Sunday, November 09, 2008

Matt.25.1-13; Twenty-sixth S. a. Pent., November 9, 2005

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 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. 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.’ 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 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.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

Well, here we go again! Another Sermon on the "End of Time?" We get to the end of the church year and zing, zing, zing. We get inundated with this "last days" stuff. Don't you pastors ever get tired of this topic? We know Jesus is coming again. We know that there will be a great feast that day. We know all the dead will rise and we will be reunited with our loved ones. We know that there will be "wars and rumors" and we know that there will trouble and persecution before he comes again. But, after four or five Sundays we get kind of tired of the topic. (The first 2 Sunday’s in December will have the topic too!) Do we have to listen to another one? Don't you think we are ready?

That’s the real question here. Are we ready? That is what this text wants us to think about. In Jesus usual way he asks that question by telling us a story. Actually this story falls in the middle of a long discourse on the end of time. Right before this one, He tells us about a wicked servant who isn’t prepared because his master returns before he is expected. Kind of like the teenagers who throw a party while their parents are out of town for the weekend. But, the parents return on Saturday night and find the party in full swing. Then he tells us this story about the ten virgins. The previous story tells us that we must be ready because he may come earlier than we expect. The story in our text tells us that he might come later than we expect. So which is it? It’s both, and neither. Jesus’ point is that we can’t know the time. He is simply telling us that we need to be prepared. The whole thing is about preparation not timing. The story goes like this…

There once was group of young women. They were friends and you probably will have something in common with them, you will probably relate to them at least a little because they in grew up in a small town. These ten girls were very good friends, they did everything together.

Now it is important that even though they had a lot in common, these friends could be divided into two totally separate and different groups. Five of the girls were rather practical. They always seemed to be thinking ahead, prepared for what ever might happen. The other five… well that's another story. This second five girls were well, foolish. They had their heads in the clouds. They were always thinking about other things than what was important at the time.

Now these wise and foolish women friends were just like lots of kids who live in small towns, they were convinced that nothing very exciting ever happened to them. So you can understand how excited they were when one day the received some very important news. The news was big, one of their friends was betrothed to be married. In case you are wondering, in those days a betrothal was a yearlong engagement that went before a wedding. Betrothal was a big deal. It meant there was going to be a big party, well, actually two parties. There would be one party now, at the betrothal and one and for the wedding next year. Actually it was more like one yearlong excuse to celebrate with a little celebration to start and a gigantic one to cap it all off. Oh, sure people still had to work in between, but the party, the celebration, lasted the whole year.

The girl friends were excited. They especially looked forward to the wedding party itself. It would begin on the assigned wedding day and last for at least seven days afterward. The wedding day was the day when the bride actually went to live with her husband. He would dress in his best clothes, gather his closest friends and family, and parade over to the bride's house. The proud father of the bride would be waiting for him. And so would our girls. You see they were the bride's friends. It would be their job to escort the groom and the bride in a fiery procession through town. It would be a huge parade leading the new family to their new home. It was a great honor to be selected.

Well, the year went rather quickly and the day of the bridal parade soon arrived. There was excitement everywhere. The girls could hardly wait for dark to go and wait for the groom. What fun it would be to parade with their lamps burning brightly, through town. How often did one of your friends get married after all?

We should take just a moment to describe their lamps. They play an important role in the story too. You see they were more like torches. A long stick with a piece of cloth tied to the end. The idea is that you would soak the cloth in oil and light it. The oil would burn brightly and the cloth would act more like a wick. After about fifteen minutes the flame would go out. Then you would take the cloth soak it in the oil again and re-light it. The most important thing about the whole process is the oil. The most important thing about the way the lamps are supposed to work is the oil. Without oil all you would have was a very short-lived flame, without any oil the cloth just burns up and the light will flicker out in a few seconds.

Well back to the story. The day of the wedding party had finally arrived. Darkness set in, the wise women, and their foolish friends, gathered with their torch lamps. There was a difference, however. The wise girls brought oil for theirs. The foolish girls didn't. Now remember that the torches are no good without oil. There is no good reason not to bring it. And remember, it isn't that they didn't bring enough. They didn't bring any. The purpose of the lamps was to light the wedding procession; they were not used as a flashlight while they waited. Like so many other foolish actions it really doesn't make any sense. The foolish girls simply didn't do what was necessary. No sensible girl would make this mistake. At any rate, the girls, each confident in their preparations waited for the groom. They waited long after dark. Soon they became sleepy. They huddled together and fell asleep. Suddenly, later in the night there was a loud voice. "Girls! He's coming! Get ready to meet him. Finally he is here!" The long awaited time had arrived. The girls rose from their nap and prepared their lamps. They cut off the charred strands and soaked the cloth in oil (that is, if they had any). Soon each was burning brightly. Now it was apparent, at least to the foolish five, that there was something wrong. Their lamps sputtered out after only a few seconds. "Oh, we need oil.” They said to themselves. They tried to get some from their friends. "You can't use ours; there simply isn't enough for your lamps and ours. If you use our oil we won't have enough to light the whole parade. If you would use some of ours, before the end of the parade, we will all be in the dark. Maybe there is time for you to go and buy some now!" The suggestion was hollow, no shopkeeper held such late hours. Unless they had purchased oil before there was little hope of getting any. Still, the foolish girls left immediately to seek out the nonexistent shops. And of course, no sooner had they gotten out of sight, than the bridegroom arrived and the celebrating began. Everyone left for the party; lighted by the light of the wise women’s lamps. Everyone that is, except the oil seekers.

After a time those girls also arrived at the party. I don't know if they actually found oil or not, but that really doesn’t matter. They had already missed the parade, the time and purpose for the lamps and oil was past. When they got to the bridegrooms house, they found the door was closed and locked. They stood for a long while wondering what they should do. Finally one of them knocked on the door. "Hello! Hello! We have arrived! Please let us in to the party." After some time the groom himself came to the door. "Who do you think you are!" he answered. "You had a very important role to play in my wedding. Instead you acted like a stranger. You didn't make the necessary preparations. You are not the friends I had thought you were. Since you acted like you didn't know me, I tell you the truth, I don't know you." And with that, he closed the door with a very loud thud. After a brief silence, the sound of the party inside resumed, and the girls were left standing outside, surprised and alone.

And bridegroom, that is our Lord Jesus, said. "Therefore keep watch, be prepared, because you do not know the day or the hour." Be prepared! Don't be like the foolish girls. Jesus the bridegroom is coming to claim his bride, the church. He is coming to claim you and me. We don't know when he will come. Jesus tells us, “Hey, it may be sooner than you expect! Or it could be later than you expect! The main thing is that you are ready whenever it happens.”

And you ask, “How can we be ready.” Well it’s not rocket science; the foolish girls had no excuse for not bringing oil. They knew it was necessary for the lamps to burn. They simply didn’t do the obvious things necessary to be prepared. That’s why they were foolish. When we neglect to prepare, we too, are foolish. It isn’t difficult. We know what to do. God has given us this house of worship. We are foolish when we are unprepared by neglecting to worship here. He has given us opportunities to study his word, to read, mark and inwardly digest it. We are foolish when we make excuse after excuse, and don't come. Jesus Christ has given us his very own body and blood as spiritual food, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We are foolish when we refuse to receive it, or think that we don’t need it very often. Jesus calls to us to pray, ask anything in my name, and I will give it. We are foolish when we doubt his promise. "Make disciples," he says. And we foolishly sit at home watching television. You see, it isn't difficult. The prepared girls had the oil they needed. It was available, and easy to get. We can be prepared just as well. What we need is available and easy to get.

The foolish girls acted as if they didn’t care. They acted as if the wedding feast didn’t really matter. They neglected their relationship to the bridegroom. When they tried to enter the feast the bridegroom said he didn’t know them, because they didn’t act as if they knew him. If we neglect worship, prayer and God’s word, when we stay away from the gifts Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper, we neglect the relationship that Jesus Christ won for us. He cared so much for us that he suffered and died on the cross to build a relationship with God for us. Christians walk in dangerous territory when they neglect their relationship God. St. Paul talked about some who had made a shipwreck of their faith. If you neglect your spouse he/she will soon wonder if you really love them. Our relationship with God needs attention, too. And the best part about the attention it needs is that God has provided everything, God has done everything, God asks nothing of you than to receive His wonderful gift of faith. And this place of worship is where it happens. This altar is where Jesus comes to you in the body and blood that hung on the cross bleeding and dying for you. This font of water is where God brings faith and makes you His friend.

The difference between the wise and the foolish girls isn’t that the wise ones were better; the story says they were prepared. They were prepared because of their relationship to the bridegroom. They did the necessary preparations because they were anticipating the celebration with the bridegroom. The foolish girls may have had their minds on the party, on who would be there and what they would be wearing. The wise ones concentrated on being the guests of the bridegroom. They were thinking about celebrating the great day with him. When he came they were prepared go with him, and light the way as they were asked to do. Because of their relationship they were inside when the door was shut.

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, he has forgiveness for foolish people. In fact His forgiveness is bigger than our foolishness. When we stand before God and our foolish sins weight us down... When we see how our foolishness separates us from him… gets in the way of our relationship. We confess, "I, a poor miserable, foolish sinner, confess unto thee all my foolishness…” Jesus reaches out to embrace us with his forgiveness, saying, “I forgive you, my dear child. You are clothed in my righteousness, it was purchased at great cost because I love you, even your foolishness cannot separate you from me.” The Bridegroom Jesus restores our relationship and our foolishness melts away.

The Bridegroom is coming sooner or later. We are prepared. We live in his forgiveness that melts away a lifetime of foolishness. We are prepared because he restores our broken relationship. He invites us into the wedding party, and so we wait patiently, for him to arrive. When the cry is heard, 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ we will rise and meet him; we have been prepared. And the party will begin. Amen.

The Peace of God, that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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