Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Last Sunday of the Church Year (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.
Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year. It is no coincidence that the end of the Church Year is similar in theme and tone to the its beginning, for both are concerned with your being prepared for the Lord’s coming, His Advent, as King and Judge on the Last Day. You are well prepared when you have taken care to maintain the oil in your lamps, your faith, by receiving the Lord’s gifts – His Word, Absolution, and Supper – regularly and frequently, and you are actively watching and waiting for His arrival at a day and hour you do not know.
For, the reign of Jesus Christ is like this: Ten virgins took their lamps to meet the Bridegroom. Five were wise and five were foolish. The wise virgins were careful to take extra oil for their lamps; the foolish virgins were complacent and took no extra oil. All ten virgins fell asleep and their lamps went out. When the call came unexpectedly that the Bridegroom was near, they all arose. The wise filled their lamps and lit them and entered the wedding hall; the foolish went in search of oil for their lamps, and when they returned the Bridegroom had arrived and the door to the wedding hall was shut. The foolish virgins pleaded in desperation, “Lord, open to us.” But the Bridegroom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
What does this mean? This means that true faith, faith that clings to Jesus Christ alone and receives forgiveness, life, and salvation is not just any ol’ faith, but it is a living, active, and fruitful faith, a faith that is not merely received once and neglected, but a faith that is actively watching, expectantly waiting, and is being regularly and frequently maintained through reception of the Lord’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. You see, if the temptation for Roman Catholics is to have faith in their works, so, in contrast, the temptation for Protestants is to have faith in their faith. But, I tell you that faith in your faith is no better than faith in your works; both are idolatry and neither will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
But you, my Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ are not Protestants any more than you are Roman Catholics. In fact, you are considered too Catholic for the Protestants, and also too Protestant for the Catholics. And, that’s just fine; that’s where you should be. For, you confess that you are saved by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ, and not by your works, but you also confess that your faith is itself the work of God the Holy Spirit through His Word, maintained and sustained by regular and frequent reception of His Word and Blessed Sacraments, His Word made visible, tangible, and edible. If you do not maintain your faith by regular and frequent reception of His Word and Blessed Sacraments, it will grow weak, it will become sick, and, in time, it will die. And yet, look around you. You can see all too clearly the absent saints, the empty spaces where they used to sit. I’m not speaking of someone or a family that are absent every once in a while, but those you haven’t seen in months, years, not even on Christmas and Easter. I am telling you that they are in grave danger and that you are your brother’s keeper! And, do not quote to me the Satanic lie that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. That is no different than saying that you do not have to eat and drink and be clothed in order to live! Yes, reading your Bible at home is a good and proper thing to do, but it is no substitute for hearing His proclaimed Law and Gospel and for communing with your family of faith in the one body and blood of Jesus Christ.
I am not saying that such persons are not Christians, but I am saying that they are fools and that they are putting their salvation at risk – and if you do not reach out to them, you are letting them do so and you will be held accountable. And, do not quote to me the Satanic lie that this is solely the work of the Pastor; it is not. But, Christian, loving care and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, absent or present, is what it means to be a Christian. Likewise, just because you are in church regularly and frequently does not necessarily mean that your lamps are full and you are not at risk. No, but your faith must be active and living, bearing Christ’s fruits of love for one another, mercy, grace, charity, and forgiveness. You know what happens to the fruitless branch; it is cut off and burned in unquenchable fire. Your Spirit-created, given, and sustained faith must be cared for and maintained actively, intentionally, with fear, love, and trust in God. When Christ returns He will know if you are a sheep or a goat, for this will have been displayed in your lives in the sheepy and goatish deeds you have done to your brothers and sisters in Christ and to your neighbors in the world.
Look, all ten virgins had lamps full of oil; they were all Christians. Moreover, all ten virgins fell asleep; they were all sinful and in need of forgiveness, and their works could not save them. There was no distinction between them save this one fact: The five wise virgins actually cared enough about their faith and salvation, actually loved their Lord enough to take care of their faith, to maintain it, to bring extra oil not knowing when the Bridegroom would appear. In this regard St. Paul exhorts you saying: “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” “Encourage one another and build one another up.”
No man is an island. You were not created to be alone. In fact, the LORD has spoken, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Think about it: When you were born, you had a mother and father, you had grandparents, and likely siblings. This is God’s design, His intention; it is natural. You were created and designed by God for a relationship with Him and with others – for both, one is not exclusive of the other. So, when you were born again in Holy Baptism you were born into a family, the Church, born anew for a right relationship with God and with your neighbor in Christ. If you cut yourself off from the Church you do harm to yourself and to your family. And, if you do not care about your absent brothers and sisters in Christ your faith is no faith at all.
Do not put off for tomorrow what you must be about today! The LORD has not promised you a tomorrow, therefore today is the day of salvation. You must live each and every day that is given you as though it might be your last – indeed, it truly might be. Each and every day you awake, give thanks to the LORD. Consider your sins and repent that you may receive His absolution anew. In your life today, do not cling to material and worldly things that are passing away, that are stored up for fire when Christ returns, but cling to Christ alone and love your neighbors as Christ has loved you. Be at peace with one another, and do not hate them because they have strayed, but love them and reach out to them – they are your family, they are your brothers and sisters, and you are your brother’s keeper.
That is what I am doing for you here today, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. Not only am I my brother’s keeper, but I am your Pastor, a called, ordained, and accountable undershepherd given the oversight and care of your souls. I will do neither you, nor myself, any good by sugar-coating the Truth and appealing to your itching ears preaching “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace. I promise you, I will not do that. And, you must not do that either. Therefore I say to you, “Wake up! The Bridegroom is coming! Light your lamps and keep them burning. Do not be persuaded that because He is delayed that He is not coming! That is a Satanic lie and your sinful flesh wants to believe it!”
Yet, still, there is Peace with God, and it is a Peace that exceeds our human understanding, a Peace that the world cannot give, and you may bask in that Peace and commune with Him right here, right now in this place where Christ is present with His Words and His Wounds to forgive and to renew you, to strengthen you, to fill you will the oil of faith, His Holy Spirit. But, He does not fill you for your sake alone, for you were not made and designed to be alone, but He fills you to overflowing with His forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that you will have oil to spare to share with your brothers and sisters in Christ and with your neighbors to the glory of His Name. Come, now, and clothe yourselves in the blood of Christ who is your Peace, who has made you clean that you may be His Bride, spotless, pure, holy, and righteous. Wake up! The watchmen are calling! The Bridegroom is here! Oh, where are His virgins wise? “Now come, thou Blessed One, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, Hail! Hosanna! We enter all the wedding hall to eat the Supper at Thy call.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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