The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
If you knew Jesus was coming before next Sunday; before Christmas; before this service let out, would it change you? Would it light a fire under you to reach out to those foolish loved ones who’ve let their flame of faith flicker out? They still have time right now to fill up on oil. It’s still daytime. Do you encourage this “filling up on life-saving oil” right now, or are you willing to sit back and wait for a “more opportune time”? What if the next opportune time is your funeral? What if it’s their funeral? It’s too late then. “Go away. I don’t know you.”
That’s something I think about with the five wise virgins telling the five foolish ones to go and purchase oil from the merchants. It’s midnight! Those merchants aren’t open. It’s not the five wise virgins were being catty or mean, telling the others to basically “get lost.” That wasn’t it. Faithful ones wouldn’t do that. These ladies were sending their foolish cohorts to the proper place to get exactly what they need. There was nothing mean about it. It was actually a very loving action on their part. Unfortunately, though, that proper place was now closed. It was too late. So…I’ll ask again: What if you knew that Christ would return within the next hour? What if you knew you (or your loved one) would be meeting your heavenly Bridegroom face-to-face within the hour? Would this knowledge change you? And then the next question is: WHY would such knowledge change you? After all, if you believe like you say you do, there shouldn’t be a difference, right? “Come, Lord Jesus…just not yet. I’m not ready yet.” That’s not exactly how it goes.
This is one of the problems that Jesus was confronting/addressing with this parable. Some faithful people were losing patience. Think of John the Baptist in prison. Things weren’t shaking out as quickly as John had expected or anticipated. If Jesus really was the Messiah—the One who would set the captives free—then why was John still languishing in prison? “Are you the one to come, or should we be looking for another?” This is still a problem today, isn’t it? Things don’t shake out the way we expect; things don’t happen immediately (or at least as quickly) or neatly as we’d like. We pray. We put money in the plate. We blow the dust off our Bible and read a “whole chapter”…and nothing happens; nothing that we want/expect to happen. The genie in the lamp doesn’t come through for us as soon as we snap our fingers. In terms of Church/faith the result is that we tend to get bored. We get tired. We get complacent and lackadaisical. “Why try? Why put in all this effort and work and money and time? Nothing is changing.” Missing one Sunday won’t hurt, right? It’s all the same thing every week. Missing one Sunday won’t hurt. That one Sunday turns into two, which easily turns into a month, which, before you know it, turns into “I’m a good Christian. So what if I haven’t been to church since the Reagan administration? I still love Jesus. He knows my heart.” You sure about that? “Go away. I don’t know you.” Are you willing to chance that? It doesn’t end well.
Of course, there’s also the flip-side to this, which we can be just as guilty of, and which ends with the same tragic result. Maybe we don’t get bored or complacent or lackadaisical. Maybe we don’t fall away and have our faith flicker out because we never bothered to let God refuel us with His Word and Sacraments. Okay…great. There’s also the other extreme, which is to make yourself very busy; very occupied; very distracted. That sounds a lot like, “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know….” People act like they’ve got this whole “faith/Church thing” mastered. “I know Jesus loves me. I know He’s working all things for my good. I already know all this.” Okay…so why is your life a dead-ringer for someone who doesn’t know this or believe this? Why is your lamp flickering out?
You know what I mean. Things start stacking up and getting tough, and instead of recognizing that maybe God is trying to slow you down and “still” you so that you can actually hear what He has to say and receive what He has to give you, you instead kick into a self-imposed frenzied, busied state, working even harder to try and drown out the pain of the cross you’re bearing. It’s called escapism. All that busy-ness doesn’t make the cross go away, does it? Instead of bearing that cross faithfully and patiently, holding fast to God and His Word and His means of grace, we instead consume ourselves with work, with chores, with recreation, with drugs, with alcohol, with anything that will take our minds off of our present trial and tribulation. Did you ever stop to think that MAYBE God is using these crosses to refine you and strengthen you in your faith? Those of you in our Wednesday study of Job know what I’m talking about.
What does the wise/prudent/faithful one do when they are faced with tentatio (struggling)? Answer: The faithful one doesn’t try to escape their cross. They don’t shun the cross out of impatience or boredom, hoping for a better deal or a new and improved wheel to help solve their problems and scratch their itches. The wise and faithful one turns and holds fast to God and His Word. They turn to God in prayer—yes—but more importantly they turn to God in order to hold fast to Him and LISTEN to Him and receive from Him. In order to listen and receive, one must stop all the hustle and bustle. One must stop doing all the talking and all the frantic running to and fro. The faithful one turns to God and LISTENS to His Word; His comfort; His Gospel promise; His peace. The faithful one turns to God and HOLDS FAST to Him and His good gifts.
Believe it or not, but this faithful listening is what Jesus is getting at when He says at the end of this parable, “Watch…for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This command to “watch” isn’t a warning (which is how it’s often treated). We tend to hear “watch out!” as if Jesus is threatening us. “Watch out, or you’re going to wind up with the five foolish virgins, locked out and in the dark, weeping and gnashing your teeth.” That’s NOT what Jesus is saying here! This is a loving call to patient faithfulness. This is Jesus very clearly, patiently, and lovingly saying, “Be on watch. Remain watching. Remain vigilant. Stay the course. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t get lackadaisical. Don’t let boredom lull you away. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let your self-imposed busy-ness get the better of you and lure you away. Be patient, remain patiently faithful, and stay watching.”
My dear brothers and sisters: Here is where your Lord and Savior directs to watch. He’s not gone. He’s not absent from you. He’s right here; right where He tells you to look. Here is your Bridegroom! In the midst of the darkness and despair and fear and uncertainty…look here! Listen here! I’ll be the first to admit that this [Word and Sacrament] isn’t as glorious and terrifying and awesome as that last day will be when Christ returns in all His heavenly glory and might. But…here He is, right now, right where He tells you to look.
I can’t make you see this great comfort and peace that your holy Bridegroom is so lovingly, willingly, patiently, and unconditionally holding out to you. I can’t make you want this or desire this, especially over and above all the other alternatives the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh offer to you. All I can do is exactly what I’m doing now; the exact same thing that all the faithful prophets and priests have done before me: I point you to Christ. I point you to your Bridegroom in your midst. I point you to His gifts; His down-payments and dowries of grace, comfort, and peace; a peace that surpasses all understanding and will only be surpassed when you are seated with your Bridegroom in glory at the heavenly wedding feast table. Until then, your Lord gives you all that you need to keep your flame of faith burning bright. He gives you His holy Word, His holy Baptism, and His holy Body and Blood. He gives you and overflows you with the over-abundant gift of Himself, and He gives you this gift so that you may ever remain confidently and patiently secure in Him, no matter how dark or uncertain things may get.
May your flames of faith ever burn bright as you patiently and faithfully watch and wait and live for your Bridegroom’s triumphant and glorious return. Remain patiently faithful. Remain faithfully patient. Watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Until then, your Lord and Bridegroom knows what He’s doing, and He’s doing it all for the good of those who love Him.
May your lives ever and always shine bright with the light of Christ, and may this light and joy of the Gospel shine forth in all that you say and do, now and into all eternity.
In the name of Jesus…AMEN.
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