THE 24TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST AD 2023
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
In a few short weeks we’ll turn the page to the last page on many a calendar unless you have one of those big 18 month fridge ones, popular with many busy moms that give you many more months yet to plan plenty of activities and appointments, or if you are like many people today who simply use the calendar on their smartphones that allows them with a quick swipe of their thumb to plan events and appointments all the way up to 2098 and beyond. With all of that stretching out before you is it any wonder that people today feel just a little stressed, looking at one month at a time for me, and I know for many of you too, can be overwhelming enough. Martin Luther’s calendar was a lot more compact than what we’ve got going on on our fridges or phones these days - there were only two days on his calendar he said - today and the last day.
Jesus’ story of the ten virgins - the five wise and five foolish is all about being ready for the last day - when the Lord will suddenly return to judge the living and the dead. Over and over again, as He does again today the Lord warns His disciples … the Lord warns us about being ready for that day, because despite popular opinion where death is the only qualification for getting into heaven, Jesus clearly tells us that some won’t make it into the Feast. The frightening thing about today’s parable is that those who are shut out are not total outsiders to the Bridegroom. The five who are shut out today knew Him and knew about the Feast. They are with the other five waiting for His arrival and yet are not ready and found to be unworthy.
Today’s parable is not for the unbeliever - for those who deny that God exists or that His only begotten Son came in the flesh. Today’s parable is not for those outside the Church who never knew Christ who believe in no god or false ones. No. Today’s parable is for the Church - those who know the Bridegroom … those who know that there is a Feast to come … those who believe that the Bridegroom is returning and are even waiting for Him. This parable is for us. No. We cannot avoid today’s Word of warning by thinking that we must be among the wise who get let in because we believe in Jesus and we came to Church today. The five foolish virgins believed and they were waiting too and yet they were unprepared for the Lord’s return.
And so back to Luther’s calendar and the wisdom we can gain from it. Only two days were worthy of being on his calendar. They were the only two days that he could be sure about. There’s a lot to ponder about here in how we live our lives as God’s children. There was a time when most people lived in the reality that there was going to be a last day. There was a time when it was a given for most people in our society that there was a judgement day coming. This truth of course didn’t get rid of evil altogether. There was still sin as there will always be sin until the last day has come and gone but it was kept a little better at bay when people knew that there was going to be a last day where they’d have to answer for what they did today.
With 18 months or years on your calendar there’s a lot to distract you from the last today … a lot that can even keep you from focusing on today. The worries and cares about all the other days can rob you of the joys of today as they can overwhelm you into acting in ways today that you will be ashamed of on the last day - the times when tomorrow and what it will or might bring makes you short tempered and irritable today … the times when tomorrows plans lead you to leave today’s good undone … the times when today’s kindnesses and favours are robbed by next weeks events. There’s always another day? No, we can’t count on it, beloved, not on Luther’s calendar, not according to our Lord’s parable either. Because today could be the last day for each of us or all of us at any moment.
There is a profound word of warning for us in this, beloved, especially in a world where most people don’t give a thought for the last day … especially in a world with smartphone calendars where there’s heaps of tomorrows and today gets easily jam packed with things that will mean little when I stand before the Lord on the last day. There is also a very comforting freeing Word in this truth - a word that sets me free from all those worries and cares over what I fear could happen to me or others in those heaps of tomorrows … a word that relieves me of all the anxieties I have about all that needs to get done in those days, weeks, months and years that may or may not lie ahead of me.
What’s going to happen to me tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? Will that ache or pain that I feel today turn out to be cancer on some future tomorrow? Will my poor eyesight and dull hearing today leave me in silent darkness one day? Will the names and things that I can’t remember today see me one day not remembering any names, including my own? Where will my life end up? Where will I end up? Will I marry? Will I get a job? Will I have kids? Will they marry? Will they get jobs? Will they remain faithful? Will they come back to Church? How about my grandchildren? Will I have them? What will life be like for them? Will they be faithful? Will there be another road closing blizzard at Christmas this year? You see with Luther’s calendar all that’s on the agenda is what’s going on today - the rest is left firmly in the hands of the only One who knows what tomorrow will bring because He alone knows whether He will have the sun rise on it or not.
Today and the last day is all I’ve really got. It’s all that any of us have whether we have the wisdom to live in its truth or not. So the real question is what am I going to need on the last day? And so what do I need today so that I’ll be ready when the sun dawns upon it? Had I better get busy today so that I have plenty to show for on that day? Lots of reasons that I can set before the Lord to convince Him to save me? Good deeds that I can use to obligate Him to rescue me? Debts that I can collect from Him in my day of trouble? Look what I did, Lord, now you owe me! No, no, beloved, that won’t wash. It didn’t matter that the foolish virgins had faithfully waited so long before they ran out at the last minute to try and get some more oil. It didn’t even matter that the only reason that they weren’t there when the Bridegroom came was because they were trying to be perfect for Him when He got there. If they hadn’t run out to get more oil they would have met Him.
No, beloved, in the Spirit I pray that we are wise enough to know that on the last day what we will need is the Lord’s grace, mercy and forgiveness … on the last day we will need to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. It is this faith that I will need on that day and so it is in this faith that I must live today to be ready for it. It is this faith that will keep me living today with the last day in mind. As it will be this faith that will keep me waiting at the door for the Bridegroom even in the face of all today’s failures and faults. It is this faith and this faith alone that will keep me rooted to the spot even if my lamp splutters and dims and goes out with a waft of smoke as I wait for Him.
To create this faith, to renew it, strengthen it, build it up the Lord Jesus Christ comes to you today in His flesh and blood. He says to each of you here as you come before Him, “See how I came down from heaven for you. See how I lived every today in perfection for you. And see how I faced the fullness of the last day for you clothed in all your sins, clothed in all your faults and failures, clothed in the many days that you lived and will live forgetful of that day. See how on the cross, I, who have known the Father and been known by Him from eternity, heard, as man, in your place those terrible words, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” I cried out “Eloi, Eloi - My God, My God” open to me! But He forsook me - as the door remained shut and I entered the unspeakable darkness of hell for you.”
The Lord Jesus holds up today all that He did for you on Golgatha that day as He delivers all that He earned for you there - grace, mercy and forgiveness while He clothes you with His own righteousness as He feeds you with His body and blood that you, beloved, might live in this faith today and every other today until the last day dawns for us all. Amen.