“Keep you lamp and oil ready for the Bridegroom”
By Pastor Steve Sommerer
23rd Sunday after Pentecost Nov. 8th, 2020
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The sermon text is from Matthew 25:1-13.
Florence was the daughter of a Lutheran teacher from one of the founding congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I don’t know how old she was, but she was living at the nursing home near me, so a friend asked me to visit her when I was doing my other calls. I sat with her a few times and read some passages and had prayers. I talked – most anything I could think of because the quiet made me uncomfortable. I don’t know if it did her– and then it just got too hard so I’d pray and go home. I don’t really remember her ever saying anything to me. She would say amen to a prayer, but not hello. Didn’t answer my attempts to get her to talk. I don’t really even think she looked at me much. Her lower lip just hung open while she sunk into her wheelchair. Whatever her full life had been and whoever she had been during that long life, Alzheimer’s had stolen away. She was wheeled out into the hallway each day to sit seeming hours waiting to get pushed here or there, a cracked, empty vessel – or at least I thought the vessel was empty.
One visit I had along my pocket hymnal, and I pulled it out to sing “Amazing Grace” or something like that, and to my astonishment Florence sang along. I’m sure it wasn’t the beautiful voice of Florence as the young student in Lutheran school, but it was quiet and she knew the words. I did a few more and left and then did the same every time I visited: Abide with Me; Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness; My Hope is Built on Nothing Less; I Know that My Redeemer Lives. And Florence didn’t only know parts of the first verse or so, she knew deep into many of the hymns, all 4 verses of A Mighty Fortress. I got tired of singing Soul Adorn Thyself with Gladness before her memory gave out.
Over long years someone had prayed, sung and taught Jesus to Florence, like a musical library the songs of Jesus’ love poured from her expressionless lips. When it seemed nothing else remained of her long life but 80 pounds of gray hair, skin and bones, those long years of learning Jesus caused nurses and passing visitors to look on in shock as the incredible library of her mind poured out the love of Christ – though quietly. She never seemed to notice the nurses who noticed her. Those words and hymns and her quiet amens were the only indication that Florence was there, but even as she seemed to sleepwalk through those last years of her life, her lamp was filled with oil waiting for Christ her Bridegroom.
Hymns are good for that. Top 40 music doesn’t have quite the same comfort for the aging or dying saint. There’s an immaturity about it. A childishness that doesn’t fit with the deathbed. It lacks the sturdiness of pouring wonderful old hymns and Scriptures into your hearts. If you spend everything in you to give your children stuff in this world, but don’t give them the strong and solid foundation of Christ, you aren’t preparing them to live in Christ or die with Him.
As we drift deep into the dark night of this world, I beg you for Jesus’ sake: Don’t be foolish. To be foolish is to be without the oil required to trim the lamps of faith and meet our Savior. Even we sometimes feel as though Jesus will never come, yet what seems so long a wait is but a moment before the eternal God. Peter wrote, “He is not slow in keeping His promises as some understand slowness, but He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus said, “Keep watch. The Son of Man comes at a day or an hour you do not expect.”
Still there are signs of Christ’s coming. Wake up calls, you might say. There are moments in time that alarm us and remind us the days of these our lives and the days of this our world swiftly pass, “Wake, awake, for night is flying… With Bridal care, yourselves prepare, To meet the Bridegroom who is near.”
The foolish and the wise in our text look similarly. Both carry lamps. Both fall asleep and remain sleeping until the cry goes up, “Here comes Jesus, come out to meet Him. The Bridegroom cometh.” Both appear at least at one time to have known Christ, because even the foolish ones end up pounding to get into the wedding. But the wise Virgins brought oil for their lamps; the foolish didn’t.
What do you make of that? What’s so important about oil that it’s absence should disqualify one from heaven – from entering God’s Wedding Feast? Well, I’m glad you asked, in the Bible oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” Jesus said, “for He has anointed me to preach Good News to the pour.” Some think perhaps the oil is faith rather than the Holy Spirit Himself. Doesn’t matter much, really! You can’t have one without the other. No Holy Spirit, no trust in Jesus. “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Ezekiel said, “I [the Lord] will give them a new heart and a right spirit within them.” The Psalmist prayed for a living faith, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Faith is God’s gift and the Holy Spirit’s work. If you abide in that faith until you die or Jesus returns: it’s God’s grace and to Him be the glory. If your lamp runs dry, you can’t get into heaven. It won’t help you that your parents were Christians or that your spouse believed. It won’t help that mom made you go through confirmation but then you stopped hearing God’s Word. On Judgment Day no one can take from their supply to fill you - can’t make up for you rejecting the Holy Spirit, and if you do, you will go to a horrible hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. So don’t put it off for yourselves. You must have your own Spirit-given faith to be saved.
Let’s be honest, raising children is a little frightening. Grandchildren are probably a little different, but I’m certain grandparents also care deeply for the salvation of their children. Children are a living, breathing reminder of how time flies. In the lives of our young people, we can remember the breaking dawn of their lives and see how quickly the hands of time turn. And I think part of the scary thing about Christian parenting, and also why we daily commend them into God’s hands, is because so much in our children’s future is beyond our control. It’s so important to hear and love Jesus and never to miss out on God’s Word on Sunday morning and in home devotions and to crave Christ’s body and blood. It’s the oil the Holy Spirit uses to fuel our lamp of faith. But once they get out of our houses, we don’t get to make that call. If job and money and school and whatever else comes before God, we can’t give them our faith to make up for them foolishly starving their own.
Remember two things for your family and for yourself. Nothing is more important, not even earthly life, nothing more important than God’s Word and Sacraments that bring Jesus. And remember the time is coming quickly. “Wake up!” our text says. “You know neither the day nor the hour.”
Faith is not something you can borrow someone else. You either trust in Jesus or you don’t, love Him or not, and I can’t do it for you, nor you for anyone else. When you see Jesus coming it’s too late. That’s why real pastors and parents and churches aren’t just happy, feel-good places. They warn and speak against sin. They don’t excuse it or pretend it away, because only real sinners care about a real Savior.
You don’t really know your child will live till 80, so the time to speak God’s Word of Law and Gospel to them isn’t when they’re 79, but now, in the heat of life’s struggles and temptation, to call to repentance and to point to Jesus. Same for pastors and friends. To ignore sin and fail to invite to Christ’s wedding feast through faith is to fall asleep without securing your oil for the lamp.
Faith is created, fed, strengthened and sustained from beginning to end by the Holy Spirit. “Faith comes through hearing the Word of Christ,” Romans 10 says. That’s how the Holy Spirit keeps faith’s lamp burning. The Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and the heavenly food of Christ’s real flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper sustains us and nourishes us to live everlasting. Faith isn’t your super-human effort to storm heaven’s gates. It’s hearing and following the Bridegroom.
Only one thing can bring you God’s glorious guarantee that you will be welcomed into that end times wedding feast of the Lamb. Only one thing guarantees that you and yours will receive God’s gracious gift of eternal life. It’s that Jesus came first in Bethlehem to make it so. In the Last Weeks of the Church Year our thoughts bend toward Jesus’ return and we pray for that day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” With our lamps burning and jars filled, you don’t need to fear His coming. You don’t need to fear death. You don’t need to grieve over your loved ones who sleep in Jesus as those who have no hope. Jesus came in Bethlehem to live and die for you. You were so precious to Him that the Almighty God, through whom all things were made, emptied Himself of His power to become obedient unto death for you.
I couldn’t have the foggiest idea what Florence thought about me. Until the day she died, the only thing I heard pass her lips was the faith poured into her heart by loving parents who sang hymns and prayed in the home. I don’t know how she felt about sitting for years in a wheelchair; about how she felt as her mind slipped away and a great shadow fell over the life she had known. But the oil of the Spirit sang out of her dry cracked lips. Her amens were the voice of a faith formed over decades and a deep flowing reservoir of God’s love. For people like her, or like your own dead who fall asleep in Jesus, the best is yet to come. One day you who have the oil of faith are going to hear Christ the Bridegroom’s call and all the faithful will stand with glorious, strong, perfect resurrection bodies to sing again before God’s throne. Your Bridegroom is coming soon. He engraved your invitation in His blood. Be ready. Don’t be distracted. Do not be afraid. He is coming soon! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.