Ever prepared to meet the Bridegroom

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Sermon for Trinity 27

Isaiah 65:17-19  +  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11  +  Matthew 25:1-13

Today is the last Sunday of the year as the Church counts time.  But the Gospel for today has us looking forward into the future, not backward into the past.  The Holy Spirit directs our thoughts to the end of the world, to the coming of the Bridegroom and to the heavenly wedding banquet.  Jesus tells His disciples the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins for one purpose: to make us wise and not foolish, so that we are found, not unprepared, but prepared at His coming, because the Bridegroom is surely coming, but not one of you knows the day or the hour of His arrival.  Therefore, be wise, and watch!

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

The kingdom of heaven is not up in the sky somewhere. It’s where Christ reigns, handing out forgiveness, eternal life and salvation.  The Bridegroom in the parable is Christ Jesus Himself. He’s often depicted in Scripture as a Bridegroom who has pledged Himself to His bride, the holy Christian Church, and who will return one day to pick up His bride and enter with her into the everlasting marriage feast in the new heavens and the new earth that He will create after He destroys this one.

The ten virgins in Jesus’ parable, then, represent all Christians throughout the world—all those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Christ and who are expecting Him to return.

In this Biblical imagery of Jesus as Bridegroom, God describes for us the great problem: There was no holy Christian Church for Christ to marry. Humanity had become totally corrupted.  Everyone had turned aside. There is no one who does good, no, not one. That includes grown men and women who have had plenty of opportunities to rebel against God, to neglect His Word and to harm their neighbor.  In even includes seemingly innocent little babies, who haven’t harmed a soul. Everyone by nature seeks his own pleasure, her own benefit, and does what is right in his or her own eyes, which is really nothing but idolatry and rebellion against God.  Mankind is sick from head to toe, unworthy to stand in God’s presence much less to be united with Him in an eternal union that’s more intimate than marriage.  Everyone in the world, and everyone in this room, has earned only one thing from God:  His wrath and disfavor.

So, since no worthy bride could be found for the Bridegroom, He has created one for Himself.  St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”  “Gave Himself for her.” Gave Himself to come down from heaven and be incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and was made man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day rose again from the dead.  This heavenly Husband shed His blood on the cross and earned the forgiveness of sins for all people.

Now He takes His blood and mixes it in with the water of Holy Baptism. St. Paul continues, “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Emily was washed today in the blood of Christ. Most of you here have been washed in the same baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Is there anyone here who has not been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and washed into the Church?  What are you waiting for? Christ, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for your sins.  So turn from them and live.  Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.  The Bridegroom could return at any moment, and if you are not part of the Bride when He comes—part of the Church, one of the ten virgins waiting for Him when He returns, then you will spend eternity locked out of His house, in the outer darkness where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

So first and foremost, if you would be saved from condemnation and everlasting punishment, you must be a part of the Church. You must be among the Ten Virgins.

But! Notice that even among the Ten, within the Church, among “practicing” Christians, there is a distinction. You’ve been baptized? Good!  You’re waiting for Christ, the Bridegroom, to come one of these days?  Good!  How are you waiting? Will you be wise as you wait?  Or will you be foolish?  The difference between the two is the difference between ending up on the inside of heaven’s halls, or on the outside, as Jesus describes in the parable.

Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Jesus explains in what way. 3Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

The foolish virgins are called foolish because they didn’t think ahead.  They knew the bridegroom was coming sometime that night, but they knew not when exactly.  All they were told was to be ready when he came. But they didn’t think ahead.  They went out, perhaps very excited to meet Him, ready to greet Him and join the wedding procession—figuring He would surely come in the next couple of hours.  If he delays, if he takes five hours or 10 hours to come—well, they didn’t think about that.  They brought no extra oil.

The wise are called wise for one reason: They brought extra oil in their vessels, in case the Bridegroom should delay. They prepared for a long wait. They were wise.

What is this oil? What is the only thing that makes us sinners ready to meet the Bridegroom when He comes?  Faith. Faith that clings to Christ and holds onto Him for dear life.  Faith that hears of the goodness and kindness of Jesus and looks to Him for mercy. Faith that receives Christ with all His goodness, all His righteousness, His vanquishing of sin, death, hell and the devil.  And when a heart receives Christ, then all your sin becomes His to take care of, and all His righteousness becomes yours to make you a dearly beloved child of God.

Faith in the heart is like oil that fuels a fire.  It doesn’t just sit there; it doesn’t just exist.  It holds onto Christ. It burns like a lamp.  But, like oil that keeps a fire burning, it gets used up.  It isn’t self-sustaining.  And you can’t create it out of thin air.  God pours it into the heart.  God the Holy Spirit replenishes it through the ministry of Word and Sacrament.  What you need is not faith that burns brightly for a little while and then fizzles and fades.  What you need is faith to last a lifetime, faith that will still be there as you carry out all your vocations here in this world, faith that will still be there when your eyes grow dim and sleepy.

To be foolish is to take that Spirit-given faith for granted, to neglect the means of grace, the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments. To be foolish is go through the motions of Christianity without treasuring Christ in the heart, and without thinking ahead to the Bridegroom’s arrival. To be wise is to know that you need Jesus and His mercy and His forgiveness every day, to take your sins seriously and repent of them daily, to take the Word of Christ seriously and to receive His Word and Sacraments regularly. To be wise is to live for the Bridegroom’s return and wait for it expectantly.

5But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!… When the Bridegroom comes with all His holy angels, there will be panic on the part of the foolish Christians.  The midnight cry will come, “Wake, awake!” But the foolish will see: Their oil is gone! Their lamps are burning out!  But it will be too late to do anything about it. For those foolish Christians who think they can get away with sinning now, or put God’s Word or their faith on hold for awhile, hoping there will be time to attend to it before Jesus comes—no, says Jesus.  Too late.

While they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. 11“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Those who are ready when the bridegroom arrives will go in with Him to the marriage feast.  The rest will be shut out, together with the rest of the unbelieving world. Having once been baptized will not help on the Last Day if the faith of baptism is gone and used up. Having attended church every Sunday of your life will do you no good on the Last Day if you were just going through the motions, showing up, letting the message go in one ear and out the other.

So, Jesus says, Watch, therefore, for you do not know the day or the hour. Stay alert, because, just like the ten virgins, you don’t know on what day or at what hour the Bridegroom is coming.  The devil will be more than happy to distract you with other things, with earthly pleasures and entertainment and security, with sickness and troubles and the cross.  Don’t let him distract you.  Watch.  Be ready for the Bridegroom to come today, or, to delay for another hundred years. That will require a constant supply of oil in your lamp—oil that God the Holy Spirit Himself supplies through the preaching and teaching of His Word.

Now, Lorenzo and Erika, you have done a good thing today.  You have given your daughter the greatest gift Christian parents can give to their children.  You brought her to Jesus so that the Holy Spirit might pour oil into her lamp and grant her faith to last a lifetime. You can’t believe in Christ for Emily.  But for as long as she lives, you can remind her to watch, together with you.  You can teach her to be wise.  You can and must teach her about her Bridegroom—about what He did for her when He came the first time, paying for all the sins she will ever commit; about what He has done for her in Holy Baptism, washing away all her sins and uniting her with Himself; and about His imminent return.

And may Jesus’ words today keep all of us watching and waiting for His return. The Bridegroom soon will call us. Let us be wise today, so that we may be found among those with oil in our lamps on that great Day. Amen.

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