Sermon based on Matt. 25:1-13 for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Dear believers who await the return of the bridegroom: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Three pastors got together for coffee and were discussing the problem they each had with bats in their respective church buildings. A large amount of bats had gathered in the lofts and attics of their churches. The first pastor said he had tried everything to get rid of the bats, and finally, in his frustration, he tried shooting them with his .22 calibre rifle. The only result was holes in the ceiling but the bats remained. The second pastor said he also had tried everything he could think of. He had called in exterminators and had the church fumigated several times, but the bats just would not go away. The third pastor said, “We don’t have any problems with bats anymore.” Surprised, the other pastors asked, “Well, what did you do to get rid of the bats?” The third pastor responded, “I used the method that has proven most effective throughout my years of ministry: I simply baptized and confirmed the bats and I have not seen them in the church since.”
Perhaps you’ve heard that one before, but it points to the same problem to which the Gospel lesson points: like the foolish virgins, there are many who will not have oil in their lamps when Jesus returns.
Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven once again in our Gospel lesson of the week, thus He makes it clear that He is speaking of the Church. All ten virgins were together awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. All ten had the fire of faith in their lamps. All ten were to meet the bridegroom in the great marriage feast. Then all ten fell asleep; that is, they all died, since the bridegroom did not return immediately.
What was so different between the two groups of five? Both groups were supposed to be at the wedding feast. They were waiting for the bridegroom together. They are all believers in Christ, awaiting His Second Coming. They all knew the bridegroom and had faith that He would return. Why did the flames of the five foolish virgins go out? They ran out of oil. They didn’t take more oil with them as the wise virgins did.
The five foolish virgins looked at the flame of their own faith and said, “That is enough. This nice flame will not go out easily. I have faith. I am baptized into Christ.” Further, they looked at the oil already in their lamps and said, “I’ve got lots of oil. I don’t need more. I’ve been baptized and confirmed. I don’t need more forgiveness. I had the Lord’s Supper last week, why would I need it again this week? I’ve got nothing to worry about.” This type of faith got the foolish virgins to refrain from getting any more oil for their lamps.
On the other hand, the wise virgins looked at the flame of their faith and said, “This flame is burning right now, but I don’t know when the bridegroom will come. I don’t know how long this oil will last. I don’t know what I will have to face. How much oil will I need? Can I ever have too much? Yes, I am baptized and forgiven, but I am weak. I sin daily. I need God’s grace and forgiveness as much as possible. God forbid that the bridegroom should come and I am stuck without oil in my lamp.” This type of faith got the wise virgins to get more oil for their lamps.
We do not know when Jesus will return. We do not know when we will die. For some, death comes very suddenly in a tragic accident or sudden illness. Even for those who suffer from illness for a prolonged period of time, death still seems like a sudden shock. So we should always be prepared to die. We should always have oil in our lamps and more oil in our flasks. After death, it’s too late to get more oil for our lamps.
So how can our flame of faith be kept burning? We confess in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit calls us to faith by the Gospel – the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It is this same Gospel that keeps us in the one true faith.
So what do you think happens if you are not regularly hearing and receiving the Gospel? The Holy Spirit keeps faith alive only through the Word and Sacraments. The Word of Absolution you hear gives you more oil in your lamp. The forgiveness you receive in the Lord’s Supper gives you more oil in your lamp. Reading and hearing the Word of God in daily devotions gives you more oil in your lamp.
So do not take the Word of God for granted. Do not take the Lord’s Supper for granted. Do not take forgiveness for granted. Do not take for granted the wisdom of having more oil in your lamp; of having a flask filled with oil as you await the return of Christ, who is the bridegroom of the Church.
We know what happens when we are not constantly receiving forgiveness. We risk the fire of our faith being quenched. When going to church is just another social event that we do from time to time and is secondary to work, hockey, or any other activity; when we don’t read the Bible ourselves at home and with our families, then we start to run out of oil. We stop even seeing the importance of having oil since our lamp is already starting to go out anyway.
A new study out says that if their parents talked about their faith at home, showed that their faith is important to their children, and were active in church, 82% of their children became similarly faithful as adults (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/11/discovery-of-how-to-keep-young-people-in-the-church/). This is in contrast to the 1% of children active in their twenties if their parents did not show this same importance to their faith. This shouldn’t be a shock to anybody.
It is only through Word and Sacrament that we are kept in the faith. If they are not important to us and we neglect them, what do you expect the outcome to be? Our sinful nature will not leave us until we are dead. It continually causes us to sin. Because of our sinful nature, we do not do the good we want to do, but the evil we do not want to do is what we keep on doing (Rom. 7:19). We do the very thing we hate (Rom. 7:15). Our flame of faith is weak. We need forgiveness continually.
The church of the apostles’ time understood this well. Acts 2:46 indicates that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper every day as part of their Divine Service. Since the time of the apostles, for 1700 years, the Christian church celebrated the Lord’s Supper at least every Sunday. But then came heresy. Those who denied the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and denied that forgiveness is actually given and received, started to celebrate the Lord’s Supper less frequently. They denied the benefits, so they discarded the practice. We have nothing in common with this false teaching.
Then, in the 1700s, a dangerous movement called Pietism swept through the Lutheran Church in Europe. They placed so much emphasis on their personal feelings about the Lord’s Supper that they would not attend until they had spent a long time developing the right attitude. In Lutheran churches where Pietism took hold, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper became as infrequent as in those churches that denied the real presence.
In the next century, things only got worse. Rationalism swept in and invaded the church. Rationalists don’t believe in things like sin, miracles, or heaven. They thus denied Christ’s words: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” because they would require a miracle to be true.
But these are Jesus’ own words. He created the world through the power of His Word. He can certainly make His body present in His Supper as He promises. Christ Himself says eating His body and drinking His blood is the way to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is no liar. So when Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” we know that He speaks the truth. And we know that “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” (SC VI) In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us the medicine of immortality!
If we truly believe that Jesus gives to us what He says He gives to us in His Supper, we would cling to it as the greatest gift on earth! If we believe the plain and clear words of Jesus, skipping the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday makes no more sense than skipping your medicine for the day thinking that it will make the next day’s medicine more special. You should be calling me and e-mailing me, begging me to give this forgiveness to you every Sunday. You should call the elders of the congregation to make sure we talk about it at our meeting this week.
You do not want to be a foolish virgin who thinks your faith is so strong that you don’t need any more oil for your lamp. How much oil is enough? I don’t know. When will Jesus return? Well, then maybe we should stock up! The last thing we want to hear upon arrival at the closed door of the marriage feast is Jesus say, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
The Lord’s Supper fills our lamps and our flasks with oil so that the flame of faith is not quenched. Through Word and Sacrament God gives us the forgiveness that Christ won on the cross for us. He gives us the forgiveness we so desperately need. So parents, show the importance to your children. Grandparents, show the importance to your grandchildren. Confirmation students do not forget: This is a matter of receiving forgiveness. God desires to overfill your flask with oil so that it runs over. He is gracious and merciful. He doesn’t want to lose you. He wants to continually strengthen you through His Word and the Lord’s Supper, so that you will have plenty of oil when Jesus our Lord returns. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.