Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon: Last Sunday – 2011

20 November 2011 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.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells a story that contrasts wisdom and folly, showing us the difference between being wise and being foolish. But unlike the philosophers, Jesus is not just talking about what will make us happy in this life, he is talking about eternity.

And the bottom line on wisdom is this: have your priorities in order. This is a hard lesson to learn. Hopefully it comes with age, but not always. Hopefully we learn such lessons from those who teach us, but sometimes we must learn from our mistakes.

In this fallen world, we can’t have everything. In our human limitations, we can’t be in more than one place at the same time. A wise person will use his resources wisely, and a fool will use his resources foolishly. A wise person will set priorities, and make first things first; a fool will convince himself that important things can wait. A wise person invests his time, talent, and treasure in a way that will bring a long term return on the investment, whereas a fool only thinks about the pleasure he can experience in the present.

And, dear friends, there is no longer term than eternity.

Just as a wise person saves for a rainy day, and a fool spends money he hasn’t even earned yet – so will the spiritually wise “store up treasures in heaven” while the spiritually foolish will convince himself that nothing bad will happen to him so he might as well have fun now. The wise live for the kingdom; the foolish only live for themselves.

Our Lord Jesus not only teaches us to be wise, He uses the Parable of the Ten Virgins to teach us the consequences of being spiritually foolish.

“The kingdom of heaven will be like,” He says. Our blessed Lord is not simply imparting wisdom so that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise, achieving our potential on the job or on the golf course, or just for the sake of self-actualization. Rather, He is trying to keep us out of hell. For that is the end result of foolishness. Dear friends, the Lord Jesus has sacrificed His life as a ransom, an atonement, a redemption, a buy-back, to pay for the sins of the whole world. It is a free gift of grace extended to every human being who draws a breath, and even those yet unborn. This is the good news, the best news in human history.

And to the wise, this good news is their top priority. It is the single most important thing in their lives. It is where the wise channel their time, their thoughts, and their resources. But to the foolish, this news is either not believed, or it is believed but relegated to a low priority and largely ignored.

For “the kingdom… will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” Five girls were prepared for their journey to the wedding feast, with lamps trimmed and full of oil. However, the other five were foolish, having wasted their time, talents, and treasure on other things rather than on being prepared for the return of the bridegroom.

This story that Jesus continues to tells even today is a tragedy. While it ends well for the wise virgins, the prepared, the girls who had their priorities in order, it ends like a nightmare for the foolish virgins, the unprepared, the girls who did not have their priorities in order. For they didn’t merely lose a few hours while they went to the store. Rather, they lost eternity serving themselves instead of being obedient to their Master. For “Those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

“The door was shut” dear friends! Jesus compared himself to a door, a portal into heaven, a pathway from this broken world of sin and death, a passage to the world made new, a world in which we will resume our feast in paradise that was interrupted by our fall into sin. “For behold,” says the Lord, “I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” We will be so joyful in our restored paradise that we won’t even remember what it was like to be afraid of death, to mourn the loss of loved ones, to be grieved by pain, to be harassed by crime, to be gnawed by hunger and poverty, to be unsure of ourselves, to be tempted by sin, to be depressed, to be addicted to substances, to be betrayed by friends, to be attacked by enemies, to feel distant from God, or to be worried about hell.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “and be glad with my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”

This is what lies beyond the door into which the wise virgins entered with the bridegroom, with the Lord Jesus Christ. And listen to what lies beyond the door that was shut, leaving outside the five foolish virgins, who cry out too late: “Lord, lord, open to us.” “But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” And so our Lord concludes his story with a sobering lesson, and, dear brothers and sisters, we do well to listen very carefully. Are you listening? Please listen now. Listen to this single sentence from our Lord. Please listen as if this is the last thing you will hear in this life: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The foolish virgins were foolish because they believed they had control. They were foolish because they allowed selfish desires to be made a priority over the bridegroom and the wedding feast.

Our Lord calls us to be wise, to be prepared, to trim our lamps, to have our oil already – so that when there is a cry at midnight: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” – we will be prepared. The wise do not begin evacuating when the storm has arrived, but are prepared ahead of time, ready to go hastily on short notice. It is a matter of priority, of thinking beyond the present, of wisdom

Dear brothers and sisters please hear me. This world is falling apart! The things that are of such a high priority to us now count for nothing in the kingdom of heaven. The things that make us happy and sad, that motivate us, that in some cases control us, these worldly things only distract us from the kingdom.

It has been said that Americans “worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” This reflects the messed-up priorities of our culture. The church’s counter-culture has a different view, one that comes from the Word of God: “You shall have no other gods.” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” “Take up your cross.”

The Word of God is wisdom only to those who receive it in faith. For in faith we wait for the Bridegroom to return. In faith we know there is a new heaven and a new earth awaiting us. In faith we receive the gift the Lord Jesus earned for us at the cross and delivers to us in the Gospel and in His sacraments. In faith we confess our sins and in faith we receive absolution. In faith we live out this salvation in wisdom, with heavenly priorities, storing up treasures in heaven, and crucifying the old Adam with his fleshly passions and selfishness. In faith we live day to day in our baptism, in a life of repentence.

In faith we confess that the Lord is returning, but also in faith we confess our ignorance of when: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

For they are the foolish virgins, those of misplaced priorities, those who think there will yet be time to trim their lamps when the Day of the Lord is upon us suddenly and without warning.

Dear friends, the Lord weaves this tragic tale not to frighten us, not to upset us, but rather to warn us. “Watch” He says. The word translated “watch” literally means “be vigilant.” It means to keep vigil, to be prayerfully awake and aware, waiting in joyful expectation for the Bridegroom to come, with our lamps trimmed and full of oil, ready to leave this crumbling and broken world in the blink of an eye for an eternal life where “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” where all creation lives together harmoniously, where sin, Satan, and death will not even be called to mind, and where we will live out the Lord’s making of His broken creation His own priority, a priority of love, and that life of love and joy will have no end.

Watch, therefore. Watch in joy! Watch in expectation! Watch in hope! Watch…

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

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