Trinity 27 2021

Matthew 25:1-13

November 21, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Imagine that you’re traveling, that you’re one of those crazy enough to travel during Thanksgiving holiday.  You have to get to the airport.  So you have to drive there.  Then you have to park, go get your ticket, work your way through security, get randomly searched, find your gate, find out it’s been changed, find the new gate, go to the bathroom, and sit down to hurry up and wait for a late plane. The only message available is “delayed, arrival pending.”  By this time, you’re exhausted, so you close your eyes for just a minute.  Now all that work is at risk.

Careless, sleepy travelers risk missing a flight or an exit, or the “road closed” sign up ahead.  Alert travelers demand attention to maps, weather, road, luggage, other travelers and the destination, all at once. It can be exhausting, especially when things are running later than expected.

And so you start to think, maybe it isn’t going to happen after all.  There’s no discernable no status change on the arrival time. In fact, when asking how much longer this will all take the only answer you get is that no one knows “only God knows the time of arrival.”

And out of frustration, you think, “What’s the problem?! What’s taking so long?” As we considered last week, St. Paul reminds us that “the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is waiting for your repentance, your return, your anxious, striving heart to become quiet enough to see the futility of your struggle to deliver yourself and your tendency to fall asleep on the job!  Live lives of holiness and godliness, in eager anticipation, waiting for and hastening the day of His coming, and to be diligent for that day. 

And so today we are reminded of this diligence in Jesus’ parable about the 10 virgins.  In this parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Notice first of that these are all virgins, that they are holy and pure.  These are ones already made holy by virtue of their baptism and part of the wedding party. In other words, Jesus is talking about believers here.  He’s talking to His Church. He’s talking to you.

Now, five of these were foolish and five were wise. Those who are foolish are the ones who took their lamps, but not oil. The wise are the ones who took oil along with the lamps.  And now here they are, and the Groom is delayed. There’s been a change to their plans and now they have to wait longer than they expected. And just like that a weary traveler on the holidays, all 10 of them become drowsy and fell asleep.  

How easy it is to fall asleep!  The pilgrimage and travel of this life can be exhausting!  We get bombarded with the negative over and over again like bad airport continuous news reports.  It’s almost just bad, bad, and more bad.  It’s depressing, and it’s wearing. School isn’t always filled with the joy of learning. Work isn’t always as fulfilling as one would hope. Conflicts arise in the home. Little by little our energy is drained and our hopes and dreams seem so far off.  And through it all there’s Jesus saying, “Stay awake! Watch and pray.”  The Bridegroom is on His way.

It’s almost ironic that Jesus speaks this parable on Tuesday of Holy Week.  A couple days later, He takes Peter, James, and John to the Garden of Gethsemane right after His last supper. Filled bellies in the disciples, a dark evening, uneasiness over Jesus’ words about an upcoming betrayal and denial, arrest and death.  And Jesus tells them, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And when Jesus comes back after about an hour, He finds His disciples asleep!  “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. Indeed, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Three times that happened, and then Jesus is arrested, and the disciples scatter.  

Stay awake, watch and pray. Louder than an airport intercom announcing the plane has arrived and it is time to board, the call will come, “Here is the bridegroom, come out to meet him!” Jostled awake, the difference between the foolish and the wise becomes readily apparent. If the lamp itself is faith, given in baptism, that makes one pure and holy as a virgin.  The oil is the Means of Grace to fill the faith.  In the parable, the foolish have no oil, they have stayed away from the means of grace, even while looking for something to fill them at the end, which by that point is simply too late.

And so they try to take the oil from the wise five.  The foolish say the wise, “give us some of your oil.”  Our translation says, “Since there will not be enough for us and you, go rather to dealers and buy for yourselves.”  This translation is unfortunate though.  What it literally says is “Never!” They don’t say no, but never! There is no time, there is no chance.  The point is simple, you can’t believe for someone else and you can’t depend on someone else’s faith or preparations to be allowed into the eternal wedding feast. Each needs their own.  There is never a case when we can take a person who is in hell and believe for him, as with the rich man and Lazarus, the chasm is too great between here and there and cannot be crossed.  

Some don’t make use of their baptism. Some don’t nurture the faith they already had and neglected their position as one of the virgins and didn’t prepare the right way, they took it for granted, or thought there might be time to buy it later. They didn’t believe that Christ the Bridegroom was really coming, or that He was coming anytime soon, and so they were unprepared when it actually matters and run off to try to find some oil.  

Where is the oil to be found? Where are the foolish pointed? To the market.  To the Church, where oil isn’t bought and sold, but given away for free. Jesus, the Bridegroom, has already paid for it all. Paid by His death, He’s giving it away for free! The problem is by the time the call comes, it’s too late. The market is closed. The foolish can’t buy any oil, they can’t get it any other way except through the means of Word and Sacrament.  They can’t go to Church anymore to hear and believe and be forgiven because the end has come. They were giving the oil away, and the foolish wouldn’t take it. And coming back, the door has been shut, no more passengers allowed on board, no late admission, no second chance, only Jesus words, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

The sad reality is that many who are invited to share in the eternal joy of the Kingdom of heaven who will miss out by failing to have a living faith at the end.  They have been given faith, but they neglect meeting together around Christ, they don’t come to church, and think that there is plenty of time to deal with it all later. The point, the warning, in the text is simply: don’t be those foolish virgins.  Be diligent, use the faith God has given to you, get the oil of the Word and Sacraments, stay awake. Sleeping through the sermon and/or stumbling through the liturgy in unthinking stupor may be common enough, and sinful enough, but what of the sin of sleeping through life itself?  Complacency, lackadaisical Christians are the very antithesis, the exact opposite of the alert disciples Jesus calls for.  This is why you’re here, this is how you fight sleepiness, this is how you stay prepared and awake in the faith, so stay in this – in the Word, in the Sacraments, in the declaration that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Don’t play with sin and think you can get away with it.  That is destructive to faith and lures you sleep.  You can’t keep your sin secret from God. There may not be a later for you to repentant then, so you better do it now. While you are travelers on this journey of your lives, we are reminded of the need to stay awake and be aware of what is going on so you don’t sleep your lives away and get caught unaware at the midnight hour. 

And in this certainty, stay awake!  Watch and Pray.  Be ready for Christ’s return. He could come today, tomorrow, 10 years from now.  Your waiting is not in vain.  Your waiting has already been fulfilled on Calvary, is being fulfilled again at the altar, and will be fulfilled again on the Last Day.  What are you waiting for? Stay awake! For today is the day of salvation!