Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 20th, 2011 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
In the shed outside my house, there are boxes. Plenty of boxes. Boxes from my parents. When I had just gotten here (to Lahoma) 7 and a half years ago, my parents saw this as an opportunity to finally get rid of all the stuff I had left behind at their house when I went to off to college – and so, when they came up for my ordination, there all the stuff was. And I put it in the shed. And I told myself, “You know, I should go sort that out.” But it was summer, and it was hot, so I said, “I’ll wait until it’s a bit cooler.” And then I looked up, and it was winter. And I said, I should go sort out the boxes in the shed, but it’s tool cold, I’ll do it in the spring when it’s a bit warmer. And then I looked up, and it was summer, and too hot. And I have done this for 7 and a half years. Every time I thought about those boxes, oh, the time wasn’t just quite right, I’m busy – I thought more about it this week, but really, don’t I need to be in the house to help Celia with Victor. Excuse after excuse – and the boxes are still there in their chaotic, disorganized state – and part of me doesn’t think that this might not still be the case in another seven and a half years.

Of course, really, while I’d like to get all that stuff organized, it doesn’t really matter a hill of beans if I do or not. Ultimately, it’s not very important. But what it does show, what it does demonstrate is the fact that we human beings have a terrible ability to procrastinate, to put things off, to leave them for later. For some things, this isn’t that big of a problem. If a 25 year old toy becomes a 40 year old toy before it gets sorted, that’s no big deal. Some things are a bit more important, but we can put them off. Maybe that doctor’s visit or procedure that we just don’t really want to have done… or if I were preaching this sermon in February the mention of taxes and the IRS might bring some dread. Our Gospel lesson today, however, is a warning against letting this procrastination, this shunting aside of things, this laziness from impacting our Spiritual Life. We can leave the toys in the shed; if we put God on a back burner, the consequences can be catastrophic.

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” First things first – the very first word – “then”. Jesus is letting us know that He is talking about the Last day with this parable, with what things will be like then. When the last day comes, what’s the Church going to look like? Well, you’ve got 10 virgins, 10 young girls ready to meet the Bridegroom. Basically, this means that these girls, these teens just moving into adult society, just moving into the real world, are ready to go to their first big party. And back in the day, you’d have the young women lead the groom on into the wedding – they got to look all pretty and then they had their first big party. And wedding feasts were good parties. So, all these 10 girls should be eagerly awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. This is the picture of the Church today. We are in the Last days - we in the Church know what is coming – we know that Christ Jesus will come again, and that when He comes again will we have the resurrection of the dead, the New Heavens and the New Earth – that this life of sin will be tossed aside and we will finally be mature and holy and righteous. This is why we confess in the Nicene Creed – “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Now, we are simply waiting for that time, biding our time until our Lord returns to lead us to the new heavens and the new earth.

“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.” If you are going to be in a parade, a procession, and your job is to have a lamp, you need to have oil. That’s just how it is. So, if you are foolish, and don’t bring oil, it shows that you aren’t really paying attention, that you don’t really care. Nothing is sinking in. That you are being a fool. If you are wise, you are prepared, you know what you ought to do, and you strive to do it. Now, let us consider the Church. Earlier in Matthew, we hear our Lord tell us that we are to let our lights shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. You know, the whole this little Gospel light of mine song, right? Well, what do we have with Christians – we have the foolish and the wise. There’s not a one of us here in this Church, there’s not a person on the roles of this congregation who doesn’t know about Jesus. We all have our lamps, as it were, we have all been baptized and washed clean. Great. But then – well… what happens when indifference sets in? When we begin to disdain the Word of God, disdain Church, disdain hearing preaching or receiving the Supper? We grow cold. We ignore what Christ has done for us, and thus we begin to ignore our neighbor. We become no longer interested in letting our light shine. We stop caring about God’s love, and so we no longer worry about showing God’s love. James says that a “faith” without works, without love is dead and worthless, isn’t really a faith. A lamp that makes no light isn’t any good, and if your lamp is without oil – well, not a whole lot of good. I mean, no oil is worse than hiding it under a bushel – it’s basically dousing the light, it is looking at God’s gifts and saying, meh. And that is what the foolish do. If we cut ourselves off from the Word of God, become like a lamp with no oil, and that doesn’t do anyone any good, ourselves or our neighbors.

“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!’” Simple enough idea here – all ten girls get tired and fall asleep. The day wears on and rolls into night and they sleep. And then, the groom shows up, and it’s time to go, and they all start to flutter around. Likewise, we don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t generally walk around outside looking up in the Sky trying to spot the first glimmering of His coming. Even as we live our lives, even as we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” or “Come, Lord Jesus” – we don’t expect it right… now. But there will come a time when it is now, when Christ has returned.

“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 while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came and those 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.’” It’s time. The moment is now, the day is at hand. And there is no time to go running about trying to buy oil at midnight. And while the foolish are all thrown aflutter by the coming of the bridegroom, the wise are ready, prepared, and go with joy. Likewise for those in the Church. If we are to be prepared for the End, we must remain in God’s Word, we must receive His forgiveness and love, we must be gathered around His font and lectern and pulpit and table lest our faith crumble and die. And this isn’t something we can safely put off – this is more important than some 25 year old toy in a box in a shed. Because the fact is – if you blow off the things of God, His Word and Sacrament and your faith crumbles and dies, when He returns, it will be too late. When Christ comes back, I’m not going to run to this pulpit and start preaching – I’m not going to hurriedly set up communion. That’s it. When He returns, this service is done, and it’s on to the heavenly feast. And if you are ready – that day will hold no fear, indeed it will be nothing but joy for we will see Christ Jesus, our Light and our Life come to take us out of this world of darkness, come to give us new and everlasting life. If you aren’t ready that day – well, there isn’t anything I or anyone else will be able to do for you then.

“Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Watch. That is how we end the Church Year – a reminder to watch. Just as this year draws to a close, so too someday this world will draw to a close. We must remember this fact. We cannot assume that we will always have more time. We cannot simply say, “Eh, later, later – I will come to Church later.” Because in our procrastination, we can kill ourselves – we can take the wonderful gifts of God and let them get rusty and decrepit as we leave them sitting on the shelf. Watch therefore. Keep your eyes open, O Christian! Do not be caught unawares, but keep your eyes focused not upon the skies for the second coming, but keep them upon Christ and where He has promised to be present now for you to forgive you your sins and make you ready for the life of the world to come. Keep your ears open so that you might hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins! Keep your mouth opened, so that you might receive this day His Body, His Blood given for the remission of all your sins. Receive Christ Jesus Himself, and you will be prepared by Christ to meet Him when He comes again in glory. Do not let the world twist you aside from this, do not let other fleeting things become a higher priority – things all fade here but the Word of the Lord endureth forever, and that same Word is the power of Christ Jesus that makes you to endure forever, even unto life everlasting. Christ the Crucified has won for you salvation by His Blood, and He gives you that gift freely in His Word. God grant that He keep us steadfast in His Word even unto the life of the world to come. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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