Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last Sunday Sermon

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 24th, 2013 – Matt. 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Today’s parable is the old familiar ending to the Church Year – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.  With the end of the Church year comes a reminder that Christ’s coming could happen at any time, that we ought to be ready for it, and indeed, this parable teaches us how to be ready for it.  So, let us hear this parable and listen to it once again.

          “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Now, let’s consider this set up.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us at first – why are there are bunch of virgins, a bunch of young unmarried gals waiting for the groom?  Generally today brides don’t like their husband to be cavorting with a bunch of 18 year olds on the way to the wedding.  But perhaps the best way to think of these would be that they are like our modern bridesmaids.  It’s a big wedding, there’s 10 gals, and their jobs are to make everything look pretty.  However, there is a problem.  Five of them were foolish, and five 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.”   The main job of the virgins back in the day would be to be part of the procession, and they would carry lamps, candles, and the light would make everything look just so and perfect – plus they wouldn’t look too shabby for any of the groom’s single friends.  But there’s a problem.  A lamp without any oil isn’t very useful.  It doesn’t work, it doesn’t do its job – and a gal without any oil for her lamp would have been rather useless.  What might the modern equivalent?  Bridesmaids showing up to the wedding without their shoes – you know, you’ve seen the bridesmaids where they all have their shoes died fuchsia or periwinkle or whatever strange color the bride had picked out?   It’s nice that you are there – but if you don’t have your shoes, bridezilla over there is going to be sort of upset, and you’ll look really, really tacky up front instead of just so and picture perfect.

          And then something unexpected happens, or maybe it’s better to say something expected doesn’t happen.  As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ The groom is late.  Things are getting drawn out, and all the gals, wise and foolish alike fall asleep.  The wedding is supposed to start at 6, and by 10:30, and they are all out cold.  Now, there are few things one can bring out from this – one being that they are all asleep, that no one stays up and is prepared when groom shows up midnight.  The point of this parable isn’t that the wise are bright-eyed and bushy tailed and perfect little gals – almost like the wedding equivalent of those royal guards in England who never move.  No, these verses are designed to take away any sense of pride or smugness the wise might have.  But there is another aspect – it does highlight how foolish the foolish ones are.  Let’s jump back to our modern bridesmaids – and let us say the wedding is supposed to be at noon, and you aren’t ready, but then there is the news that it’s going to be pushed back a few hours.  So, what do you do – do you go get ready then, do you quickly run to the shops and finally buy the shoes you should have gotten well before?  In the case of the parable – no, because they are foolish.  And at any rate, the time for the wedding arrives.

          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 yourselves.’  And it’s time for the wedding, and the foolish gals aren’t ready.  Do you know what their request to borrow oil would be like?  It would be like saying, “Oh no, we don’t have our shoes, hey, can I borrow one of your shoes?”  That’s how foolish the request in the parable is.  Hey, I’m not ready, how about we all not be ready?  How about none of us have oil to do our job, how about we all just wear one shoe throughout the wedding?  It’s not that the wise are mean and won’t share, it’s that the foolish are foolish.  Off you must go.

          And we know how it ends.  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.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  And they miss it.  The foolish gals are off and about, and the groom shows up, and the wedding starts, and they are shut out.  And they have no one to blame but themselves – they can’t blame the groom because he was delayed – they weren’t ready 6 hours earlier.  They can’t blame the wise, I mean, why would you show up to the wedding you’ve known about for so long without your oil, why would you not have gone to the store and bought your shoes already?  And so they are left out of the party, they miss it.

          So, let us ask the Lutheran question.  What does this all mean?  What’s the point of the parable?  Jesus answers by saying, Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  The time for the wedding is coming, you need to be ready.  You can’t assume that there’s more time… because let’s face it, if you aren’t getting ready now, are you really going to be getting ready later?  You see, this image of the wedding is the image for the life of the world to come, it is the image for all the happy stuff at the end of Revelation – in fact Revelation 19 talks about the marriage feast of the Lamb.  The call goes out, we are to make sure that we are ready, that we are prepared for the Second Coming, for the End, for the great feast that never ends.

          So how?  What distinguishes the wise from the foolish in this parable, what ought we be looking for?  It’s not the distinction between those who have heard and those who haven’t heard.  The wise and the foolish both know there’s a wedding, they know it’s going to happen, and they even want to be there.  The foolish in this parable aren’t those who turn up their nose at the idea of the wedding – no, the wise and foolish all know it’s a good idea.  And the difference isn’t the great moral character of the wise and the terrible moral character of the foolish.  It’s not as though the wise are waiting for the wedding but the foolish got so drunk from the bachelorette party at the bar the night before that they couldn’t wake up.  No, they are all together, they all fall asleep at the same time, they all are awakened together.  They are in the same boat in terms of how they live.  No, the key difference, the thing that separates the wise from the foolish is whether or not they have their oil.

          Consider this.  If you are to be an old fashioned virgin here – you are at the wedding in the company of the groom, you are there to provide light with your lamp.  If you don’t have light for your lamp, you are pretty much ignoring the whole reason you were invited.  If you are asked to be a bridesmaid, but you don’t care enough to have your outfit ready, what’s the point of you being a bridesmaid?  And that’s the difference, that is what separates the wise from the foolish.  The wise understand their part in the wedding feast; the foolish don’t and thus aren’t prepared.  The wedding isn’t about your plans, or what you would like, this wedding is about the Bridegroom, and you are there for the great and fantastic joy.

          So, consider the Christian Faith.  Consider what we confess in the creeds each week.  That Christ Jesus, the great Bridegroom, has won us the forgiveness of sins, and that we receive this forgiveness and life everlasting from Him.  That we are those who have been baptized for the remission of sin, and so therefore we look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  That’s the story, that’s how all this stuff works.  We are those who are forgiven – that’s our job.  We are those who receive forgiveness, so that for all eternity Christ Jesus might be glorified as our Redeemer.  Because this is the cry of heaven, this is the praise that is shown forth – Revelation 19 puts it like this: “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God  Salvation!  That’s the first thing on the list.  Do you want to know how awesome Christ Jesus is, how awesome the Reason for this eternal party is?  He saves people – in fact, He saves you.  That’s the heart of all the praise we will sing out, that’s the heart of Christ Jesus showing His glory – that’s the great demonstration of His Power, when He lays down His life – that’s why you are always hearing about the Lamb who was slain in Revelation – because it’s in His salvation that we see just how wonderful Christ Jesus is.

          And that’s how we are brought to that feast.  We receive by faith this salvation.  We receive by faith this forgiveness and life.  And that is wisdom – remember, wisdom in the Scriptures is always tied to the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who opens our ears to hear, who focuses us upon Christ, who makes us see Him and His salvation.  And as for the fool – well, the fool says in his heart there is no God.  Or at least not a God who saves… not a God who wants the point to always be about what He does.  And so the fools ignore everything going on – they ignore the plans for the wedding, whether it be having oil for their lamps, or shoes for their feet, or hearing the Word, attending the Supper, receiving Christ’s forgiveness.  They have better things to do, they know better, and so they miss out on it.

          But you, dear friends, God has given you wisdom.  He has washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, He has given you your garments for the everlasting feast.  He has kept you in the faith; He has brought you again to this place to hear His Salvation proclaimed, to receive the forgiveness of your sins.  He even brings you to the altar for the Supper, for the foretaste of the great feast to come.  And why? Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. You do not know when your call to the feast will be – whether it be at the hour of your death when you fall asleep and then awaken to life everlasting, or whether it be when Christ returns with trumpets and archangels.  But here in this place, your eyes are focused once again upon Christ Jesus, you are made to watch Him, we all are focused not upon our own plans or wants or whims, but upon Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.  He has provided for us all we need – and now we simply wait for the great feast, the great party, the life of the world to come.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

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