Sunday, November 22, 2015

Homily for 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.
Last Sunday, you were a sheep. This Sunday, you are a virgin. Yes, once again, your Lord Jesus is speaking to you in a parable. However, the truth is that you are not a virgin, are you. Truth be told, you are more like that woman Jesus met at the well who had had seven husbands, and the man she was presently with was not her husband. You are a spiritual adulterer and idolater; You give your fear, your love, and your trust to foreign idols and false gods. And, yet, you have repented, and you have been baptized. And, even though you were a spiritual adulterer, your Lord looks upon you as His virgin bride. In fact, He has suffered for your betrayal and your wandering eyes and hearts, and He has died for your transgressions, paying the penalty for your sins in His flesh, and He has washed you clean in His holy, innocent shed blood and has called you His beloved, His bride. This is the Lord’s work, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Yes, you are a virgin, and you are a bride in the eyes of the Lord. And, you are waiting, even now, for the arrival of your Bridegroom. But, your Bridegroom is delayed. He has been delayed for almost 2,000 years, and it may be another 2,000 years before He returns. Or, He may return today, or tomorrow, or next month. For, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Therefore, you must watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Ah, but, what does that mean? How do you watch? And, what are you watching for? Well, you are watching for the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus. That’s simple enough. However, these past few weeks you have heard warnings about false Christs that will arise in the last days. The only way to distinguish the teaching of a false Christ is by checking it against the Word of the true Christ, the Holy Scriptures. And, how do you watch? Well, the best kind of watching is done, not with your eyes, but with your ears. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, and the ears that hear what you hear. Once again, being a regular hearer of the Lord’s Word and being a regular recipient of His gifts will equip you and sustain you with eyes that see and with ears that hear. All of this is to say that, in order to be well prepared for the Bridegroom’s return, in order to be found watching when He comes, you do not need to be found doing anything, but, rather, you need to be found receiving. What must you be found receiving? Well, your Lord Jesus describes it in The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins as oil, oil in your lamps. Thus, the ultimate question that must be answered in this parable is, “What is the oil, and where can you get it?”
But first, let us consider why the oil is the all-important factor. As all ten of the maidens were virgins, it was not their virginity alone that made them more or less prepared to enter the marriage feast. Likewise, as they each, at least initially, had their own lamps burning with oil, having a lamp and oil at some time was not decisive either. Additionally, all ten virgins fell asleep, and, thus, it was not even their wakeful watching that made them well-prepared for the Bridegroom’s arrival. So then, the necessary thing that counted for preparedness when the Bridegroom arrived was the oil, and the oil alone. When the cry went out at midnight that the Bridegroom had arrived, all ten sleeping virgins awoke and began to tend to their lamps. However, five of the virgins, whom Jesus calls foolish, had run out of oil. They had not brought extra along with them and were not prepared for the Bridegroom’s delay. The other five virgins, who also slumbered, nevertheless brought extra oil with them. Because of this, Jesus calls them wise. They filled their lamps and lit them and prepared to enter the wedding feast.
Now, what is the oil? Where do you get it? How do you keep it over the course of your life? These are the questions you should be asking. What is the oil? The oil represents faith continually sustained by the means of grace, thus able to endure until Chris’s return. Where do you get it? Plainly, in the Church, for the Church is the Bride of Christ in which He is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In the Church is the womb of the baptismal font from which new Christians are born. In the Church is absolution and the forgiveness of sins. In the Church is the proclaimed Word of the Lord, the Gospel, which comforts and strengthens faith, and equips for good works to the glory of the Lord. In the Church is the body and blood of Jesus for the faithful to eat and to drink that they may persevere in this little while in which our Bridegroom is delayed. The oil is faith, and the Word and Sacraments in the Church, the means of grace, sustain faith until the Bridegroom comes. Thus, how do you keep the oil of faith over the course of your life? You come regularly and frequently to the Church to have your oil replenished and to be forgiven, comforted, and strengthened that you may persevere until He comes and be found well prepared.
That is where the five foolish virgins made haste when they awoke and realized that their lamps had gone out and that they had no more oil. Sure, they hoped to borrow some from the others, but that will not do. No one can believe for another, but each must believe for herself, each must have the oil of faith to fill her own lamp. Thus, they made haste to go and buy from the oil merchants. “Go and buy?” you protest. “But, pastor, you are always teaching us that we cannot buy, earn, or merit our justification by our works or money.” You are right, of course! Then, what does Jesus mean to say? Well, think of it this way: The time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Parousia, that is His return on the Last Day – the time of the Bridegroom’s delay – is the time of the Church. It is the time in which the faithful are gathered by the Holy Spirit around the means of grace, God’s Word and His Blessed Sacraments, that new Christians may be born, that faith may be created, strengthened, and sustained, and that sins may be forgiven. However, when the Lord returns on the Last Day, when the Bridegroom arrives, the time of the Church will be over. Thus, the five foolish virgins rushed out seeking to buy oil only to find that all the vendors were closed, not only for the night, but forever. The time in which to buy oil and to keep your lamp full with oil to spare is now. When the Lord returns, it will be to late. This is what it means to be prepared: You are prepared if you have oil in your lamp. You are prepared if your faith is being nurtured, strengthened, and preserved in the means of grace, through Word and Sacrament, in the body of Christ, the Church, His Bride.
“Ok,” you say, “but still, why does Jesus say that the virgins should go to the dealers and buy oil for themselves? You can’t buy or earn faith, right?” Right! You are absolutely right! But, what does the Prophet Isaiah say? “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” If you have oil, if you believe, if you trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, then your God-given, Holy Spirit-created faith is credited to you as righteousness. Likewise, as St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” And, “since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” You did not buy this defensive armor, but they are yours and they cover you and protect you because you have faith in Christ. The oil of faith is replenished and sustained in the same way, but you have to have it. You can’t borrow it. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. But, you must have your faith replenished through the Words and Wounds of Jesus, in the Church, through Word and Sacrament.
Therefore, if you absent yourself from the means of grace for a prolonged period of time, you are putting yourself in grave peril. No, you will not surely die, immediately, – remember who used that little trick on our First Parents – but you will die, spiritually, in time. This reminds me of the story of a pastor’s visit to a member who had stopped attending church. The pastor was welcomed in and was seated in a chair by the fire. Neither the pastor nor the parishioner spoke a word. After a while, the pastor reached out with tongs and removed an ember from the fire and placed it upon the hearth. As the silence continued, the ember grew steadily colder until it was stone cold dead. After a few moments’ silence, the pastor returned the cold, dead ember to the fire, and immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the coals burning around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, the parishioner said, “Thank you so much for your visit, Pastor, and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.” The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is just such a story. Here Jesus teaches you to keep yourself glowing with His light by remaining in His gifts where He gives them and where He has promised to be until He returns. Having oil in your lamp is not something you have to go and seek for yourself, but your Lord, your Bridegroom Jesus suffered and died and rose again to keep your lamps full through His Word and Sacraments until He returns to take you to Himself to be His Holy Bride. Until then, He provides this feast for you today, which is but a foretaste of that great wedding feast that is to come.
If you remain in Him, He has promised to remain in you. He will never leave you or forsake you. And, nothing can separate you from His love. If you remain in Him and His gifts, it matters not should He return when you are awake or when you are sleeping, for your life is in Him throughout this little while until He comes. And, your Lord Jesus exhorts you to encourage one another and build one another up in this truth. If you see that a brother or sister is missing out on the gifts, that his or her faith is growing weak, or cold, is dying, or is already dead, encourage them to come and receive the true oil of faith and be replenished. For, the time is coming when the Church will be closed and will be no more, and then it will be too late. However, today the Church is open and Jesus’ gifts are free for you to buy without cost or price. Come, and fill your lamps with the precious, life-giving oil of faith in Jesus Christ, and fear not the day and hour of His coming. Join your voice with the voice of Christ’s Church of all times and all places saying, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!” Behold! He has come. He comes. And, He is coming on the clouds. “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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