23rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 27) LSB #’s 644, 516, 921
Text – Matthew 25:11-13
Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
ARE YOU READY?
Sometime after I arrived in North Dakota word got around to me that some people were offended by one of my comments a few months earlier. It was about the fact that there were no traffic lights for 65 miles in any direction. The complaint caught me off guard because I never suspected that anyone would think I was ridiculing the place for not having them.
No stoplights is a good thing. One of the items my buddies & I disliked so much about Ft. Wayne, Indiana, was that the red lights there were the longest any of us had ever seen. You could easily spend over two minutes waiting for one light to turn green. Even our friend from NYC hated them, & he was used to driving in a big city.
Another factor was that the stoplights in Ft. Wayne were everywhere, even at school & retirement home driveways. Whenever we went driving around, we’d always end up frustrated, having to wait, trying to be patient. It could take 20 minutes to go 5 miles. As soon as the lights turned green we were always ready to leave.
Are you ready? Wars & rumors of wars are one of the signs Jesus said would precede the end of the world. But then, there’ve been wars & rumors of wars for thousands of years now. The possible war with North Korea & the ongoing war against terrorism is nothing new.
Still, the end of time is such an important event, that in the world of theology it has its own name. It’s called the Parousia, & it comes from a word that simply means – arrival. The impending arrival, of Christ, is such a momentous event that it’s taken over the meaning of the word. There’ll never be another arrival like the one to come with the end of time. The 2nd coming of Christ is the Arrival; the “Parousia.” Are you ready for that event; that day like no other in the history of mankind; like no other in the history of the universe; the day when time will forevermore stand still? PAUSE
The foolish virgins of today’s Gospel reading were not ready. When they sought to enter heaven, the master told them, “I tell you the truth, I do not know you.” What crushing & frightening words to hear, & they will have an eternity to regret their lack of readiness; an eternity of torment & suffering the likes of which no one has ever seen here on earth.
And lest you are complacent, keep in mind according to the common interpretation of the parable, those women had been Christians; children of God who took their faith for granted. They were Christians whose time was occupied to the exclusion of nourishing their faith in preparation for the Parousia.
Imagine their surprise & horror when they heard their Lord’s words, “I don’t know you!” PAUSE What preparations have you made? How intentionally do you ask God to strengthen your faith? No one today thinks of competing in a serious sporting event without preparation. Athletes train 12 months a year, & not simply during the season.
While time still exists the clock is always ticking. Today we’re a few steps closer to the end of the world than yesterday. Is your faith any stronger, or is it weaker? Matthew records in his Gospel that 5 of the virgins were foolish, & five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but no spare oil.
When the bridegroom does not arrive as soon as expected all ten of the women fall asleep. However, the wise ones had planned ahead. They had prepared for the battle that would take place while waiting for their Lord to return. They had sufficient faith to ride out the storms of their sinful lives. They had seen to it that their lamps were well stocked with oil. The foolish women had done nothing. They allowed their lamps, their faith, to burn out, to wither away & die. They had not been feeding their faith regularly. They were not ready. They were unprepared for the attack of Satan that overtook them, & their sins overwhelmed them. We might overhear their conversation this way:
“Do you think we should go to church in case the bridegroom delays?” “Nah!! Quit being so anal. There’s plenty of time for that.” Or something like, “There’s Bible study tonight, would you like to go? Yeah if I had time. There’s just too much to do, & then the kids have their game tomorrow night, so I can’t do it then. Maybe next fall we’ll have time.”
The problem is next fall might not arrive, & you have no idea if there’s plenty of time left in your hourglass, or practically none at all. In the Gospel of Luke we read of a man who had great plans for his future, but no time left on earth to carry them out:
“And he began reasoning to himself, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I’ll tear down my barns & build larger ones & there I’ll store all my grain & goods. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink & be merry.’” (Luke 12:18-19)
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you.’” Jesus concludes, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God.” Are you rich toward God? Are you ready for Him to pass judgment on your life? Will your faith last until that day, or will it burn out like the lamps of the foolish virgins? PAUSE
This parable always bothered me, because when the foolish ones ask the wise for help, they say no. There may not be enough oil for both of us. Instead, go & buy some for yourselves. It bothered me because I was misinterpreting the point of the parable. It’s not about sharing with, or helping others. It is about faith, & none of us can believe for another.
None of us can have faith, for another. God judges each of us by our own heart. We live or die based upon our own personal relationship with the Son of God. Where is that relationship going in your life? Is it growing? Is it stagnant? Is it fading? Is your Lord becoming a long lost friend that you no longer keep in touch with? PAUSE
Are you ready? That’s what today’s Gospel lesson is about. Jesus uses a word that means be watchful, vigilant, alert. God is telling us to be ready! We don’t know the day or the hour, & the church cannot be ready for you. Merely having your name on the membership list does you no good if you have no faith in the way Christ works in your life.
Satan is trying to kill that faith. If it isn’t fed it will die. Lucifer wants to suffocate that faith, & if you don’t nurture it & look out for it; when you need it, it might be gone. Our lives are not a neutral playing field. They are a war zone of illness, jealousy & greed, of marriage & job failures. They’re a war zone of drugs & alcohol, of sexual desire & exploitation, & the Devil is commanding those forces. Are you ready? PAUSE
Our Lord is the opposing general & He’s given us many gifts to use in our battle against the Prince of Darkness. Making use of those gifts is our responsibility, & it’s our responsibility as brothers & sisters in Christ to look out for each other, to support & encourage one another. However, not a one of us can save anyone else.
The best we can do is to warn you as we see you walking away from your Savior & neglecting His gifts. Are you preparing for the return of our Lord by strengthening your faith through His Means of Grace? It’s not something you can see with your own two eyes, but He comes to you, & He strengthens you.
Through the faith God’s Spirit created by your baptism, you are able to trust Him even when you cannot see Him. Even when it seems as if the bridegroom is delayed & may not arrive at all, He is still there to comfort you, & provide healing. He’s waiting beside you to fill your lamp, to fill your soul. He’s arranging the events in your life to fan the flames of faith in your soul. Jesus Christ was ready, in your place, to face all the temptations of Satan in the wilderness those 40 days & 40 nights.
He was ready, in your place, to take on the burden of every single one of your sins, as He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. In your baptism the exchange took place, your sins for the righteousness of the Holy Son of God. Jesus was ready to die, in your place, when Pontius Pilate gave the order, “Crucify Him.”
In your baptism the exchange took place – your death for the eternal life of the Man who is the same yesterday & today & forever. Do you have your spiritual bags packed? Are you ready for the journey? What plans do you have for tomorrow, next week, for the end of this year? Have you included God in those plans in any intentional sort of way?
Your Lord has included you in His plans, so He declares in Jeremiah 29, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future.” (29:11 NIV) PAUSE
While waiting for the bridegroom, the wise virgins were able to fall asleep peacefully, knowing that they were ready for the return of their Lord. They were secure in the knowledge that their salvation was not dependent upon their own efforts or ability to stay awake & be ready. The Lord had prepared them & made them ready.
They were secure in the fact that their Lord had promised to care for them, & they believed His promises. They had tested their relationship with their Savior & discovered that they could trust Him to care for them. When He said that it was good to be in the Lord’s house,
& it was good to study His Word, they believed Jesus & did as He suggested. It was through
that belief that the Lord strengthened their faith, filled their lamps & made them ready. As the angel prophesied to Zechariah, about John the Baptist, “And he shall go before the Lord in the spirit & power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, & the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
As we await the fulfillment of God’s plan, we look forward to & celebrate the return of our Savior for He has made us ready. In three weeks, as we start a new church year, the season of Advent reminds us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the One who saves from the death sleep of our sins.
We prepare for the arrival, the Parousia, of the One who makes us ready, through the washing of water in our Baptism & through His own body & blood, which He gave into death & shed for us that we might have life to the full. When the light turns green will you be ready? By the grace of God our Father His only begotten Son has made it so. Amen.
“Wake, awake, for night is flying,” the watchmen on the heights are crying; “Awake, Jerusalem, arise!” Midnight hears the welcome voices & at the thrilling cry rejoices: “Oh, where are ye, ye virgins wise? The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take! Alleluia! With bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” Amen. LSB 516:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet