Encourage One Another!
Twenty Sixth Sunday in Pentecost, November 9, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
“we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” [1 Thess. 4:17b-18]
This morning our Lord brings us Words of comfort and encouragement, but He also brings us Words of warning. These Words of encouragement are the promise that the death of our physical flesh need not be something to be feared, but instead something anticipated with a feeling of joy. Now for some of us here this morning, these words might sound a little strange, because death is well…intimidating. We’ve never died before. Let’s be honest, when we dream of the future we don’t dream as far as after death. We can sum up all of our thoughts and worries about death with just one simple word: MYSTERY! It’s a mystery because, well we never died before. But friends, there were a lot of firsts in our lives, things we never did before, but after we did them and the mystery was removed the fear was removed right along with it.
Our Epistle lesson this morning seeks to remove some of the mystery and fear from death and replace it with anticipation. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us “to be uninformed, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] Did you catch the word St. Paul used for death? He said asleep! Now at first this might seem a little confusing; we might say, “Now wait just a minute…I have always been taught that the minute I leave this body of flesh, I will immediately be present with the Lord. You know, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” Do you mean I will be in some kind of suspended animation?” No, not at all…NO! Paul isn’t saying that our soul, or our consciousness will sleep, but simply that our tired old bodies will be at rest until they are raised new at the resurrection of all flesh. He is comparing the death of our flesh, with a deep and pleasant sleep that in no way should be feared. Why? Because your savior has already conquered death for you. He has already gone ahead and prepared a place for you. Not just a place for you to wait for the resurrection, but a real place for you to live forever in the joy your Savior has provided for you!
ILLUS: There once was a dying Christian man who was very afraid of death, even though he believed that in his baptism, Christ gift of salvation was given to him. He expressed his feelings to his Christian doctor, who was making a house call. The physician was silent, because he didn’t know what to say. Just then a whining and scratching was heard at the front door. When the doctor opened it, in bounded his big beautiful dog, who often went with him as he made house calls. The dog was glad to see his master. Sensing an opportunity to comfort his troubled patient, the doctor said, “Did you see that?! My dog has never been in your home before, so he didn’t know what it was like in here. But he knew I was in here, and that was enough, so he bounded right in. In the same way, I’m looking forward to heaven. I don’t know much about it, but I know my Savior is there, and that He’s waiting for me. And that’s all I need to know!”
Friends, what manner of life awaits us on the other side of this life we don’t really know, but we do know that it will be an eternal world with God filled with love, joy, wonder, and peace; it will be like nothing we have ever experienced before. We know that it will be perfect, because our master, Jesus the living Son of God is there waiting for us. We believe this because He has said that it is so. But why do some find this truth so easy to believe and others find it frightening and worrisome? Well let’s go over to our gospel reading (Matt. 25:1-13) and let Jesus answer this question.
“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.” [vs. 1-2] Here Jesus is telling us that those who wait for heaven can be divided into two different groups, the foolish and wise. What separates the two? In Jesus story it is the lack of or the presence of oil for their lamps. In our children’s chat, I told it a bit different. It was a ticket to a chargers game. Either you have it or you don’t. With the oil or the ticket, you are gladly and easily admitted into the area that you intend to visit. Without it, you are not welcomed, in fact, you are told to go away, away where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Jesus story, both groups of virgins wanted to be at the wedding banquet. Both had lamps and the desire to use them, but only the ones with working lit lamps actually made it into the banquet. Friends, the oil in the lamp and the ticket for the ball game both represent the very same thing, God’s grace; His undeserved forgiveness for our many sins. “But God’s grace is free?” You may counter. Well certainly it’s free, but you have to have it working for you in order to benefit from it! How?
Well in Jesus story, you had to by oil for your lamp ahead of time. If the oil represents God’s grace then the money to buy the oil represents God’s Word! Friends, in order to live within and under grace we must be in God’s Word, because it is only through His Word that you will be able to believe and live out the truth that God’s forgiveness and mercy are truly yours. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the message of Jesus Christ!” The five wise virgins were proven wise because they acquired and used the oil. What would have happened if they bought the oil, but never used it? They too would have remained outside, separated from the wedding banquet. They would have been just as foolish as the other five.
Friends, God’s Word is here with us this morning; it has always been with you, but the truth is, for some, it will not always be with you. Will you be wise or will you be foolish? There are some here this morning that have not been taking their faith seriously. They have been simply going through the motions. Oh they started out with the real deal, but ever so slowly the practice of their faith in Jesus Christ simply became a habit. Get up early, get ready, go to church (never mind bible study), shake some hands, share some coffee and conversation and go home and get on with life, but their Christian faith and involvement in Christ’s church started out so much differently. Why they even at one time actually enjoyed attending Sunday School and Bible Study, and their personal devotions were always an anticipated private time with their Savior. But something happened over time…life happened and God’s Word and the Worship of His Divine presence in their lives became boring. The first indication that something wasn’t right was the habitual daydreaming during the worship service. Then, personal devotions began to fall. Then there was no more time for Bible study or Sunday School, because, well…just because. The result, the oil runs out. God’s Word no longer has its way with us, but instead we have our way with His Word. This sounds very much like our gospel reading; “As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” [vs. 5]
This morning dear friends, Jesus is nudging you; even now He’s whispering in your ear…even now He is screaming “WAKE UP! Nap time is over. Let me give you oil. Fill your lamp and be ready before it is too late! Listen to this message. Read and study my Word. Let me prepare you so that it will not be too late when you hear this, “‘here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” Friends, if we have not been prepared by God’s Word, Jesus says something like this will be the result: “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.” [Vs. 6-9] Foolish virgins, why didn’t they come prepared? Everyone knows you need oil to use an OIL-LAMP! Buy why ask why of a fool? The reason they act foolish is self evident…they are fools! They are fools, but what are we? Are you expecting to have faith in God’s grace without being anchored in His Word? If you are then I shall not ask you why, because it is self evident. But I pray that if there are any foolish Christians here this morning that through this Word this morning God would make all of us wise before it is too late. “For (when you least expect it), the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. [1 Thess. 4:16-17b] Then dear friends, it will be too late to acquire the truth that sets us free. It will be too late hear the Word that gives us faith in His promise….too late. But not too late if….through living in God’s Word and by the power of that Word within us “we (are enabled to) believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring [all of us made safe by that Word] with him, [everyone of us] who have fallen asleep.
ILLUS: Please allow me to close with this last story. When my son Thomas was very little, he was stung by a bee. That bee sting seemed to make him always terrified of bugs of any kind. One day when he was a little older, we were riding in my old Datsun, on our way to our favorite fishing hole, when a bee entered through an open window. It began to dart around madly and Thomas was again terrified. What could I do? I didn’t want to stop because the road conditions didn’t permit it. Instead, I reached out my hand and grabbed the bee and let it sting me. This made Thomas scream even louder, until I had him look at my hand. “Do you see the red spot in my hand son?” Yes he whimpered. “Do you see the stinger?” Yes he moaned. Then don’t be afraid anymore, because a bee can only sting once, and I took the sting away from the bee so it couldn’t sting you!”
Dear friends, this is God’s grace…this is the message that He wants you to be filled with through His Word! Jesus took the sting of death for us. Another way to say this is that He took the sting out of death. “We believe that Jesus died (he died the death that we should have died, but we also believe that Jesus) rose again, (and) through Jesus, God will bring with him (all of) those who have fallen asleep.” [1 Thess. 4:14].
Oh friends, this is the wonderful message that God’s Word continually declares to us. It is a message that He wishes to make a part of our very essence so that when the end of this world comes, whether by our natural death or the second coming of Jesus Christ at the resurrection of all flesh, we will be filled with only joyful anticipation.
We have such a wonderful message of grace to declare to each other don’t we? We need to be reminded of it as often as possible. We need to take this wonderful message outside of these walls and into our community. Let’s pray for this now: Dear Lord, strengthen us with your message of peace and grace, and empower us to encourage anyone who needs comfort with the truth that one day we will meet our Lord in the air, and then we will always be with Him in peace.” In Jesus name…AMEN!