Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday – November 22nd, 2009 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
We have reached the end of another Church Year. Soon our thoughts will shift to our Lord’s first Advent and our preparations for the celebration of His birth – but now, we do not look back – we look ahead. Just as the days grow shorter and colder here on earth, we are reminded that the hour is getting late, and that our Lord will return, sooner or later. And yet, so often it seems like it will be later – that our Lord’s return seems delayed and pushed back. We can come to this Sunday of the Church Year – nod and say, “Oh yes, oh yes – Jesus will come back. . . I suppose – that whole ‘and He shall come to judge the living and the dead’ thing” – and then promptly forget about our Lord’s Second coming until November roles around next year unless there is some natural disaster or something that makes us wonder about the end of the world in the meantime.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the approach or attitude our Lord wishes us to have. We are not to be those who are complacent, but we are to be those who are watchful and prepared for our Lord’s Second Coming, so that when that joyous day does come – whether we are among those living or those who are rising on that day from the dead – we will be ready for that day. And so, our Lord speaks a parable to teach, to train, to tell us how we ought to prepare for His return. This is the familiar parable of the wise and foolish virgins, so let us attend to our Lord’s Words, and then take them to heart.

Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. So what in the world does this mean? Well, back in the day, as part of the high, formal festivities of marriage, the young, unmarried girls would get to come out, and they would serve as lamp bearers – they would be part of the groom’s procession, going before him, all young and pretty with their lamps – they would bring joy to the whole celebration. And this was a big deal – this was something you got to do when you were finally grown up – a rite of passage. The excitement of these girls would probably be like girls today going to prom – you get your hair done and get the nice dress, and it’ll be a late night, maybe with an all night party. So that is the type of eagerness that these 10 virgins would have – this youthful wonder and joy and excitement.

This is the same sort of excitement we ought to have when we consider our Lord’s return. When our Lord comes back, we will be leaving the childhood of this life, where we see things only dimly, where we struggle with burdens and sin – and instead we will be stepping into the heavenly feast, we will obtain perfection, we will grow up in Christ and be like Him. And when we think about the joys of heaven, when we think about what is to come, we are rightly excited.

Five of them were foolish, and five of them were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. But there is a problem for some of these girls – they are not prepared. They don’t have any oil – they figure that they will have time to get some when the time comes. Why would you not have oil when your job, the reason you get to come to the party is to have a lamp? I don’t know. That’s why they are called the foolish virgins – and as we’ve all been foolish on more than one occasion, I’m sure we can relate. The key point is that some are prepared, but others aren’t. Then. . .

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. Of all things in this parable, this is what I love the most – they all fall asleep. I remember the first time my parents decided to let me stay up for New Year’s – I was little, and we were in Ohio visiting family, and I was so excited, bouncing off the wall the whole evening. . . and wore myself out and fell asleep around 11 from exhaustion. This is what happens here – these girls weren’t ready for the delay, and as such, they wear themselves out, they become drowsy, and they fall asleep.

We Christians – we often become drowsy as regards our Lord’s Return. We will think about it for a bit, we’ll be excited – but then, the humdrum of life creeps back into our lives. . . and we just sort of drift off. We don’t think about it. We confess the creed – but don’t think about it. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus” before we eat but don’t think about our Lord’s Coming. We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come” with nary a thought of our Lord’s return. We become drowsy and sleep. And our Lord knows this will happen. In the parable, all ten fall asleep. But the difference isn’t in who is awake or sleeping; the difference is in who is prepared.

But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourself.” And now things come back to bite the foolish virgins. They are completely unprepared – their lamps flicker and falter. And it’s too late. The best they can do is try to hurriedly run to the store and buy some oil – but it’s midnight. What dealer is going to be open? They are going to have to wake the merchant up, and he’ll be moving slowly, and it is just going to take too much time. Really, it’s too late. Simple as that – they weren’t prepared, and they aren’t going to make it.

And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” The wedding starts – the party begins, and the wise virgins get to go marching in, and there is joy and merriment. But for the foolish virgins, they are left out in the cold. The doors are closed, they are not let in – they miss out. Their folly has cost them. And lest we think that this is just a tale about the importance of being prepared – lest this become a sermon where I merely admonish you about life insurance and such – our Lord says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Our Lord reminds us here that we are to be prepared for His coming.

This is something that we need remember, that we need to be aware of. We do not know the day or the hour – our plans, our expectations of the future may not come to pass, for the Lord may interrupt them – either by bringing that day for everyone with His return, or by bringing that day just to us through our own death. And we don’t like to this about this – we don’t like being confronted by our own mortality, we don’t like recognizing the simple truth that this life we lead here can be ended in a moment – Christ will come, so we need to be prepared for that, not when we are older, not next year, but now.

So – what makes one prepared for our Lord’s return? What makes a Christian wise? Solomon says in proverbs “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The way in which we are prepared is when we have that proper respect and love towards God, so that we live our lives knowing that He might return at any moment. We are to be in His Word, we are to be living out our Baptismal life, we are to be receiving His Supper so that we are filled to the brim with His love and his Spirit. This is our preparation. This is the oil that we need. Sadly, often as Christians we will play the “later game”. We will do all that Spiritual stuff later. Push it off a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once things get settled down a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once I have kids. Oh, the kids are restless, I’ll start going again when they get a bit older. Oh, well, you know, there’s so much going on, I need the rest on Sundays – I can do more when the kids are finally out of the house. Oh well, you know, maybe when I retire I can make more time. Oh well, you know, I really like to sleep in. Later, later, later. Our Lord says this is foolishness. Consider the foolish virgins – they knew stuff. They knew the bridegroom was coming – but they did not prepare accordingly. Likewise – we here all know that Christ is coming – but do we prepare for it as we ought – or do we shrug worship off, do we act indifferent to the study of God’s Word? Do we sleep comfortably in our beds while our Lord comes to His House here to give the faithful His own Body and Blood for their forgiveness? Christ comes here every time we worship – God Himself is present. . . and we make excuses. To know Christ will come and to do nothing is the height of folly.

We do not know the hour – we do not know if we will have a later – and we do not want to be lulled into indifference – for indifference is merely a step away from unbelief and the death of faith. If we treat Christ’s return as if it will never happen, as if it is not important, then soon, we will treat faith itself as if it is not important, God as if He is not important, and we will be lost. And so once again, you are called by God to this place, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom calls out to you, pleading with you to be wise, to be prepared. And this is the utter wonder of it – your preparations are not hard – it is not some onerous task that God gives you – salvation is no 15 step plan or a series of flaming hoops to jump through. Rather this – Christ Jesus has died for you, and through His Word, through His Body and Blood, your sin is covered – your flasks of oil are filled to the brim with His righteousness and love – and you are prepared. And He shall come again. The Bridegroom has invited you to Heaven, He has given you His Word, a lamp unto your feet – He has anointed your head with the waters of Holy Baptism, more precious than any oil – live in these gifts, see that they are part of your life now, so that you may be prepared for eternity – for indeed, our Lord shall return. Until that day when He does return, He comes to you here in His House, in preaching, in the words of absolution, in His holy Supper, all so that you will be ready on that day when He calls you to eternity. May we all be found prepared in Him on that day by the power of His most precious Word and most lovely sacraments. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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