Sunday, November 20, 2011

Homily for The Last Sunday of the Church Year



Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Every bit as much as the sheep and the goats of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson were both part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, so today all ten of the virgins, both the wise ones and the foolish ones, are invitation holders to the marriage feast of the Bridegroom. That is to say, they’re already in good with the Bridegroom. They’ve been chosen. It’s party time for the whole lot of them! All the young ladies need to do is, well, nothing at all, but wait…, wait for the Bridegroom to arrive.

But, waiting is boring, right? It certainly can be. And, this fact is probably best exhibited in children. Children often find it very difficult to wait. Think of the weeks and the days before a birthday or a visit from grandparents or a favorite cousin. Think of the months before Christmas or a trip to Disney World. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Children often find it difficult to wait. And, adults, too, often find it difficult to wait. So, while we wait we fill our lives with distractions, a book or a movie, maybe a crossword puzzle. And, when young people get bored, well, there are temptations to do things that aren’t well thought out and are bad for them, things that get them into trouble or worse.

This was true for our ten virgins as well. In their waiting, no doubt they primped and they partied, they danced and they talked, all the while biding the time until the Bridegroom arrived. However, the Bridegroom was delayed. Indeed, we are often faced with delays in this life, are we not? And, we can empathize with the virgins’ exasperation as they cried out, “Oh no, how much longer do we have to wait?” Well, they partied and primped some more, they danced and talked some more, and, eventually, all ten of the young ladies fell asleep. Yes, all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

And then comes the crux of the story, literally, the crisis, the judgment: At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ And, a piece of information that we were told at the very beginning of the story bears fruit: Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Thus, when the delayed Bridegroom arrived in the middle of the night, the foolish young ladies realized that their lamps were going out and that they did not have any more oil. But, why was this piece of information given at the very beginning of the story? Likely, it was to show that it was neither the amount of oil that the virgins possessed nor their preparedness that merited their attendance at the wedding banquet, but it was the Bridegroom’s gracious invitation alone. No works or deeds, words, or even the thoughts of the heart get you into, or keep you out of, the kingdom of heaven, but the Lord’s gracious invitation alone, received and kept in faith alone or rejected.

And so, it is about having oil, but it is not about how much, for the oil is a symbol of faith and trust and it is a symbol of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Oil isn’t something that you do or think or speak, but oil is something that you have, or something that you don’t have. Faith is like oil, either you have it, or you don’t. It’s not about how much faith you have, after all, faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, and I reckon that you don’t have faith like that, neither do I. But, faith in Christ saves, regardless of how big or small, strong or weak that faith might be. Faith in Christ saves because it receives what Christ has done and it clings to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The oil represents faith and Christ’s gift of His Holy Spirit. There is no place and no one from which to purchase faith, and you cannot borrow or receive the faith of another, you have to have your own. Thus, the failing of the five foolish virgins was not that they didn’t have faith, they did, but rather that they allowed their faith to grow weak and thin. Oh, they thought they had enough to be prepared when the Bridegroom came. They were very practical, just like you, thinking that they would only bring enough oil to get them into the early evening when the Bridegroom was scheduled to arrive. But, they didn’t count on his being delayed. Does anyone count on a delay? But, delays happen, don’t they, and then it’s best to be prepared. The five wise virgins seemed foolish in carrying around extra flasks of oil. It was as if they overpacked for a one night stay. Nevertheless, when the Bridegroom was delayed, they had enough oil to wait Him out.

Jesus told this parable to His disciples in the days preceding His crucifixion and death. He knew that they would understand His coming again to mean that He would come very soon. And so, Jesus is both warning them and comforting them, and us, for a delay in His coming. He tells them not simply to wait for Him but also to watch for His coming at a day and hour they do not know. They are to not simply believe, but they are to trust and wait in eager expectation – that is what faith does. They are to take the example of the five wise virgins and bolster their faith, feed their faith, strengthen their faith for the waiting and the watching so that, no matter when Jesus returns, they will be ready and prepared, not by their thoughts, words, and deeds, but because they have faith. But, how do they do this? Where do they go to bolster, feed, and strengthen their faith? You cannot buy faith from vendors. You cannot borrow the faith of others. You have to have and receive faith for yourself. Where then is faith given, fed and strengthened, replenished, and sustained? In and through the means that Christ has appointed during this time in which He is delayed in returning: The preaching of the Gospel. The gift of the Spirit in Holy Baptism. The forgiveness of sins in Absolution. And communion with Jesus in His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Through each of these means of grace Christ has promised to be present with you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. There is no better way to be prepared for His coming than remaining in His gifts. And, these gifts are not something that you must do for Him, but they are the fruits of what He has done for you in His suffering and death upon the cross. He promises you that if you remain in Him that He will remain in you and that through these means He will be with you always, even to the end of the age. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.

For, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven is a gift of God’s perfect and uncompromising grace for all people regardless of their thoughts, words, and deeds for the sake of His son, the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. He has prepared everything for everyone and He has called all the world to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You are invited. You are in good with God because of Jesus. Do you believe this? If so, then keep on believing this. Keep your faith alive and strong, even if He is delayed in His coming. Wait for His coming. Watch for His coming. Be prepared for His coming by bolstering, feeding, and strengthening your faith. Yeah, I know it’s hard to wait. God knows it’s hard for you to wait too. He knows that you will be distracted. He knows that you will fail at times. He knows that you will fall asleep, that you may even be asleep when Jesus returns. But faith is like oil in a lamp. If you have faith, and if you are sustained and kept in faith by His gracious gifts, then you are well prepared for His coming, even if you fall asleep. For the trumpet will sound, “Here is the Bridegroom! Wake up! Wake up!” Then, all you virgins, made pure, spotless, innocent, and holy in the blood of the Lamb, will come out to meet Him and will enter the marriage feast of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. But, for now, while we are waiting and watching with eager and hopeful expectation, we gather around and receive this foretaste of that feast to come in Holy Communion with our Lord who has come, who comes to us now, and who is coming for us at a day and an hour we do not know. Therefore, with the Church of Christ of all times and of all places we cry out, “Maranatha,” come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: