Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
When driving, if you hear, “In one mile, turn left,” what does that mean? Slow down. Turn’s coming.
Pretty simple, right?
Well, en route to the Circuit Reformation service a few weeks ago, I was informed, very politely, “In one mile, turn left.” And I did what?
I knew I needed to listen.
I wanted to listen. I wanted to do as I knew I should.
But—when the cry went up, “Turn left,” it was too late. Like so many, I had received the warning, but I didn’t heed it carefully.
Now, in a car, that’s no big deal. You calmly slow down, turn around, and go back and make the correct turn. Or, you can do what I did and slam on your breaks and make the turn at the last possible moment.
If you never want to ride with me, I’ll understand.
The point is, we all know what the warning means, and we still fail to heed it.
Here’s another example.
That thieves exist means what? Lock your doors.
Well, how many of you, if a thief knocks on your door and asks, “How about Thursday,” how many of you reply, “I’ll be sure to leave it all unlocked”?
Or, how many of you, having heard, “In one mile, turn left,” how many of you speed up and close your eyes?
If we know the thief is coming, we’ll stay up, phone in hand, 9-1-1 dialed, ready to press “send.”
If we know the turn is coming—we know what to do, even though we don’t always do it—we know to slow down and make the turn.
But consider how different it is if you only have part of the information:
Thieves exist, and they seek to steal from you.
That’s true—but we leave our doors and windows unlocked.
In a car, when someone tells us to be looking for the turn, we drive strangely—we sit forward, open our eyes, turn the radio down (the better to see with), and look back and forth.
But when we drive the drive we’re used to driving, we arrive not remembering the trip.
Now, consider, that I’m not talking about earthly goods being stolen or you missing your turn on the way to the restaurant.
Jesus says, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish, and five 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).
You have to be ready.
In more than one way, you have to watch.
So it is with the wise and foolish virgins.
All they know is that the bridegroom is coming.
Custom dictates that they know he’s on his way—not when he will arrive. They simply had to be ready.
They had to prepare.
Of particular note is that all of them fall asleep.
Preparedness is not perfection but faithfulness.
They are all sufficiently alerted by a cry.
But after the cry—it’s too late.
Are you familiar with the phrase “it’s all over but the shoutin’”?
Here, it means that when the cry goes up, it’s no longer possible to prepare. You were to be prepared for this moment, and that moment has come. Now, the only thing that’s left is the “shoutin’,” the wedding feast, the shut door, and the judgment.
Because it’s impossible to share oil.
We make the mistake of thinking of the golden rule, that the wise should have shared with the foolish, but this parable isn’t a comparison to the golden rule but an allegory of spiritual preparedness.
It’s not that the wise should share with the foolish, rather, what separates wise from foolish is heeding the warning to be ready for the bridegroom.
“The turn is up ahead.”
We should also note that the door was shut.
The passive begs the question, “ Shut by whom?” And in this case, as it was with Noah and the ark, God shut the door.
The wise enter in, the foolish are left without, and the door is shut in such a way and by such a one that it cannot, will not be reopened.
When the cry went up, it was all over but the shoutin’.
The shoutin’ is what Jesus says to the foolish who remember the right words apart from faith that trusted them enough to prepare: ”’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (Matthew 25:11-12).
Jesus, the Bridegroom, doesn’t say, “I don’t want to know you.” He doesn’t say, “I never wanted to know you.” He doesn’t even imply that the foolish weren’t invited or wanted.
They were included in the community.
They heard. They knew. But they did not prepare. And so, purely because of their lack or preparation and readiness, they are forever unable to enter.
Now, of course, you know that I’m not just retelling some nursery rhyme. This isn’t “A Christmas Story” on TNT at Christmas, played on repeat for twenty-four hours so that all the world has multiple opportunities to watch and rejoice.
No, Jesus says to us all, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.
The oil necessary for the watch is faith that submits to Christ.
Vigilance is not a passive waiting and watching but consists of active and responsible service.
When Christ returns, He won’t ask if you had the date right but “What have you been doing? How has your faith been active?” The faithful and wise servant who hears God’s Word and does it need not worry about the timing of Jesus’ return.
That’s not works righteousness. Works can’t save.
The required oil, the faith necessary for salvation, can’t be purchased. God gives it freely in the proclamation of His Word.
God does require faith for salvation.
God does give that faith freely. What Christ earned on the Cross—forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation—God gives to us through means—Baptism, Holy Communion, the preached Word.
But He also commands that we be ready. That we watch. That our faith be active in love, sharing with others what we have received.
Because when the cry goes up, it’s all over but the shoutin’.
The turn is up ahead. You won’t be able to turn around.
The thief is on the prowl. He doesn’t alert you to his visit.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!