Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon for 11/21/10--Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB 1-year)

I Don’t Know You

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have a good and gracious Father in heaven, which is shown by the fact that He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. That’s the very reason He sent His Son: so that, through Christ’s life of perfect obedience, through His death which He died on our behalf, and through His resurrection we would rise to new and eternal life. This forgiveness and life is sufficient for all people who have ever lived and who will ever live. No one need question, “Is this for me?” Indeed, it is for you and for all people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law and will of His Father for everyone. His death atoned for the sins of the whole world. And His resurrection is sufficient to raise all people to new life. Cling to this work of Jesus by faith, and the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life are yours.

Our heavenly Father does desire all men to be saved, which is why Christ’s work of atonement—His work of bringing peace between the righteous Father and His sinful children—is meant for all people. Sadly, there are some people who resist this work of Christ for them. A man cannot save Himself; but a man can resist the salvation which Jesus won for him on the cross. This is what makes the parable in our Gospel so vital: a day is coming when the door will shut, when it will be too late to stop resisting, when salvation will forever be out of reach for the faithless and unrepentant sinner. And more than that, we do not know when that day or hour will be, so the peril for the resisting and unrepentant sinner is even more urgent. Like the foolish virgins in our text, the door will be closed; they will be standing outside, the door shut and locked against them. At that time they will know the foolishness of their resistance. At that time, they will know that Jesus is Lord. They will know that He died for all people. But even calling out, “Lord, Lord!” will not help. It is too late. The door remains shut and barred against them.

So what led these foolish virgins to this point? The parable tells us, “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them.” This is compared to the wise virgins, who brought not only their lamps, but also brought with them oil to fill the lamps. Does it seem cruel to you that these virgins should be excluded just for not bringing oil for their lamps? Does it seem extreme to you that those virgins whom the parable calls “wise” would not share their oil with the foolish ones? It might seem extreme. It might seem cruel. That is the wisdom of the world speaking. By the world’s standards, it is the worst of sins not to take care of those in need. Don’t get me wrong—we in the Church especially are called upon to love and serve our neighbor. But in this case, the oil isn’t something that you can give to others. This oil, this faith, is yours—individually, personally. There is only one source of this oil of faith: the Word of God. You receive the flask in Holy Baptism, and that flask is filled in the Word of Holy Absolution, in the Word which is preached in its truth and purity, in the body and blood of Jesus. No one else’s oil of faith can fill your flask—not the faith of your parents, nor the faith of your children—and you cannot fill your flask yourself. Only Jesus can fill your flask; and while you can’t fill your own flask, you can choose not to come to this place where your flask can be filled. You can choose to resist the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Fountain and Source of faith. This is true even for those who consider themselves to be Christians. Having a lamp—having been baptized—is no guarantee of salvation, not when you willfully resist the work which Christ has done on your behalf. After all, even the wise virgins fall asleep. You can choose ignorance, and you might even find earthly happiness in it; but you are choosing your own eternal destruction. It will not be God’s fault. He did everything for you; all you have to do was cling to the gifts He gives freely by the faith He has given you in Holy Baptism. If you find the door closed against you, you have only yourself to blame. The day is coming when that door will be closed permanently, and no begging or pleading will open it to you. And that will be a dark day indeed for those who have resisted, who have not repented, who have not believed that Jesus died for their sake. The odd thing is, the world is fascinated by the Last Day, but the world doesn’t believe that day will actually come. They do not believe the world will pass away. They do not believe that there will be judgment against those who refuse Christ. So much the worse for the world; for the time of grace will end, and it will never return to them.

But for the faithful, the wise virgins who brought the flask of faith—filled with the oil of the Word through Holy Absolution and faithful preaching and the body and blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper—a joyous and eternal wedding feast awaits you. Like the foolish virgins, the wise virgins know neither the day nor the hour. Though you have fallen asleep along with the foolish, the Lord has filled your vessel with the oil of faith, so the time when you rise up to find that the Bridegroom has come is not a frantic or desperate time, searching for the oil that no one else can give you. Instead, you will find that your lamp is lit, your flask is full, and Jesus has the door open for you; and the eternal wedding feast which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world will be yours. Just as your faith cannot fill the flask of another, the lack of faith of those around you will not mark you as a stranger. Jesus will welcome you as an invited and beloved guest, and you will have a place set apart especially for you. The time of grace will never end for you. You receive a foretaste of that feast in the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, a bit of heaven on earth.

The day is coming; do not doubt it. The day is coming when the bridegroom shall come and the door will be shut and the eternal feast will begin. As you wait for that day, He makes His way to you now in hidden ways—in the word of forgiveness, in the preached Word which convicts you of your slumber and then rouses you with Christ’s resurrection, in the body and blood of Jesus—and in these gifts He fills your flask with the faith which will sustain you as you await His return in glory. Continue to bring your flask to this place, where the Lord will top off your flask of faith with more of His absolution, more of His preaching, more of His body and blood. You can never have too much. The day is coming, and so is the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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