Sunday, November 22, 2015

Living Through a Faithful Engagement

LEADING TO THE ALTAR

Watch therefore because you do not know the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:13

TODAY is not the last Sunday of the calendar year but it is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and that reminds us once again that we who follow Christ are out of step with the world around us. Not only do we keep track of time differently but everything about us is different. The contrast between Christians and non-Christians is not always visible to the naked eye. On the surface we look the same as other people, we suffer the same trials and fall into the same temptations, but we are different, O Wise Virgins, because in our baptism we were married to the magnificent bridegroom Jesus Christ who has purified us from our sins, and will return to take us to the everlasting wedding hall.

The first century wedding customs we read about in this parable are not readily understood today, but let it suffice to say that in the parable Christ is the bridegroom and we are the virgins. The sleep is the long wait for our Lord’s second coming; the lamps represent our faith; and the oil is the Gospel which keeps faith alive. There are several important points in today’s unusual parable, but today we’ll only speak about two of them: the long wait for the Lord’s return, and keeping faith alive 'til that time.

From the church’s earliest history misguided Christians, anxious for relief from their earthly burdens, or sometimes just for their own gain, have tried to predict the end of the world. Please don’t pay any attention to such messengers because they don’t know what they’re talking about. That said, however, let us remember every emergency, every war and every rumor of war should turn our eyes heavenward. In
verse 13 the Lord commands us to "Watch… because we do not know the day nor the hour." But that “watching” doesn’t consist of trying to predict the un-predictable, and the world is not going to end in 2012. Instead the Lord’s warning is yet one more reminder to repent of our sins, and put on the helmet of salvation, because only the Gospel can afford us the hope and patience we need to navigate the storms that life brings.

Not only is there a long time between our Lord’s first coming and His second; there’s also a long wait between our marriage to Christ which takes place in Baptism and the day our eyelids close in death. Those years are marked by trouble, as we daily groan beneath the assaults of sin and of death and of the devil. St. Paul writes in
1 Cor. 10:13 that no temptation has seized you except the kind that is common to man. Is your life filled with hardship? Do you cry yourself to sleep each night? Are you afraid of the unknown future? Are you astounded by the addictive influence that sin exerts in your life in spite of your best intentions, prayers, hopes and struggles to the contrary? You’re not alone. This is what it’s like to live in a world which has divorced itself from the Almighty. St. Peter tells us in his first epistle (4:12-13) that we should not be surprised at the painful trials we are suffering as though something unusual or out of the ordinary were happening to us, but in this same letter he also makes this tremendous Gospel promise, that Christians throughout the world undergo the same kind of sufferings, and that the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory in Christ, after we have suffered a little while, will Himself restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. (5:10)

What can bring us peace during this ongoing war of our souls? What can shield us from death, refresh us when weary, and heal the wounds we invariably sustain as we wait for our Lord to return? Only the oil of God’s Word. The second thing this parable teaches is that, like the five wise virgins, we must keep faith alive '
til Christ returns. Let me remind you, Beloved, that we are sitting here today, inheritors of every grace and blessing in Christ, at peace with God, and calm in the face of deepest trouble, because our fathers in the faith took this charge seriously. Through struggles and sacrifices they contended for the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3) and delivered the life-giving Gospel to us in its truth and purity. Because of this we have the Words of Eternal Life. We have the Bible which is the word of God to us and for us. We have the creeds and confessions of the church catholic which give us the correct, that is to say the Christ-centered, explanation of what the Bible means. We have the Sacraments which begin Christian faith within us and nourish it through the long night of waiting. We have hymns which proclaim the Gospel, teach the faith, comfort us when troubled, and help us to pray, praise and give thanks. And we have the sacred ordinances of God’s House which faithfully transmit the Bridegroom’s words love and faithfulness to us in a decent, orderly and most beautiful fashion. All this has been done for us and now it is our job to do it for future generations. Our children need Christ. Our grandchildren need Christ. Generations in the distant future, whatever else they might need to survive in such a world such as we can’t even imagine, they too will need to know the old, old story of Jesus and His love. How do we keep our lamps lit? Faith is kept alive according to Article V of the Augsburg Confession by the Gospel and the Sacraments. These are the “oil” that we never want to run short on. Through these simple but powerful channels: preaching, water, bread and wine, the Holy Spirit works faith when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.



Is it any wonder then that throughout the long night of waiting faithful Christians have committed the Gospel to song? So that whether healthy or sick, troubled or happy, in want or prosperity, whether blessed with every good gift or stripped of every earthly prop they could always remember the Bridegroom who loves them and who will usher them into the wedding hall? There is no adequate way to communicate the immensity of this proposition by words alone – that sinners are made spotless by the death of Christ, and brought into a marital relationship with this King of kings. But music can adequately tell the story and stimulate the healthy emotions which attend such glorious concepts as the Christian faith holds. Each time we sing “Wake awake for night is flying” we are graciously invited by the Word of God to remain alert as we wait for the Lord to call us home, to avoid the many false Christ’s who regularly make their grand appearances in our lives, to look forward to our heavenly home, whose twelve gates are each carved of a single pearl, and to sing eternal praise and non-ending songs of glory to the bridegroom, who by His death and resurrection on our behalf has made us His bride. It’s a marriage which will endure for eternity.  Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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