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Matt. 25.1 thru 13 Sermon

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Be Ready!

Focus:  Christ calls us to await His return faithfully as good stewards.

Function:  That the hearers know we are called to be faithful in our preparedness for His coming being good stewards of our time and talents.

 1"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  6"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'  7"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'  9" 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'  10"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.  11"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'”  12"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'  13"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, how many of you have run out of gas?...Well, I have.  It’s not a lot of fun.  When we go on a trip, hopefully, we check our gas gauge to make sure we have enough gas to get to our destination.  This is only magnified in importance when we affect others that might be traveling with us or we are going to meet someone.  I know that when I ran out of gas with my whole family in the car in the middle of the Utah Salt Flats my family couldn’t help but equate that there was an element of carelessness on my part that reflected on my love for them.  It was a very hot summer in that car as we sat on the side of the road waiting for AAA, and this happened because of my lack of preparedness.  I had some ground to make up after that episode throughout the rest of our trip.  So, generally speaking we never want to run out of gas…right?

In the “Parable of the Ten Virgins” the wise virgins, or bridesmaids, have prepared well for this important evening while the foolish virgins have run out of gas.  The wise bridesmaids have brought along oil to replenish their lamps in case the bridegroom was delayed.  They prepare, and then they wait, but they are “ready” as though their whole lives are oriented toward the wedding.  The foolish bridesmaids, on the other hand, show us that this wedding is not important enough for them to prepare and be ready.  The question that this passage begs is, “How do we keep our gas tank (or lamp) filled or at the ready?  This really goes to the question of how can we be “ready?”  Now we know that we are saved by His grace and His grace alone, yet throughout scripture the Lord tells us to “be ready” for His coming.  In this passage those that were “ready” go into the wedding feast and those that were “foolish,” and were not ready, are not able to go into the feast and the “door was shut.”  This gives us a picture of the permanence of the final judgment.  The point is that we, who have been called to the marriage supper of the Lamb, are to live in the readiness of faith, keeping vigilant, for we “do not know the day or the hour” of His coming.  It is clear that we are to be fortified for the “long haul” and be ready for a sudden return!

Today, on this “Stewardship Sunday,” I would like to walk through our “Thanksgiving Commitments to God” that were place in your bulletins and fill them out as we go.  First I would like to talk to you a little about this process.  I look at this as a very important step in our faith walk.  Assessing our personal stewardship and our spiritual well being should be a regular occurrence in our lives!  For instance, do we check our progress at work when considering how our superiors might evaluate us?  How much more important is our savior in comparison to our boss?  As children we consider what our father might think of our progress in life…at least most of us do. The point is shouldn’t we be making sure we are doing a good job for this very important superior…our Father, God?  In light of the Gospel passage in Matthew, shouldn’t we make sure we are “ready” for His coming?

Importance of Worship and Holy Communion in keeping your tank filled:

So let’s look at some of the ways our Lord gives us to strengthen our faith and “be ready”… which just happens to be laid out for us in our “Thanksgiving Commitment” sheets.  One of the ways He gives us to strengthen our faith is by communing with others of the faith.  We are called to come to His house and worship Him.  We are to seek Him and pursue a closer relationship with Him through worship.  We are all part of the “one body” that is the church of Christ and are to fellowship together, dwell together, and to worship together.  We are to minister to each other in our attending church and to run to Him whose house this is.  This is true even when we might not come to His house because of the distractions of the world or pursuit of other gods.  Just as the careless virgins were inattentive to the bridegroom we can be distracted from our attending church.  This is when we need to come to His house for the forgiveness that He promises us.  Otherwise, as Luther points out, “if you intend to run about in quest of works and look for help from some other god and return later to the true God, you will find Him as the foolish virgins found Him.  To them the door was closed when they left in order to buy oil.”

You see, in this house, He gives us the gift of the sacrament of the altar to partake in with our brothers and sisters for the forgiveness that we seek deep in our hearts.  We are able to be washed clean with His blood and nourished by His body here at His altar!  Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, we come to the “wedding hall” of our parable.  You see, in the Sacrament we receive a “foretaste of the feast to come.”  It is our heaven on earth.  This really is the good news!  That we have a church to come to and worship together in!  He, through the power of the Holy Spirit, prepares us for His return by feeding us the oil of our faith through worship and the sacrament.  He loves us so much that He gave us the church and shed His blood and laid His body on the cross so that we could be forgiven.

Let’s take a moment and prayerfully go to our Lord and commit ourselves to coming to His house in worship and partake in His supper…out of love for Him!  Let’s not figure out how many times we came to church last year and just commit to more of the same, but humbly come before Him at the foot of the cross through prayer and pledge to Him…to love Him through worship as much as we possibly can throughout this coming year and for the rest of our lives. (pause)

Importance of being in the Word to keep your tank filled:

Now, let’s move on to the next section of our sheet and look for a moment at our Christian Education as a way to fortify our faith.  We see the opportunity to grow closer to God through the reading and ingesting of His Word.  This is the opportunity He gives us to move to the next level of understanding of our Lord.  Through daily personal devotion, group bible study, and hearing God’s word in worship we are availed of His truths and the riches of His wisdom.  There is a difference between milk and meat!  I know that all of us have heard the word but do we always pursue it with fervor.  Do we always find a way to fit it into our daily lives?  Yes, even seminarians have a hard time with this.  I try to do my devotions every day, yet…there are days that the world just seems to be passing me by unless I jump on and get going!  I know we all struggle with this but we have to look at the importance of being in the word that is expressed in the bible itself.  The Bible tells us to, “Lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul…”

A reporter once asked Mrs. Einstein if she understood the theory of relativity.  She replied, “No but I know Albert and he can be trusted.”  Well the source of the bible can be trusted far more than Albert Einstein!  And the understandings we can find in the bible are far more valuable than the theory of relativity.  The truths found in the bible blow away the “wisdom” of the world.  We should be lapping it up like thirsty dogs every chance we get.  But the greatest gift found in it…is Christ Himself.  We grow in our relationship with Him through the reading, studying, and ingesting of His word. And…our faith grows stronger through this process…through the Spirit! 

So, let’s prayerfully look at how we can devote ourselves to being in the word each day through personal devotions, bible study and worship at church. (pause)

Importance of our evangelistic response to God’s Word:

Ah, now we come to evangelism.  This section is particularly dear to my heart as I have been concentrating in this area lately…as some of you know.  Jesus let’s us know throughout His ministry here on earth what our calling is.  Even His important parting words to the disciples are to, “Go and make disciples of all nations!”  Mission is our mission, both individually and in totality, as Christ Lutheran Church.  We have this gift that was given to us that we can share with others.  We shouldn’t be ashamed of it, nor share it out of fear, or even pride…but because of the love that we have for this savior that intentionally gave His own life for us.  Paul tells us in 2 Timothy, “… do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord…but join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”  But, again, this is a response in love to the love He has shown us!

Today I have an opportunity to do something that is…well…kind of expected as a pastor.  And that is to be able to bring my daughters into a sermon as examples and embarrass them by doing so.  No, actually I did check with them first and they were “OK” with it…You see, from time to time, when it is my birthday or for Father’s Day, they have given me a beautifully decorated homemade card, which I, by the way, love to receive.  And in it they will put “certificates” that promise me, the bearer of the certificate, a car wash, back rub, free babysitting, or some other desirable gift of service.  Now I know that my daughters are doing this out of love for me and nothing more.  I know this by the way they smile and get all excited when they present it.  I know that it is out of love because I can clearly see that there is no expectation of anything in return or obligation for me to do something for them.  These certificates are a gift from the heart which I deeply cherish because of the way they are given and the thought, as to what I might like, that went into them.

I believe this is what God is looking for from us!  He is not looking for “works” done in expectation of our salvation.  But He is looking for us to express our love for Him through our actions.  He tells us in Matthew 7:17, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”  And in James He tells us, “Faith without works is dead.”  Now we know that we are not saved by good works…but…we are saved for good works.  You see throughout the Bible we read of the evangelism we are to do as Christians.  Not because we must, but because we want to serve this loving God that has loved us so much first!  We have this Gospel message that He has given us to share…we have the people around us that are in such desperate need of this message…so what are we to do?

Let’s look at the ways we can share the gospel message with others and commit ourselves to doing so because of the love He has shown us. (pause)

Importance of cheerful giving of our resources:

He doesn’t need our money!  That’s a new one…or is it?  The Bible speaks often of offerings that are unacceptable to God.  Through Paul the Lord tells us the real reason for giving.  Paul says to the Philippians that it is not the “gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”  The money wasn’t the important thing, but the people needed the opportunity to give!  They needed the spiritual discipline of stewardship.  God doesn’t need our money.  In 2 Corinthians the Corinthians “pleaded” with Paul “for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”  We need God!  And we need the opportunity to serve and worship Him with our time, talent, and treasure.  And we must bring it as a true offering of praise and thanks to God.  It is a privilege for those who believe to exercise our faith in this way.  We do this in response to God’s love and grace in our lives as we return part of what we have received from Him in the first place to be used to build the church and reach out to the world with His Gospel message.

So, let’s fill out the last part of our sheet and prayerfully consider our offering.  Bear in mind that the Bible tells us that we should give ten percent of what we have from our first fruits as a tithe.  Therefore we should always look at this as our goal in giving and what we strive towards if we are not doing this now.  Not as an obligation but as a privilege in which we are given the opportunity to express our love to the Savior that laid down His life out of love for us.

How the Gospel is present in this law:

All of these commitments must come from a faith in the Lord.  Most of what He calls us to do is often perceived to be difficult, but He tells us, “My yoke is easy.”  When we follow Him and do as He calls, even commands, us to do it can seem like a leap of faith.  Yet if anyone has taken this leap we find that He is there with us and, He blesses us all the more through our commitment to Him.  This is a commitment, a dedication to Christ, which can only happen through the Spirit.  God doesn’t even want the things we give; so much as he wants our heart…our whole heart!

So, be ready, as the wise virgins were, under the care of God who supplies and protects the oil of our faith. Then, on the day that the invitation will ring out, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh,” we will be ready and enter the wedding feast with Him.  Now, may I ask you to pray with me about these commitments with a prayer found on the back of your commitment sheet that really hit home for me? …Let’s pray,

Lord, you asked for my hands

that you could use them for your purpose.

I gave them for a moment and then withdrew,

for the work was too hard.

You asked for a mouth to speak out against injustice.

I gave you a whisper

that I might not be accused.

You asked for my eyes

to see the pain of poverty.

I closed them

for I did not want to know.

You asked for my life

That you might work through me.

I gave you a fractional part

that I might not get involved.

Lord, forgive me for calculated efforts

to serve you only when

it is convenient to do so-

Only in places where it is safe to do so.

Only with those who make it easy to do so.

Father, forgive me, renew me,

And send me out as a usable instrument

That I may take seriously

the meaning of your cross.  Amen.

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