TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – 11/12/17
Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
To the Church at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace (1 Thess. 1:1). Amen.
At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. Dear hearers of the Word made flesh; amid all the cries in this passing world – this is the sweetest! Amid all current cries about important national and international matters – this one dwarfs them all! Amid all the cries that you hear from outside and inside – this cry holds first place end time (eschatological) eternal importance. Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.
This cry concerns the kingdom of heaven that will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom delayed they all became drowsy and slept.
In this parable sleep is not the problem – lack of oil is the problem. Both wise and foolish sleep! The passing of time in this passing world – the ongoing realities of earthly life – the need to prepare for tomorrow as if things will continue on as they do today – and the sleep of death - affect us all. Then when least expected – At midnight - the sweet – decisive – earth-ending cry goes up Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him.
Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. The foolish in this parable are professing Christians – not avowed secularists. The five foolish virgins were once burning with faith in the coming Bridegroom. They loved Him who first loved them. The oil of faith made them children of light in this world of darkness.
But along the path of their earthy life – their supply of oil was exhausted. Prepared for the present – they were no longer prepared for the future. As Amos proclaimed a funeral dirge over unrepentant Israel so the foolish virgins face darkness and not light on the Day of the Lord. Even though – like Israel – there were actions of worship – their offerings and singing and prayers were not accepted by God. God’s justice and righteousness were rolling down like water, like an ever-flowing stream – but the flood was passing them by. The deep reserves of God’s graciousness poured out as He promises were not received in faith to keep their hearts burning within them. On the Great Day of the Lord they lacked the one thing needful.
And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ Faith in Jesus Christ – readiness for His return cannot be borrowed from another. The wise virgins did not selfishly say “we will not share” but - Since there will not be enough…go…and buy for yourselves.
Of course, the servants through whom God works to give this oil - sell it without price (Isaiah 55:1-3). It is received as a gift from the Holy Spirit who testifies to Christ. It is received from the Holy Spirit who filled your lamp in the waters of Holy Baptism – an ever-flowing stream of righteousness. God continues to pour out His grace to replenish that oil through His Word and Sacrament even on this day.
But on Judgment Day – on the Day of the Lord - those without it cannot borrow it. When the sweet – decisive – earth-ending cry is heard – Here is the Bridegroom - the oil of faith cannot be replenished by racing away into spiritual darkness. And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
The Savior of the world, the Lover of mankind says – I do not know you. He who knows all things says – I do not know you. The door is closed on eternal joy with Jesus. Lord have mercy. Jesus here teaches holiness we so easily avoid contemplating. Christ have mercy. In the night of the human situation and the need for eternal salvation, there is a biblical “too late!” Lord have mercy. Blessed Lord, help us to honestly take stock of our oil and the temptation to minimize our need for your faith-bestowing gifts. As we sang – “Watch against yourself my soul – lest with grace you trifle – let not self your thoughts control – nor God’s mercy stifle.
Perhaps the person we think is too devoted to God’s Word and worship is not the problem. Perhaps increasing invitations to support mission work so that others may have lamps and flasks filled with oil are not that oppressive. Merciful Lord, turn us from pursuit of that which is passing to hunger and thirst for your righteousness! Repent! Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
But Pastor – we’re confessional Lutherans here – is it right to portray us in desperate need of repentance? The Doctor of Theology after whom this congregation is named voiced the first of 95 theses this way – “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17) he willed the entire life of a believer to be one of repentance.” Is that how you view your entire life? God help us to turn from what we do and don’t do in loving God with our whole heart and in loving our neighbor as ourselves. Repent! Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
And pastors – you who teach – you will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). Clergy duties do not fill your flask with oil. St. Paul said woe to me if I do not preach the gospel…I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings…(1 Cor. 9:16, 19, 22-23). Then He adds, but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. Even Christ’s great missionary to the Gentiles was concerned that the oil in his lamp did not run dry. Pastors – repent! Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The very wise recognize that they transgress in many, many ways! Yet – dear virgins wise - such painful recognition cannot replenish your oil. The Bridegroom speaking the kingdom of heaven to you with His forgiving love does that! He knows you just as you confessed - Sinful and unclean by nature - sinning against Him in thought, word, and deed. But Jesus knows you also like this - The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). These, dear bride of mine I will not despise. In other words, I delight that you see your sin-sickness and confess it and keep turning from it! I am faithful and just. I forgive all your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
In the flow of blood and water from my pierced side – justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. In that cleansing flow I know you as holy and set apart – ready for my coming. “I know you,” for the Father chose you in me before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless before him having redemption through my blood – the forgiveness of your trespasses according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:4-7).
Make no mistake – “I know you.” Not as a new law giver do I know you – but as the law fulfiller and as your Bridegroom. As a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to His wife – so on the cross I gave my earthly mother into John’s care and was cast from my heavenly Father’s presence as sin itself. I left father and mother in the darkness and gloom of the Day of the Lord to take you as my holy bride. I fulfilled God’s will to present you, My church, My bride to myself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that (you) might be kept holy and without blemish.
You – beloved – are the one for whom He comes with yearning love – in the Virgin’s womb – in His gifts today – at His return! Notice that in His nuptial kingdom parables – the Bride receives no attention. The focus is all on the Bridegroom and those He invites. This clearly reveals that you are more than an invited guest. He comes to unite Himself with you - in intimate love! His love overrules your sin! His forgiveness fills your flask with oil! You captivate His heart (Song of Songs 4:9). You are altogether beautiful to Him. (4:7). He brings you to His banqueting house and His banner over you is love (2:4)!
Dear children of the light; the Bridegroom has a burning love for you and embraces you as His own. He will also deliver you from your body of death. The Lord himself will descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise…and so we will always be with the Lord. He pours His light-giving, life-giving forgiveness into your heart all the days of your earthly life – so that you will always be with Him.
That’s what makes even the shut door of the Day of the Lord good news for you. Here in the realm of darkness – you are always tempted with foolishness. But at God’s wedding feast there are no second chances for the cravings of your sinful flesh. In the new heaven and the new earth God creates His people to be a joy and gladness – body and soul. No more will things go from bad to worse. No more fleeing from a lion to be met by a bear – no more bite of the serpent – even that ancient serpent – the devil. The door is shut on the evil one and on failure and on fear and on frustration and on the fickleness of your sinful heart. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trust in you!
Dear virgins wise, Jesus Christ’s second coming in the flesh is just as certain as His first coming in the flesh. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. But you do know the Man of the hour - the Son of Man – who will soon bid you leave the former things and rejoice forever - as His spotless Bride - at His eternal wedding feast. In Him, you have the very oil you need when the cry goes up. Amid all the cries in this passing world – this is the sweetest! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus, Amen.
Heavenly Father, give us eager expectation of Christ’s return, trusting that His cleansing blood washes white our robes. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Grant to all Your baptized people diligence in watching for the Savior’s appearing – with faith strengthened and replenished by the saving gifts You pour out in Your holy Word and Sacrament. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Father our hope is in Your steadfast love. Grant to all pastors and servants of Your Church faithful proclamation of the wisdom and the hope that is Christ crucified and risen and ascended and interceding. Bless Pastor Larson as He prepares to serve Your people here and his family in this time of transition. Grant joyful anticipation of life together as preacher and hearers – as Your holy Bride receiving Your holy gifts of life and light and love. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, as Your Church is a beacon of light in a dark and dying world grant zeal to Your Church in proclaiming the light of Christ. Bless efforts of international outreach and the offering of a church home to university students that you have brought to our doorstep. Bless Deirdre in responding to requests for help with Moslem immigrants in Germany that as the day approaches many may be gathered into Your kingdom. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty God, preserve our nation in justice and honor that we may lead a peaceable life with integrity. Help those elected and appointed to positions of authority to serve this people according to Your will. Help us grow in respect for your gift of life from the youngest of the unborn to the oldest of the aged. Receive also our thanks for those in the armed forces – for those who have fought to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Grant that in a rapidly changing world and amid danger and threat of death they may serve without reproach. Grant merciful help to those whose lives have been torn by mindless violence or by mindful terrorism that the wounded receive healing help and that the hope of the Gospel is heard. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful Lord, hear us for those facing illness and weakness especially Lou and Sherry and Renee and Gabriel and Teresa. Grant bodily healing according to your will and comfort them with Your divine promises and peace as we know it is Your will. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, sanctify our homes with Your presence, and bless them with joy. Keep our children in the covenant of their Baptism, and enable their parents to bring them up in lives of faith and devotion. Unite the members of all families in a spirit of affection and service that they may show Your praise in our land and in all the world. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Father in heaven, Your Son is victor over death and the grave. We praise You for all who have fallen asleep in Him and who await with us the joy of His return and the fulfillment of all things. Bring us all to the glorious homecoming You have promised Your people. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.