Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
21. November 2010
The Last Sunday of the Church Year
The end of anything good upsets us. The end of anything bad brings us joy. Today is not a day when something good ends. We are not disappointed on this last Sunday of the Church Year. A good thing has not ended bring us sadness. Rather a bad thing has been annihilated and we rejoice! Today is a day of joy that our Lord has put our unbelief to death and for another hour, day, and year has brought forth in us a new life, the saint of God.
Today’s Gospel parable about the ten virgins tells of our Lord’s final return in judgment. The parable teaches us what our Lord will expect of us and the nature of this final judgment. Jesus gives us this parable to teach us how to be well-prepared for his return, when “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
1. Many who wait will not be prepared.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” Weddings in the time of Christ were commonly held at night. The bridal party would wait offsite until the bridegroom came to escort them to the marriage and its feast. From the opening, we learn two things. One, these ten virgins fully expect the bridegroom. Second, they will need lit lamps to see him and to follow after him to the feast.
“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 oil in their lamps.” Not all those who await the bridegroom are well prepared. While not all the details are clear, one thing is vivid. Those who await the coming of Christ in judgment need to be prepared. They need to be prepared for an early or late arrival of the bridegroom. As the parable progresses, we learn that Christ’s arrival will be late. As Jesus clearly teaches in his conclusion, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Who is well prepared for the coming of the Lord? Who has the extra flasks of oil to carry them through the dark night? You, the baptized believers who hear God’s word regularly. You, the faithful who come to receive the Lord’s own body and blood as frequently as you can. You, the penitent who daily confess your sins before God, before your spouse, your children, your friends, and your neighbors. Through these holy gifts our Lord replenishes your oil, that is, your faith. You are given an abundance of this faith, more than you could possibly imagine needing. This superabundance of faith keeps you trusting in the midst of the death of a child. This faith keeps you trusting in sickness and in health. This faith keeps your heart with the Lord, even when you lose your job, your portfolio, or your house.
You don’t earn this faith. You don’t work for this faith. You don’t even have to ask for this faith. It is a free gift from God, worked in you by the Holy Spirit. His Word is preached and His holy things are placed on your head and in your mouth, thereby causing faith to well up, to fill your flask and your lamp. You wait anxiously but with security, knowing that your faith will last until the bridegroom comes.
Yet, from the Gospel, Jesus tells us that five of the virgins are foolish. Why? Because they were not prepared for the delay of the bridegroom. They have their matching fuscia wedding dresses. The bouquets are pinned on. The hairdresser has made their hair majestic. The nails are painted and the makeup applied. From all appearances, they are ready for the bridegroom, his marriage, and the wedding feast.
But, some, who by all intensive purposes, look and act like Christians, aren’t. Its kind of like the logic of Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the scene, the peasants want to burn another at the stake for being a witch. Sir Bedevere wants to know if she truly is a witch. Not able to peer into her heart, he instead judges her through appearances.
Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch. Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us. Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches? Peasant 1: Burn them. Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches? Peasant 1: More witches. Peasant 2: Wood. Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn? Peasant 3: …because they’re made of… wood? Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood? Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her. Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone? Peasant 1: Oh yeah. Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water? Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!… It floats! Throw her into the pond! Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water? Peasant 1: Bread. Peasant 2: Apples. Peasant 3: Very small rocks. Peasant 1: Cider. Peasant 2: Gravy. Peasant 3: Cherries. Peasant 1: Mud. Peasant 2: Churches. Peasant 3: Lead! Lead! King Arthur: A Duck. Sir Bedevere: …Exactly. So, logically… Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck… she’s made of wood. Sir Bedevere: And therefore… Peasant 2: …A witch!
She looked like a witch so how does one find out if she is one? Sir Bedevere tries to discover some method. His logic is faulty. Unless she performed feats of unexplainable magic, despite her appearances and his logic deduction, she is most likely not a witch.
Jesus tells us appearances can be deceiving. Not everyone with the invite and outward accoutrement are well prepared. Preparation is not just a matter of appearances. Preparation is a matter of faith. Faith doesn’t put its trust in outward appearances. Faith doesn’t understand the kingdom of heaven as a few boxes to be checked, baptized – check, attended church – check, confirmed – check, taught Sunday school – check, helped around on fall work day (next Saturday by the way!) – check, received the sacrament of the altar – check, paid my dues (or tithes) – check. Faith is not about keeping up appearances. Faith is about trusting our Lord to redeem us. Faith is about belief that our Lord will give us everything we need, to prepare us for His arrival.
So it is the same for us, we can look to our works of charity, our works of love for the neighbor, our personal prayer life, even our piety in Christian worship and say: “these are the marks of faith! I must have faith because I do these things.” In some ways, this is true. The Christian will always work out their faith with righteous living, including love, gentleness, charity, and the like. They cannot but help do these things if the Spirit dwells within them, making in them a clean heart to serve and obey our Lord’s holy will.
But others may do these things deceitfully, while in their heart reject our Lord and his promise. They may have all appearances of wisdom but when the final day comes, they will be lacking the one thing needful – faith in our Lord.
2. Also true Christians are in danger of becoming sleepy.
So, also, true Christians are in danger of becoming drowsy. “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” There is a danger of becoming truly complacent with our lives, forgetting to trim our wicks, and replenish the oil, so to speak. Here Christ is warning us of those who have been well prepared, who have received the gifts of God, and have faith, yet fall asleep. What warning is there, if at the final midnight there will be the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him,” then only to trim ones lamps and follow after? Just this – sleeping next to you are five virgins, asleep yet still with time to go and retrieve more oil. There is yet time for the foolish among us to gain the abundance of faith needed to await our Lord’s return.
For some, they sleep in quiet faith while their spouse outwardly acts pious but inwardly does not believe. For others, they sleep their children pursue counsel and aid from secular spirits, ignoring the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the word. Yet others sleep while outwardly prepared heathen perish in their unbelief. Many times we will have no idea of their spiritual peril. We will have no idea of their lack of oil. Do not assume that your children will come around. Do not assume that their outward obedience is a testimony to the Spirit.
Repent. There is no excuse. You are well prepared. You have what you need for this life and the life to come. There is no reason why you cannot warn those asleep next to you, who either live in outright rejection of Christ and His gifts or who practice Christian piety but don’t believe a lick of it. Repent and witness to the one thing needful. Repent and show mercy, extending the love of Christ into their life. Repent and lead them by the Spirit into this fellowship. Preach and teach the faith, in season and out. Reprove the sinner and forgive him.
Our faith is weak when we trust in appearances. Our faith is strong when we daily expose the darkness in our heart to the Lord so that he can kill it with the light of His grace. Do not be complacent. That little white sin you harbor and have not confess will eat away at your faith reserves until you will have nothing left to keep you until the last day. Beg for forgiveness before the Lord and the one you have sinned against. Do not be deceived – where sin prevails, faith will die.
3. On that day it is too late to prepare.
Any complacency in our outward appearances, our inward lack of repentance, or our neglect of those unprepared, will have serious consequences.
“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 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.’”
There it is, the final curtain call. The grand finale. Elvis has left the building. No warning bell, just the final buzzer. Jesus will not give you a second chance. He doesn’t call ahead, text you, send you a calendar alarm. He has told you what you need. He has told you where and when He gives it to you. He has told you how to preserve it. No excuses. Be prepared!
4. Life and salvation is at stake.
The fairy-tale picture of the parable hides the severity of this consequence. You do not want Him to say to you through the locked door, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” This is not just rejection from just any wedding. God only knows, there have been many weddings I would have rather missed, complete with Bridezillas, cheesy rock bands, and hokey-pokeys to no end. No, his is the marriage feast of the Lamb that never ends. This is the heavenly feast with Christ before the throne. This is the sumptuous banquet laid before the faithful with joyous angelic singing. This is the marriage of eternal joy, complete faithfulness, and utter bliss.
Outside this feast is fire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Outside this feast, there is no protection from the ravenous wolves that seek to eat your flesh. There is tempest and wave, fire and hail. Outside this feast, there is no God, only an eternity of torment and suffering. There is no God to protect you or to watch over you.
Therefore, heed the warning of Christ: Be prepared! Do not trust in your works. Do not trust in your outward piety. Do not fall asleep at the wheel of faith, only to find your tank empty on the last day. Do not forget about those who are ill-prepared or asleep in your midst.
Instead, believe! Trust in the Lord. Receive the free gift from God, worked in you by the Holy Spirit. His Word has been preached and your faith has been replenished. His holy water with the Word was placed on your head, naming you His child and washing your sin away. He will place his true body and blood in your mouth in the Holy Sacrament, thereby causing faith to well up, to fill your flask and your lamp. You do not need to be anxious. Do not fear but be sober. God has destined for you to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Encourage and build each other up in this faith. You wait patiently, with security, knowing that your faith will last until the bridegroom comes. Amen.