Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sermon: The Last Sunday of the Church Year

26 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus warns us to wait and watch, to be prepared, and not to make the mistake of assuming that we will always be waiting for him to come. For time moves on, whether flying by as we have fun, or crawling by as we await test results, or as we endure pain and suffering, or as we have to wait patiently for something to happen.

Today, the last Sunday of the church year, completes the circle of yet another revolution of the earth around the sun that began with Advent 2005 AD. We are now one more year closer to the fulfillment of the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” One more year closer to our own death and resurrection. One more year closer to the second coming of our Lord.

Here we hang between the first and second comings of our Lord. We exist in a cosmic holding pattern in the “now” of the Kingdom of God, but in the “not yet” of the completion of that kingdom. We travel along a detour, thanks to sin and the need for redemption, that has seen us leave Paradise, only to spend thousands of years winding along a dangerous alternate route, hoping to merge back onto the road that will lead us back home once more to Paradise.

In many ways, we’re like the children of Israel, wandering forty years in the desert in order to complete a trip that could have been done in a couple months. Our entire lives have been lived out on this detour, in this holding pattern, in the aftermath of the Lord’s coming, and yet, also waiting for the Lord’s coming. Like the wandering Israelites, we know of no other life. We walk and walk, and sometimes it seems there is no end in sight.

As the centuries roll by, we may be tempted to lose sight of our destination, to fall asleep at the wheel, or perhaps even worse, to leave this road all together in search of a more exciting way. Our Lord warns us to watch and wait, to stay awake, watchful, and sober, to trim our lamps, and to be ready on short notice to evacuate.

For even as it seems that Christmas shopping and preparation will never end, December 25 always comes, whether we are ready or not. Even when it seems the baby will never be born, all at once, the water breaks, the contractions begin, and the child emerges – whether we are ready or not. Even as we Christians continue to cling to the kingdom of God, to the hope of final victory over death, devil, and grave, and though it seems that we are always beaten down, we are always on the defensive, our Lord will return like a “thief in the night” – whether we are ready or not. When we least expect this world to pass away and be recreated anew and perfect – that’s exactly what will happen. It will happen. It is inevitable, and will happen suddenly.

In our Lord’s parable, five virgins have gotten tired of waiting. They forsook their responsibility to secure oil and to maintain their lamps. Perhaps they wanted to spend their money on trinkets, and maybe they wanted to use their time more selfishly than their wise sisters.

The wise virgins, by contrast, knew that the bridegroom was coming. They did not use this period of waiting to slack off and entertain other priorities. They fulfilled what God asked of them, they faithfully waited, active and watchful, expectantly, and focused on the wedding feast to come.

When our Lord returns, he will find some of us well-prepared, our lamps trimmed, our oil sufficient for the journey, our lamps burning brightly to illumine our way. Others, he will find unprepared, those who squandered their money and resources, those who used their time of waiting for selfish endeavors that will leave them completely in shock when the end comes.

This warning from our Lord is hard to listen to, dear Christians. The door to the feast will not be open to everyone. There will be those foolish virgins who will have squandered the Lord’s grace and will have taken his mercy for granted. The door will slam shut on many who will plead with the Lord, and to whom He will say: “I do not know you.”

This is a frightening picture, but it is indeed Good News that our Lord warns us now, while there is still time to repent of our foolishness and to prepare ourselves for the last things. For our waiting for the Groom may end with the end of the world and the second coming of our Lord, or it may end as we take our last breath. We may be summoned to grab our lamps and follow the Lord within the next couple minutes.

This may be the very last Word of God you hear on this side of the grave. Listen attentively, dear brethren. There is a reason why the Lord has asked me to say these difficult things to you at this time.

For the Lord is coming, and coming soon. The old order is passing away, and the wheels of time are grinding to a halt, even as the church year comes to an end, and as the secular world prepares to put 2006 AD into the history books, never to be relived again.

“Watch, therefore...”

If we find ourselves running around looking to buy oil at the last minute, like midnight Wal-Marters on Christmas Eve, we will have missed the point, and will find ourselves locked out, pounding on the door, seeking admission in vain.

The oil you need for this lamp is not available in stores.

Oil and wine were medicines used by the Good Samaritan to salve the wounds of the man who was beaten by robbers. Oil is something bread is dipped into to give it flavor, to bring joy. Oil is also traditionally used as a symbolic “sealing” of baptism – either at baptism itself, or at confirmation. Oil allows machinery to run smoothly, to last longer, and to work more efficiently, to combat friction and the running down of energy that we accept as normal in our fallen universe.

But the oil you need for your journey with the bridegroom is a spiritual oil. So where can you buy it? The Good News is that you can’t buy it. I say that is “good news” because it isn’t for sale – it has already been bought and paid for by the Groom. It is given out by the groomsmen here in the church. It is poured on you lavishly at your baptism. You are anointed with it, literally in the Greek language, you are “Christed” with it, every time the Gospel is preached into your ears. You are plied with this holy unction every time you are absolved of your sins. This holy oil of forgiveness fills your lamp every trip you make to this altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

This sanctuary is a place where lamps are filled, where wicks are trimmed, and where lights glow with good works that shine before men and proclaim the glory of him who is “God of God, light of light.”

When your lamp runs dry, run, don’t walk, to this house of light! When your wick burns dim, don’t despair! For the Lord will not extinguish a dimly burning wick! When you have no spark and are surrounded in darkness, crawl here on hands and knees if necessary, for the Light of Christ always burns here, even as our sins are purged away like silver is purified in the flames.

And, dear brothers and sisters, if you have friends, family members, and co-workers who are foolish, who use the Lord’s Day for selfish purposes, who slumber and sleep instead of receiving the Lord’s gifts, who see the Last Sunday of all Last Sundays to be only a distant reality - urge them not to be foolish. Pray for them to see the light. Invite them to fill their lamps and trim their wicks so they can wait for the Bridegroom’s return in confidence and assurance that when he does return, they will partake completely in the new creation, the new Jerusalem, a new order of the universe in which “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food.”

Until that time, dear friends, let us keep our lamps full of the oil of the forgiveness of sins, and let us not be ashamed of the light that glows forth from trimmed wicks, fueled by that oil. Let us continue our vigil not with wandering eyes and hearts, not with sleep and slumber, but with repentant joy, with the expectation of a child awaiting Christmas. For our Lord’s coming will be a New and Greater Christmas, an Advent that will usher in a glorious eternity, of a never-ending season of peace and joy that will exist in reality and not merely in hopeful carols and on wish-filled cards.

Let us pray to the Bridegroom for the grace to remain watchful and sober. Let us “comfort each other and edify one another” – urging one another to readiness. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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