Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sermon: Last Sunday of the Church Year

23 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 25:1-13

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

To us creatures beholden to time, everything has a beginning and an end. But to us Christians who partake in the Lord’s promise of everlasting life, we also live outside of time, where there is no beginning and no end.

This is how we can live with one foot in time and one foot in eternity.

One the one hand, the Bible begins as time begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And yet, the Bible does not end with the words “the end” – for there is no end, only endless paradise.

And our Lord Himself shares in our humanity by living in time, even as in His divinity, He lives in eternity. For our Lord was indeed born in the aftermath of “a decree… from Caesar Augustus… while Quirinius was governing Syria.” But at the same time, He was “begotten of His Father before all worlds.” Similarly, our Lord died after being “crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate” even as His “kingdom will have no end.”

This paradox gives us Christians a strange kind of way of looking at the world in which we live. Like everyone else, we too put our birth and death dates on our tombstones – and yet we know that death is not an end, but is the beginning of something newer and better for us redeemed of the Lord. And like everyone else, we want a bright future in this life for our children, but we also know that no matter what happens, God’s children already possess Paradise that will have no end. And we are reminded of our old Adam with every sin, with every disappointment, with every ache and pain, and with every funeral we attend. But at the same time, our sins bring us to the cross where our Lord won forgiveness for us, and to the Sacrament where His eternal flesh and blood are given to us physically. Every ache and pain calls to mind not only our Lord’s Incarnation in a body like ours, but also calls to mind His suffering and passion that won eternal life for us. And even as we Christians mourn when our loved ones die, we do not mourn like the unbelievers – for we know that our sadness is only in this temporal existence – in eternity our sorrow will “not be remembered or come to mind” but rather we will “rejoice forever” in His new creation.

And so here we are on the Last Sunday of the church year, calling to mind the Last Things – but the Last Things are not just the Last Things, but rather the beginning of eternity. We are indeed in the last days, waiting for our Bridegroom to come and whisk us away from this timely, sorrowful, painful, sin-ridden existence.

And so here we are in these last days, hanging between our temporal and our eternal existence – which is why our Lord bids us to be ready! Our day is coming: our transition out of time and into eternity. We know it is coming, but we don’t know when – so our blessed Lord bids us to prepare now! The day before landfall is not the day to start cutting plywood or driving around looking for batteries. We know of a potential hurricane many days out – but we have known of our Lord’s return for two thousand years.

This is why St, Paul warns us that the Bridegroom’s return will be like a “thief in the night” – for we know nighttime is when robbers strike, but we never know exactly when. Likewise, we can predict about when a woman will give birth, but not down to the minute. A wise mother will have a bag already packed to go to the hospital and not wait until the birth pangs come to start cobbling together a plan. This is why the Apostle similarly warns us: “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”

We need to be watchful and alert. We dare not drop our guard and let the cares of the world take our eyes off of the eternity that awaits us.

Our Lord says as much in a story. In our Lord’s parable, there are ten virgins going to a wedding. They know the Bridegroom is coming to pick them up – but like a thief in the night, they don’t know exactly when. They need to be alert, watchful, and above all, prepared. And there are two kinds of people in the world – the wise and the foolish. The wise are not always smart, and the foolish are not always stupid. Wisdom is not about being able to do calculus and speak eight languages so much as it is having common sense and being ready. And similarly, folly isn’t the lack of the ability to figure out logarithms in your head or not knowing the Hydrogen is an element, but rather lacking the street-smarts to be prepared for something you have been warned is on the way.

In our Lord’s parable, the wise virgins are ready for the trip. Their lamps were filled with oil. They could go to sleep knowing that when the Bridegroom comes, they can trim their lamps and quickly be on their way. The foolish virgins procrastinated. They assumed there would always be time. But when the Bridegroom came, they were out buying oil, and missed their ride. For the foolish, time ran out. To the unprepared, our Lord will say: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

“Watch therefore,” our Lord warns us, “for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

We live in time, but that time will come to an end – even as the church year is ending, even as 2008 is ending, even as our lives too will end. One of the consequences of living in time is that there are endings. Time runs out. In living in time, we can be too late. We know what is coming, but we don’t know exactly when – and so the wise will be prepared, but the foolish will be unprepared.

And how can we be prepared, dear brothers and sisters? “Watch” says our Lord. That means we are to be vigilant. “Vigil” is an ancient word for one of the hours of worship. To be vigilant, to hold vigil, is to be watching, to be expecting. Our Lord could come at any moment! We could breathe our last at any moment. Be ready! Don’t procrastinate repenting. Don’t be like the foolish virgins who assumed they had all the time in the world – for time is fleeting.

Or as St. Paul puts it, we are “not of the night nor of darkness,” rather we are “sons of light and sons of the day.” Sin and crime live under the cover of darkness. The evildoer does not want the light to expose his deeds. But those who live in darkness have been given a great light, the Light of Christ, and this Light “calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”

Our Lord and the Lord’s Apostle are both imploring us to be ready now, to repent now, to walk in the light now, to illuminate your minds and spirits with the light of Scripture – not at some point in the future, not when it becomes convenient – but now. Don’t repeat the folly of the foolish virgins who traded away their eternal life for a short time of pleasure or of slumber.

Now is the day of salvation! And the beauty of salvation is that it is timeless. We truly do have one foot in time and one in eternity. Let us be ready, dear brothers and sisters! Let us be prepared by the Gospel, by our baptism, by our life in the glow of God’s grace, by living the Christian life of a disciple, of a hearer of the Word, of one who prays and one who partakes of the body and blood of the Lord. Let us repent daily and fill our lamps with the oil of the Lord’s forgiveness, so that we may sleep peacefully in the confidence that our Bridegroom is coming, and we are indeed ready to greet Him.

“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” Amen.

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

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