in Sermons

20. November 2011
Trinity 27
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:1-13

“Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The cry rang out in our Lord’s parable of judgment. The virgin companions trimmed their wicks, rose, and went to meet the bridegroom.

It used to be that weddings were held at night. The party was the wedding. From the bride’s house, she and her companions were escorted by the bridegroom to the wedding hall, for singing, joyous celebration, gladness, and great food. You never knew quite when the bridegroom would come but you had a pretty good idea.

Oil is stored, wicks are trimmed, and all wait. The kingdom of heaven though is likened to the night of prayer in Gethsemene. Three times Jesus left His disciples to pray and three times they fell asleep. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Like the blessed disciples who lost track of their prayers, ignored their Lord’s word, and fell asleep, so also is the case for these ten virgins.

Some think you can’t fall asleep on the Christianity job and go into the kingdom. If that’s the case, then the disciples are outside the kingdom. All ten virgins are excluded. None of them stayed awake. None of them watched and prayed as they ought to have.

Instead, they got bored, drowsy, and drunk with sleep. They got tried of waiting. Things were too quiet. Nothing to do but go about watching and praying, trimming wicks and waiting.

Thus the Christian life is about passively waiting. It is also true that Christianity is about actively working. I should not have to tell you to love one another, whether friend or foe, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.

Loving one another is difficult business. We sin against God and each other daily. We let the stupid insult slip across our lips. We do not help each other in our need. We dislike the idea of cherishing only what God has given us. We greedily seek what is not ours.

The worst is inactivity. We sit on our bums, twiddling our thumbs, acting as if its all been taken care of. Truly, your salvation has been taken care of. Jesus died for you and your trespasses. He has redeemed you from death and hell by his bloody death.

This great love is a living and active love. Given to you, it does not die but brings to new life love for neighbor. Because you are justified in Christ, you are being made holy, or sanctified, to love both God and neighbor.

I urge you, brethren, that you increase in love more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. 

Knowing the day is coming, we do not sit idly, simply waiting for the bridegroom. Instead, we wait in active and hopefully expectation. Each day we cry our “Come, Lord Jesus,” not knowing if today is the day. Each day, we go about the work our Lord has given us to do, singing and giving thanks.

You have heard it said and know it to be true that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.

Nothing good can come of idleness. Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. What is sober watchfulness? How do we not fall into temptation, sleeping as those disciples or the ten virgins pure? Simply this: be equipped with faith, hope and love. These are freely given to you. God is a gracious God. He loves you, cares for you, and wants you to inherit heaven for the sake of His Son. Receive His gifts of love.

You know Jesus is the only hope you have. This you know and believe is true and trust is for you. You hope and watch, all the while encouraging each other, warning those who are unruly, comforting the fainthearted, upholding the weak, and being patient with all. You see that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. 

You do this because He first loved us. It is love to watch over the little ones. It is love to warn those who err. It is love to comfort the faith and uphold the weak. It is love to be patient and kind. Thus, we labor while the day is still upon us, before the night when no one can work.

From the parable, we know that some Christians miss the boat altogether. They are like the five foolish virgins, hypocrites to the core. They go through all the right motions but fail to receive and cherish the one thing needful. They receive the robes of righteousness, fit and tied for the wedding feast. They frequently listen to the voice of instruction and promise. They show up to the party, lamp and oil. But in the end, they are not prepared.

This was their fault only. For God has not destined [them] for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him. If five do not enter the wedding hall, finding only later the door shut, no one is to blame but them.

Jesus is teaching us that tomorrow may be the end. Don’t think you’ve got it all together because you have a baptism certificate, you went graduated from confirmation, and you pay your dues to the church regularly. The kingdom of heaven is not about a piece of paper, an eighth grade rite-of-initiation, or an annual giving statement.

That’s the difference between the five wise and the five foolish. The foolish do not wait in faith, hope, and love. They take our Lord’s promises, receive them, but do not cherish them. That is, they know Jesus died for their sin. They know it is true. But they do not trust that in Jesus only will they enter the kingdom of heaven.

True and saving faith is the oil needed for the journey. It is living and active, just like love. It keeps the fire burning until we enter the wedding hall. It shows the way to the feast. Without this oil, our way would falter, our hope lost, and our love die.

Faith gives hope and hope produces love. All three go together. It is faith in the Word that gives knowledge, truth, and trust in God. Yet, too many Christians think like those five foolish virgins, saying: I have my lamp, I have my wick, I have the festal garment, and I’m in the right place at the right time. That surely will be my ticket when Jesus comes again. Wrong. Going through the church motions doesn’t save you.

For example, we have rightly emphasized the necessity of Holy Baptism, the reception of the Sacrament at First Communion, and the Rite of Confirmation of Holy Baptism in our practice. But we have also done a great disservice to them by giving some the impression that they save merely by doing them.

Dear Christian, it is true—baptism now saves you, that is, the washing of rebirth with Word and Spirit that creates faith to know, assent, and trust in this Word.  Yet, a mere washing of water with family and friends present, before joyous congregation, with all the right fixings does not make baptism. No, it is the Word of God that promises and grants faith to believe this Word.

Or another example—the Holy Communion is Christ’s living body and blood, giving you forgiveness, life, and salvation. But, it is not merely a special meal with friends, dining on special wafers of unleavened bread, sweet wine, at the altar rail that makes a holy communion. There is only Holy Communion with these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” and faith that knows, agrees, and trusts that these words are for you.

So it is in the church. Going through the motions isn’t a ticket to heaven. Receive the Lord’s gifts, yes, but receive them in faith, knowing that they are true and for you. Receive God’s means of grace that your faith may increase and you love and cherish them more and more. Fill your lamps and your extra vessels with faith.

Trust in your baptism because the Father said by that water: you are my beloved child. Trust in the Holy Supper because Jesus said of the bread and wine: this is my body and blood for you for your forgiveness. Trust in Holy Absolution, knowing our Lord’s forgiveness is declared when that pastor, as instrument of God, lays his hands on your head and says: “by the stead and in command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins…”

That’s how the church rolls. That’s how the bridegroom and her virgin companions prepare to be led to the king. They take up the gifts of God and accept them fully. These gifts of Sacrament are bound to faith. Both are received and are grown. This faith does not sit by idly, only to mold and decay from disuse. Faith does not receive thinking the mere act of doing saves. Faith breaths and lives trust, bringing hope for your tomorrow and love for all.

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Christians, be sober and vigilant. Watch yourselves, lest you forget the faith necessary for the journey. Watch each other, lest any fall into temptation. Watch family, knowing that simply going through the motions isn’t good enough. Love and hope, encouraging one another to receive these gifts in living faith and for the upbuilding of faith until the end.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana