The Last Sunday of the Church Year, Sermon 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
I am occasionally guilty of cushioning the warning that Jesus gives in today’s Gospel lesson. So, that being the case, let me say this:
This Sunday is the Last Sunday of the Church year, a day where we focus on the return of Christ in glory and His command for us to be ready since that return could happen at any moment.
There’s no time to waste.
Are you estranged from your brother? Then go now and make peace with him. Be reconciled together at the altar of Christ. Do it today. Don’t wait. You may not have tomorrow.
Are you waiting to get your life in order so you can get back to church? Christ won’t delay returning until your schedule gets more flexible. So, neither should you. Whatever’s preventing you from hearing the word and filling your lamp with faith, push it off your table now. There might not be time tomorrow.
Are you waiting for whatever season it is to end so you can finally get your kids in church? Sit them down right now. Ask them “Who is Jesus?” If they can’t tell you that He’s the Son of God who died for their sins, your kids aren’t Christians, which means that neither you nor your children are ready for Christ’s return. So, bring them to church now. Have them baptized now. Pray with them now. Read the Bible to them now. Don’t delay.
When the Bridegroom arrives, there won’t be time for you to fill your lamp. Fill it now, and enjoy the immeasurable peace of readiness.
That said, I think it’s impossible to be a compassionate human being and not wonder why the wise virgins offer no real help to the foolish.
Why didn’t they share their oil with those who were ill-prepared? Why not enter into the joyous feast together?
That would be a great question if this parable were about the golden rule, but it’s not.
Today’s Gospel lesson occurs in a section of Matthew that begins “But concerning that day [the Day of the Lord, the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, concerning that day] and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).
Starting there, five parables follow, including today’s Gospel lesson, that deal thematically with being prepared for that Day.
And look at this:
In all five parables, something or someone arrives suddenly, creating a panic.
In three of the five, a key figure is delayed.
In four of the five, we’re exhorted specifically to watch and be ready.
In four of the five, again, the characters are divided into wise/faithful/good versus wicked/foolish/hesitant.
And the last three of the five show us a scene of judgment where the faithful receive a joyous reward and the unfaithful, ruthless punishment and banishment.
In context, then, it’s wrong to ask why the wise virgins didn’t share, because that’s not what it’s about.
Rather, we should ask why the foolish virgins weren’t prepared and, most importantly for us today, are you prepared?
So why weren’t the foolish virgins prepared?
And what made so the wise?
And what’s the difference?
We have to start with what they have in common.
That this is two groups of virgins, this isn’t a comparison between churched and unchurched but a comparison between the members of the visible Church.
For our purposes here today, it’s not an “Us vs. Them.” It’s just an “Us.” The wise and foolish virgins is a picture of what any congregation on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning could look like.
Hymnal in hand, no one knows the difference between the foolish and the wise. Not yet.
Or if you’re at home, everyone has their own Bible. Everyone knows where it is, right? It shouldn’t need to be dusted off. It shouldn’t be the only thing that’s keeping the couch level or the door open. And next to it, of course, is Luther’s Small Catechism.
Ang both have bookmarks, right, marking the place where, as a family, you read them for a few minutes every day.
And with them you have your own Lutheran hymnal. I say a Lutheran hymnal because, unsurprisingly, non-Lutheran hymnals don’t teach the fullness of what Lutherans believe.
We tend to think of the wise as those who have and do all the things that are common to Christian piety and practice.
And we tend to think of the foolish as those who never come to church, not even on Christmas and Easter.
But the difference between the wise and foolish isn’t a lack of the Word of God. Both have lamps. And the Word of the Lord is a lamp to the Christian’s feet and a light for the path (cf. Ps. 119:105). Jesus says in Matthew chapter five, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). Both wise and foolish have the Word and apparently good works, so even that’s not the difference.
The difference between wise and foolish isn’t Confirmation. Every confirmed Lutheran can say that they were confirmed, obviously. But can every confirmed Lutheran say that they’ve remained in the Way, the faith that they were taught?
The difference between wise and foolish isn’t confirmation, or a dusty, old bible that made its way over from Germany, or a Small Catechism with your name printed on it, or a brass plaque with “To the Glory of God” and your last name.
What an obvious thing to say, though, right?
But how many Christians read their bible to their children daily? And let’s hear that in the past tense, too.
How many teach the catechism to their household?
You’re right, of course, to think it the pastor’s responsibility to teach the faith. But you’re wrong if you think that implies parents shouldn’t or can’t.
The difference between wise and foolish isn’t in the outer observances of the Word: going to Church, opening a bible, being Baptized, receiving the Sacrament, or helping your neighbor.
The difference is this: the foolish look to humanity for their salvation, and the wise look to Christ, the Bridegroom.
The Gospel according to St. Matthew makes this point very well: Jesus’ disciples obey the Father’s will.
These are the outer observances that even the foolish appear to posses. The Word of God in deed.
We will be judged by our works.
But we will not be saved by them.
For salvation, God gives us the Holy Spirit, the oil of faith, that holds to Jesus Christ, the author of life, the author of our faith, and to Him alone.
The fools look to human reason and trust the merits of men. They never follow Jesus. The Father’s will is as foreign to them as the explanation of the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. They have the Word and heed it not. All their money, property, riches, help, and comfort are expended on lifeless things and idleness.
Sometimes the English language is fun: idols are idle.
But our God is the Lord who made us and all things and still preserves them.
The wise look to the God of Love, to Christ. They trust Him to look upon them as a groom does his bride, caring for her, not her beauty, not her wealth, not the defects he knows are there.
And that’s how Christ looks at you, as virgin souls that He desires for Himself, looking not upon your defects and your sin. For what are sins when God Himself has forgiven them in the shed blood of His son?
Faith that believes God has forgiven your sins in Christ is the oil that separates wise from foolish.
It’s not a lack of sin. Both fall asleep. And you know, “True Christians sin sometimes. But the assurance and consolation are here: Despair not! There are people in the kingdom of heaven who are sleepy, that is, sinful. God can endure sin in his kingdom; if only the sinner acknowledges his sin and repents of it, God opens the door when the sinner knocks.”
This is the oil of faith that prepares you for the end.
The difference between wise and foolish is faith.
Both appear to have good works, but that which does not proceed from faith is sin (cf. Romans 14:3).
The faith of the wise trust in Christ.
The faith of the foolish trust in themselves.
Consider this, and this may sound strange, but it’s true.
Why did the foolish ask the wise for oil?
The simplest answer is, they’ve never asked God for anything, they’ve never expected God to help, they don’t look to Him in faith, and, doubting, they look to themselves.
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, why does the rich man, in hades, ask Abraham to send Lazarus for aid?
The simplest answer is, just like the foolish virgins, he’s never asked God for anything. Why start now?
Or think of it like this: now, we don’t know the wise and the foolish. But when the Bridegroom arrives, we will all know. And those with faith will run to meet Him, and those without will remain without. For them, it will be too late.
They should’ve called out, “O Lord! Dear Bridegroom!” But as they didn’t call out [in faith], Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). But it’s as if He says, “Those who should be in are. So, depart from me!”
Now that’s a terrible judgment; to be forsaken by all creation. On that day, whoever God doesn’t know, no one will know.”
When we regard Jesus as Lord only, that’s not enough. There’s no consolation, no redemption, if all Jesus is is Lord.
So remember, what separates foolish from wise is faith that trusts Jesus to look at you as a groom does his bride.
Foolish people have no oil, no faith. When trouble comes, they don’t know who to ask, what to say, what to do, because there’s no faith there. They don’t know Jesus as merciful, so they don’t ask Him for mercy.
But the wise, and I hope this you, the wise acknowledge sin and repent of it. They trust God who forgives to also forget. They call upon Him, they look for mercy, the seek, they ask, they knock.
And so, to them, to you, God opens the door to the feast, calls you in, rejoices in you, loves you, and all of this because He knows you as His own. Rejoice!
Then, and we have to say this, too, then, He shuts the door.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!