Sermon: Lent 1 RCL A – “Gift from the Devil”

Hattie May Wiatt lived in Philadelphia in the late 19th century and died as a little girl. She must have known how sick she was because she left her life savings to Grace Baptist Church so they could build a bigger building for the children’s Sunday school. Her gift: $0.57.  Accepting this gift, the church contributed toward her vision and bought a piece of property. This went on to become Temple College, which later became Temple University and the Temple University Hospital.

No matter how small, a good gift can make a significant difference. A bad gift can also accomplish much. Take, for example, this one. [Holding up a small box.]

It doesn’t weigh much, the box is attractive enough, it doesn’t rattle when you shake it, and I know what it is. How? I’ve received it countless times throughout my life. I’ve received it and opened it more times than I care to remember. This is a gift from the Devil. As the Devil holds this gift out to me, it is a temptation. When I take it from him, I’m on a slide that can lead to sin.

You see, when the Devil holds it out to me, I still have the opportunity to say, “Away with you, Satan!” But when I take it, I concede to the possibility—perhaps even the inevitability—of sin. 

Once in my possession, I may place it on a shelf somewhere, but in my heart, I know I’ve likely already lost the battle. I didn’t renounce it outright, so it has power over me. Remember St. Augustine’s prayer? “Lord, Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” He wanted what he prayed for, but it still had power over him.

After a time, I may take this gift off the shelf and nonchalantly fiddle with it a bit. “Oh, Lord, I didn’t know I even picked this silly thing up. I’ll just put it right back up here on the shelf. I’m in control.”

Then comes the day when I make a poor decision to open the box. “Lord, I’m just looking to see what’s in here. Nothing more. I’m proving to myself that it has no control over me,” but even as I am assuring the Lord of my conviction, I look down in the box and say in my heart, “Isn’t it so pretty.” From there, it is only a matter of time, which is actually the case from the moment I accepted it from the Devil’s hands.

If we examine our lives, I’m confident that we will discover that the ground around us is littered with opened little boxes like this and that the shelves are overflowing with others that are unopened, just waiting for a more opportune time to remind us of their presence. If we are honest with ourselves, we can say with certainty what sin each of those boxes contains. And, if we look with a sincere and discerning heart, we will likely discover that the gifts in each box may differ from one to the other but are also remarkably similar—slight variations on a common theme. Finally, in completing such an exercise, we may learn that all those boxes fall into three main categories: lust, greed, anger or pride, gluttony, despair, and so on. That may sound odd, but it is what happened to Jesus.

In the first temptation, Jesus was tempted to satisfy his flesh, his physical needs, and his wants. In the second, it was a temptation of pride—taking advantage of his status as the Son of God. Finally, Jesus was tempted to have the world at his command instead of the Father’s. If you want to simplify those, you could say that Jesus was tempted with lust, pride, and greed. Yet, Jesus never accepted the gift from the Devil’s hands. He never even glanced at it except to rebuke it, and He remained without sin.

If the Devil, in his arrogance, would go after Jesus, the very Son of God, in such a way, don’t you think he’ll try the same tactics on you as well? Nod your head, ‘Yes.’ So, spend some time discovering what gifts the Devil gives you, then as a disciple of Jesus, one who wants to be like him, learn from Him and be prepared so that when the gift is offered, you know how you will rebuke it—“Away with you, Satan!”

“‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6b-8a, 10)

Let us pray: Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

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