Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon for 11/20/11--Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB 1-year)

Wise Virgins

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

The point of today's parable is preparation. Simply put, there were five virgins who were prepared to meet the bridegroom and celebrate his marriage; and there were five virgins who were not prepared and were excluded from the festivities. Both preparation and the lack of preparation carry consequences in every area of life. The student who refuses to prepare for a difficult exam will likely fail the test. The athlete who neglects preparation will likely lose. But the consequences of the lack of spiritual preparation far outweigh a failed test or a lost game. As our parable shows us, the consequences are eternal.

Jesus calls the five virgins who were prepared "wise." Now, in the Scriptures, wisdom is not equated with a high IQ or great learning. One may be wise without being very smart. In the Bible wisdom is seeing things from God's perspective. It is no wonder, then, that Moses prays in Psalm 90, "Teach us so to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Moses' prayer is not simply that we might be smart, but that we might see our fleeting days from God's perspective. And so, five of the virgins were wise. They did not live for the moment. They lived as those who had been invited to a wedding. They did not know at what hour the bridegroom would come and lead them into the wedding hall. But they knew that the bridegroom was coming; they were his invited guests. So their lives are lived toward that wedding. Nothing else was as important as was that wedding. So they are prepared for the wait. They check their lamps. They buy extra oil. Their flasks are full. No doubt they seemed kind of foolish lugging around those extra jars of oil. Maybe they were told to loosen up and have a good time, instead of running back and forth to the oil shop. Nevertheless, these wise women paid attention to the oil and when the bridegroom finally arrived, they were prepared ready for the marriage feast. But it was too late for the five foolish virgins. The bridegroom arrives while they’re off to purchase oil. They are unprepared for the feast and unable to enter into the joy of the celebration. The door is shut and they are excluded.

What does this mean for us? Jesus' own explanation of the parable says it all: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." We do not know when the Lord will return. He will come with the suddenness of the flood of Noah's day. He will come with the suddenness which caught the unbelieving population of Sodom and Gomorrah off guard. So Jesus tells us to watch. Watching does not mean speculating about the day or the hour. In the early years of the church, the Apostle Paul had to correct the Thessalonians on this very point. At the turn of the years of both 1000 A.D. and 2000 A.D., the world was predicted to end. And, of course, we’re all familiar with the failed predictions of Howard Camping, who said the world would end two different times this year. And there are many more.

As surely as our Lord came in flesh and blood to suffer and die for the sins of the world, even so He will surely come again to judge the living and the dead. But we do not know the day nor the hour. God calls us not to speculate but to be prepared. Jesus says, "Watch." We are called to vigilance. A church that ceases to watch will lose the Gospel. A church that becomes lazy or complacent regarding God's doctrine is in danger of apostasy, of loss of faith. Therefore, the Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy and all pastors: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." Our watching is not a gazing up into the heavens, but attentiveness to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He speaks to us in His Word. Again Paul wrote to Timothy, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from the truth to wander into myths." We are now living in that evil age. And so we are to watch. We are to watch by clinging to God's Word, hearing it, learning it, and taking it to heart. We, like the virgins in today's parable, are living in the evening of the wedding feast.

We are living in the time when the oil of the Word is still available. In fact, there is more than enough oil. For the oil of the forgiveness of sins purchased and won by our Savior through His atoning death on the cross is for the whole world. There is no shortage of supply in His grace and mercy. This oil is distributed now in the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of Jesus' body and blood in the Holy Supper. The wise cannot get enough of these for they always give us more of Jesus; and the more we get of Him, the more ready and eager we are to receive Him when He comes again in glory.

The wise know the One for whom they wait. The One who is coming is the Bridegroom, Christ Jesus. He is the Lord who loves His church "and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water and the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." He is coming to take the Church as His holy bride. What awaits those who are prepared for the Lamb’s High Feast? What awaits us is a new heaven and a new earth; an end to tears and sorrow; the consummation of our redemption; the fulfillment of our salvation. But for now, we wait for the Lord. The Lord said, “Behold, I am coming soon.” And even as we wait for His glorious return we pray with John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” 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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