Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trinity 27

Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
November 23, 2008 (The 27th Sunday after Trinity)

There are many Christian churches out there who seem to make it their full-time occupation to try to figure out what is going to happen when in connection with the end times. The tremendous popularity of the “Left Behind” books is part of this phenomenon. Of course, the Lutheran church doesn’t agree with the thesis of those books, namely that the believers will be raptured out of the earth several years before the end of the world; we believe that this is a mistaken interpretation of Revelation (and other passages) and that the believers will be taken to be with God on the last day itself. Revelation is not a chronological account of the end times; it is composed of several different perspectives of the same event, the last day, from several different “camera angles,” as it were, presented one after another. But the point is, no one will know the day or the hour. And so it should not be our primary concern to figure out the end times. Rather our primary concern is to make sure that we are always ready for His coming, that we always have the oil of our faith replenished by the Holy Spirit working in us daily and weekly through Word and Sacrament here in this place and through our private devotions as well.
There are no guarantees in this life. Whether Christ’s return is imminent or a long ways off yet from our human perspective, there is no reason for complacency. Things can happen, things which we do not plan for or expect. That’s the reality of life in this world. Even apart from the question of when Judgment Day itself will come, we are reminded that we could face our own personal Judgment Day at any time. Those who die before the last judgment will have their eternal fate decided by the question of whether they trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of sins at the time of their death. This, too, is Judgment Day. This, too, can happen to any of us at any time.
In today’s text, Jesus tells a parable about two groups of virgins who are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive so that they can play their part in the ceremonies of the wedding feast, which involved carrying their oil lamps in with the bridegroom when he arrived. Five were wise and five were foolish. The wise ones made sure that they were prepared by having extra jars of oil for their lamps, just in case the bridegroom was delayed. The foolish ones only took the lamps themselves, and whatever oil was already in them. As it happened, the bridegroom was indeed delayed for whatever reason, and so the oil in the lamps themselves was nearly burned up. The ones who had not brought extra oil along asked the ones who had if they could borrow some, but the others replied that there wasn’t enough for all ten of them, so they would have to go find a shop that was still open and get some. By the time they got back, however, they had already missed their part in the feast, and the bridegroom refused to let them in. In fact, he was even so hard as to deny that he even knew who they were.
This parable is a picture of us as we await our Lord’s coming. Our Lord has delayed His return for almost two thousand years now, and so it is tempting to forget that He is coming again at all. It is tempting for many people, even if they know there is a heavenly Judge who will hold them accountable, to assume that they will have time to “get right with God” before they die, and that in the meantime they can simply do whatever they feel like. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t do that. You can’t cynically “get right with” God. We can’t do anything from our end that will affect our relationship to Him. What God expects of us is that we be perfect for our entire lives, and we already failed at that while we were too young to remember. Even if we were able to be perfect for the rest of our lives, and we’re not, we would only be doing what God expected anyway, and so we wouldn’t be making up for what we had already done wrong. And we can’t rely on other people, either. We won’t be saved by having our names on a church membership roster; we won’t be saved because our parents or friends are Christians. Yes, you were baptized, and the flame of faith was lit in your heart then, but if you aren’t replenishing your supply of oil through daily contrition and repentance, through frequently sharing in God’s Word and Christ’s body and blood, the oil just might not last and the flame of faith can go out. The new you who was created in Baptism is just like any other human being; he needs to be fed or he will die. And just like the foolish virgins who tried to borrow oil from their companions, we won’t be able to rely on our friends or on the presence of our names on a congregational roster at that point.
So, if we are already sinners and we cannot make it up to God, then what? Well, it is good to remember where our supply of oil comes from. God Himself gave us the fire of faith in the water of Holy Baptism, and through His Word and His body and blood He continues to provide that fire with the fuel it needs to continue to burn brightly. The sins you have committed are forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf on the cross. And not only are those specific sins forgiven, but your inherited sinfulness, your inherited orientation away from God and toward that which displeases Him, of which specific sins are only mere symptoms, is also forgiven and taken away. That forgiveness, given you by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, is the oil which sustains your faith. Nothing else can do it. But that is enough. Your sins are forgiven, and since your sins are forgiven, you have salvation and eternal life. “For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation,” according to the Small Catechism.
And since we have this forgiveness, life, and salvation, we can celebrate with joy the marriage feast of the lamb which has no end. Since forgiveness is given to us even now, we have live and salvation even right now, even though we can’t see it yet. In receiving Christ’s body and blood we participate in that great feast of victory which has no end, the marriage feast of the lamb in His kingdom. And we are more than just bridesmaids and guests in that wedding feast. We, the Church, are, collectively, the Bride Herself. What we celebrate is nothing less than the union between ourselves and God, a union which was begun when the Son of God took on human flesh and united God and man in one Person, which will be fulfilled on the last day when He comes in glory to judge the living and the dead. This will be a greater and more glorious festival than any party, any wedding reception we have ever experienced here on earth. We will be celebrating nothing less than our eternal fellowship with our creator. “Now let all the heavens adore Thee, Let men and angels sing before Thee, with harp and cymbal’s clearest tone. Of one pearl each shining portal, Where, dwelling with the choir immortal, We gather round Thy radiant throne. No vision ever brought, No ear hath ever caught, Such great glory; Therefore will we Eternally Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee.” Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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