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.

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