November 9, 2014
Text: Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Peter 2:4-7
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
Last Sunday, you took a stone back to home. You may have put it in your pocket as Pr. Mark suggested or put it on your desk as a reminder of Stewardship emphasis. You must have prayed and taken some time thinking about your calling as a living stone during the past week. At one time, you may have actually pulled out the Stewardship form and were about to fill it out. But, looking at different options of pledging the time, talents and treasure, you asked yourself, “Am I really ready for this?” “The choice that I am going to make may have a huge impact on me and my family. What if using my talents for the church takes me too much time? And then what if taking too much time will cost my job? What if I lose my job? Then, not only am I not be able to fulfill my pledges, but also I may ruin my career and will not be able to pay the mortgage, so on and so forth.” There are so many questions and scary thoughts in your mind. You want to be a living stone of the spiritual house. But, now the question is, are you ready?
The Gospel lesson for today is all about readiness and preparedness. From the context and the last verse of our text, we know for certain it’s all about getting ready for Jesus’ second coming. Since we don’t know when Jesus will be coming, we’d better be ready all the time as Jesus says in the last verse, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” The scary part of this parable is that although both five foolish virgins and five wise virgins are waiting for the coming of the bridegroom, and all became drowsy and slept; the foolish virgins eventually are not allowed to come into the marriage feast. Why? The parable tells us that when bridegroom suddenly came after a long delay, they found their lamps without oil. Then they tried to get the oil, but it’s too late already. The door was shut. The five foolish virgins begged to get in, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But the bridegroom answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Only those wise virgins who were ready, who have a lamp with oil in it went in with the bridegroom to the marriage feast. The question we may ask ourselves is, “Are we ready? Are we ready for the bridegroom, our Lord Jesus’ second coming?” The lamp here is a lamp of faith. Faith in Christ and His Cross is what we need to get in to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. The problem for the five foolish virgins is that they got an empty lamp, a lamp that does not burn. A lamp that does not shine is not a lamp. It may look like a lamp, but if it does not burn, it’s a useless, good-for-nothing lamp just like a faith that does not produce good works. It’s an empty faith, using St. James’ words, is “dead faith.” “Faith without works is dead,” he says in James 2:17. So, are you ready? Faith that does not act is dead. Lamp that does not burn is useless. It’s the same with spiritual house. We are not just stones. We are living stones, growing and expanding.
You know, as Lutherans, we are often falsely accused of opposing to good works. They have the wrong impression because our theology is centered on Christ’s work, not human work for salvation of sinners. Therefore, some people wrongly conclude that we teach good works is not necessary for Christians. But, this is simply NOT true. What we only say is that in the matter of justification before God, it is by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Jesus Christ alone. In Augsburg Confession, there is a whole chapter dedicated to Good Works. In other Lutheran confessions like the Apology, Formula of Concord, and Solid Declaration, they all stress the necessity of good works of Christians. Here one of key questions is where the good works come from. In another words, what makes a lamp to shine? It is the oil. Oil for Christian faith is the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. The foolish virgins of this world don’t have such “oil.” The lamp of their heart is filled with false gods, wealth and lust, worldly power, and themselves, everything except Jesus and His cross. However, true faith that produces God pleasing good works comes from Christ and His Gospel. The fuel in the lamp of faith is Gospel. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” The Word of Christ is the material cause for faith to be active. Do you have Word of Christ richly dwelling in you like a lamp filled with oil? Are you ready to let your new life in Christ so shine that people may see your good works and give glory to God the Father? Are you ready?
In the same way, living stones need Christ and Gospel to be alive and ready to grow. God’s spiritual house needs every living stone, not just lifeless stones piling up one upon another, but connecting to one another with living faith that grows and expands this house with Christ being the cornerstone. Similar biblical picture for this is living body with Christ being the head. In a spiritual house or a living body, everyone needs to be alive in Christ and have faith, ready to act and to grow. Together, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Together, we are commanded by our Lord Jesus to build the church, and to go to all nations with the Gospel reaching out to the lost. In this mission, we need everyone, every living stone, every part of the body, and every spiritual soldier of Christ. Recently, with the call to be international missionaries, our family is getting ready to go into the mission filed. Are you ready? Are you ready to go with us with your prayers and support? Today, looking at a Stewardship form, are you ready to fill it out and continue the ministry and mission here in Falls Church and beyond to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light?
I know. Offering your time, talents, and treasure is difficult. It involves sacrifices. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to step out in faith. It’s easy to be a stone. But it’s not easy to be a living stone. When it comes to readiness to act, you may ask yourself, “If I do the tithing am I ready not to buy a better car or a bigger house? If I spend time to prepare Sunday school materials or go to a church board meeting, am I ready not to watch that movie or go to the ball game?” To be a living stone is not an easy thing. Christian faith that is ready to act is not an easy thing. But thanks be to God. Going onto the cross to accomplish the mission of our salvation was not an easy thing for Jesus either. The fact of the matter, it’s much, much more scary and painful. Remember He had no sin of His own. But He endured the wrath of God for the whole humanity. When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane on the night before He was arrested; He was in enormous pain. The knowledge of upcoming suffering and death caused his sweat to become like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Was He scared? Bible doesn’t say about this. But He was really in pain. He prayed and asked the Father if this cup of wrath could be removed, if the cross could be avoided. Was He ready for the cross? In the end, He prayed to the Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He was ready. He had faith that acted. He had lamp that burned and shined. He had a body loaded with sins, your sins, my sins and sins of the whole world, ready to be nailed on the cross. Then He woke up the sleeping disciples and said, “Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Then the cross event began.
Are you ready? Because of blood of Christ and His resurrection, your sins are forgiven. In Christian Baptism, you are given a new life and built into the church, the spiritual house and body of Christ. You are a child of God. So, you are ready. Together, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. With life of Christ and His Gospel that is in you, like the five wise virgins, you are filled with oil that is ready to burn. Your lamp of faith is ready to shine. With faith in Christ ready to act and bear fruits, you become a living stone ready to be alive and grow. Together, we are ready to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.