Sunday, November 26, 2017

Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB-A)

Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Take note of how Jesus describes the Judgment on the Last Day: “He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” You see, the people are already either sheep or goats. In a very real sense, they have been judged already. For, as the preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Therefore, what Jesus describes in Matthew 25 is, in actuality, the sorting and the rendering of the sentence – eternal life in heaven, or eternal damnation in hell. For, as St. John proclaims, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. He gives them eternal life, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.
Now, to be sure, with just a casual hearing, it may sound as though, on the Last Day, that you will be judged on account of your works. Truly, we confess as much in the Athanasian Creed, which I know brings many of you consternation each year when we confess it together on Trinity Sunday saying, “And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.” However, you must understand that there is only one hope for your works to be counted as good, and that hope is that God the Father views your works through the purifying lens of Jesus’ holy, innocent shed blood. For, good works do not, and cannot, justify, for they are produced, only and always, by fallen, sin-corrupted men and women. Thus, even the Prophet Isaiah confessed of himself saying that the very best of his works were but filthy rags.
And so it is that the goats will stand before the Lord on the Last Day with only the filthy rags of their sin-corrupted works. And, because of this, the Lord will judge them cursed and will sentence them to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” However, the sheep, too, will stand before the Lord on the Last Day with only the filthy rags of their sin-corrupted works. And, yet, they will be judged “blessed by [the] Father” and they will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world.” So, if both the sheep and the goats stand before the Lord with their sin-corrupted, filthy-rag-like works, then why are the sheep judged blessed and why are the goats judged cursed? Well, it’s not the works, but it’s the way in which the Lord looks upon the works and upon those who perform them. For, they are, both the sheep and the goats, fallen, corrupted sinners. And, if they were to be judged by their works alone, naked, in and of themselves, then they would all be damned. However, the sheep have something that the goats don’t have; the sheep have the sprinkled, purifying blood of Jesus, which speaks a better Word than the accusing blood of Abel. The holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus does not make their works to be good or holy, and neither does it make the person to be righteous or holy, but it does change the way God the Father looks at you and at your works. For, in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Lord looks at your sin-corrupted, filthy-rag-like works and He sees only goodness and holiness and righteousness. And, in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Lord looks at your goatish self and He sees only His precious, holy, righteous, and beloved sheep. Therefore, on the Last Day, if you are a sheep, you are a sheep, not because of your works, but you are a sheep because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. You are counted as a righteous sheep because you trust not in your works for justification before the Lord, but your faith and your trust is in Jesus Christ and in His meritorious work alone. The goats will be those whose fear, love, and trust for justification before the Lord is in something, or someone else, most typically in themselves.
Still, you do not suddenly become a sheep or a goat on the Last Day, but you are a sheep or a goat now. Yet, you are a sheep or a goat now in the same way, and by the same means, that you will be recognized as a sheep or a goat on the Last Day – by the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. You see, we all start out as goats. The Holy Spirit calls you to be His sheep by the Gospel, gathers you and enlightens you with His gifts, and sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. Thus, your being a sheep is objective. It comes from outside of you. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. However, once you became the Lord’s sheep, then you began to do truly sheepy things. In your God-given sheepishness, you began to desire to do the sheepy things your Lord desires and commands you to do. You began to do works that are truly good – good, not because they are good in themselves, for no filthy-rag-like work of a corrupted sinner is good in itself, – but good before the Lord because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. This, the Church calls sanctification, and it flows out of, and is the fruit of, your justification. When the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel, and gathered and enlightened you with His gifts, He also sanctified you – He declared you to be holy in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. But then, the Holy Spirit continued, and He continues still, to actually make you to be holy.
The Holy Spirit makes you to actually be holy, not all at once mind you, for you could not endure such a thing, but gradually, over the entire time of your life. He makes you holy through the trials and tribulations you face and endure. He makes you holy through the selfless acts of love and mercy and compassion with which you serve others as you have received the same from the Lord yourself. He makes you holy when you suffer and endure ridicule and persecution for the sake of Jesus. In all these ways, and in many more, the Holy Spirit sanctifies you, He makes you to be holy, even as He has already declared to you be holy in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. However, you will not be fully holy, perfectly holy, until the Lord raises you from death on the Last Day. Therefore, throughout your life, from its new beginning in Holy Baptism until your death, you live in the grace of being declared holy before the Lord by the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus in which you trust solely and completely for justification before the Lord. That is what makes you sheep, even if you are far from a perfect sheep and sometimes, even frequently, do goaty, rather than sheepy, things.
The truth is that, when you are doing the sheepy things you have been called to do, you typically are not aware that you are doing them. You are unaware because you are simply doing what sheep do – eating, drinking, following your Shepherd, lying down and resting, etc. More than that, however, you are doing what you have been called and given to do in all the relationships you have with other people. The Church calls this your vocation. Are you a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, a son or a daughter, an employer or an employee, a teacher, a preacher, a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker? Your vocation(s) is where your Lord has called you to live and serve as His sheep, to do the sheepy things He has called you to do. And, on the Last Day, the Lord’s sheep do not recall serving Him when He was hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or imprisoned because they were simply doing what they were given to do, to those whom the Lord had given them to do them to. Moreover, they did not keep a tally of their good works, for they knew that their works were not good enough to merit anything, but that the Lord counted them as His sheep, not because of their works, but because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus.
In contrast, the goats were busy doing what goats do – and, frankly, that often doesn’t look a whole lot different than the sheep! – foraging for food, wandering off on their own, seeking to satisfy their every desire and amusement, etc. While they may still serve their neighbor in various ways, they do not do it with the awareness and intentionality of their God-given vocations, but they do it for the praise they receive from men, with the expectation of a return, or perhaps from a purely humanitarian sense of what is right to do towards one’s fellow man. However, the reason that they are goats is not because of their works, but it is because they have refused, or failed to receive, the Lord’s gracious gift in Jesus’ holy, innocent shed blood.
So, what is the point of today’s Gospel? Very simply, it is this: You are justified, you are a sheep, by faith and trust in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus – period. If your faith and your trust are in Jesus, if you are baptized into His death and resurrection, if you regularly receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament, then you are a holy and righteous sheep before the Lord and you can take comfort and be secure in your justification and salvation, for it is not by your works that you are justified and saved, but it is by Christ’s work for you in which you trust. And, because you are a sheep, you will do sheepy things – period. Don’t bother to count them, and most certainly do not succumb to the temptation to put your trust in them. Don’t boast about them, but give thanks to God for them, that He has given them to you to perform for the sake of others to the glory of His Name.
And, because you are the Lord’s sheep, continue to follow your Good Shepherd and to receive from Him the good things He gives you to forgive yours sin, to strengthen your faith, and to sustain and equip you for the sheepy good works He has called and given you to perform. That is to say, continue to gather here on the Lord’s Day and on each and every Feast Day, with the rest of the flock the Spirit has called, gathered, sanctified, and kept in this place around the Holy Word and the Blessed Sacraments of Christ. The Spirit gathers you here as He gathered Noah and his family in the ark to save you from the destroying flood of God’s wrath against sin. That Ark was Jesus in whom you have died and have been raised. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will bear much, and sheepy, fruit to the glory of His Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving (Harvest Festival)

Luke 12:13-21; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Deuteronomy 26:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Giving thanks is the natural fruit of justification, trust and faith in God for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Thanksgiving blooms naturally from a Christian, the way plump and juicy bunches of grapes burst forth from the vine. Yet, there are many things that will hinder a Christian from giving thanks, amongst them being covetousness and greed.
These are no minor sins. Indeed, God has given no less than two Commandments against covetousness and greed, the Ninth and Tenth – three, if you count the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.” These, like all sins, are ultimately sins against God, a transgression of the First Commandment, as the covetous and the greedy place their fear, love, and trust in some material or worldly created thing over and above the Creator of all things. Thus, in book two of The Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Dante described the covetous and the greedy as being bound and laid face down upon the ground for having concentrated too much on earthly thoughts.
We are all susceptible to covetousness and greed. Indeed, these were present and active in the Garden when our First Parents desired what God had forbidden, not only to eat the forbidden fruit, but to be their own gods, producing no fruitful thanksgiving and praise to God their Creator, but only the fruit of sin, which is death. We transgress the Ninth, Tenth, Seventh, and First Commandments, and probably others too, when we are anxious and worried about what we will eat and wear, and when we place our trust in our own works, wealth, and prosperity as did the man in Jesus’ parable this evening.
In answer to two men in the crowd who were disputing over an inheritance, Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then He told them a parable about a rich man whose land produced plentiful crops so that his barns were filled and he had no more room to store his grain. After considering, the man decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones to store all his grain and his goods. Then the man said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
To our American, independence-idolizing ears, the man’s reasoning likely sounds good, even praiseworthy. After all, it’s his grain, his barns, his land; he should be able to do whatever he likes with what is his. That’s the American dream, right? That’s what we all hope to achieve in our retirement, if not sooner – independence, the freedom to not depend on anyone: parents, children, neighbors, government, God. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Sounds good, right? In fact, most of us will be doing just that tomorrow on the day we, as a nation, have designated a Day of National Thanksgiving. But, how many will be giving thanks? What will they be thankful for? And, who will they be thanking? How many will thank no one but themselves?
The rich man who tore down his barns and built bigger ones trusted only in himself. He was pleased with himself and thankful to himself for his own efforts. Was the land really his? No. Did he produce the seed that grew into crops? Did he make the rain to fall and the sun to shine that the seed might grow and be fruitful? No. No, truly, even the man’s life was not his own, just as your life is not your own, and that very night God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Relax, eat, drink, and be merry, for I have ample goods laid up for many years? Today, you are more likely to hear this adaptation: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. For, this is the common tomorrow that all men face, sooner or later. Therefore, since we will not live forever in this life as it is, and we all know that hearses don’t pull U-Hauls – that is to say, “You can’t take it with you.” – the question is, “How, then, shall we live?” However, this isn’t so much a decision that you need to make as it is fruit that you will bear when you have faith and trust in God, the Creator and giver of all things, even your life. Better, then is the way J.R.R. Tolkien put it in The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
St. Paul explains saying, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” For, Paul continues, “[The LORD] has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And, the result of this is that “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
This is to say that your life, possessions, wealth, time, talents, and treasure are all precious gifts to you of God’s most loving grace. He gives them to you to use, for yourself and your family, and He makes you a steward and manager of His gifts to use for others. This is, in part, how you give thanks to God for His love, faithfulness, and providence – by being generous with His gifts, you bear the fruits of faith, which are living proof that you love the Giver more than the gifts. This is your confession in action of your faith in the LORD, who graciously provides you all that you need to sustain your body and life.
No man is an island, but we are all conceived and born into families, communities, villages, and nations. We are our brother’s keepers, and they are ours. Recognition of this fact does not make us socialists, but Christians. The most important fruit that is born of such faith and trust in God is freedom from the slavery of idolatry. Because you are a slave to Christ, you are free to live in His grace and receive His gifts, no strings attached. Therefore, you are free to freely share His gifts and give them to others, knowing that you are losing nothing, for your God who graciously gives you all things will not withhold from you all that is needful and good.
On this National Day of Thanksgiving, we remember the pilgrims who came to the New World with little but the clothing on their backs. After much toil, tribulation, and suffering, they were thankful; they were thankful for the land, for food, for shelter, for friendly neighbors, and for their own lives. They were also thankful for freedom: religious freedom, political freedom, freedom to taxed only with representation, and freedom to a fair trial and justice. Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, because of our prosperity and wealth, we take much for granted and falsely believe that all we have is the fruit of our labors and rightfully ours alone. As a result, we are not thankful, and if we give, we often do so with somewhat less than a cheerful heart.
Well, charity does begin at home, and thanksgiving begins at the altar. We gather here this evening to receive God’s gifts and to offer Him thanks and praise. He graciously forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, and gives us eternal life that we can live and worship and share His gifts without fear of not having enough or running out. He fills you until you are overflowing, then He keeps on pouring and giving that you may be both blessed and a blessing. “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Zephaniah 1:7-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that is what contemporary popular Christianity has become. It is Deism, because, while some sort of god or deity is believed in, he, she, it, or they are not believed to be present, active, and involved in our world and lives, but rather distant and far off, to be called upon only when needed, but paid no heed when things are going well. It is Therapeutic, because what god wants for us most of all is that we be happy. And, it is Moralistic, because what god wants from us most of all is that we be kind to each other and tolerant. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the religion of those who are “spiritual, but not religious.” It is the religion of Joel Osteen and Norman Vincent Peale who preach The Power of Positive Thinking and how to live Your Best Life Now. Accordingly, god doesn’t expect you to be perfect, and it goes without saying that things like sin, repentance, and judgment are not to be mentioned. All god wants is for you to try your best to be good, to be happy and feel good about yourself, and to not judge other people. That’s it! And, that’s what constitutes Christianity for the vast majority of Americans today. God help us. Only He can.
Our God is not distant and far off, but He is ever present and fills all things. Not only is He involved in our world and our lives, but He upholds, sustains, and directs all things in accord with His holy and righteous Word and will. Those “who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘the LORD will not do good, nor will He do ill’,” those who say, “There is peace and security,” deceive themselves and the truth is not in them, for “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast,” and He “will come like a thief in the night” “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Such people are guilty of the sin of acedia, spiritual sloth, indifference, apathy, and lukewarmness. They go about their lives without regard for the Word and Commandments of the LORD, without regard for God at all until some trial comes upon them. They think themselves wise while denying the Truth, that sinful immorality is real and has real temporal and eternal consequences, claiming to worship the LORD and follow Jesus while blessing and practicing immorality and teaching others to do the same. They call evil good and good evil. They think they are enlightened, while they walk in the darkness of sin and death. They consider themselves woke, when they are deep in spiritual drunkenness and sleep.
Once were all of you. Once you were children of darkness, but now you are children of light by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God made flesh Jesus Christ into Whom you have been baptized and in Whom you place your faith and trust for salvation. Still, the lure of man’s wisdom, which is foolishness, is intoxicating. If you are not vigilant in maintaining your Spirit-created faith through Word and Sacrament, you will most certainly become drunk and sleep with the children of the night. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Faith and love are what was lacking in the man who buried his master’s talent in the ground. He did not have faith and love for his master whom he considered a “hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed.” And, because he did not have faith and love for his master, neither did he love his neighbor – he buried his master’s talent and failed to use it for himself and for others to the glory of his master. All of the LORD’s Commandments are summed up in the Great Commandment: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Indeed, all the Commandments of the LORD as fulfilled in love. If you do not love God, you will not and cannot love your neighbor.
There’s a whole lotta preaching and exhortation about love in our world today. However, what most people seem to have in mind when they speak of love is tolerance, and a new definition of tolerance which means, not bearing with those with whom you disagree, but blessing and accepting their immorality and sinful behaviors and lifestyles. But, this kind of love is not loving, for it does not flow from God but from the fallen, sin-wrecked reason and treacherous heart of man. It is not loving to permit someone to persist in sin and its end, death and eternal punishment in hell. But, because people do not have faith and love for God, they do not and cannot love their neighbor, but they allow them to continue in darkness, sin, and death and they accept, bless, and support them in it. They take the talent the LORD has entrusted to them and they effectively bury it in the earth so that it benefits no one. Or, they take the light that the LORD has shined upon them and they place it under a basket so that it enlightens no one.
Those who practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are like the servant who buried his master’s talent for lack of faith and love for his master. They neither love God nor follow His Commandments, and though they speak of love and peace and tolerance, they have not love for their neighbor, and they deceive themselves believing that the LORD will not punish those who refuse to hear His Word, keep it, and do it. The Master has been away for some time, but He will return at a day and hour we cannot know. The Bridegroom is delayed, but He will come, maybe at midnight when all are sleeping. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” What will He find you doing? How will He find you managing His gifts? Are you actively, intentionally, in faith and love for God and neighbor, using His gifts in service of others to the glory of His Name? Or, have you buried them in the ground or hidden them under a basket, thinking that He is not coming today, or that He doesn’t seriously expect you bear His fruits for the sake of others? Examine yourself! Do not be deceived! The LORD is not mocked!
“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.” “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.” The LORD has sown faith into your hearts, and He will collect a harvest. Therefore, you must be vigilant to maintain, to keep, and to grow your faith. This is not a work that you do, but it is a work that is done for you and in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD and His Word made visible, touchable, and tasteable, the Blessed Sacraments. These things you have, for they have been given to you, and the LORD has promised that, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” But, He also warns that, “from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” How can something be taken away from one who has nothing? The master gave all his servants something, each according to his ability. We have all been given gifts from the LORD according to our abilities, our vocations. We all have, but if we do not use His gifts and press them into service of others in faith and love for God and for our neighbor, bearing His fruits, then even what we have will be taken away from us. To not have, to not bear fruit, is to be cut off from the LORD; fruitless branches are cut off from the Vine and are thrown into the fire, for there is no life in them and they are truly dead and have no place among the living. LORD, save us from this fate, increase our faith and make us fruitful, for the sake of Jesus and all for whom He died.
Thanks be to God He is not distant and far off, but He is present in love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to feed, nourish, equip, and send you bearing His gifts of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to others. He is present in His Word, in the Water, in the Bread and in the Wine; He is present in you, His body and branches through which He brings His fruits to others. Come, and be filled with the oil of faith that your lamps may burn brightly with His light and His love. Encourage and build one another up in this way, as you are doing, and you will be prepared and ready for His coming at any day and hour, whether you are awake or sleeping. This is the LORD’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes! Then you will hear Him say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. […] Enter into the joy of your Master.” Blessed are those, however, who recognize and confess that they are already there, in the joy of the Father! To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Amos 5:18-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the seven deadly sins is known as acedia, more commonly known as sloth. When most people think of sloth, they undoubtedly think of laziness. However, acedia is not mere physical laziness, but it is the sin of spiritual apathy, of just not caring. The Christian essayist Dorothy Sayers once defined acedia as, “A sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” Likewise, acedia is the sin of lukewarmness of which our Lord Jesus speaks saying, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
The Third Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? Luther explains, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The spiritual sin of acedia keeps you from hungering and thirsting for the Word of God and His blessed Sacraments so that you do not attend church services and Bible classes, you do not read His Word yourselves or pray, praise, and give thanks to Him, or you grumble about the length of the service and how often the Sacrament is offered. In effect, you do not hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, but you cannot be bothered with it, despise it, and avoid it altogether. However, the commandment was given, not only because your Lord desires your attention to His Word, but because He knows that, apart from it, you will be deceived and will stumble and fall.
Further, you can only give to others what you first have yourselves. That is to say that, if you are not sufficiently fed, nourished, strengthened, and equipped with Gods’ Word and Sacraments, then you will have precious little to offer to anyone else, certainly nothing of true and eternal value. So it is that acedia was the sin of Dante in the "Inferno" (Book One of his "Divine Comedy"). It's not that Dante was so bad, but it is that he failed to do good for others. Complacency in faith is spiritual laziness and demonstrates a lack of love for God, for oneself, and for one’s neighbor. You like to think that you are ok, not harming anyone, but the truth is that you fail to "help and befriend your neighbor in his bodily needs." Thus, Dante portrays those being punished for the sin of acedia in the Inferno as lying below the surface of the river Styx, gurgling. They are alive, but not living, for they do not truly live for God, or for themselves, or for their neighbor.
Acedia, sloth, spiritual laziness, complacency, lukewarmness, and indifference – that was the sin of Israel whom the LORD rebuked by the prophet Amos. The people had fallen into apostasy, worshipping and sacrificing to false gods and idols along with the true and only God. They had no regard for God’s Word and Commandments and, through carelessness and indifference, they came to believe that, so long as they made their sacrifices, God would be appeased and they could live content and secure and at peace. However, the LORD said to them, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” For, the LORD looks upon the heart, and not upon the outward appearance, and He could see that the people were merely going through the motions of faithful worship, while their hearts were far from Him, deluded, complacent, listless, careless, lukewarm, and indifferent. Therefore, the LORD rebuked them saying, “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!” The people deceived themselves thinking that the LORD’s day would be a day of light and joy for them. Because of their acedia, their sloth, their spiritual laziness and lukewarmness, the day of the LORD would be for them, instead, a day of darkness, judgment, and death.
In today’s Gospel lesson, your Lord Jesus likewise exhorts you to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Intentional, expectant, and hopeful watching and waiting are a sure and certain antidote for acedia. In Jesus’ Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the oil in the virgin’s lamps symbolizes their faith. What makes them wise or foolish, ready or not ready when the Bridegroom comes, is not their works, their watching, or even their being awake, but it is whether or not they have oil, whether or not they have faith, and enough faith to endure should the Bridegroom be delayed. Thus, it’s not the watching and the waiting, for, indeed, all ten virgins fell asleep! But, watching and waiting is a means through which faith is obtained and is maintained. It is faith that is active, that cares enough to seek out sustenance and strength from the Lord and His Word and Sacraments, faith that does not despise preaching and His Word, but holds them sacred and gladly hears and learns them.
The foolish virgins were lukewarm; they were full of the sin of acedia. They were not concerned enough about the Bridegroom’s coming to be prepared at all times. And, they were not concerned enough about their faith to maintain it, to feed it, protect it, strengthen it, and keep it. As it happened, the Bridegroom was delayed – “for you know neither the day nor the hour” – and all ten virgins fell asleep – for “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What made the five wise virgins wise was not their greater piety, their good works, or anything else concerning themselves, their reason, their strength, and abilities, but what made them wise was their faith, that they had faith, and that their faith was important enough to them that they sought to keep it strong by tending to it, caring for it, and nourishing it by regular hearing and learning of the Lord’s Word in all the ways He gives it. Likewise, what made the five foolish virgins foolish was not their lesser piety, their dearth of good works, or anything else concerning themselves, their reason, their strength, and abilities, but what made them foolish was their lack of faith, or rather, their acedia, their spiritual sloth, which caused them to care so little for their faith that they did not keep it strong, they did not nourish it, for they despised the Word of the Lord and His gifts and they did not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
When the call rang out at midnight, when all were asleep and no one was found watching and waiting, all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, but the foolish virgins had run out of oil and were too careless and complacent to have brought extra oil with them. They pleaded with the others to give them some of their oil, but you cannot be saved by someone else’s faith, but you must have faith for yourself, you must yourself believe. So, out they went in desperation into the dark and cold of night seeking to buy oil for themselves, but it was too late, and the vendors of oil were closed. While they were away, the Bridegroom arrived and the faithful were ushered into the marriage feast, and the doors were shut. When the others arrived, they pleaded to be let in, but the Lord answered them, “I do not know you.”
“I do not know you.” What harsh, terrible, and horrible words to hear! However, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. What makes them His sheep is that they hear His voice, they listen to Him, and they follow Him. They hold His Word sacred, and they gladly hear and learn it. They do not despise the preaching of His Word and His blessed Sacraments, the Means through which He gives you His grace, replenishes our oil of faith, protects, and keeps you in the one true faith, apart from which there are no other vendors and there is no other way.
“I do not know you.” What harsh, terrible, and horrible words indeed! And yet, you need never hear them, nor even fear hearing them, if you but hold the Lord’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do not despise preaching and His Word, but find your home at the altar of the LORD, your King and God. How lovely is His dwelling place, here on earth, in your midst, with His Word, Water, Body, and Blood! Truly, a day in His courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. For, here in His house, the oil of your faith is replenished, even filled to overflowing. Those who receive this foretaste of the marriage feast to come need not fear missing the Bridegroom’s coming on any day or hour, for the Bridegroom Himself is present with His body and with His blood to forgive your sins anew, to strengthen your faith, to equip and send you bearing His light in this world of sin, death, and darkness for the life of the world. You need not fear being found outside the gates of the wedding banquet, for you are already in, as heaven comes down to earth, and your Bridegroom, Lord, and God Himself is present to care for you, His holy Bride.
However, do not slumber and sleep in spiritual apathy, laziness, lukewarmness, indifference, and complacency, but wake up! Today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed! This is no time to count minutes and hours. This is no time to capitulate to fleshly wants, pleasures, and desires. There is but one thing that is truly needful, and that is to have oil in your lamp, to not despise preaching and the Word of your Lord, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. May His Word and Sacraments be your heart and soul’s true desire, that the Lord may fill you to overflowing with His forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, and love, and preserve and keep you in the one true faith, that you may be well prepared should He come today, tomorrow, or the day after.

In the + Name of  Jesus. Amen.