This is the Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year -- November 23, 2014 at
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, saying, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

“And later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year                                                                                                                                                                                                     11/23/14

Be On the Alert!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:<

On the Last Sunday in the Church Year we look at the Judgment, but today we are not going to look at the Judgment Day scene. Our look today is intended to be more personal. The judgment that we want you to consider this morning, in the light of the text, is the one you will face immediately upon leaving this world and the body you now inhabit. They are the same judgment, at least in consequence, but one in which Jesus separates the sheep from the goats is seen as the judgment of all mankind, and this one is deliberately very personal. Our theme is Be on the Alert!

The Gospel lesson is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In it, five were wise - our translation says that they were prudent - and five were foolish. We could take every element of the parable and tie it to something and make quite a story out of it, but that would actually do a disservice to the words of Jesus. He told a simple story with a very simple message, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” In other words, be prepared.

The problem the foolish young women had in our Gospel is that they were not prepared – for the wait. They did not appear to think beyond the moment, and they did not anticipate what they might need.

I suspect that the parable was heard differently when Jesus spoke it, and in the early Church, than it might be today. Back then, they were looking for the quick return of Jesus. The disciples were already eager and impatient for the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth before the ascension. The early Church harbored the anticipation that Christ was going to return soon, and so they sold their property and they often quit their jobs and they hung out together to be ready, waiting and watching for the soon return. Obviously, their eschatological expectations were not accurate. They needed this parable to teach them to be prepared for a wait that is going to be somewhat longer than they expected.

The hope was so deeply entrenched in them that when people began to die, physically, some of the earliest Christians began to fear that their loved ones had missed out on salvation. I know, it seems foolish, given the expectation of the resurrection of all flesh.

Apparently they had not paid a great deal of attention to that teaching because they were so fixed on the expectation of the end. So, they needed to hear this parable as a remedy to their impatience, and understand that the return of Jesus - the Bridegroom - might be delayed until the midnight hour.

Most of us don’t have that problem. We are clear on the fact that Jesus is not likely to return in the first fifty or sixty years. The Church today is more likely to forget about the possibility of His return than they are to grow impatient with the wait. Entire church bodies have somewhat formally abandoned the expectation of the actual, physical return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, For us, the parable is a reminder to be on the alert. Jesus is coming again, and we want to be among those prepared.

The oil for the lamps is whatever one needs to be prepared. It is tempting to call it “faith” and sing, “Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning”. Faith certainly is something we want not to run short of - and yet faith is the gift of God. It is not something we can hoard or create or sustain by our own powers. I suspect that the flame on the lamp would be a better image for faith than the oil. In fact, I don’t think we can fix whatever the oil is a symbol for too closely. It is, instead, whatever we need to continue waiting for the Bridegroom and to be prepared when He finally comes.

One thing it certainly seems to suggest is doctrine. The early Christians struggled with the wait because they were fixed on their own expectations and not paying much attention to the whole body of doctrine. They thought about the return, but they forgot about all that Jesus taught concerning the wait, and they often just skipped over the teachings about the resurrection on the last day because they so ardently expected to be standing up, still alive and looking into the sky as Jesus returned. And they will be alive, and standing, and looking into the sky - it is just that they will be alive again, not still alive.

Throughout the ages, Christians - or members of the visible Church - have lost sight of the coming of the Lord. Some have despaired of His ever coming, and others have simply figured that it would be no time soon, and so they lost their focus and got busy living in this world as though it was all there would ever be. Either way, the result is that when the call comes - or in many cases already came - they were not ready.

You see, the call comes when the Lord sends His holy angels to escort you into His heavenly presence. We call that moment when the escort arrives to receive you, “death”. For the child of God it is anything but - it is death only of the body. The saints go to live in the presence of the Lord until the moment of the resurrection, at which time they receive their bodies back, resurrected and perfected, and fit out for eternal life. Our loved ones who die in the Lord are actually more fully alive than we are, who dwell here in this flesh. They see and taste and know reality without the illusions and deceits of sin and of the ‘flesh’.

Those who refuse to keep these truths in mind as they wait are often among those foolish ones whose oil runs low, and who must run for new supply - and while they are gone, the Bridegroom comes. Of course, the real people don’t really run anywhere. That is just a dramatic device for the parable to symbolize their unpreparedness when Jesus returns. They are found without what they need. They are absent from the company of the saints - the virgins - when the Bridegroom comes.

We cannot take the parable too far, for we are not just the attendants at the wedding, we are the bride of Christ - the Holy Church. If we are missing, the Bride still marries, but we are not in attendance. Jesus tells us this parable so that we might be on the alert. That is more than merely ‘being ready’ or ‘being prepared’. It is an active state of watch. We are to be alert, prepared, and on the watch for the coming of the Bridegroom. The flame of faith, if you will, should be burning, no doubt. The oil you need to bring in plenteous store is whatever it takes to wait faithfully. I would identify it as doctrine.

You need the Word of God. You need to build your life and your values around all that it teaches. You cannot afford to expect only good stuff, when the Word teaches you that you will likely endure suffering. It not for nothing that Jesus spends so much time telling His disciples that they will lose their stuff and endure persecution – but if they remain faithful, they will receive many times what they lost, and in the resurrection, eternal life.

We need to be on the alert. The only way to do that is to take seriously what Scriptures teach concerning the life of the Christian and the life of the Church. Is Jesus returning? Yes! Is He going to return today or in the next five years? There is no way of knowing. We should be prepared for His return in case the cry, “The Bridegroom comes, come out to meet Him” comes soon. But we should also be prepared to wait, until death if necessary.

Jesus died for you, and it is clear that most who are Christians will also need to die for Jesus. Some die in persecutions, and some die in bed of old age, but so far, all have died. When death comes, the cry, “Come out to meet Him,” has come for that individual. Jesus bore the cross for our sins, and He has appointed that those who follow Him will also bear the cross. The trials and troubles and the losses that we must endure should not shake us. The fact that we must endure such things should not surprise us - the Bible tells us that it will be so. If we walk by faith and not by sight or sinful human reason, we should find that one of the sorrows we must endure is not that we did not expect such things.

Another thing you will need is prayer – and it is the gift of God. And His promise is to hear you and answer every prayer. Use that gift often, and in every moment of trouble, fear, weakness – or joy. Pray without ceasing, In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

Be on the Alert! Around us the world is changing. The hour is getting late! This is not the time to run short of patience, or lose sight of all the comforts that God has given us.

Your sins are forgiven. They are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross in your place. Now He invites you to share in the cross. He isn’t going to ask most of you to hang on one, nailed through hands and feet. The cross appointed for each of you is the one that fits you. And we have His promise that No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. You may find yourself wishing at times that the Lord did not have such a high estimate of what you are able to bear, but His promise is sure.

We must pass through many things, as Paul taught in Acts 14, where [Paul was] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." He was proclaiming the same message as Jesus was in the parable in our Gospel lesson this morning. Pay attention. Take heed to all that God teaches. Be prepared for the wait, pray without ceasing, and be on the alert, for the Bridegroom is coming - you just never know the day or the hour that He is coming for you!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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