Sunday, November 23, 2014

Homily for The Last Sunday of the Church Year - Sunday of the Fulfillment (Trinity 27)

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.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and everything that fills them, and it was good. And, when God created man, and woman out of man, He declared the work of His Word and His hands to be very good. But then, quite literally, all hell broke loose. Or, to be more accurate, hell was invited in. Hell was welcomed into God’s paradise by the man and the woman that He had made. He gave them the freedom to choose against Him, if they so desired, and, despite all the beauty, all the love, and all the grace they enjoyed from the LORD, Satan convinced them that God was holding out on them. And so, they took the bait. And, they took the bite. And, their eyes were opened, and they knew both good and evil. However, the evil they came to know was not from God, but it was what came out of their hearts and out of their mouths now that they knew a will other than the LORD’s will – their own will. They were ashamed at their created nakedness. They were afraid of their loving Creator and God. They knew that He was just and true, but they resented Him for it. Anger began to grow. They began to die.
The LORD knew that this would happen, and He created the world and the men in it anyway. Why? Because, it was good. Because it was very good. And, because it was worth it. And so, when things went the way He always knew that things would, the LORD set about to doing what He always knew He would do. He began the work of creating a new creation. He began to make all things new: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” You see, I think too often we imagine the new creation to be something in the future, something far off, something that is yet to come. However, your LORD would have you believe, trust, and see with the eyes and ears of faith that the new creation has already begun, and that it is even now happening, even as it is yet to be fulfilled. For, the new creation began with Jesus’ death when He proclaimed “It,” that is, the work of making all things new, “is finished.” And yet, still, the new creation began to break forth into this fallen and broken world and create it anew when Jesus rose again from the dead. And, the new creation will be fulfilled and revealed in its fullness when Jesus returns again in glory. Yes, for that day the faithful await patiently, longingly, and faithfully – the day when souls and bodies will be reunited and glorified, the day when we will live with our LORD and our God in His new creation forever, where there is no weeping or sorrow, no suffering or disease, and no death, but a fulfillment, a completion, and a joy that we can scarcely begin to imagine. Then the LORD will be our God, and we will be His people, just as it was meant to be in the beginning.
Yet, even before Christ, the faithful walked in the new creation through faith in the LORD’s Word of promise. The faithful could be glad and rejoice in Jerusalem as a joy, even amidst weeping and cries of distress. And so, too, do you walk in the new creation, though you do not see it with your eyes, for you believe and trust in the Lord’s Word of promise fulfilled in Jesus. Even now the veil is being lifted off the new creation ushered in by Jesus, which will not be fully revealed until the day of our Bridegroom’s return when every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord to the glory of God the Father.
The beautiful Gospel promise of restoration, recreation, and renewal proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah is rooted and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The wolf of the Father’s wrath against our sin is sated in the sacrificial death of the Lamb Jesus Christ, His Son. In Jesus, the wolf and the lamb graze together and lie down together in peace, just as the angels proclaimed at His birth: “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
But, your enemy, Satan, wants you to not believe this. Therefore, he lies to you and he deceives you so that you focus only upon the tears and the cries of distress, violence, wars, terrorism, and death in this world. These trials are the result of sin, having their origin not in the LORD. And yet, it is the LORD who permits them to befall you. He permits you to suffer trial and tribulation so that you do not put your trust in the things of this world, which are passing away, but that you trust in Him and in His Word. Satan would have you believe that there is no God, or that, if there is, He is either impotent to help you or He simply doesn’t care to. Satan would have you believe that things merely continue on as they always have and that your lot in life is merely what you see with your eyes and hear with your ears unassisted by faith. Satan would have you believe that there is no reason for hope, for yourself or for anyone else, and that you should, therefore, put your fear, love, and trust in the material things of this world and life, and in human things and human institutions, for these are all that there are.
Thus, St. Paul exhorts you to be watchful. For, you are not in darkness any longer, but you are “children of light, children of the day.” You “are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Therefore, Paul warns you, “Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Moreover, St. Paul exhorts you to clothe yourself in the Lord and His righteousness as a breastplate and helmet. For, we are at war, and our only defense is Christ and His Word and Sacraments. These sustain us as we wait and watch for the Bridegroom’s coming. In these, we are well prepared for His coming at any day, at any hour, in darkness or in light. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” St. Paul exhorts you to remember this Word of truth and to “encourage one another and build one another up” with it.
Likewise, Jesus’ Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is an exhortation to watchfulness. Jesus warns the faithful to not become comfortable and secure in this world and life, which are passing away, but to remain sober and vigilant, always watching as you wait for His return. However, Jesus’ parable gets to the heart of what you put your trust in, and what is the source of your comfort, while you watch and wait. All ten virgins had their lamps, but only five had enough oil to last throughout the Bridegroom’s delay. You see, the five foolish virgins were comfortable and secure that they had enough oil. So, what did they put their faith and trust in? What was the source of their comfort and security? It wasn’t the oil, or they surely would have brought more with them. No, the five foolish virgins put their faith and their trust in their own reason. They reasoned the probability of the Bridegroom’s return, they gambled, attempting to get by with as little oil as necessary.
It is the oil that is of utmost importance in the parable. It seems clear that the oil is a symbol of faith and trust. However, it would be wrong to focus upon the amount of oil, or the amount of faith, that the virgins had, for, if there is oil or faith at all, of any amount, the lamp of the soul burns brightly. Rather, what matters is the attitude the virgins have toward their oil and their faith and, ultimately, towards the Bridegroom Himself. For, if they recognize that the oil of faith is of utmost value and importance, then they will take care to not run out. However, if they place their faith and trust in something else, then they will become careless with the oil, and with their faith, and will allow themselves to become precariously low, or to run out altogether. Therefore, it is important to have the oil of your faith replenished, and you must take caution to not let it run low or be depleted altogether.
So, how does a faithful virgin keep up her stock of oil? How does a faithful Christian replenish and maintain their faith? The answer is the same as was given by St. Paul: “Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” That is to say, hear the Word of the LORD and receive His Blessed Sacraments. Permit Him to fill you with the oil of His Holy Spirit that He may sanctify and keep you in faith so long as He may tarry. Indeed, you must think of the Church as the inn under whose care the Good Samaritan Jesus has given you to provide and care for you until His return. He has paid dearly for you and for your care in His own holy, innocent shed blood. All you have to do is receive, believe, and trust in Him and His gifts, and you are well-prepared for His return on any day, at any hour, whether you are awake or sleeping.
Dearly beloved, herein we finish the course of another year lived in the LORD’s grace. And, as we look forward to the beginning of another year next Sunday, the First Sunday in Advent, let us commit ourselves to cherishing and maintaining the blessed oil of faith the LORD has filled the lamps of our souls with. Let us devote ourselves to His Word and to His life-giving and faith-sustaining Sacraments. Let us hunger and thirst always for His righteousness and refuse to settle for what we can scrape by with. And, let us see with the eyes and the ears of faith the new creation, which is already present, and which is gradually being unveiled. For, already now the wolf and the lamb graze and lie down together, for God is well pleased with you, just as you are, through faith in His Son Jesus, with whom He is fully pleased.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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