Sermon for November 8, 2020, Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:1-13 (Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 27 A)

“Vigilant Waiting”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

November 8, 2020

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel from Matthew 25:

1At that time the reign of heaven will be like ten virgins, who, upon taking their lamps, went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Now five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3For the foolish ones, when they took their lamps, they did not take oil with them. 4But the wise ones took oil in the flasks with their lamps. 5While the bridegroom delayed, all became drowsy and slept. 6And at midnight, there was a cry, “Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!” 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish ones said to the wise ones, “Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise ones answered, saying, “Certainly there would never be enough for us and for you. Rather, go to the dealers and by some for yourselves.” 10And when they had gone away to buy oil, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him into the wedding feast. And the door was locked shut. 11Afterward, the remaining virgins came, saying, “Lord, lord, open for us.” 12But he answered and said, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” 13Therefore, watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

          He is a man of stature and prominence, a person of high status. Is he, in fact, the son of a king? Who is this bridegroom whom these ten virgins are going out to meet? Certainly, things to ponder. But with this parable, Jesus wants to reveal something to us about the reign of heaven and the Last Day. In other words, when the future reign of heaven comes, its arrival will be like the story of the ten virgins who went to meet the bridegroom.

          One theme that we see in Jesus’ story is the importance of honoring and appropriately accompanying the bridegroom as he comes to enter the wedding feast. These ten maidens are there with their lights for the purpose of meeting this groom and showing him honor as he comes and enters the place of the wedding celebration. Nothing can allow this meeting of the bridegroom with appropriate celebration to be put in jeopardy. This is what matters most of all, and so the five wise virgins simply cannot share their supply of lamp oil. They are not being selfish. To let the foolish virgins, foolish because they were unprepared and did not bring along flasks of oil, have some of their oil would render all ten lamps without enough oil to keep them burning in order to honor the coming bridegroom. Everyone needed to be ready to give honor to the groom when that time arrived. Nothing could compromise that. Those five foolish ones failed ultimately to be ready for the bridegroom. In turn, he rejected any relationship with them, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.”

          Now remember, the parable is teaching us about the future reign of heaven at the Last Day. It is illustrating for us by a point of comparison that the time of Jesus’ Coming will be unknown and unknowable. Jesus had previously told the disciples, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, . . . Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44 ESV). Jesus’ story teaches that to be appropriately ready for that day means being “wise.” Jesus said to the disciples, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matt. 24:45–46 ESV).

You and I along with the whole Christian Church are Jesus’ servants. We are those, like the ten maidens, who are looking forward to the coming of the Bridegroom. And Jesus is the heavenly Bridegroom for the people of God. Between Jesus’ Ascension and exaltation at the right hand of God the Father, there is an interval of time, a delay, as the bridegroom in Jesus’ parable delayed. But Christ’s glorious return will happen out of the blue, suddenly, like a cry at midnight! “Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!” We, then, must be Jesus’ wise servants—prepared and ready for that moment. And as one pastor put it, “You cannot get ready; you just need to be ready.”

Be ready! “Watch,” Jesus says. “You don’t know the day or the hour.” As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be vigilant during this time of waiting. We must be vigilant against not being ready or able to honor Christ when He comes unexpectedly. All ten maidens were ready at the start. But five failed to be prepared when the moment came to honor the arriving bridegroom. In a similar way, there is the possibility of a believer falling away and not being ready or able to honor Christ on the day of His coming.

          Holy Scripture warns us that this loss of faith and trust in Christ is an ever-present danger. Examples include King Saul in the Old Testament and Judas Iscariot in the New. Ezekiel 18:26 tells us, “When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die” (Ezek. 18:26 ESV). St. Paul speaks to the Galatians about those who have fallen away from the faith (Gal. 5:4). What are the causes of this falling away and not being ready to honor Christ when He comes again? Spiritual starvation is suffered by those who neglect to use the Means of Grace—the preaching and reading of the Word, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. Self-righteousness shifts a person’s trust from the grace of God and the Savior to the merits of his or her own works. Rationalistic pride causes believers to ignore the authority of the Word of God because it’s “not logical.” The love of the world and the pleasures of the flesh cause Christians to walk away from the faith given to the Church. 1 John 2, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15–16 ESV). Finally, there is willful sins against a person’s conscience. By rejecting faith and a good conscience, the Apostle Paul writes that “some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19 ESV). This willful impenitence in one sin kills faith in the forgiveness of all sins because faith can’t live in an unrepentant heart.

          So do not say, “This will never happen to me.” The devil, word, and flesh war against your life of faith and seek to destroy your faith so that you might be left lacking and wanting on the Day of the Lord’s Coming. But there is hope because of God’s promises to you in Christ. Our Lord continues to call you and me to a life of faith and repentance by the Means of Grace. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to confess our sins while trusting that with the Lord there is plentiful forgiveness because of the merits and mediation of Jesus who died for our sins and rose for our declaration of righteousness (Rom. 4:25). Christ Jesus went to cross to suffer our punishment and death. He shed His blood to atone for our sins and to make us right with God. His blood has won for us the forgiveness of sins which is the Savior’s free gift received by repentant sinners through faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9 ESV).

          The Holy Spirit prepares us and makes us to be ready for Christ’s return by regularly feeding our faith through Word and Sacrament. He draws us to Christ in repentance and faith through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. It is the constant nurturing of our holy faith that makes us ready for the midnight cry, the unexpected coming of our heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Through the Gospel in Word and water, bread and wine, the Spirit creates in us new and contrite, repentant, hearts. He enlightens us with a true and humble faith in Christ alone. Through the Word we are given perseverance and courage to stand firm against the assaults of the Evil One. The gift of humility will keep us ever watchful. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we are willing to suffer for the name of Christ, to deny ourselves, taking up our crosses and more faithfully following the Savior, even unto death for His sake.

          Whatever it takes to be ready to receive and honor the Bridegroom when He comes again, that is what we are encouraged with by Jesus’ parable. The ten virgins were to be prepared to welcome and honor the bridegroom at his coming. We, then, know the danger of being unprepared, being found lacking in repentance and falling away from faith. But more so, we know the promises of God in Christ. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we are indeed guests at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His reign. By grace, because Jesus has died, risen, ascended, and is coming again, you have been made children of God by faith. Every time you are brought to repentance, Jesus says, “I know you. Your sins are forgiven you. Enter into the full joy of my Father.”

          With ever vigilant waiting, stand ready for the Coming of Jesus. Stand ready through the refreshment of Word and Sacrament that offers, gives, and seals to you the forgiveness of sins. You indeed have a place at the heavenly feast. And so that you can be assured and strengthened in this faith and love, eat today of the Savior’s Body and drink of the Blood of Christ. Receive His blood-bought forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Depart from the Table of the Lord with strengthened faith to love God and to love one another as you watch, because you don’t know the day or the hour. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

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