23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2020
“Those Who Were Ready”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the Gospel lesson read from Matthew 25.
My dear friends,
In my ministry I have presided at 40 weddings and to summarize most of my experiences in a word…Yikes! I have seen it all from weird bridal requests to fainting bridesmaids to a bride 25 minutes late to her own wedding! Have you ever planned a wedding? Weddings require a TON of planning; you don’t prepare at the last minute. Can you imagine an engaged couple on their wedding day if there was no preparation: securing the pastor or wedding site, sending out invitations, planning the food, purchasing the clothing, planning a reception or getting the marriage license? What would happen if the day came and no one was ready? I’m guessing you’d see one upset bridezilla! Not too much sympathy from me. A failure to plan on their part does not constitute an emergency on my part. They did it to themselves; they were not ready and there are consequences for their choice.
In these last few weeks of the church year, we now focus on the end of the age. In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast and ten virgins. These ten virgins are like modern bridesmaids…sort of. Not a lot is known of 1st century wedding customs, but we do know a few basics. In the days of Jesus, the couple’s parents would have arranged the marriage. The groom would save money until both he and the bride were of age and he could support himself and a wife, and then it was time for the consummation of the marriage. The groom would inform the bride’s family and the bride would begin her preparations for consummating their marriage at the bride’s house. Afterwards, there would be a procession to the groom’s home for a wedding feast that might go on for days. The processions often took place at night, when torches made for a spectacular display. The ten girls in Jesus’ parable were involved in going out to meet the bridegroom, They would then have had their place in the procession to the bridegroom’s home for the feast. But only 5 were wise in that they were ready…they had extra oil. 5 of them were not. They didn’t have enough oil and had to run off to buy some. By the time they came back, the doors of the feast were shut, and they were not allowed to enter (vv 11–12). So…what does this mean?
These wise virgins are the believers in Jesus Christ. The foolish virgins are unbelievers in this world. They would love to go to the eternal feast on the Last Day. They may even know a little bit about this Jesus. But they love the world and themselves more and will, one day, find themselves greatly unprepared. They had their chance, though.
This parable is about the kingdom of heaven and ten virgins with lamps of oil. The lamps are faith. The lamps of the foolish virgins are filled with the wrong thing: emptiness, space, air, a lack of oil. If faith were an oil container, with what does the world fill it? In what does the world put its faith? What does the world fear and love and trust above all else? The foolish of this world fill their faith with belief in other gods: Allah, Buddha, wealth, self, government, Hollywood, sports heroes, their own idols. This world’s foolish people fill their faith with total spiritual apathy—not knowing what they believe, not caring that they don’t believe in anything, taking a chance that if there is some god out there he’ll let everyone in to whatever this afterlife is. They also will not enter the marriage feast. The doors will be slammed shut, and they will hear its hollow ring of the joy on the other side.
In this parable, Jesus is teaching about the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, when the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, will return and call His Bride – the Church – the faithful, repentant believers – to the eternal marriage feast. And when he comes, O wise believers, you will have been filled with Christ, which will mean you are prepared. Your lamps are filled with Christ and his Word, which has sustained your faith through life’s trials and temptations and given healing and forgiveness to you in your sinful life. It has strengthened your faith to endure even the days such as these. Your lamps are filled with Christ in his font, where faith in him was created, washing your sins, and where he shields and wards off Satan and his constant deadly attacks against you. Your lamps are filled with Christ at this Table, where Christ enters your body and your soul to forgive your sin, to strengthen your faith in this difficult, fallen world, and where he promises you a place at the greater feast to come. This parable is about the Bridegroom who prepares you for the marriage feast on the Last Day as he fills your lamp of faith with himself—his death and his resurrection—and in him you are ready and prepared to enter the feast . . . no matter when he comes. A failure to be ready by the foolish unbelievers of this world’s part does not constitute an emergency on Christ Jesus’ part.
In 1992, country music artist Billy Ray Cyrus released his first album entitled “Some Gave All.” Neither critics nor Rolling Stone magazine liked it. In 2006, “Some Gave All” ranked at number 33 in Q magazine’s list of “The 50 Worst Albums Ever,” despite the fact it sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. The first release from that album was “Achy Breaky Heart” which became an overnight sensation sparking the popularity of country line dancing and the aptly named “achy breaky shuffle.” Yikes. I prefer the title track from that album. The chorus of “Some Gave All” – a tribute to veterans – goes like this: “all gave some, some gave all. Some stood through for the red white and blue and some had to fall. And if you ever think of me think of all your liberties and recall some gave all.” Wednesday is Veteran’s Day and we give thanks for and remember our brave men and women who have served, sacrificed, and stood tall. When the call to arms came, they were ready.
If Jesus returns today, will you be ready? Will your loved ones be ready? May we do all that we possibly can to ensure that our nation remains the Land of the Free Because of the Brave and that all people will be ready for the coming of Christ because of their saving knowledge of His truth.