't let me fall because of temptations.' Then you will see the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered. If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent's head (Rev 12:9). If it finds an opening into which it can slip the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back."  

Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 1
Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."(ESV)
O God, You justify the ungodly and desire not the death of the wicked. Graciously assist us by Your heavenly aid and evermore shield us with Your protection, that no temptation may separate us from Your love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
For those who are suffering from the damage done by the wild fires in California, that they would be kept safe and that they would be enabled to rebuild and recover
For Georgia Buvinghausen, that the Lord would grant to her strength and a full recovery
For Lutheran preachers who will be preparing to proclaim the word of God on Reformation Sunday, that they would proclaim the biblical gospel to God's people that they might be encouraged and built up in the holy faith
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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