+ Pentecost 22 – November 9th, 2014 +
Series A, Proper 27: Amos 5:18-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If there’s one thing you can tell from hearing Jesus’ parables, it’s that God loves a party. Time and time again, Jesus teaches about a wedding feast, a great banquet, or a Master who threw a party. God is shown as a gracious, abundant host. Heaven is a grand feast – fine wines and rich food. And all are invited.
Today’s parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is no exception.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Where are these 10 young ladies heading? A party. Why? Because there’s a bridegroom. And where there’s a bridegroom there’s a wedding. And where there’s a wedding, there’s a feast.
This is Jesus’ way of talking about the end-times.
The Day of the Lord is near. The Bridegroom is coming! Jesus spends a good amount of time during Holy Week dishing up three end-times parables for his disciples, leading up to the main course: his own death and resurrection. His crucifixion signals the beginning of the end. But an end we need not fear, because Christ has been judged in our place.
And so the church follows her Lord; these last three Sundays of the church year feature an extra portion of end-times teaching.
Jesus teaches us that his coming will be at an unknown and unexpected time; that Christ’s return – like the Bridegroom in the parable - is delayed; and therefore we should be ready, watchful, and awake in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. For his coming is a joyous occasion.
Jesus’ parable prepares you for his coming. Prepares you for the party.
After all, God doesn’t want a party of one. Our heavenly Father is the God of fellowship. His party needs guests and people to receive and rejoice in his saving gifts.
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.
Notice that even before the description of “wise” or “foolish” is given, they’re all invited. Jesus’ heavenly banquet, Christ’s death and resurrection that leads to eternal life, is for all people. It would be foolish to reject such a gift. And yet that’s precisely what Scripture says happens.
Wise and foolish in the Bible are ways of saying “believing” and “unbelieving”; faith and unfaith. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
The foolish ones follow the wisdom of the world, the live-by-what-you-see wisdom. They come off as cool and with the times, like they have it all together. “Oil? We don’t need no stinkin' oil. I’ll buy it later. I’m not carrying around all that extra oil. Look at how silly those other girls look.”
Such is the way of folly in this sinful world. The foolish look cool and confident. The wise ones look foolish to the world. We who trust in the Christ, the Bridegroom and have faith in is return are mocked and ridiculed. Because we long for a better party in heaven we are called fools or worse.
And so we’re tempted to join the foolish girls club. We delude ourselves with the world’s wisdom: “Oh, it’s fine; I’ll repent later.” But our foolishness goes deeper. We delight in the wisdom of the world because it’s easier to live that way, and if we’re honest, more enjoyable too. We love our sin. We enjoy living foolishly. We want to get along better with the world; we want the foolish girls to like us. What foolishness. Later may never come. There is a point of no return, when it’s too late, when the Gospel is no longer preached; a time when you can’t go and get oil, when the doors will be shut forever. Five virgins fall asleep and are shut out. Repent. The Bridegroom is coming.
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
Everyone is surprised by the Bridegroom’s midnight arrival. It’s unexpected and unknowable. Who would’ve figured that the Bridegroom would be delayed? Who would’ve figured that the bridegroom would show up at the crazy hour of midnight? That’s no time for a wedding party.
Like the Bridegroom’s arrival, Jesus return is also unexpected and unknowable. You neither know the day nor the hour. Jesus’ return may be delayed, but he will come. There will be an end. The Bridegroom is coming.
It’s the Bridegroom’s arrival that shows the wise and the foolish for who they truly are.
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.’ 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.’
Finally, when the Bridegroom arrives, the wisdom of the wise and faithful is apparent. They had oil to spare. They lived in expectation of the wedding party. They let nothing get in the way, including those terribly unfashionable bottles of oil they were toting along with their purses. They listened to the word of the Bridegroom. They looked and longed for his arrival.
Not so the foolish girls. They look to their own readiness and lamps. The foolishness of the unbelieving is also revealed as they run around looking for oil that can’t be found, and finding a closed door to a wedding party at which they had a place. How sad! How foolish! How unnecessary!
They had trimmed their lamps. Their lamps were low but they were burning. Had they not heard that the Lord would not snuff out a smoldering wick? The problem wasn’t the oil or the lamps. It was that they did not trust the cry that the Bridegroom was really coming. They had everything they needed to greet the Bridegroom and go in. Their lamps were burning even though they were low, but they refused to believe it was enough. They had a place at the wedding party. Christ died for all without exception. They had a seat at the table with their name on it. They were invited to the party. And yet in their foolish figuring, they lost out, they are unrecognized. The door is shut. “I don’t know you.” They sought to prepare themselves to meet Him by their own means, they did not dare to meet Him in their foolishness. This is the height of folly.
The wise, on the other hand, believe the cry. They rise to meet the Bridegroom with rejoicing despite their failure to keep watch. They do look not at their own readiness or their lamps. They look to the Bridegroom and He keeps their lamps burning. They trust the Bridegroom. He will bring them in.
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.’
This is partly why Jesus teaches us about the end times. It’s a warning. Yes, the Bridegroom is delayed. But Jesus will return. The Bridegroom is coming, and soon. When? We don’t know. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
But Jesus’ end-times teaching also a gives us a great promise…Just as Paul says: Christ died and rose again, even so through Jesus God will raise the dead when he returns in glory…and we will always be with the Lord.
The world’s end may look and sound terrifying but not for you who are in Christ. For you it is joy. We welcome and pray for Christ’s return. We wait in eager expectation for the Bridegroom. And where there’s the Bridegroom there’s a wedding. And where there’s a wedding there’s a party.
God is the consummate party planner. Everything is prepared. God has spared no expense. He has given his costliest gift for you, His Son. Your invitation is sent by the Father, penned in the crimson ink of Christ’s blood, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
It is the wisdom of the crucified Jesus that saves you. It is the wisdom of his death and resurrection that makes you one of his wise ones, preparing you for His return. A bleeding, suffering, dying man on a cross may look like utter folly to the world, but there is God reveals his greatest wisdom and your great salvation. There Christ becomes the fool to give you his wisdom. There Christ becomes your sin to give you his righteousness. There Christ, the Bridegroom lays down his life to make you his bride, pure and without blemish, holy in his sight. Christ’s death for you guarantees your place at the table. Your name is on the guest list. You’re in – just like the 5 wise girls – by grace alone.
Behold, the Bridegroom is here. Come and meet him.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.