Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sermon: Last Sunday of the Church year

25 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It’s an all-too easy thing to become jaded to promises – especially when those promises involve the restoration of something that has been broken. Time and again politicians make promises about restoring our region following the devastation of Katrina and Rita, and time and again, the efforts are bogged down in a quagmire of politics.

In the kingdom of this world, our rulers make all sorts of grandiose promises. Certainly, some of them mean well, while others are openly corrupt. Very seldom do the promises match the rhetoric. Indeed, we expect them to be broken.

Perhaps this is why the Psalmist warns us not to place our trust in princes.

It’s easy, all-too easy, for us to transfer this same cynicism and doubt to the Kingdom of God. Sure, we know the world has been cosmically altered thanks to sin. We know that the lush and innocent paradise of Eden has given way to the stony ground both of the uncooperative land and the sinful human heart. We also know that our Lord Jesus came into the world to crush the serpent’s head, to save us from our sins, and to give us everlasting life. We also know that “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

But we’ve been waiting on our Lord’s return for 1,977 years. The apostles earnestly felt our blessed Lord’s return was around the corner. People living at the turn of the millennium – the first millennium that is – believed the Second Coming was in their lifetime. Martin Luther believed the end of the world was nigh. And today, TV preachers eagerly watch events in the middle east desperately trying to force them into their theories about biblical prophecy.

It’s easy for us to live as though Jesus is never coming back. And that is why the Church takes this Sunday, the last of the church year and the one just before Advent, to remind all of us that the Triune God is not a bungling federal bureaucracy, Jesus is not FEMA, and the promises of God’s Kingdom are not merely campaign hot air from a candidate for political office. In fact, the season of Advent is not only a remembrance of our Lord’s first coming, but a time of preparation for His second.

Listen carefully to our Lord’s parable. It is a dichotomy between the wise and the foolish – all of whom were awaiting the groom. The wise girls in the story, though certainly excited and joyful at the coming of the wedding, did not shirk their responsibilities. Certain things simply need done. No-one else will do them, and if they are not done, there will be horrific consequences. The five wise virgins prepared their lamps with oil before going to sleep. The five foolish virgins procrastinated, deciding to put off their chores until a more convenient time.

At last, the groom arrives. There is no more time. The wise girls are ready. The foolish girls are not. In their last-minute scurrying, the foolish girls are locked out of the wedding. In fact, they hear the most painful words possible: “I don’t know you.”

Jesus Himself, speaking to those who believe in Him, provides the moral of His story: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

This is the same warning given by St. Paul in our epistle: “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The warning to be sober is the same warning St. Peter gives when he tells us how to keep watch for the devil, who prowls like a lion looking for prey. For if we are to be watchful, we must be sober. This doesn’t mean we are never to drink, and indeed, it means so much more than simply being reasonable when it comes to alcohol. Sobriety means keeping alert, not allowing ourselves to fall into distraction, not being frazzled by circumstances, but rather focused and calm.

Sobriety means we are not to be distracted by things that glitter, things that cause us pain, things that raise doubts, or things that lead us to worship other gods.

How is it that Christians can be calm, focused, and alert? Again, St. Paul provides the answer: “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We can be calm, we can be watchful, we can stay on task filling our lamps with oil – doing the things that need done, the things we are called to do, great things and small things alike – even while others around us fall into unprepared slumber or into a distracted state of drunkenness and a lack of trust in the Lord’s promise. “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

The Gospel gives us the ability to be sober. The Gospel enables us to be focused on the tasks God has given us in His Kingdom – whether that be proclaiming the Gospel, supporting the ministry, working for the good of the church, being a godly parent and teaching your children the Word of God, or by doing your job honestly and to the best of your ability. The Gospel allows us to watch for the Bridegroom’s coming as well as to watch out for the attacks of Satan. We are to be alert both to the return of our Lord at the end of time as well as being wary of the temptations to sin we face day to day, moment to moment, in our temporal existence.

Seven hundred years before our Lord’s coming in the flesh, the prophet Isaiah reminded us what God has been promising since the fall in Paradise: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, And joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying.”

In the midst of our busy lives - Christmas shopping, dealing with family problems, struggling with health issues, being beckoned by the lure of wealth and material possessions, and being tossed about by the constant assaults of cultural forces against the Christian Faith and Church, as well as our own sinful flesh - it is easy to forget that we are in the midst of a long-term reconstruction of the universe.

This is exactly the Word of God warns us again and again to cling to the promise, wait, and watch – with expectant joy and with diligent discipline.

We stand 2,700 years after Isaiah’s warning and nearly 2,000 years since the words of St. Paul and of our Lord Jesus Christ were inscribed to the churches. We enjoy luxuries they could only dream about, and we are subjected to assaults on our faith that would shock them. Now, more then ever before we must heed their warnings. For we “know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

But this much we do know, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ: God is restoring the universe. Jesus has defeated the devil and vanquished sin. He is coming to rescue us from the ravages of Satan and of the old corrupted order. The new order is already on the way. The Church waits for her bridegroom, and she has no reason to doubt, to be drunk, to slumber, or to fritter away the gifts she has been given. The wise virgins will be rescued, while the foolish virgins will have walked away from eternal life.

Hang in there, Christians! Time continues to move forward. Every day is another day closer to the restored Paradise promised by God. Every year is one more in the irreversible march to eternity. The victorious Lord Jesus Christ is coming: the babe of Bethlehem is also the mighty King of the universe and Conqueror of all evil.

For Jesus is the one Prince we may, can, and must put our trust in. We trim our lamps with assurance and in joy. For our heroic groom is coming! He always keeps His promises. May He find His beloved bride ready to be whisked away to a restored Paradise that has no end!

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

No comments: