Watch the sermon preached celebrating the Lutheran Reformation by clicking on the triangle in the middle of the picture below.
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“Oil, sleep and wisdom.”
(Based on Matthew 25:1-13)
“Then the kingdom of heaven 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 was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘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.’ 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.’ 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.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today we remember and celebrate the Reformation Day. Do you remember how the Reformation began? Sure, we remember the nailing part, but what was the message that shook the entire Christendom? Do you remember what the first of Luther’s 95 theses sounded like? It’s actually easy to remember.
For it sounded pretty much like every other powerful call to return to the Lord in the history of mankind. Prophets preached it. John the Baptist cried it out in the wilderness. Jesus, the Son of God Himself proclaimed it to the crowds, as did His apostles to all the nations: “Repent and believe in the Gospel!”
And the first of the 95 theses echoed the same message throughout the Christendom: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
See, the same message that the Triune God has been speaking to us since the beginning. No wonder that many of Luther’s contemporaries believed that he was one of the angels mentioned in the Book of Revelation, chapter 14.
Do you remember what the word “repent” means? Those outside the Church often take it as something negative and unpleasant. Something that will take away our beloved sins and will make our lives terribly boring.
Even many Christians try to avoid this word. However, repentance is nothing else but the invitation of the gracious God the Father to turn away from all the false gods that have robbed us of God’s love, and haven taken away our freedom and peace, and to return to Him, so that He can welcome us, restore us, embrace us in the divide fellowship of the Trinity and bless us as only He can.
What Luther said was simply a reminder that your Father in Heaven, and your Saviour and Brother Jesus daily calls you, daily invites you: “Turn away from whatever tries to take hold on your heart, come to me, for you are my treasure!”
Today for our meditations we have the parable about the ten virgins. Jesus tells this parable as a part of His teaching on the end times. That is where we live. Closer to Jesus’ glorious return than ever.
Ten virgins set out to wait for the bridegroom so that they could enter with him into the wedding feast. Five were wise, and five were foolish. What was the difference? The wise had taken with them extra oil and the foolish hadn’t.
They all fell asleep. When suddenly the Bridegroom came, the wise ones had enough oil for their lamps and entered the feast, but the foolish ones didn’t have. They had to hear these words: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Now, what does this mean for us today? One thing that all theologians admit is that we actually know very little about the wedding traditions in those days, therefore, we can’t explain the significance of every detail in this parable.
However, the main message is loud and clear, and that is what we will focus on today. We will reflect on three things – oil, sleep and wisdom. On what is meant by the oil, what is meant by the sleep, and how to be wise.
First, about the oil. The ten virgins can be understood both as individuals and also as different churches. Initially they all set out with good intentions. They wanted to enter the wedding feast together with the Bridegroom.
That’s how it usually happens. Both, individuals and churches set out with the good goal in mind – to enter the wedding feast of the Lamb. But at the end it will become clear that some of them were wise and some were foolish.
It is about the oil. It seems that the oil doesn’t refer to one single thing. Get this, and you are good. It seems that the oil refers to the wholeness of God’s gifts that He bestows upon for His Church.
To everything that bring us into the open arms of the Triune God. That helps us to humbly marvel about the grace and love and faithfulness of this very unusual God. That binds our hearts to Him, who allowed His heart to be pierced for us.
How does He invite us, how does He reveal Himself and create the bond of trust and mutual love? By speaking, for He is God of conversation. And by sending His Spirit to dwell in us, for He is closer to us than we realise.
He speaks to us through the Bible, when we rightly understand His message. When we understand His will for our lives, His Law, and also His never changing gracious attitude, His Gospel.
But then He also comes to us through the spoken Word, when called and ordained servants of the Word faithfully deliver to us His message. Also, when we study the Scripture, when Christians gather around the Word, be it at homes, with friends or in congregation, and listen and learn and rejoice in God’s wisdom, and when we comfort one another with the Good News of Jesus.
When He speaks to us, His Word always comes together with His own life-creating Spirit. And of course, He reveals His love and gives us His Spirit, when He feeds us with His precious body and blood in the Sacrament. When we pray for one another, when we care for one another. When we engage with people in our lives inviting them into the fellowship with the Father and the Son.
See, how abundantly our Lord provides for you, He Himself comes to you and offers: “Let me fill your jars with oil until they overflow, for I want you to enter in my wedding feast, I want you with me! Just let me help you!” If we appreciate His gifts and gladly receive them, there is no shortage of this oil, not in our Lutheran churches, at least … not yet.
You may have heard people saying that it doesn’t matter which church you belong to. Don’t be deceived by such false ideas. Such people don’t speak some superior wisdom. For Jesus says the very opposite. It matters. If you want to enter the feast, gather the oil, gather the gifts of God, and look for the churches where there is abundance of those gifts, and not scarcity.
The next point – sleep. And this is something quite frightening. Jesus tells that at the end all virgins will fall asleep. All… What does this mean for Christians or for churches to fall asleep?
I personally agree with those theologians who say that this characterises the Church’s situation today. Christians have fallen asleep, and churches have fallen asleep, at least vast majority of them. What does it mean?
What are people like before they fall asleep of when they are asleep? They become drowsy and disinterested in what is happening around. Are they active? No! Do they care much about anything? No! Perhaps how to get comfier, and how to remove anything that may disturb their nap.
Are they passionate about anything? No! Do they feel the sense of urgency, of mission, of purpose? No! Don’t you think that this is a rather fitting description of many churches and many Christians today?
Spiritually sleepy, drowsy, fatigued… spiritually indifferent to almost everything. Have you recently met many who are worried and concerned about the pure teaching of the Gospel?
If we realise that only the pure teaching of the Gospel comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit and with the presence of the Triune God and with the gift of eternal life, and that every false teaching, every half-truth separates us from our God, shouldn’t we be shaken to our hearts when we hear such things, and shouldn’t we devote all our energies to stand for the beautiful truth of the saving Gospel?
Have you recently met many who actually care about what we as Lutheran Christians believe? How many do you know who have recently, or ever read the wonderful fruit of the Reformation, our Book of Concord, or parts of it?
Concord means unity of heart, harmony of faith. This book gives us the most beautiful and clear teaching of the Gospel. That teaching of the Gospel in 16th century actually awoke the entire Christendom. It is such a treasure…
Today many still want to be Christians without being members of Christ’s body, the Church. Their oil, if there is any left, is running out. Many want forgiveness without repentance. Or acceptance without turning away from our sinful ways. Many strive for unity with little interest of actually having the same faith.
Drowsy… fatigued… I wouldn’t want to admit, but this refers to me as well. Still a few years ago I got really upset when witnessing something spiritually harmful being fed to God’s people… I tried to intervene…
Usually to my own peril. But as time goes, I have become more and more complacent… if someone prefers to drink poison, what can I do… Perhaps I have less energy. Please, brothers and sisters, watch out for me as well!
What about the great commission entrusted to us? To make disciples. How many are even interested to learn anything themselves? How many are willing to do at least something to participate in this cosmic venture with Jesus?
A few weeks ago, I took part in an online conference. One of speakers was quite an interesting fellow. He had built a business empire and then transferred the ownership to his church. Now they use the profits from these companies to fund new Christian kindergartens and schools and other outreach efforts.
I guess that gave him some voice to criticize. He said something harsh. He said that Christians like to talk about mission. But then, you can easily spot what they truly care about. He said:
“Let me sit in a few meetings and listen what you are talking about, and then show me where you spend your money, and I will tell you what you truly care about.” Then he said: “Too often it is about just keeping things as they are…”. I wonder, what would he find if he visited us?
As newly founded “Grace” Lutheran congregation we are in the process of reflecting on why we are here. What do we truly care about? We were hoping to reflect on it throughout this year, we had our first “Grace” Forum, but then the Covid19 happened. We hope to resume these reflections and will continue them in the months to come, as there are some big decisions facing us.
This brings us to our last topic. How to be wise for salvation? I pray that these reflections would feed into our thinking on why we are here. Our identity as Lutheran Christians is so helpful, for we have such incredible heritage.
Not only the Reformation begun with the same message as the one spoken by the prophets, by Jesus Himself and by His apostles. The Reformation also succeeded in waking up the entire Christendom that at that time seemed to be not just asleep, but in deep coma. How did they do that? We could use it…
How did they manage to awake the Church and to reform it? Do you know the recipe? It was done in a very simple way – by teaching and preaching. The Law and the Gospel. By showing our sin and proclaiming God’s grace.
By not compromising God’s truth and pure Gospel to please people. By teaching Catechism everywhere; in the Church – in sermons, in Bible Studies, at home, in schools, everywhere… and the Word didn’t return empty.
The Holy Spirit made home in people’s hearts, true love was rekindled again and the Church was renewed. Christian souls were filled with rich spiritual food, and the light of their faith shone brightly.
I know that many of you have experienced this in your own lives. The more we understand our sin and God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness, the more passionate for Jesus we become, the more confident we are to witness to others, the more joy the Gospel brings to us, and through us to others.
Brothers and sisters, we are the heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. We are the heirs of the faithful Christians who awoke the Christendom once, when it was in deep sleep, and we still have all the gifts of our gracious Lord even today.
Jesus hasn’t abandoned us, even as we don’t deserve His patience and grace. We may be asleep, but He is vigilant for us. Our love and passion may have grown cold, but He is as committed to you as ever. He is as close as always, as gentle as always, as welcoming as always.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would work mightily among us. That He would bring us to repentance and would stir us up to hunger and thirst for the beautiful and life-giving Gospel, so that the rich spiritual food would keep us awake and would make our lamps of faith shine brightly.
The Bridegroom is coming soon, and He Himself is providing for us the oil. May any foolishness be far from us, so that we are not found wanting, but can enter the feast with joyful songs of praise.