Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 26, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable of the Ten Virgins is a parable about the Church. That is why all the virgins look the same. They all carry lamps.
But we can’t see into the lamps. We don’t know if they have oil or not. We simply assume that they do. Why would you carry around an empty lamp? Why would you belong to a Church but not believe what it teaches? Why would call yourself a Christian but not trust the Bible?
The reality is: some people do. They have the outward trappings but don’t have faith.
Despite appearances, all of the virgins fail to keep watch. They all fall asleep. None of them is morally pure. We don’t need to see into people’s hearts to know they are sinners. The problem isn’t that the foolish virgins are worse sinners than the wise. They are not worse. They are all the same, equally bad.
The difference between them is hidden from our eyes. It is not that some are good and some are bad. Even though they looked no different and acted no different, five of them were carrying around empty lamps. The oil in this parable is faith. They foolish virgins didn’t believe that the Bridegroom would ever come. They thought the thing that mattered was the lamp not the light. They were dressing up for one another, not for Him.
Despite the outward trappings, without faith the foolish virgins are shut out. All the virgins had to be awakened. They all scrambled to light their lamps. But with faith, by faith, despite their moral failings, the wise virgins are brought in not simply to the wedding but all the way into the bridal chamber.
This parable illustrates what the Lutherans mean when they talk about “faith alone.” The wise virgins aren’t morally superior to the foolish. The wise were not brought in because they were perfectly prepared, because they had fulfilled their duties. They had not. They came in by grace. The Bridegroom forgave their sleepiness and because of their sleepiness He generously sent someone to wake them. The difference between the wise and the foolish is that the wise believed that the Bridegroom had told the truth. They believed that He was good and that He wanted them. Even when they failed to keep watch, they still believed that He was coming. That is faith. That is what was in their lamps.
But not so with the foolish and all of us, like the Apostles on Maundy Thursday, must ask ourselves, “Am I a foolish virgin? I have failed to keep the Law. I have had plenty of dark thoughts. I am capable of it. I have often thought more of the opinions of men than I have of God. Will I be saved?”
The answer is yes. All those who believe and are baptized are saved.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is why you need to be awakened. The Midnight call comes now. Repent. Awake. The Lord will return as a thief in the night. You have been a foolish virgin. We all have. The first step to becoming wise is to recognize your foolishness and your inability to overcome it. Sin is foolish. It refuses to believe that God’s Law is good. Contrary to the protestations of our fallen flesh and our society God’s Law has not been given to burden us but to show us what is good and right. When it accuses us, it does us a favor. We need the diagnosis before we can take the medicine. The disease is sin. The cure is grace. We need to wake up to this before we can light our lamps.
If grace is the cure, faith is the IV drip, the means of delivery. Grace comes into us through faith and makes the flame. Faith is the oil. It is wise precisely because it expects God to keep His promises and be good to us, though seems foolish to the world. Faith believes that the Father has accepted the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for all our sins. It believes that God is sincere when He says that our sins are forgiven, that He loves us, and that He is coming back. It believes that everyone who is baptized and believes will be saved.
Jesus said that, that everyone who is baptized and believes is saved because you get faith by Baptism. So don’t stop with the questions, “Am I foolish? Have I failed to keep the Law?” Of course you are and you have, but there is more to you than that. Along with those questions ask: “Am I baptized? Does God keep His promises?” Yes! God be praised
How then do you keep this faith? How do you stay awake at least part of the time and how do you get oil into the lamp? How do you keep the hope alive even while your flesh fights against you? How do you stay wise when foolishness is all around you? By God’s Word as it comes to us in the Bible, in preaching, and in the Sacraments.
This parable is a warning. The lamp can run dry. Faith requires constant replenishment. It cannot survive without the Word and the Sacraments The power of faith is not in our will power or sincerity or understanding. The power of faith is the promise of God to be and do what He says He is and will do. All of that based upon who He is and what He has done. He is the One whose mercy endures forever. He is the One who has laid down His life to atone for and cover your sins, to declare you righteous. Without God’s Word and gifts faith will dry up and die. Only the virgins whose lamps were lit, who had oil, got in. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. His Word is true and trustworthy.
Coming to church to hear God’s Word and receive the Holy Communion is necessary for faith to stay healthy and alive. It is necessary. But simply coming is not enough. Singing the hymns, bowing at the cross, saying the Creed is not enough. Even reception of B Holy Communion and being absolved is not enough.
The word of God is inherently powerful. It does what it says and promises. ut it must be received through faith.
God’s Word is not the same as medicine though it similar. It is different in this sense. You can take medicine without knowing anything about it or considering how it can help you and it will still work. It will do what it does though the natural order of chemistry. It works without faith or knowledge.
God’s word is inherently powerful but it doesn’t work automatically because God doesn’t force Himself upon us. His. His Word brings us to faith and it keeps us in the faith; yet, ironically, it requires that which it gives. It must be received through faith. That is because what it gives can be rejected, neglected, and abused. This is a warning for us. Being an outwardly religious person, a churchgoing person, a person carrying a lamp, who refuses to consider what the Word actually teaches, if that person hardens his heart to what the law demands of him or regards the gospel as something to learn and file away in the back of the brain, or, worst of all, as a license to do whatever he wants, his faith will wither and die. The Word must be received by faith. Lamps without oil are useless.
Rather than thinking about the lamp, we might consider the wick. A dry wick is worthless. Only a wick saturated in oil can burn with the light of true faith. The light is the light of the oil. It is the light of the word. It is God’s light. God’s Word and Light are the fuel of faith.
Whether you’ve been every Sunday attender for the last 10 years or you’re here for the first time, the lesson is the same. Repentance is needed. We must confess our sins and seek God’s grace. God’s Word and Sacraments are needed to keep that newborn or reborn faith alive. No matter how good or bad you’ve been in the past, if this spark is neglected, it will die. Now is the day of salvation.
So don’s dare say: “Oh, I have my faith! God and me are good. I understand Him and I don’t need to come to Church or study the Bible or receive Holy Communion. I have enough.”
Repent. You don’t have enough. God would pour oil on you so that your lamp overflows. The Lord isn’t into minimums and “enoughs.” He gives abundantly. He has got more forgiveness than you’ve got sins, but the lamp needs constant replenishment. Faith needs the forgiveness of sins that God gives in His Word, in the Holy Absolution, in the Sacrament of the Altar. That is both where lamps get lit and where and how they keep burning.
This is the faith and wisdom that we all need, that we never outgrow. It is the righteousness of God that can’t be held but must be constantly given. It is not ours to keep and use as we choose. It is a blessing that is offered to us in the places and ways that He has promised. It is like standing under a shower. The water is keeping us wet but running down the drain. If we step out of the shower, we will soon be dry. God would not only soak us in His grace, but He would keep the water running.
That is what we’re here for. That is why we keep coming back. This is wisdom though it is foolish and hidden from us now. We are loved by God in Christ. And fools that we are, He wakes us up to His mercy. He is waking us now. It is not too late but it is later than when we first believed. Rejoice. The Bridegroom is coming. This age is coming to a close.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.