In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is what the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is all about. God wants all to be saved. He didn’t create us so that half of us would go to hell and half go to heaven. But we know that sin changed it all. Sin meant that some would perish eternally, that they would reject the free salvation offered them as a gift by Christ Jesus. But because God did not appoint us for wrath, He warns us. He tells us that He is coming soon, but unexpectedly. Just like the thieves don’t call with an appointment reminder like the doctor’s office, so will it be when Jesus returns. We know He will come, just not when. This means that we, as Christians, should all be like kids on a car ride: “Are we there yet?!” We should be watching with eager expectation for Jesus to return on the clouds, wondering if each sign will be the one with which He will come.
But as the centuries roll by, we are tempted to lose sight of His coming. It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus ascended into heaven. It has been the last days for longer than we can even imagine! In the apostolic era, some were so convinced that Jesus was about to return that they did nothing but stand around and wait for Him to appear. That’s why Paul had to write a second Epistle to the Thessalonians. They heard the close of his first Epistle, what we heard in our second Reading today, and were convinced Jesus was showing up any minute. If only we had that same zeal that our Christian brothers and sisters did in the year 52! Now, one thousand nine hundred sixty-four years after 2 Thessalonians was written, it seems like the religious “crazies,” the ones shouting on the corners the “exact” date of Jesus’ return, are the only ones concerned about Jesus coming again. Sure, we hear about it at the end of the Church Year every year, but outside of these last three weeks, does the thought cross our mind? Have we, like the virgins in today’s Gospel, gone to sleep, thinking the Bridegroom may never come? Has the Church, especially in America, lost her most fervent prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” convinced by the relative comfortability of this age, that there’s nothing for which to be prepared?
As tempted as we may be to lose sight of Christ’s return, it is imminent. Do not mistake the delay for inaction. God is graciously waiting to allow time for conversion, for repentance, for all to hear the Gospel, to be given oil for their lamps, so they are ready whenever it may be that the Bridegroom appears. Until then, He warns us to watch and wait, to stay awake, to trim our lamps, and to be ready on short notice. Just like Thanksgiving will come whether the turkey is thawed or not, so will Christ come whether we are ready or not. It is inevitable, and it will come suddenly.
But in the Parable, five of the virgins got tired of waiting. They knew it was their responsibility to have a supply of oil for their lamps. They knew where to get it, but chose not to. Remember that in this Parable, oil is a metaphor for faith. Those who perish eternally don’t do so accidentally. They do not perish because you failed them because their conversion is not on your shoulders, the creation of faith is not something you do; it’s God’s work. That’s not to say you shouldn’t tell people about Jesus. You should always be ready to confess your faith and to share the hope that is you have. But people don’t go to hell because of you, because you didn’t do enough. They know where to come for faith and eternal life, but choose not to do so. That’s why in the Parable the wise virgins couldn’t give their oil to the foolish virgins. You can’t believe for someone else; everyone must believe for him- or herself. Faith is not your own; you have received it. The Lord Jesus sent His Holy Spirit into this world to work faith through Holy Baptism, through the preached Word, and through the Sacrament of the Altar to distribute forgiveness which creates and builds faith. Both the wise and the foolish know this. Only the foolish don’t think they need it, or they think they can wait and come get it on their own terms, whenever they’re ready for it.
When Our Lord returns, He will find some well-prepared, their lamps trimmed and burning, oil sufficient for the journey. Others He will find unprepared, who have chosen to spend their time waiting chasing after selfish endeavors, living for the day and always assuming they can repent tomorrow. But the time of grace in which we now live will not last forever. There are no guaranteed tomorrows. The door will shut and all those outside will hear the Lord say, “I do not know you.”
As terrifying as that is, it is a message Our Lord preaches in love. He does not want us to be unaware. Instead, He wants us to build up our supply of oil, to have jugs overflowing. He wants everyone to have this same abundance, so He delays His coming. He strengthens and equips His Church to preach, to scatter abroad the goodly seed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that all can come to faith and be filled beyond measure with the good things Jesus came to win for His children on earth. Because God has not appointed anyone for wrath, He ensures that the means of salvation are available to all, that the sellers of oil are abundant, so that no one might perish eternally.
And the oil that you need is given to you freely. It is given in this place, poured out lavishly in Holy Baptism, in the cleansing and healing words of Absolution, in the living voice of Jesus heard in the Holy Gospel, in Jesus’ very Body and Blood given at the Altar. This church is a place where lamps are filled and wicks are trimmed. And when your lamp runs dry, when the changes and chances of life, the darkness of this world seem to much, do not despair. Remember: “A bruised reed He will not break and smoldering wick He will not quench” (Mt. 12:20). Here the Lord refills you and prepares you for your Last Day, not by fear, but by love, by keeping you in His grace.
God did not appoint you to wrath, but to obtain salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has died for you, paid the price for your sin. Because of that, you are His, and by His grace He will keep you among the wise virgins. He will give you a burning lamp and oil in store, a faith ready and eager for His coming. He will take you through the open door and into the eternal wedding feast, to be forever with Him and all the redeemed in joy that has no end.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).