Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Sermon Theme: “Be Wise and Ready!”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Concordia Pulpit Resources, vol. 24, Part 4, Sept. 21-Nov. 23, 2014, Series A)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“What time is it?” Molly shouted from the far side of the playground.
“Late!” Theresa yelled back over her shoulder as she ran headlong toward
“Eight?” Molly thought. “If it is only eight, why is Theresa in such a tearing hurry?” she asked herself.
“We’re late, Molly! Come on!” Theresa urged, as she continued racing across the school yard.
Suddenly Molly realized Theresa had not said, “Eight!” but “Late!” She grabbed her bookbag and ran after her friend just as fast as she could go.
“Wait, Theresa! Wait for me!” Molly cried.
“I can’t wait,” Theresa flung back, “you know the school policy. Late more than five minutes and they lock the door. You have to sit in the principal’s office while they call your parents!”
Out of breath, Theresa dashed into the building and down the hallway to her classroom, just as the hall monitor was preparing to turn the key. A moment later, Molly raced inside, her dress torn, her knee and lip bleeding. She had tripped on a high spot in the sidewalk, and had fallen flat on her face.
The hall door was, by then, firmly locked. She beat on it to no avail. Slowly, she turned toward the principal’s office, noticing for the first time the tear in her dress and the blood trickling down her leg.
“Oh, my!” she thought. “Am I ever in trouble!”
In the parable in our sermon text for today, Jesus is teaching about the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, when the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, will return and call the faithful, repentant believers to the eternal marriage feast. He tells the parable, because He doesn’t want us to have to say one day, “Oh, my! Am I ever in trouble!”
The parables of Jesus are not difficult to understand; it’s just that words and technology change over the centuries. The Bible has always referred to Jesus as our “bridegroom,” and we can understand that. However the term “virgin” or “virgins” is misleading to those who didn’t live in Jesus’ day. The ten “virgins” are the “bridesmaids” in the wedding. Even today, an unmarried best lady in a wedding is called a “Maid of Honor,” whereas a married best lady is called a “Matron of Honor.”
OK, so these “virgins” are bridesmaids who carry oil-burning lamps. It was the ancient custom to have a wedding procession to the Bride’s home. In the 21st Century, if they were showing up for a nighttime procession, they would carry flashlights rather than lamps. In Jesus’ day, weddings were even longer than Bohemian weddings in Texas today; in Judah back then, the wedding celebration lasted a solid week. That should take away a little bit of the muddiness out of the parable.
Here’s the story: The ten bridesmaids were waiting for the groom to come with word that the wedding feast was now ready. Five were foolish; they had no oil for their lamps. And five were wise; they had flasks of oil (extra batteries for their flashlights, in other words).
When the groom finally came, the foolish wanted the wise to share their oil with them but were refused, being told that there wouldn’t be enough oil for all of them. By the time the foolish bridesmaids obtained oil and knocked on the door of the feast site, it was too late. They were denied entrance. Please note the suddenness and unexpectedness of the groom’s coming.
The message of the parable comes through explaining it. A wedding feast was and is one of life’s most joyous celebrations. This one represents our wedding feast at the End of Times with our Bridegroom, who is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. While the Jewish wedding feast lasted a week, the wedding feast with the Lamb will last throughout all eternity.
If you were concerned, as many people are, by the refusal of the Wise Bridesmaids to share their oil (their batteries) with the Foolish Bridesmaids, there is a theological reason for this. You see, the oil for the lamp is a person’s faith, and while you can witness your faith to other people, you cannot transfer it from one person to another. Our faith must be our own. The faith of our mother and father or Sunday School teacher won’t save us unless it is incorporated into our own.
That is why as a congregation, when we confess our faith in the Apostles’ or the Nicene creed, we never say, “We believe.” It always begins, “I believe.” You cannot believe for someone else.
This is primarily a parable of faith and hope. Its message is that faith cannot be parceled out at the last minute and that we must continuously live in hopeful expectation of the in-breaking of Christ’s kingdom. Like a Boy Scout, our motto is “Be Prepared.” Even though we may have faith, we need a reserve to call on when the unexpected happens. How do we prepare to have that reserve? By daily prayer and devotion, by becoming familiar with the Bible, the Word of God, by coming to a community of faith in worship and fellowship. That’s where we get the reservoir of strength we need to carry us through in all things, even into eternity.
We need that preparation, because if our faith is only a tiny ember, any little wind may blow if out before the Bridegroom arrives.
When I was a kid, we had what was known as “Service Stations,” where, whenever you filled up with gas, the attendant would ask you, “Check your oil?” Without oil in the crankcase, your engine was a goner. Daily prayer and devotion, Bible reading, and coming to church for worship and fellowship are ways of getting your oil checked regularly.
Another way to prepare is to try to find out what is keeping your lamp dark, then you can get rid of whatever it is so that your lamp may shine more brightly.
This does not mean of course that we are in control of our own salvation.
Like the Israelites before us, we are an adulterous people. Yes, even those of us who are Wise Bridesmaids go about chasing after other gods, whether it’s money, fame, prestige, or sensuality. We forget about the true God, we fail to love Him or to love our neighbor.
Do you remember in the Old Testament, God had the prophet Hosea marry Gomer, a prostitute? And when she was adulterous, God instructed Hosea to seek and receive her back. Remember that?
Well, God has to divorce us because we are a sin-stained adulteress, and His goodness and justice must make Him separate from us forever. Then the Bridegroom (His Son) comes to be divorced from God in our place. That’s what’s going on when Jesus hangs on the cross and says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And guess what? Jesus buys back His bride, you and me, with His own blood, and He presents us to His Father as radiant, white, holy, sinless, and glorious. Remember the angel says to John in Revelation, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” John says, “Sir, you know.” The angel says, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
See what the Bridegroom has done for us? He makes us His forgiven, holy Bride fit for the kingdom of heaven, prepared for the marriage feast of the Lamb.
Yet in no way should the knowledge of all that cause us to let our batteries go dead! Let us be wise and ready! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.