Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost (no audio this week)
Passage: Matthew 25:1–25:13
†††In the Name of Jesus†††
Pastor Murray Keith
Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Date: November 12, 2017; Pentecost 23; Series A
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We are approaching the end of the Church Year, and, as we do, we focus our attention on the Last Day when our Lord will return to usher in the new heaven and the new earth.
Our Lord tells a parable that once again conveys to us that we need to be ready - that we need to be prepared for his return.
The church is often described as the “Bride of Christ” - and in this parable Jesus uses the imagery of a Jewish wedding.
In order to have a better understanding of what Jesus is saying, it is helpful to have a better understanding of what a Jewish wedding was like during his time.
A Jewish wedding would begin with the betrothal by the parents – this was a formal contract between the parents of the groom and bride.
The marriage would then be announced publicly.
At some point after the betrothal, the groom would take his best friends and go over to the bride’s house - where she and her ten friends would be waiting.
The bride and her friends would have to wait patiently because they didn’t know when the groom and his friends would show up.
Together, in a festive procession, they would make their way back to the groom’s house where they would consummate the marriage. After the marriage was consummated, there would be a huge celebration that would last for days.
With this background in mind, we can see how fitting this parable is in describing our Lord’s return to gather his bride, the church.
St. Paul describes this relationship in the same manner. He says, “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is his bride.
In our parable, Jesus tells us that five of the virgins are foolish and five are wise.
What is the difference between the two? What makes five wise and five foolish?
Oil. The difference is oil.
The foolish virgins didn’t bring any extra oil for their lamps, while the wise ones did.
The oil represents faith.
The oil represents trusting in the promises God has made to you through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
The wise virgins, those with enough oil, were ready for when the bridegroom arrived - and they went with him to the wedding banquet.
The foolish virgins, those who were not prepared – they had the door closed in their faces.
“Lord, lord, open to us!” they pleaded.
But it was too late. The bridegroom said that he did not know them.
So it is with the church on earth.
Those who are prepared, those with jars filled with oil - those with faith - will go with our Lord to the heavenly banquet.
Those who are not prepared, those who leave their oil jars empty, will have the door closed in their face.
Those who tell themselves, “I can always fill up my jar (my faith) later” - might never get the chance.
We don’t know the day or the hour that either we will die or that our Lord will return.
But what we do know is that there is no going back once the door is closed. It is final. It is eternal.
This is something that we all fight with, isn’t it? Keeping our jar full can be difficult.
Our sinful nature pushes God aside so that we can do what we want. So that we can get what we want.
There is an endless list of reasons, of excuses, that prevent us from keeping our jar full.
The world, and our busy lives, get in the way.
The devil lies to us – saying that we don’t need God, we don’t need his mercy, we have everything we need already inside of us.
Or there is no God - so, eat, drink, and be merry!
So easily we can go down the same path as the foolish virgins.
So, how do we make sure our oil jars are full?
How do we make sure that we have enough oil in our jars to be ready for our Lord’s return that we may accompany him to the heavenly banquet?
Well, we certainly will not find enough oil in ourselves!
The strength to persevere in the faith through all of life’s trials is not an “inner strength.”
It is God who gives us the “oil,” and he gives us an abundance of it.
It is God who preserves us in the faith.
It is God who prepares us for our Lord’s return!
How does he do this?
Think of yourselves as kerosene lamps. Throughout the week you go through life with all of its ups and downs and with all of the evil forces trying to destroy your faith and relationship with God.
You may find that your oil supply becomes drained - and soon what was once a roaring flame turns into a mere flicker.
Where do you find the oil to carry on? Where do you find the strength to persevere in the faith until the end?
How do you avert the danger of being torn from the faith, of running out of oil, and being locked out of the wedding banquet?
All we can do is turn to God. Turn to God to be strengthened!
He fills our lamps with the oil we need. He strengthens our faith by filling us with his love and forgiveness.
God fills our faith, he fills our jars with oil, through very concrete and tangible means. His means of Grace. His Word and Sacraments.
Through the sacrament of Baptism, God claimed you as his own, promised you the forgiveness of your sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and he has given you eternal life.
When our faith becomes a mere flicker we look back to our Baptism and recall what God did for us through those washing and cleansing waters.
God knows we need to be strengthened the faith - so he gave us himself to eat and drink. “This is my body, which is given for you.” “This is my blood shed for you.” Through this divine gift our jars are filled.
He caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for us. When we hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart, the Holy Spirit fills our jars with oil - with faith.
God has given us everything we need to persevere in the faith until the end.
The five wise virgins in our Lord’s parable made use of and received God’s gifts and their lamps were full and they were prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom.
The five foolish virgins had not taken advantage of God’s gifts, and they ran out of oil - and they were not prepared.
Do you have enough oil?
If you fear that you do not have enough oil, if you fear your faith is not strong enough to persevere until the end - then you are in the right place!
Receive God’s gifts and be strengthened.
Hear his Words of forgiveness. His Words of love. His Words of peace. His Words of life. They are yours.
If your faith is strong, if your jar is filled - then you are blessed!
Continue steadfast in receiving God’s grace through his Word and Sacraments. Continue to be wise!
In the book of Revelation, John envisions the bride as the church descending to the wedding to meet Christ, her husband: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
What a lovely picture! The bride in her wedding dress comes down to meet her bridegroom.
He will love her, deal gently with her, and be faithful to her forever. What joy and comfort we have been promised!
The Bridegroom soon will call us, “Come to the wedding feast.”
May slumber not befall us, nor watchfulness decrease,
But may our lamps be burning with oil enough and more,
That with our Lord returning, we find an open door. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.